Benefits of resistance training for squash – Part 2

4th September 2015

Athletic training methods have become ever more scientific over the past 20 years, and coaches are placing an ever-increasing focus on any small factor that may be able to improve their athletes’ performance by even the slightest percentage in competition – even well-established training methods have been re-examined in greater and greater detail to draw every possible degree of benefit from them.

Against this backdrop, traditional weight training/resistance training has been increasingly studied and researched, in an attempt to optimise training routines and their specificity for sport. Gone are the days when athletes and coaches dismissed weight training as only for bodybuilders and perpetuated myths of these sessions causing unwanted bulking and negative effects on athletes flexibility – the vast majority of elite-level athletes today incorporate resistance training as an integral part of their programme.

There are many benefits to the elite squash player from a properly structured resistance training programme, and a number of these will also be relevant to the amateur club player. In part 1 of this article, we looked at what the main benefits of weights training are and their significance to squash, and now in part 2, we’ll start exploring how to structure an appropriate programme and the main issues we need to consider in introducing these methods to our training.

In part 1 we introduced the acronym F.I.T.T. (Frequency Intensity Time Type), that we’ll now use here in part 2 in respect to thinking about how best to put together our resistance programme to enhance our squash. In constructing any training programme however, it’s useful to first consider a more overarching concept in terms of the content and structure a programme should abide by, that of ‘Training Principles’. There are a number of these principles that different coaches/trainers may list, but a good acronym that expresses the core of these is S.P.O.R.R.T. – Specificity Progression Overload Reversibility Rest Tedium.

Specificity is the principle that asserts that the best way to develop appropriate physical tools for your sport, is to train the body in intensities, movements, and ranges as close as possible to the way they are used in that sport. The Overload principle emphasises the need for pushing the body slightly further in each training session than what it is comfortably capable of, to force it to adapt, grow, and improve. The principle of Progression follows on from this and relates to the need for this overload to be continually increased (at a controlled rate) over time. The principle of Reversibility relates to the old adage of ‘use it or lose it’ – if an athlete stops training, their hard-earned gains will gradually disappear. Rest is the important principle of ensuring that you take time out to allow your body to recover – your body rebuilds and grows in-between training sessions, not during them. Finally, Tedium is the principle of keeping your programme interesting – whilst certain workouts in a particularly disciplined sport such as squash will need to be repeated over time, it’s important to inject progressions and variety into your sessions where possible to keep the brain stimulated.

So with these training principles in mind, how do we go about starting to put together the specifics of a weight training programme to enhance our squash?

Going back to our F.I.T.T. acronym, the first consideration is Frequency.

How many weights sessions a week should be included in our training programme? For the physical goals, a squash player is working toward, scheduling in weights based workouts 2 to 3 times a week would be optimal. Obviously a lot depends on time available, particularly for part-time players, but a minimum of 2 sessions a week would be necessary for most people to really notice any difference – x3 if part of a training block where the focus is really on specifically improving some element of strength/power/endurance.

We’ll return to Intensity and Time in a moment, but the next consideration is Type of exercise.

In this article, of course, we are looking at weights based training. There are a number of different variations of resistance training however, including free weights, machines, medicine balls, body weight, and kettlebells. All have their place in a properly constructed programme, but the basis of a true strength & conditioning programme is traditionally built around large, compound, free weight movements. The issue of Compound vs. Isolation exercises is discussed further in the article here on the site, but to briefly summarise the conclusions consider the example of an isolation Leg Extension exercise – there is no movement in an explosive multidirectional sport such as squash, where the quadriceps muscles (or indeed any muscle in the body) works in complete isolation as it does on this machine. Muscles work together synergistically in sport, and with our specificity principle in mind, the best way to replicate this is with exercises that encourage the same – large, multipoint movements working against a non-fixed resistance in a 3-dimensional space. The exercise technique videos in the library on the site include the best examples of these – Squats, Lunges, Deadlifts, Cleans, Presses etc.

So returning to Intensity and Time considerations of our squash-specific weights programme, is where we start really getting into the nuts and bolts.

The resistance used, the repetitions completed, the number of sets and the rest periods taken are what determine the outcomes of our training, and the overall effectiveness of the programme.

In the early stages of any weight training programme, it’s important to ensure that the correct technique is first ingrained before increasing the resistance and focusing too much on any one training goal. In the first few weeks, it’s best to stick with a lighter weight in a slightly higher repetition range (around 10-12), to develop the technique without overstressing the muscles and joints. Whatever your level of training, it is also very important at this stage to get into the habit of always ensuring the use of very light warm-up sets at the start of each exercise in your workout, to prepare the muscles for the forthcoming work and to groove in the specific movement patterns that will be trained.

Once you become familiar with the proper technique, the interaction of the resistance, reps, sets and rest is what define the primary physical attribute focused on within the session. All properly constructed weights sessions will improve strength to some extent, but as discussed in part 1 of this article, programmes can be manipulated to focus to a greater or lesser extent on the related attributes of power, endurance, and size (hypertrophy). For example, higher rep ranges (~12-15) with lighter resistances (often put together in a circuit format), tend to be geared more toward the muscular endurance end of the spectrum. Heavier weights, with fewer reps (~4-6), carried out at higher velocities and with longer rest periods between sets, will, in turn, be more suitable for developing muscular power.

Endurance and strength are going to be the two primary areas where developments will most impact physical performance for the majority of squash players, and a combination of sessions that address these attributes will thus be most effective for players of all levels, making sure that the training volume stimulates growth and improvement without placing too great a stress on the body. With our frequency set at a standard 2 times a week for most players introducing weight training to their programmes, setting aside one workout focusing on strength/power, and one focusing more on endurance is thus a good introductory structure that works well for many athletes. Keeping things simple with no more than around 5 exercises with 3 to 4 sets completed on each is a solid starting point.

A more advanced method of organising your training it’s worth being aware of here is through properly controlled Periodisation.

Whole books have been written on this concept and the minute of training structure alone, and there are many different ways and methods that have been proposed as to how best ‘periodise’ a training programme. Put simply, periodisation is the considered and controlled process of ensuring our overload and progression training principles are accurately managed.

In traditional linear periodisation schemes, athletes cycle through microcycles and mesocycles focusing on different specific attributes (endurance-strength-power-speed etc.), that build upon each other allowing the athlete to ‘peak’ ready for competition. This is ideal for combat athletes training for an upcoming fight, or track and field athletes training for a big championships for example – For the average squash player however, who will be playing multiple leagues/tournaments/club matches throughout a season, this kind of rigid programming is not really suitable for optimising their performance (unless carried out over the course of a Summer training block, or as part of an injury rehab programme). So whilst we need to ensure our overload and progression principles are appropriately considered, we do need to maintain an element of flexibility for the programme of the average squash player – hence the suggestion of focusing on specific workouts for different attributes, that are simply rotated on a flexible sessional basis as opposed to being restricted to a set periodised model.

We’ll be releasing some sample more beginners strength training workouts in the coming weeks, which will take the guidelines and principles discussed in this two part article and start putting them into some simple templates for you to use to begin incorporating resistance work into your schedule. The benefits of a properly structured weight training routine to your squash are many and varied, and hopefully, this article has given you an introduction to these concepts and a desire to look at ways to incorporate weights/resistance exercises into your squash training programme.


Gary Nisbet

B.Sc.(Hons), CSCS, NSCA-CPT, Dip. FTST
SquashSkills Fitness & Performance Director

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