Nick Matthew column: Appliance of science means training ain’t what it used to be

There are similarities between my pre-season training and footballers.
There are similarities between my pre-season training and footballers.
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There are some similarities between squash and football.

For a start, our seasons mirror each other. Squashes big events are mainly between August and May. The only slight difference in our calendars is over the Christmas period. The schedule is chaotic for footballers then and they have to play lots of matches whereas we get a bit of a winter break. We have a few weeks either side of Christmas where we don’t have a tournament.

It is usually late June when I begin my pre-season training, which is similar to footballers. They get set individual fitness programmes over the summer so are ready to go after the break. They keep them ticking over so they don’t put on three or four kilograms. The key is to have a break mentally and not comeback in horrendous shape.

Pre-season is so crucial in football because as soon as the season starts, the matches come thick and fast so it’s quite hard to put the work in and top up your fitness. Apart from international breaks, you don’t get a lot of time to finetune or build on your fitness. Pre-season is money in the bank. That’s why, if I was a football manager, I would want to make my new signings as soon as possible to ensure they can take part in the majority of pre-season.

Football training used to consist of a lot of cross country running. While I’m sure there is still an element of that nowadays, sports science has taken over. In the summer, you have two months where you can go to town on your base fitness to make sure you hit the ground running.

The difficulty with football is there are 22 plus players in a squad and you have to try and get that balance right. I only have to look after myself.

When I was younger, I used to party hard after a season. If the season ended on a Friday, Saturday would be the biggest night out of the year! It was no coincidence I would get ill or pick up a little niggle. You just can’t afford, as a professional athlete, to hammer your body with alcohol. That’s why I tend to have a week off now playing golf, doing boxing or going swimming for fun.

Squash pre-season training has completely changed. It used to be how many 400m runs you could do around an athletics track. You would do a lap, rest for a minute and carry on running until you couldn’t do anymore. Now the training is so much more specific. The game is faster and more dynamic these days. There is a lot more circuit training, upper body, core and bike work involved.

One of the things we do is a full body rumble circuit. These are glorified circuits. You are always trying to challenge the whole body. Everything is very thorough and is carefully put together through sports science.

The first week of training is a warm up week. It is the same with footballers. You don’t want to get injuries or niggles early on by over doing things. You don’t want to do lots of heavy stuff.

Gradually you phase in the work on the court and in the first few weeks you feel yourself back in and you get that sharpness back.

My dad used to say your energy levels are like a water bottle. You need to comeback after a break and it needs to be brimming at the top. If it is only half full, you get found out later on down the line. You have to keep topping your fitness up.

But nothing beats playing matches. You can train like a maniac the week before but it’s matches that helps you get that match sharpness.