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Blog: Speed is king for the highly skilled athlete

By Mark Campbell | 08/07/2016

Modern sports at the elite level are seeing competitors becoming faster and faster as the pace of sport continues to advance. Squash is no exception and various changes both to equipment and the scoring of the sport have produced a much more explosive fast paced attacking game. 

Nick Matthew has been at the top of the sport for over a decade and is known and feared as one of the fittest players ever to step through the glass door. His entire training life has been one that is fully committed to being the best prepared in all the physical qualities that a squash player requires.  The most important physical traits for a squash player are speed, agility, aerobic fitness and the ability to perform high-intensity movement efforts time after time after time.

Many young squash athletes training has a strong emphasis on endurance as the defining physical quality that is trained, often similar to that which an endurance athlete would perform. Years of this type of training provides a massive base of fitness that will transfer onto the court in the early years as skills and tactical awareness are being developed. This level of fitness will allow the squash athlete the ability to perform a huge amount of technical and match play work on court which ultimately is the main performance enhancer in a young squash players’ game. It will also help to stave off injury.

As the squash athlete gets to higher levels of performance and competition the increased speed of movement requires a different focus with many squash athletes needing an emphasis on speed and agility training to allow them to compete at the higher level. Hopefully this quality has been challenged and developed to some degree as a young squash player to ensure that it is still part of the athlete’s arsenal.

With years and years of high quality and often arduous endurance based work now in the tank, Nick emphasises his speed and quality of movement above metabolic endurance type conditioning. Due to his exceptional sporting skill his on court match play and conditioning maintain his endurance qualities in a much more specific and beneficial way. This is in contrast to the younger less skilful squash athlete who due to the lack of playing skill may not get the same level of conditioning from match play and practice sessions. This will then require a more general endurance focus for these younger athletes.

Speed of movement and the ability to repeat high intensity efforts have now become the main focus of Nick’s off court conditioning work. This generally means extremely high quality explosive sessions very reflective of the type that a top level sprint athlete would perform. Such a session would involve low repetitions of specific sporting movements interspersed with fairly large amounts of rest to emphasise speed and explosiveness or shorter rests to emphasise the ability to repeat these efforts. This work is supported by a foundation of strength that is emphasised all year round to underpin the speed and repeated speed work and to also prevent injury. Nick now relies predominantly on his sport specific training sessions and match play to maintain and enhance his base endurance levels with off court sessions focused on his speed and strength qualities.

This evolution in Nicks training has come about naturally due to the demands his sport has placed on his body. An interesting meeting Nick had recently confirmed this approach. At a tournament in Sweden he met former superstar tennis player Stefan Edberg, at the time part of the great Roger Federer’s coaching team. Stefan alluded to Roger also spending the majority of his off court training time emphasising his strength, speed and agility with his match play and court based training offering him all the endurance work he needs at this late stage of his career. Clearly for these high level performing technical sport based athletes – speed is definitely king.

Mark in the EIS gym with Nick Matthew
Mark in the EIS gym with Nick Matthew