ASRC is going to start a series of articles, written by our coaches, on the various aspects of sport and performance for the benefit of the wider membership. If you have any questions relating to any of these articles or would like further information then please email [email protected] and one of our coaches will be in touch.

Activating the Body for Sport

We all hear people discussing "warming up" and "cooling down", and many of us choose to ignore these elements of sport, more than likely because the science or benefit behind it has never been explained to us, or indeed how these things impact our performance, or increase our susceptibility for injury.

Perhaps the first thing to recognise is that "warming up" is probably the wrong phrase to use as a description of the things that will benefit our on court performance. "Activating the Body for Sport" is a much more appropriate description for the things that we can do to assist in enhancing our performance during match play or training or to assist in injury prevention.

Consider the fact that the sport of squash predominantly consists of 2 vital areas: (1) the physical capacity to get to and play the ball (2) the ability to make good decisions about which shots to play. It follows that any preparation should ensure that these two areas are attended to prior to training or match play.

The capacity to retrieve the ball is dictated by our ability to change direction and move quickly. There are some basic things that we can all do to improve our ability to do this before we go on court:

  • Increase the energy supply to our muscles - muscles cannot work effectively if they are not given sufficient energy. Generally speaking, this means oxygen! You can only get an increase in oxygen to these muscles by increasing flow of oxygenated blood to them, so some light jogging on the spot, skipping etc. to raise the pulse will ensure this happens.
  • Increase the range of movement of our joints - you will not be able to change direction quickly or perform the movements required by the sport if your joints have a limited range of movement or are stiff. Some dynamic yoga and / or sport specific movements will ensure that the joint ranges necessary for the sport are achieved prior to play. E.g. downward facing dog, into chaturanga, some split squat lunges with hip rotation will help open the hips.
  • There are some other benefits that you may not realise occur when you do the above 2 key activities:
    • There will be a lowered viscous resistance of the muscles, i.e. your movements will be faster and more efficient - you will fatigue more slowly - think of the 5th game!
    • Enhances the speed of transmission of nerve impulses - i.e. you will react faster – think volleying, rather than court sprints!
    • Increases blood saturation of muscle tissues, which improves elasticity - i.e. your muscles will be springier, and less likely to get injured!

Many people don't realise that one of the key elements of a warm up is supporting the preparation of the brain for sport - we all know that when we are distracted and have things on our minds it can impact our performance, but what are the benefits of warming up from a psychological point of view?

Muscles have an advantage over the brain from an energy provision point of view - muscles contain their own energy store in the form of muscle glycogen - the brain is only fuelled by blood glucose. In a sport like squash where making good quality decisions about which shots to play is critical, having a suitable and sufficient supply of energy to allow the brain to make these decision is essential, particularly given the relentless speed and frequency that these decisions need to be made under [for context, the brain is roughly 2% of the weight of the body, but consumes 20% of its energy at rest. Think how much it will consume when playing squash!]. It follows that the best decisions will be made when the blood is supplying more blood sugar and oxygen to the brain - i.e. at a high heart rate where blood glucose flow will be greatest, and working in the upper aerobic zone, where oxygen uptake will be at its maximum.

There are no excuses any more for labelling yourself as a slow starter! Properly activating the body for sport maximises the chances of performing optimally from the very start of your match and reduces the risk of injury. Some things to consider off the back of this.... standing on the sauna to "get warm" adds very little value to your performance - if you aren't pulse raising and increasing joint range of motion you are probably wasting your time. In addition, it's against club rules!!! J

If you have any questions relating to this article or would like to learn how to properly "Activate Your Body for Sport" then please email [email protected] or speak to one of our coaches, who can put together a personalised set of activities to help you improve your performance.

Please note that there are many aspects of “Activating the Body for Sport” that are not covered in this article – it is intended to give you an insight into ways of improving your performance – for further information please speak to a qualified coach or email [email protected]