Hesham El Attar on ghosting for speed and endurance
This article, in which Hesham El Attar explores how to develop speed endurance and confidence in your fitness through solo work, was published courtesy of Squash Player magazine, the associate magazine of the World Squash Federation.
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In our last article on ghosting we discussed the heavy and prolonged sets involved in the aerobic phase.
Unfortunately, this work does not enhance speed and can have a temporarily adverse effect on your squash movement, so the next stage is to switch to a court movement routine that builds on the work you’ve already done and finally brings the process to fruition.
Working within the anaerobic phosphate system, speed endurance involves high frequency and repeated power movements. Each burst is followed by a recovery period to allow the same intensity for consecutive sets. As you do more of these sessions, you should be able to work at a notably higher speed, produce more sets within a session, and recover faster between each set.
Focus on using only two types of configuration for this work (unless you have been doing it for years). This is to keep track of intensity and progress. Make sure you warm up well beforehand.
1. Front corners then volley from side to side
Place a couple of squash ball markers in the same position, deep in the front corners, and make sure you swing accurately right on top of them. Start at the T and move to each marker and back to the T in turn.
Next, add in side-to-side movement (left front corner, right front corner, right side volley, left side volley, left front corner and so on). When moving from side to side, travel about a foot behind the short line and ensure your racket head is almost scraping the side walls at, or slightly above, head height when you swing. This will fix your parameters and ability to measure the amount of work you are doing.
Aim to do a set of 12 swings. You will need a stopwatch to time your movement from the T, to completion of the hits and returning to the T. You should work at close to maximum speed and rest for a maximum 30 seconds to start with. Do one set of this and keep alternating with configuration two below.
2. Rear corners then volley from side to side
Place squash ball markers in the rear corners tight to the side walls. Repeat 12 swings at the same intensity, rest and alternate as above.
Your first sessions should start with a number of sets equal to those you had achieved during your lactate work. The total duration of the workout will take less time, but you should feel considerable exertion due to the very high intensity of the exercise. Four to six sets of this routine, a couple of times a week should show results. Try to increase the number of sets by 30-50 percent during these weeks.
PURE SPEED WORK
The next step is working on improving pure speed. That is, how fast you can move your feet and legs to take the body from one place to another, including take-off, acceleration, stop-start and change of direction.
Here, we aren’t interested in how quickly we recover from each set or how many sets we can do. We are only interested in single performances. This is pure anaerobic phosphate work with rest periods for total ATP (muscle fuel) replenishment. We are teaching and training our neuromuscular system to take us through the court faster.
For this pure speed work (as opposed to speed endurance) it is best to use just the two front corners and/or the front corners and side to side movement as in  above.
In doing so, it’s best to work in stints of 10 to 15 seconds, with rest intervals of 30 to 60 seconds. A good warm-up and rehearsal of the movement at 70 percent speed, then 90 percent to maximum speed is the safe way to go.
Accurate timekeeping with a stopwatch is important because speed of execution has to be timed and challenged. You have to find ways of beating your time through more efficient and precise or faster and more powerful movement. Take plenty of rest. Get your breath back totally with up to 60 seconds of recovery.
Continue doing sets until your performance drops off. When it does, take a longer break, focus and challenge yourself to do better. If your time is still dropping off, that’s the end of the session.
The lessons learned and fitness gains from ghosting are many. The lessons on improving movement and body control for longer and at faster speeds are obvious, but what else has it added to our game?
When we get fitter, we can play longer rallies. Longer rallies allow us to get into more of a rhythm where shots and playing patterns are repeated. This rhythm and repetition allows us to practise better. When rallies become longer, we improve our focus. When patterns are repeated, we learn tactics and strategy even better as we analyse why and how they repeat and how we can take advantage of that or add subtle changes.
Longer rallies mean we rush less. We gain more confidence and patience in constructing the rallies which end in us winning more often. We also gain a better sense of our balance and hence know when we can execute more risky shots with precision.
Theoretically, a fitter player is either feeling less physical discomfort or has learned to focus despite the physical discomfort. This is huge in cultivating mature play. How often have we been dead tired in the middle of a brutal footwork session and surprised ourselves by finishing it well? This can be a priceless boost to our self-belief and determination during tough matches.
We have been doing all this preparation work with a heart rate monitor. We can now guess our heart rate and know pretty well how long we can continue high intensity work and what it would take to recover to sustainable levels. We will then repeatedly and willingly go into controlled high intensity.
These are just a few examples of what we can develop.
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