By Damon Leedale-Brown, Sports Scientist & Conditioning Specialist
If you have followed the steps outlined in the last two issues (which included a review of the past season’s training and competition; profiling and goal setting; building a day to day schedule over a 3-4 week period; and incorporating the key elements of a successful training plan), then all being well you will have put together a program that is personalized, challenging, progressive, and based around your current training requirements as a squash player and athlete.
So how do we know if this well thought out training plan is actually working? First of all, don’t expect to see results overnight! With good consistency, structure and progression in your training you should start to notice some early changes within the first 3-4 week period, and significant improvements over an 8-12 week phase of training.
So what are some of the signs that indicate progress being made in our training across the different areas of development?
• Physically you should begin to feel stronger and fitter during your training sessions on and off court, and also start to see an improvement in your ability to recover between sessions.
• Mentally you might observe a change in your ability to push yourself in tough physical sessions, along with improved focus and discipline.
• Technically if your practice has been purposeful and of a high quality, you should begin to see an increased level of consistency with your technique on court.
• Tactically, you will hopefully feel that you start to play with better awareness and control of the court and your opponent.
Alongside these subjective perceptions it is also great to have more objective data to confirm the improvements you have made through your training.
Physical sessions typically offer the best capacity for measurement, with a number of components that can provide useful data to highlight your training progress:
Examples could be the time taken to complete each set in a series of court sprints (such as 10 sets of 20 sprints); the time to cover a set distance you run on the treadmill, track, road or trail. Technically, it could also be the time taken to hit a prescribed number of shots into a specific target zone.
Could be as simple as counting the number of movements you perform to set target areas on the court during timed sets of ghosting, or the number of jump rope in a set time. Also it could apply to technical skills in terms of number of targets hit in a defined period.
Examples include resistance settings on a bike during intervals; and speed on the treadmill during timed efforts. It would also apply to increases in load (weight used) during conditioning sessions indicating improvements in strength and power.
During work efforts and recovery can be a useful guide to physiological changes during sessions where exercise intervals are at least 1 minute in duration. As your fitness improves you should expect to see a lower peak heart rate during the work intervals, and a faster recovery between sets reflected by a more rapid and larger drop in your heart rate. These changes can be used to help guide when to make progressions to sessions.
Remember also that video can be a very powerful tool providing both subjective and objective feedback to your training. Subjectively you could assess improvements in technique by comparing video taken at the start of a training phase to video taken towards the end of a training phase. Objectively you could use data such as winner to error ratios across a number of practice matches; the percentage of balls hit into specific target zones on the court to reflect improvements in your technique and ball control; your position when your opponent plays their shot based around defined segments of the court to reflect improvements in your tactical control, movement skills and fitness.
Use a detailed training diary to record appropriate subjective and objective training information—it is great motivation to look back and see the significant changes and improvements that you have made as a result of a focused 2-3 month period of training.