By Damon Leedale-Brown, Sports Scientist & Conditioning Specialist
Last month we took a detailed look at the squat and lunge exercises which provide an excellent introduction to the development of functional lower body strength for squash players. We highlighted the importance of single leg strength for a squash athlete to help cope with lunging movements on and off the ball, and to transfer weight smoothly and with control from one leg to the other. This month I will introduce some other great single leg strength exercises that I commonly use in programs with developing junior players right through to world class pros.
The Split-Squat is one of my favorite exercises for squash players, is easy to learn and execute, and has many progressions in the level of challenge presented to the athlete using medicine balls, dumbbells, weighted bars and overhead hand positions.
I like to start with the overhead split squat as I find this helps encourage better posture and form in the exercise, and it develops flexibility through the shoulder and hip area simultaneously.
Key Technique Points for the Overhead Split-Squat:
Step into a strong lunge position
- Hold arms above head, with your palms facing forward, or holding a light stick or medicine ball.
- Drop the back knee down towards the floor while the front knee remains over the ankle.
- Keep head up and chest open, and shoulders sitting directly above the hips.
- As you lower into the Split-Squat you should feel a slight stretch through the hip-flexors of the rear leg.
- Focus on driving from the hips as you return to the starting position.
- Start with 2-3 sets of 8-10 Split-Squats with each leg leading and perform 2-3x/week as part of a structured strength program.
One-Leg Bench Squat (Bulgarian Split-Squat):
The One-Leg Bench Squat is a great progression from the Split-Squat. With the back foot placed on a bench (or box) in a less stable contact position, the back leg cannot then provide as much assistance in the exercise which increases the difficulty.
Key Technique Points for the One-Leg Bench Squat:
- Make sure the foot on the floor is far enough forward from the bench so the movement does not feel jammed-up as you begin to lower towards the floor.
- The top of the foot on the back leg should be resting on the bench.
- Aim to lower until the thigh of the front leg is parallel to the floor, and the knee of the back leg is nearly touching the floor.
- Keep your chest open with shoulders drawn back so you do not collapse forwards from the hips.
- As you come out of the bottom position, focus on driving up from the heel and hip of the front leg.
- Start with bodyweight (hands to side of head) and progressions can be made as with the Split-Squat using dumbbells held at side, bar across back, bar overhead (advanced).
- Start with 2-3 sets of 6-8 repetitions on each leg 2x/week.
We have now covered four exercises (Squat, Lunge, Split-Squat and One-Leg Bench Squat) which, if performed with a disciplined focus on technique and control, will provide an excellent foundation to the development of your functional lower body strength as part of a structured and consistent program.
As the lunge is such a fundamental movement on the squash court, we will finish off our series on leg strength next edition by looking at a range of different lunge patterns, before we move onto exercises to help improve hip and torso strength.