By Damon Leeedale-Brown, Sports Scientist & Conditioning Specialist
Single leg strength is essential to improving speed, balance and movement
in squash. Many strength programs place too heavy a focus on double-leg exercises such as squats and leg presses, or other non-functional machine weight exercises such as leg extensions and curls. While squats can provide a great foundation and start point to developing lower body strength, it is important to note that single leg strength cannot be fully developed through double leg exercises solely.
During single leg strength movements the action of the stabilizing muscles around the pelvis are different to a double leg stance. Single leg exercises require the glut medius (muscle in the butt) and quadratus lumborum (muscle in the back) to function as stabilizers which are critical to sports skills where forces are being constantly transferred from one leg to another such as lunging movements in squash.
Over recent years single leg strength training has become much more widely recognized as a key part of athletic development in most sports, and alongside performance enhancement is considered an important element of any injury prevention program for the hip, knee and ankle.
During initial physical assessments of squash players I use a broad range of on-court tests, which include tests of movement endurance, agility and speed. To compliment the on-court assessments I also take players through a range of strength based exercises including a split squat, lunge and single leg squat. The goal is to evaluate their athletic ability performing single leg movements, and identify limitations in these exercises that will impact on the player’s ability to control dynamic movements efficiently and safely on the squash court.
For nearly all players the most challenging of these movements is the single leg squat primarily because there is no assistance provided by the opposite leg. The single leg squat is probably the best expression of single leg lower body athleticism – to perform this exercise well requires a combination of strength, stability and mobility in a multi-joint movement.
Even for athletes who consider themselves to be strong the single leg squat can be quite a humbling experience. It provides immediate and—at times—brutally honest feedback of where you currently are in terms of single leg athletic ability. It is not uncommon for most athletes to feel clumsy and unsteady the first few times they perform this movement.
If you want to have a go at the single leg squat assessment then use the following points as a guide:
- Make sure the foot of the supported leg is facing straight ahead—squash players will have a tendency to want to turn out their foot especially on their dominant side.
- As you lower into the squat focus on helping your weight back into your heel, and the foot should remain flat on the floor at all times. If you feel your weight come towards the front of your foot and your heel begins to lift, then you have already reached your end point in this movement.
- Your shoulders will naturally move ahead of your hips as you lower into the squat, but try and make sure the back remains flat and does not round/flex.
- Your opposite leg should come out in front of the body as you lower into the squat.
- Perform the movement slowly and focus on keeping the knee steady and tracking in line with the second and third toes of the foot. Due to limitations in hip stability and mobility, one of the most common observations during a single leg squat is the tendency for the knee to collapse inwards.
- Perform the movement in front of a mirror or better still have someone film you doing a few repetitions (5 max) from front on and side on—this will then allow you to watch back and evaluate how well you are able to execute the movement.
Don’t get frustrated if you find this really challenging. The single leg squat is an advanced exercise and one that most players would need to build up to as part of a program to develop and improve their single leg strength.
In the next article we will look at an appropriate series of single leg strength exercises for squash players starting with level 1 exercises, and progressing towards more advanced