If you play enough squash, you will play against, or at least see, players who are small and light, yet they hit the ball with incredible ferocity. Conversely, you will see larger, seemingly strong players who never seem to be able to make that ball smack the wall. With regard to body: size doesn’t matter.
Did you know that an untrained muscles can become twice as strong without getting bigger? Big muscles aren’t necessarily strong muscles. I mean they are strong, but not necessarily as strong as smaller people. Being strong in squash, is not a case of having big muscles or looking like a bodybuilder. What you really need is power. Power is strength times speed. Being able to lift very heavy weight quite slowly is not as useful as being able to lift lighter weights faster.
There’s also core strength that isn’t a fashionable 6-pack. You only need to do some yoga, pilates or certain Swiss ball exercises to realise that core strength can be found in very slim bodies. So how do you get this “Squash Strength”, well, I’m not a fitness expert, but I will give you a tip at the end.
A good example of the right kind of strength is being able to not let the racket head twist on contact with the ball if the ball is slightly off-centre. It’s not something that can be trained in gyms.
Each sport has its own technique that works best with the equipment used. Tennis has a much heavier racket and ball, so therefore the technique used is very different from squash, and tennis doesn’t have the opponent and back wall to consider. Badminton also has different technique due to the lightness of the shuttlecock and racket.
I’m not going to discuss the finer points of each shot’s technique in this article, but as far as drives are concerned a very good way to look at a good squash swing is to consider the projectile weapon, the trebuchet.
We can compare the three distinct parts of the weapon to the body. The counter-weight is the upper arm, the pole after the fulcrum is the lower arm and the sling is the wrist. The whole thing is compact, and each part needs to move in the correct order. The sling on its own can still throw objects quite far, but when coupled with the other parts become much more effective. Each part takes its power from the proceeding part.
Anyway, that’s the way I like to explain it. Other coaches use other ways and a common one is the same movement as skimming a stone across a calm lake. It’s a great analogy and works perfectly for the forehand. There’s plenty of resources to improve your technique, but if your backhand needs improving, may I suggest my video: 5 Common Mistakes on the Backhand. It’s been viewed over 400,000 times.
The difference between technique and timing is very small and others will argue that timing is part of technique, and I wouldn’t argue with them too much. However, in my coaching career I have encountered people who have good technique, are quite strong, yet lack the ability to really crack the ball. With some small adjustments to their timing they have significantly improved.
So what is “good timing”. Well, it’s the ability to move all the parts of the body via the right muscles, at exactly the right time. Notice that short phrase “via the right muscles”. That’s key. It’s why it’s different from technique in my mind. Some muscles need to be relaxed during the swing otherwise they hinder the timing. Can I tell you exactly which muscles some people tense at the wrong time? No, because I’m not a trained exercise physiologist or biomechanist/kinesiologist, but I can tell by watching a player on court that changes need to be made.
A good example and perhaps a simpler situation is when a player steps a little too early when hitting the ball. When performed correctly, the last step transfers a lot of momentum into the swing and therefore the ball. When you step early, that momentum is lost. Turning your shoulders too early is another example.
I suppose technique is about swinging in a biomechanical way that uses each part of the body at the correct time, with the least amount of wasted effort, whereas timing is using that swing with a ball in varying situations with a fraction of a second to adapt.
Enough Theory, Let’s Have Some Practice.
Earlier on, I teased you that I would provide a tip to help you hit harder, and as facetious as it sounds, the tip is to simply spend 1 minute every time you play, and after you have heated up properly, hitting the ball as hard as you can. Now, that alone won’t turn you into a harder, accurate hitter, but unless you spend time specifically hitting the ball hard, you will never develop the strength, technique and timing required to hit the ball well.
Of course, you should have coaching to ensure your technique is correct and perform core strength exercises, but ultimately it’s the on court work that brings the results. That 1 minute hard hitting, is best performed alone and I recommend the side-to-side drill for this.
To be clear, you will never be able to hit the ball hard and with accuracy without the three elements working together. Strength with technique is useless, technique without timing is useless, and timing without strength brings no results. One useful action is to identify which is your weaker element and spend the next 6 weeks improving that. Good Luck!