Squash is a game that features two players battling for position and points whilst smashing a small rubber ball in a walled cage. The game requires stamina, strength and, agility. What are some ways you can improve your agility and performance on the court? In this article, we’ll introduce some drills that will help you do just that.
John Wooden, the famous college basketball coach, would often tell his players in practice “Be quick but don’t hurry.” Wooden wanted his players to be able to get to the ball, defend, make quick decisions, and of course, score points. But he also wanted them to value agility and decision-making over sheer speed. We can apply John Wooden’s philosophy to the squash court with some drills designed to improve your quickness and agility. Let’s take a look.
The Perfect Warm-Up
Before starting any type of drill it is important to warm your muscles up and get your body ready to do work. Skipping a warm-up means you risk injury and you’ll also be cheating yourself out of getting all you can out of your workout. A proper warm-up will leave you feeling stronger and ready to do more.
- 2-3 minutes of skipping rope
- 50 jumping jacks-Pull your shoulder blades back, extend arms and really focus on the movement
- 20 bodyweight squats-Squats fire your hips and engage your core
- 5 lunges (each leg) – Lunges stretch your hamstrings and engage your hips
- 10 pushups-Pushups engage shoulders, arms, back, core and legs
- 5 hip rotations each leg (like you’re stepping over a fence)
Okay, now that you’re properly warmed up, grab a quick drink from your water bottle as we dive into our first squash agility drill, the ladder drill.
Agility: Step By Step
No doubt you’ve seen athletes performing ladder drills. They’re a staple of training in football, basketball, tennis and, hockey. This simple piece of equipment is inexpensive, easy to pack and sets up in seconds. You’ll need a bit of space to lay the ladder out fully and we’ll use a medicine ball and cones for some of these drills to increase the intensity.
These drills combine movements (skips, hops, and jumps) with directional sprinting to build lower-body endurance and agility. Multi-directional sprinting such as backpedaling, moving forward, laterally and diagonally are excellent for squash as this replicates what you’ll be doing in a match.
Single-leg hops improve balance and agility as well as further develop your core strength.
- Agility ladder
- 3 cones (most agility ladder sets come with cones as well as carry bag)
- Medicine ball (4-6kg)
- Your favorite water bottle
Perform drills 1-5 and 6-10 on alternate, non-consecutive days to allow for sufficient recovery. Do two circuits of the five drills. Rest 15-30 seconds between drills to promote endurance (simulating the brief pauses during games and matches).
Holding the medicine ball overhead during sprint and ladder drills strengthens the chest, shoulders, upper back, and arm muscles and intensifies the drill. However, we recommend going through the drills without the ball the first time.
Hydrate after performing two or three drills and again after completing the first circuit of five drills.
Rest for 60 seconds while hydrating before starting the second circuit.
Agility Ladder Drills
1. Single-Leg Forward Hops: Forward/Reverse Sprints
- Place a cone 30 meters (approximate) from the ladder.
- Hop through the ladder on your left foot.
- Immediately sprint to the cone.
- Backpedal to the ladder.
- Turn around and hop through the ladder on your right foot.
2. Lateral Jumps In/Out of Ladder Spaces
- Place a cone 15 meters from the ladder.
- Stand alongside the ladder and jump in and out of each space with both feet together.
- Immediately follow with lateral sprints to the cone.
- Laterally sprint back to the opposite side of the ladder and jump in and out of the spaces back to the start.
Lateral jumps enhance lateral movement on the court. Footballers use these drills to elude tackles and to sidestep defenders. The same concept applies to squash as these this drill will build muscle memory and help you move more efficiently on the court.
3. Medicine Ball Step Through
- Holding the ball overhead, high-step forward, knees high
- Turn around and repeat high steps back to the starting position.
- Keep the pace high and try and do 3-4 sets before resting
4. Horizontal Jumps/Diagonal Sprints
- Arrange three cones 15 meters apart in a Z pattern (20 meters diagonally right, 20 meters diagonally left, and 20 meters diagonally right).
- Face the ladder with a squat stance.
- Explosively jump forward, skipping two ladder spaces.
- Upon landing, immediately jump forward again, skipping two spaces.
- Continue horizontal jumps to the end of the ladder.
- Quickly sprint diagonally right to the first cone, diagonally left to the second cone and diagonally right to the third cone.
- Rest 10 seconds, turn around and diagonally sprint to each cone back to the ladder and finish with horizontal jumps back to start position.
5. Medince Ball Single-Leg Lateral Hops (Inside/Outside Ladder Spaces)
- Hold the medicine ball overhead and stand alongside the ladder.
- Hop with your left foot laterally in and out of the ladder to the end.
- Without rest, pivot and hop in and out with your right foot back to start position.
This is a terrific balance exercise that translates to the court when sidestepping to gain position and will greatly improve your agility.
6. Explosive Push-Ups Between Ladder Spaces
Push-ups are a great, all-around body builder. Here, you’ll use the push-up in combination with the ladder.
This drill combines upper-body power with muscular endurance and hones agility by forcing your body to multi-task through the exercise. Side Benefit: What squash player doesn’t want stronger shoulders, right?
- Assume a push-up position with your hands in the first ladder space.
- Lower yourself slowly, then explosively push up with your hands leaving the floor.
- Advance with your hands and feet to the second ladder space and repeat the explosive Push-Up.
- Continue explosive Push-Ups to the end of the ladder.
7. Forward/Backward Bear Crawls In Ladder Spaces
- Assume a seated position facing the ladder.
- Bend your knees with your feet on the floor and use your arms to elevate your hips.
- Walk forward with your feet and hands through each ladder space with your hips continually raised off the floor.
- Continue to the end of the ladder, then walk backward on your feet and hands to start position.
Bear Crawls build triceps, shoulder, and upper-back muscles strengthen abdominal and lower-body muscles and boost upper- and lower-body muscular endurance. Moving through the ladder in this pose will also make you more agile.
8. Simulated Tire Drill With Lateral High Steps
Have you ever seen football players performing the tire drill? The same concept applies here but you’ll be doing it with the ladder instead of tires. Lateral high stepping combined with multi-directional sprints will improve your agility by allowing you to get into and out of corners quickly.
- Arrange your three cones 10 meters apart with the first cone 10 meters diagonally to the right from the end of the ladder, the second cone diagonally to the left, and the third diagonally to the right.
- Stand alongside the ladder and high-step laterally (knees to hip) with one foot inside the ladder and the other foot outside the ladder.
- Sprint diagonally right, then diagonally left, then diagonally right.
- Backpedal to the ladder and repeat lateral high steps inside/outside the ladder back to start position.
9. Medicine Ball Reverse High Step Simulated Tire Drill/Reverse Sprint
- Set a cone 30 meters from the end of the ladder.
- With your back to the start of the ladder, hold the ball overhead and perform reverse high steps through the ladder spaces to the end.
- Immediately follow with a reverse sprint to the cone.
- Turn and backpedal to the ladder.
- Repeat high steps through the ladder back to start position.
Benefit: Timing, agility and muscle memory are improved with this drill.
10. Two Vertical Jumps Per Ladder Space
- Jump as high as possible two times in each ladder space and continue until the end.
It’s important not to pause between jumps, since momentarily stopping minimizes the explosiveness you want to develop. Upon landing, immediately jump as high as you can for the next jump. Step into the next space and continue the double jumps.
Benefit: Builds explosive power and agility on the court.
We’ve seen how ladder drills can improve agility along with developing lateral quickness and power. What other drills could you incorporate into your training plan to give it some variety and further enhance your agility? Take a look at these programs.
Plyometric Box Drills
Only a few short years ago jumping onto a wooden box, stepping down and repeating might have gotten you a referral for psychiatric help. Today, box jumps are a big part of athletic training programs.
Plyometric exercises involve a stretch of the muscles, immediately followed by a contraction of the same muscles — which is why it’s sometimes referred to as “jump training.” Plyos are primarily an exercise to develop power and explosiveness but they can also help you develop balance and agility. Power, balance, and agility will serve you well on the squash court.
First, you’ll need a plyometric box. They’re readily available online or you may have them at your gym. We prefer the cube design constructed with six panels, instead of the step-ladder style. Both will work but with the step-ladder style, there is the risk of hooking your foot in the opening. Depending on your fitness level you’ll want to begin with a box of between 60 and 90cm in height.
The cube design with a non-slip landing surface works well. You can also buy boxes in sets of varying heights or an adjustable step-ladder style. Whatever style you decide on make sure you buy a box designed for jumps. Whatever you do, don’t try to stack objects at home.
Quick hint: Jump up. Step down. While box jumping is safe, injuries can occur and most happen when people jump off the box instead of stepping down. Jumping down puts unnecessary stress on your knees and ankles. The benefit of the exercise comes from exploding up from the floor with a soft, agile landing on top of the box, not from jumping off it.
Box Jumps: The Basics
We could write an entire article on box jump drills and variations (and we very well might) but for now, let’s just cover the basics.
1. Prepare to jump
Stand in an athletic position, with your feet shoulder-width apart, at a comfortable distance from the box. Bend your knees, push hips back whilst swinging arms behind you. Push off the floor explosively to jump onto the box.
2. Soft Landing
The key to achieving a soft landing is to maintain a partial squat with your back flat and chest up (don’t hunch forward) with your knees aligned with your toes.
3. Carefully step down
As we hinted earlier, avoid the temptation to jump down. Instead, stand up tall and step down one foot at a time. Jumping down puts stress on your ankles, hips, and knees and it’s totally unnecessary. You may see people jumping down at the gym, don’t be one of them.
Box Jump Circuit: Beginner Friendly
- Front Jump – Face the box, assume an athletic stance, arms back, swing arms forward, explode up and land softly. 3 sets of 5 reps.
- Lateral Jump – Stand to one side of the box, jump up sideways and land on the box, step down and repeat from the other side. 3 sets of 5 reps
- Alternate Step Ups – Face the box, instead of jumping simply alternate stepping up one leg at a time, swing the opposite arm upwards in an uppercut motion. Step down and repeat. 3 sets of 5 reps
For more detailed instructions and drills check out this video:
The Agile Squash Player
Squash players need to be able to move fluidly and with agility in order to position themselves for shots, defend opponents shots and to avoid contact. Being able to quickly change direction, forward, backward and laterally is going to be a key to your success on the court. This next drill will focus on agility in changing direction quickly.
One of the standards in agility training is the shuttle run. Used by athletes in stop-and-go sports like basketball and hockey shuttle runs can also help you build directional speed and agility on the squash court. They’re also a great way to build cardio-vascular endurance.
Lay down two cones about 20 meters apart, if you don’t have cones squash balls work just as well. Assume a sprinting stance, then explode from one marker to the other and back. Repeat 6-8 times and try and do 3 sets. You can switch up the drill by running forward touch returns (bending to touch the cone or ball), forward-backward runs and side-to-side runs.
Slide and Glide
Another great way to improve lateral agility is with a low-impact workout on a slide board. Once used exclusively by ice hockey players to develop their skating, slide boards have now been adopted by other athletes who have come to realize the benefits of this simple training tool.
A slide board is roughly about 2 meters in length and has a smooth, glass-like surface. After putting on a pair of special booties over your regular training shoes you then simply glide from side to side, laterally from one end of the board to the other. The movement engages your torso, hips, arms, glutes, hamstrings, and quads. Once you’ve developed a cadence it provides an excellent, low-impact cardio workout, while also developing your balance and agility.
Here’s short video introducing slide board training:
Add Agility With Cross-Training
Court training is fine and necessary, but squash is a high-impact game and notoriously tough on knees and ankles. Any training that will enhance your abilities on the court by giving your body a break from a hard court surface and the sheering forces of rapid starts and stops will only benefit you in the end.
If you’re an active squash player, you probably devote a good amount of time developing movements that are specific to the game. But only focusing on one major muscle group or on developing a particular range of skills, you are actually limiting your capacity for growth. Cross-training allows you to develop parts of your body other than the muscle groups, joints, and ligaments you primarily use in squash. Another benefit is that cross-training to improve agility can help keep you injury-free, while at the same time sparking some innovation in what may have become a rote routing.
At the end of the day, one of the best ways to get more agile on the court is to spend less time on the court trying to improve your agility. If you’re playing a fair amount of matches and coupling that with squash-specific training on the court you may run the risk of overuse injuries by impacting the same muscle groups and movements repetitively.
Ultimately, agility training sets apart average athletes from exceptional athletes. Adding the above agility training exercises to your weekly conditioning routine will have you taking your squash game to the next level within a few weeks.
What Are Some Of Your Favorite Agility Drills?
We have covered only a few in this article. What drills do you use to improve your court agility? Drop a comment below!