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  • Chris

Why is Squash so Hard on the Body?

The answers is obvious right? It is a tough sport; all that twisting and turning and lunging, so, duh, it is bound to get you injured eventually. Well, yeah that's right, but what is going on exactly? This is an important question because a general explanation ("It's tough") isn't going to provide us with enough information to help us prevent injuries both now and in the future.

So let's get specific. In my experience, squash seems particularly hard on the hips, ankles, and lower back, and eventually knees, elbows, and shoulders, especially in old age. Undoubtedly some of this is normal wear and tear, but much of it is excessive, related particularly to the game.

Let's begin where much of our problems start, we aren't living lives in sync with how we evolved. This is really important to grasp; since the industrial revolution, in fact since the agricultural revolution, the human race has been living completely differently from how it was living for the majority of it's 150 000 year or so history. Hunter gatherer tribes still exist on earth and live similar lives to ancient man. They move around a lot, some tribes more than others. They walk and they run all day, it is/was a physical existence.

Most of us these days, even the most active of us, by comparison lead sedentary lifestyles. We sit down too much and we are under stress in this position, like while driving, at the office, or at school. We are already primed for dysfunction.

When we walk or run, what do we do? Our legs move up and down and our upper body rotates (video coming soon). Our posture is stacked in such a fashion to mitigate the forces placed on it in typical human movement. It is really quite simple, but some weird things start happening when we sit down too much, wear shoes, and play lots of squash and this is where things can get complicated. Depending on the specifics of our lives and our genetic propensity to injury we compensate for our dysfunctions in different ways. However, there are clear patterns that emerge in all people, but this is a discussion for another day. Let's stick specifically to squash.

Movement in squash goes against how we were evolved to move in a few important ways:

This picture shows a heel strike at full stretch and a right-leg lunge on the forehand side, which is much more common than a left lunge on the backhand, therefore creating a right leg dominance.

- Heel striking.

- Excessive force produced by just one side of the upper body and the lower body movement that goes with this, i.e. for right-handers, more lunging off the right leg.

- Excessive rotation of the femur and tibia while striking a ball.

- Lateral hip shifts when stretching to pick up the ball.

- Continual spinal flexion.

- Supination of the ankles caused by heel striking and femoral rotation.

If you zero-in on the front foot of the player in grey, you'll notice a common aspect of squash and that's planting the foot by rolling from the outside of the heel all the way on the outside to the forefoot. This is ankle supination, and this habit often works it's way into squash player's gait cycle, i.e. their walking and running stride.

If you play enough, all of these factors are going to start affecting your posture and your movement off-court. Over time this is a nice little recipe for movement dysfunction, and eventually, injury.

Don't get me wrong, I love the game of squash and will continue to play it for as long as I can, despite the risks, and I am sure that many reading this will feel the same. The game is undoubtedly good for both our physical and mental health overall. So how do we keep playing? We can't change technique on the court, not really. And we aren't going to all start playing with our other hand to balance things out. We can't think of all these things while playing, it's too complicated, and even if we could, changing the way we move on court so that it is in -sync with our evolved biomechanics will probably make us all play much, much worse. What we can do, however, is spend time off-court trying to correct some of our dysfunctions and also not train in ways that are going to make the situation worse.

Focussing on the hips this time, you'll notice a shift to the left as he is playing his shot. This is a very common position in squash as a player manoevures themselves to play a low ball or work their way around an opponent. These lateral hip shifts again find their way into squash players everyday movements, such as walking.

How do we make the situation worse off the court?

- Running with bad technique, especially heel striking (but there is more to it than just that, you can run with bad forefoot striking technique also).

- Doing too much weight training in the sagittal plane only and bilaterally only.

- Weight training and bodyweight exercises using bad technique.

- Bad static stretches that make us hyper-flaccid in our range of motion and disconnecting areas of our body that should be working together moving in unison (see "The Trouble with Stretching" post).

- Too much sitting, especially in stressful situations, like driving or at work.

We need to train smarter, and I hate to be overly critical but what we all do at the moment is outdated and unnecessary. Even the pros need some serious changes to their training regimes. In blogs and videos to come, I will be going into each of these problems areas on the body and in training in more detail, breaking down what we can do to prolong all of our playing careers and live our day-to-day lives with less discomfort.

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