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Physio’s Therapy

The indispensable magazine for serious Squash Players
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Strength was a fundamental ingredient to the success
of world champions Laura Massaro and Nick Matthew

In this extract from Squash Player 2020 Issue 2, our regular expert physio Phil Newton explains how weight training can be a highly effective way to avoid injuries.

A question I'm asked frequently is, “What’s the best way to avoid getting a sports injury?” I usually respond with “don’t play sport”, but I quickly follow this up with words of
encouragement and a reminder that the physical, emotional and mental health benefits of
sport far outweigh any negatives such as sustaining an injury.

I then give injury prevention advice that surprises many people. It is simply to get strong. This response is often met with questions about the merits of warm-ups and stretching.

However the science tells us that whilst warm-ups are desirable to optimise performance, they do little or nothing to reduce injury risk. The same applies to stretching. So what does “get strong” mean in reality and how can increasing strength reduce injury risk?

Strength training has multiple effects on the body. The most obvious is stronger muscles but
other adaptations occur which seem to have injury-preventing consequences. These include
more efficient muscle recruitment and greater tensile strength of the connective tissues within
the muscle and of the tendons.

These physical changes mean that the muscular and tendon structures become more robust and more efficient at absorbing loads and in transmitting force. This becomes evident when you test strength-trained individuals with things like vertical jumps. They become more springy as well as stronger, allowing them to leap significantly higher than before they were strength trained.

So the evidence strongly supports the contention that strength training not only reduces injury rate but also improves physical performance. It's a win-win! These physical improvements have obvious advantages for squash players, but before we all get carried away and rush down to the nearest gym, we need to address some FAQs:

What are the chances of getting injured with weight training?
The injury risk from weight training is negligible as long as you adhere to some basic
principles. Get some professional guidance from a Strength and Conditioning specialist.
Learning the correct lifting technique is vital if the exercises are to be effective and safe.
Also progress from relatively light to higher loads gradually.

Will weight training bulk me up and reduce my mobility on court?
The simple answer is no. The type of weight training programme you would do as a squash player simply wouldn’t have the frequency, volume or intensity of training to make you 'bulk up' to the point where mobility is impeded.

What would a weight training programme for a squash player consist of?
The evidence points to the most effective strengthening programmes being those that
utilise relatively high levels of resistance. These high load and low repetition exercises
have been shown in runners to be superior to low or no load high repetition work.

The use of explosive types of exercises such as jumping, hopping and lunging have also
been shown to be effective ways of improving sports performance. Because the type of
strength training that is advocated involves exercises such as squats, deadlifts and calf
raises to levels that are 60-90% of the max effort, this type of training can only be
performed a couple of times per week, especially if it is to fit into squash playing and
training schedules.

This type of training needs to be done for at least a six-week period to see measurable performance improvements. These improvements will fall away quickly when the strength training stops.

Is weight training safe if I have had previous injuries?
If you have any injury concerns then it's sensible to get checked out by a physiotherapist who specialises in sports injury management. There may be some particular strength exercises that need to be modified and there may be some areas of the body that need to be specifically targeted. A good working relationship between the physio and the strength and conditioning specialist is key to success.

With the potential for reduced risk of getting injured and better physical performance
on court, the addition of a strength and conditioning programme to existing squash playing
and training schedules is really a no brainer. The message is simple: you won’t go wrong by getting strong!