I recently started training a squash player who plays national level squash. After doing postural assessments, I’ve found she has major muscle imbalances through the upper extremity due to the over use of the same arm to repeatedly hit a shot. I have started with a flexibility program and a small portion of core work with balance training. When I move on to resistance training, will it be worth doing more reps/sets on the weaker parts of her body to try and strengthen them?
This is a very specific client with specific needs, and your exercise programs are crucial to her performance, which is crucial to your reputation and career. There are a few major concepts to think about when working with this client or one like it.
Periodization and Season Phase
It’s really important to know what phase your client is in with regard to the season. Is it the off season, pre season, etc? Once you know this, you can go about periodizing your exercise program from this point on. This will help you identify where you throw in your flexibility work, strength, power, etc. During the in season, you should focus on the movements that are absolutely specific and essential to the sport. Keep the training volume low and address the issues in the musculoskeletal system that are at the highest risk for injury at that point to keep them from going down that road.
There are imbalances at many levels. The ones you should focus on right now are the postural imbalances (i.e., forward head posture, rounded shoulders, tipped pelvis, pronation in the foot and ankle). The natural muscular imbalances that occur from playing sports that involve the single arm dominance of an implement are often secondary to general postural work. When posture is correct, recovery, movement and performance occur at greater efficiencies than someone with less than ideal posture. Posture is the point from which movement begins and ends. It’s your foundation. Your movement can only be as efficient as the foundation under it. Some of the muscular imbalances that come naturally with a particular sport can also have some usefulness, and it will be up to you to decide which ones are actually important to have and which should be corrected. As for flexibility, to prevent injury, stretch what’s tight and strengthen what’s loose to make sure movements are executed evenly and no muscle group is over working or under working.
A “small portion of core work” should actually be the bulk. There are plenty of good articles and audio clinics right here on PTontheNET.com about core conditioning and the inner and outer unit. All movements emanate from the core. It’s like the conductor of an orchestra, and it’s the bridge between the legs and arms. The core is extremely important, especially for your client who engages in a total body sport. Most of the injuries and ailments (rotator cuff, ACL tears, medial epicondylitis, herniated discs) that plague athletes today at all levels are due to the poor conditioning of the abdominal wall. If the core is weak, the limbs have to work that much harder, which leads to compensation and eventually injury. The core coordinates and integrates movement evenly among all parts. Make this the bulk of your training. Get her core strong, and you’ll make your client a better athlete.
It is in your best interest to train movement patterns with your client. Nothing about her sport or any sport for that matter is isolative. Big movements are the way to go. A lot of lunging, wood chopping, reactive work, medicine ball work and cable work is key. (Note: Be careful to stick with traditional machine style cables. Using bands and tubing can disrupt motor recruitment and aggravate the musculo-tendinous unit. It’s crucial for athletes to keep these systems efficient, or you can slow them down and or increase their risk of injury.)
Frontal and Transverse Planes
A squash player operates in many directions and all three planes of motion. It’s critical that you expose your client to all planes with a large focus on the frontal and transverse. This will keep the stabilizer systems running well, neuromuscular sharpness high, prevent pattern overuse and keep the conditioning program quite “sport specific.” If your exercise program is sagittal plane dominant, it should be adjusted immediately.
This is important to factor into your program. In the book “Supertraining” by Mel Siff, there is a great table on the breakdown of energy systems in particular sports. In squash, 50 percent is within the short term system, 30 percent in the intermediate and 20 percent in the long term or aerobic. These percentages should be followed closely. For example, if your program is around 40 percent aerobic training, you’re wasting time. The majority of your work should focus on power and strength. Interval style training would be a great approach.
Training the Imbalances
This is more discretionary on your part. Athletes who use implements will almost always have more development in their dominant limb, except during those instances or sports that require the use of both hands to wield the implement. It just comes with the territory. I would focus on making the weaker limb as strong as the dominant limb. Some asymmetrical loading may prove useful. Unless their aesthetic desire is a factor, which it can be, developing the weaker limb to be comparable to the dominant one as far as size and development may not be something you want to focus on when there are more important things higher up the totem pole.
Read up on core conditioning and use the PTN Exercise Library for ideas on programming. Good luck!