As much as you’d like to just jump right into the fun part of squash—actually playing squash – it’s wise to have a solid warmup to prepare you.
In this article, we will go over several ways to make sure you are adequately preparing for squash play, as well as how to keep up this level of “readiness” even when you aren’t about to go play a match.
So how do you prepare for a squash match, and is preparation really all that important? Preparation, both short-term and long-term is vitally important to make sure you are always match-ready and in shape for competition.
Your squash warm-up should include pre-match preparation, static stretches, dynamic stretches, strategy during the warm-up, warming the ball up, assessing your opponent during the warm-up, and the overall health impact of warming up.
This article is a comprehensive how-to guide on all the stages and positive effects of the squash warm-up.
When preparing for an upcoming match, it is almost never too early to begin! F
ull preparation should begin days before a match, starting with healthy, nutritious eating and hydrating your body. Make sure you are fueling your body with a good balance of healthy fats, proteins, and carbs so your body is getting necessary energy and nutrients to run like a well-oiled machine.
You should be drinking half your body weight in ounces of water.
We would argue you should be doing these things every day regardless of match proximity to continue growing as an athlete and to increase your everyday energy levels which results in more productive practices. You’d be amazed at how different you’ll feel!
With that being said, make sure you are eating a meal before your match, but with enough time to digest that meal. You don’t want to feel sluggish on the court.
We would recommend eating about 3 hours before a match to get that happy medium of necessary energy from food but with plenty of time for digestion!
Good pre-meal options might include lean meats like chicken and turkey or fish, as well as healthy carbs like sweet potatoes, brown rice, or veggies, and healthy fats like avocadoes or nuts.
Refrain from eating anything too heavy prior to a match. If you eat carbs, make sure they are low-glycemic, meaning they take longer to break down resulting in lasting energy.
If you eat high-glycemic carbs, they will break down too quickly and leave you feeling lethargic within an hour of eating.
The days leading up to a match, make sure you are getting plenty of rest.
If your body’s circadian rhythm or sleep schedule is out-of-whack you will bring this same discombobulation to your match. Go to bed early when you can and try to wake up at the same time every day.
Additionally, take naps to get caught up on rest you might have lost during the week.
Another key facet of pre-match preparation includes preparing yourself mentally.
Take notes on your game strategy and meditate over those notes.
Come up with your game plan based on what you know are your strengths and weaknesses and how you think they might measure up against a certain type of opponent.
It is wise to go over different scenarios prior, but also important not to overthink too much.
Try your best to stay focused and match-ready without exciting your nervous system too much.
Use different forms of deep breathing and meditation techniques to slow your nerves and get yourself into a relaxing rhythm. Use visualization practices to create positive scenarios in your mind. Sometimes you may be able to manifest these scenarios in real-life!
Create an awesome playlist beforehand to get yourself pumped up!
Block out the world for a little right before you step onto the court and try to become aligned with your mind and your body.
Try to cut out other distractions. If you are a social butterfly and talking to others helps you calm your nerves, maybe distractions will help you.
If not, it might be best to isolate yourself for a bit right before your match time to tune out outside thoughts or opinions of others that could potentially cause you to psych yourself out and create doubt about your abilities.
There are a couple of apps out there that are free, and great for meditation practices.
These might not be a bad idea to try out if you get nervous easily. These apps can be tailored to your needs- for sleep, relaxation, focus, etc..
Try these out in addition to deep yoga breaths as another way to calm your central nervous system. Performing a sun-salutation sequence or vinyasa yoga flow before you step on the court is also a great way to get a deep full-body stretch while incorporating breathing.
Longer term pre-match preparation
Of course, there are the obvious days leading up to a match or tournament that require daily touchpoints, but we would argue that pre-match preparation should include a longer timeline as well.
This may include getting in better shape through cross-training or weight-lifting, daily practice of healthy mental strategies for competitive people, and note-taking and research on how to improve your game tactically.
As we mention often in our other articles, it is really hard to be the best version of yourself as an athlete if you are not in good physical shape.
Overall, your performance will skyrocket if you are in peak physical condition in terms of strength and endurance. This requires some consistent off-court work such as speed and agility drills, HIIT workouts, weight-lifting focusing on full-body strength as well as target areas, cardiovascular health improved through distance running, sprints, biking, and the stair-master, and improved flexibility through yoga and deep stretching.
It is also important to look to others for inspiration and improvement.
Having players that are role models in terms of their style of play and mental strategy is super helpful and fun to base your game on.
Being able to watch them play matches on TV or in person can allow you to visualize what you ultimately hope your game looks like as you begin to manifest these details and take the steps necessary to reach your best level.
Most athletes already have some idea of basic static stretches and the importance of stretching before vigorous activity.
If you aren’t already aware, stretching is important because it helps maintain flexibility and range of motion. Stretching your muscles allows fibers and connective tissues to elongate, making agility and endurance levels subsequently increase.
This flexibility and range of motion is especially important in squash because the movement focuses on a lot of lateral movement and a wide range of “reaching motions”.
Making yourself as long as possible will allow you to get to more hard-to-reach shots and make covering the court far easier for you, and harder for your opponent to get the ball past you.
Static stretching is also great as a preventative measure to reduce muscle tears and other muscle-related injuries that might set you back in your progress if they require rehab, and be painful for you.
In addition to the obvious stretching, you should do before you play to warm your body up, you should also get in the habit of stretching after matches to cool your body down.
Make sure you are doing what you can to drain the lactic acid out of your body which makes you sore after a tough match.
Focus on all areas of your body when performing static stretches.
Static stretching should act as the foundation of your warm-up, and then later on you can get into more specific dynamic stretches and other footwork drills.
Types of static stretches
It is helpful to begin your static stretching from the ground up- literally. We’ve broken down some helpful stretches by body areas starting with your feet and working your way up.
Feet, ankles, and calves
To start, get your feet and ankles warm with some light, circular rolling motions both in a counter or counter-clockwise direction.
Push your heels onto a wall or elevated surface to get a good stretch through the top of the foot as well. Take a foot in each hand and push it towards you and against you.
For your calves, stand up with one leg in front of the other with your hands pressed flat against the wall. Place your back leg further away from the wall while keeping it straight.
Press your heel hard against the floor, putting your body weight into it. Hold this for 30 seconds and repeat with your other leg.
Quads, hamstrings, hips, and thighs
For your quads, lie face down on the floor.
From this position, place your forehead onto your right hand. Press your hips firmly onto the floor while you bring your left foot up towards your buttocks.
Then grab the left ankle with your left hand to further deepen the motion of this stretch. Hold this for 30 seconds and then repeat with your right leg.
To target your hamstrings, sit on the ground with both of your legs extended out in front of you. Bend your left leg so that the bottom of your left foot is touching your right knee.
Then, lean forward and reach for your right foot, keeping your back straight. Hold this for 30 seconds and then repeat on the other side.
To target the hips and thighs, stand up straight with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart.
Turn to face the right side of your body, then slightly bend your right leg so it is parallel with the ground and lower than vertical. Make sure your back remains straight and use your arms to balance this motion.
You should feel a good stretch along the front of the left thigh and along the hamstrings of the right leg. Hold this for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
Lower back and abdominals
For the lower back, life facing towards the ground flat.
Lift your body off the ground so you become supported by your forearms and toes. Your elbows should be on the ground, similar to a forearm plank, and your body should be almost directly below your shoulders.
Once your forearms and hands are resting on the ground and pointed straight ahead, your toes and feet should be shoulder-width apart and your head lifted up.
Tighten your glute muscles and hold this for ten seconds. Then, lift your right arm off the ground and straight ahead of you for 10 seconds. Return to your starting position and repeat on the other side.
Now try this same motion but with your legs. Lift your right leg off the ground while simultaneously lifting your left arm. Then switch arms and legs.
This series of stretches will strengthen your core and lower back muscles while elongating your body and tightening your torso area.
To stretch your upper back, stand up straight with your feet a little more than shoulder-width apart with your knees slightly bent.
Intertwine your fingers and use your energy to push your hands as far away from your chest as possible. This allows your upper back to relax and you should feel a slight pull between your shoulder blades.
For a good chest stretch, stand up with your feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent. Hold your arms out to the side of you so they are parallel to the ground, with the palms of your hands facing forward.
Stretch your arms back as far as possible to you can feel the stretch across your chest.
Biceps, triceps, and shoulders
This is a super important area to stretch out because it is the foundation for the entire swing path of the squash shot. For your biceps, stand tall with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart with your knees slightly bent.
Hold your arms out to the side so they are parallel with the ground, with the palms facing forward.
Then, rotate your hands so the palms face the opposite direction and stretch your arms back as far as possible. Hold this for 30 seconds. You should feel the stretch across your chest and in the biceps.
For your shoulders, stand tall with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart with your knees slightly bent. Then, place both hands above your head and slide them down the middle of your spine. Hold this for 30 seconds.
To get your shoulders warm, perform arm circles counterclockwise and clockwise, with 30 reps each direction. Then, perform some lateral and front raises of your arms to get your rotator cuffs warm.
Head and neck
To get your head and neck warmed up, rotate your head counterclockwise and clockwise a total of 30 times.
This will help get any strain out of this area. Touch the side of your head (your right ear) to the top of your right shoulder and hold it there for 10 seconds, then release the tension and take a deep breath. Repeat on the left side as well.
In addition to your static stretches, it is important to have some sport-specific dynamic stretches to perform after static moves to get your muscle fibers firing away.
These movements will also ideally help you mentally and physically prepare for the body-specific/match-specific movements you might only find in a squash match.
If you get in the habit of mimicking these movements beforehand, you can better ease into the match without as much delay, and you will be faster to hit the court running at your top-notch level.
These are also great to get your heart rate up and sweat a little, which is important before stepping onto the cold squash court.
Ideally, you should find an open space similar to the size of a squash court to conduct this warm-up.
You should be able to complete each dynamic movement to the end of your space and back a total of at least 20 times. Complete these movements in sequential order.
- High knees
Fire up your knees as high as possible like you are running in place. Pump your arms and legs to get the most out of the movement. This will increase your heart rate and help with hip mobility and flexibility.
- Butt kicks
This is similar to the high knees motion just in reverse. Kick your heels to your buttocks with each motion and try to actually make contact with them. This will help stretch out the front of your quads.
This is not the technical term for the motion but it is a good name for it! Keep your legs as straight as possible while you do perform this motion as you kick your leg as high as possible while keeping your balance. Try to touch your opposite arm to the opposite toe and then switch sides as you continue walking. This will stretch out your hamstrings and quads.
This is the reverse version of the Frankenstein motion. Instead of kicking your leg up out in front of you, bend down and touch your right toe and then kick your left leg out and up behind you. Then, switch to the opposite arm and leg. This will stretch out your lower back and the back of your hamstrings.
This motion involves walking backwards so make sure you focus on your balance here. As you are walking backward, open up each leg, turning your hips away from you. This will open up the inner thigh area and help with hip mobility.
- Walking quads
As you are walking, kick your leg up and grab your opposite ankle behind you, pulling it up towards your buttocks. Hold it for a few seconds, let go, and then switch legs. You should feel this in the front of your quads.
- Side shuffles
Turn sideways and bend your knees slightly with your feet pointing directly in front of you. Keep your core strong here. Shuffle sideways but make sure your heels don’t click against each other as you move. You should feel a burning in your core and legs as it keeps your muscles warm. Then switch to the other side and shuffle the opposite direction. Try to perform these shuffles as low to the ground and as fast as possible.
Most people know what karaokes are, but they are a bit hard to explain in words. Essentially, they are a side shuffle that involves rotating your feet in front of the other and then behind the other while keeping your core steady. These steps should help you break it down if you’re unfamiliar.
- Cross your right foot over your left foot
- After you cross your right foot over, move your left foot behind and to the left your right foo
- Repeat this same motion until you horizontally cross the space, then turn the other way and repeat on the corresponding side
Strategy during the warm-up
At the same time, visualize some things you might need to work on during the match.
Come up with solutions in your mind to potential problems that could arise in your match within your own game and against certain types of players.
As we said earlier, there is a certain power and visualization that helps manifest confidence and consequentially, the results you want for yourself.
If you are nervous, enhancing concentration will help increase your confidence.
Try to use your timing in the warm-up to feel your swing. This movement should ideally help you hone in on a concentrative state.
Using repetitive motion and a consistent swing path during the warm-up will help your body get warm and into a rhythm.
This rhythm provides for a general sense of control and the ability to finesse the ball in a finer way.
Warming the ball up
As you are warming the ball up don’t try to hit up but rather aim for a good feel during your swing.
Swing the racket through the full range of motion using shadow strokes to get a feel for the amount of racket head speed ideal for controlled aggression.
It’s all about finding a good balance. Start with shorter, more compact swings and then create more space for a longer swing.
If you don’t already know, a “hit up” before a match lasts about 5 minutes.
Players hit the ball back and forth to each other for half the time and then switch sides on the forehand and the backhand. This allows you to get conditioned to the ball and to your opponent’s strokes.
This is your opportunity to groove your strokes beforehand. Make sure you are not only hitting groundstrokes but squeezing in a few volleys as well.
Sizing up your opponent during warm-up
You should not only spend your warm-up physically prepping, but mentally as well. In addition to deep breathing exercises and meditation, it’s important to psych yourself up during the warm-up.
As you warm up with your opponent, try to size them up. Of course, stay focused, but where you can you should observe your opponent’s strokes and general patterns.
Are they clearly a hard hitter or seem to focus more on finesse?
You won’t be able to get a full read on your opponent during warm-up but you should at least start with an idea so you are not going into the match completely blind.
Overall health impact of a good warm-up
All in all, getting into the habit of a good warm-up before each match as well as far in advance during seasons of match play is vitally important to your growth as a squash player but also an overall athlete.
There is something to be said for the positive influence that routines can have on our lives, and not just in competition settings. Routines help calm the mind, get the body comfortable, build concentration, and build confidence.
Repetition helps us feel fully prepared, even if it is more mental than anything else.
However, warming up the muscles should always be at the forefront of an athlete’s mind. At the very least, make sure you are performing static and dynamic stretches before matches even if you can’t fit in the other variables like diet, hydration, and mental practices.
These techniques should be practiced not only for the hope of being a better squash player but should be natural habits you slowly and consistently incorporate into your daily life.
These are less “quick-fixes” and require more long-term dedication to a healthier lifestyle not just for performance purposes.
These types of informational resources regarding diet and exercise routines are pretty widespread, so make sure you seek out these resources to formulate a long-term plan that is right for you.
If you are hoping to surpass any plateaus in your game, dedicating your time and energy to these warm-ups might be the missing piece in your big squash puzzle!