“What type of training do you do?” is a question I hear pretty often from anyone trying to improve. I remember being in that position a couple of years ago, wondering what the right workouts were and picking peoples brains. Is it weight lifting? Cardio? Running? Court time? I tried it all, but the one thing that I didn’t try turned out to be the one thing that I needed. I believe this is the case with everyone who has plateaued. Take a moment to think of all the workouts you do, write them down and write the importance of each of them.
Before I let you in on the workout that has had the most affect on my game I am going to list a few common workouts that most players consider standard followed by their downfalls in regards to optimal racquetball performance.
Running– Most athletes, no matter what the sport, do some sort of distance running. It is a basic workout that all humans were made
to do. It is the single biggest calorie burner than any other workout known to man. On average, running burns 110 calories every 10 minutes. More than swimming (80 calories), bicycling (70), and even racquetball (100). It is the best metabolism booster you can imagine and it is such a natural movement.
Here is the problem with running in the game of racquetball. Let’s think about this: what type of game is racquetball? Speed or endurance? Well, you can say it’s a little of both, quick bursts, followed by short rest for an extended period of time.
Running is actually the exact opposite from racquetball. If you run for more than a couple miles then you are training your muscles to be slow and long lasting. This is not ideal in a sport that requires extremely fast movement. So yes, running actually slows you down in the racquetball court. If you choose to run, make it short.
Weight lifting – Also a very common activity for all athletes or anyone trying to get in better shape. Weights make us stronger, and more importantly, reduce injury. It can also increase stamina because the stronger you are the longer you can go. It can also increase power as long as you stay flexible.
Court time – This is perhaps the most important one. I say that because if you aren’t using your court time wisely it can hinder you more than anything.
Court time is the one thing that we all have in common. If you are a racquetball player, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you lift weights, or run. But you do spend time in the court.
Now I want you to think of what you do when you practice. Do you usually hit by yourself? Play with others? Do you leisurely hit the ball around, hitting yourself ceiling balls and then killing them? I’m sure it’s a little bit of everything, which is important, you want to mix it up.
Practicing by yourself and hitting shot after shot will build the repetition and consistency. Playing games with someone else will keep you ready for competition. And the leisure hit-around by yourself is important for the fun of the game. Hitting to ball around is the way I learned how to play. Stepping into the court is like going back in time to when I first picked up a racquet at age 6. It reminds me why I still love the game.
Now, to elaborate on
Running – My advice to you is to do your running in the morning. Athletes do their running in the morning because it activates endorphins in your body that wake you up and get you ready for the day. Running early trains your body to be ready for activity when you wake up. This is especially important for tournaments when you have a match in the morning. I don’t recommend running before your match, but if you train your body properly, you will be much more awake and ready than your opponent. Remember to keep your running under two miles, and try to find some hills so you are not running at a constant pace.
Weight lifting – I recommend doing one day of upper body, one day lower body, and one day core. Then rest a day. Do things like bench press, shoulder press, bicep curls, and pull-ups for upper body. Squats, lunges, calf raises, and box jumps for lower body. Sit-ups, crunches, planks, and medicine-ball workouts for core. But do not mistaken this for your workout! Weight training is barely one third of your training. It is for added power and mostly injury prevention.
Court time – The intensity of your court time is the most important. Remember that anything you do in practice reflects how you do in competition. For example: If you are practicing your drive serve it is extremely important to get back into center court after you hit. If you hit and stand then you will be wondering why you can’t get that down-the-line pass when you’re in competition, or why you can’t properly set up for a ceiling ball in the back court. It is because you did not practice coming out of the box. Cliff Swain once said “Train harder than you play.” Keep that in mind the next time you step on the court. Go in with a purpose, not just to hit the ball around, that is too easy. Hit 25 forehand pinches in a row, or 25 cross courts, or 25 drive serves. But make sure you are practicing and repeating the same movements, because that is what builds muscle memory, and that is how you win.
Now, the grand finaly. Drumroll please!
The most beneficial workout you can do to improve your racquetball game is……………………… FOOTWORK.
Go back to the list you made, is footwork on there? Be honest. And be honest about how much footwork you really do. If this is something you are missing in your routine then I am excited for you. You are about to embark on a journey of mass improvement.
Why is footwork so vital in the game of racquetball? Why is it the most important workout you can do? Why does it have priority over all the other workouts that seem so beneficial?
Let’s think about it: the best players in the world are fast, agile, balanced, but most of all, they are always in control of the rally. The reason they are always in control is because they are always the aggressor. So how do you become the aggressor? For one, you control center court. Controlling the center has everything to do with the shots you are hitting. Passes, pinches, ceiling balls. Anything to get your opponent on the run and away from center. But your opponent is also trying to get you out of center. Every so often you are forced to hit from the front court or the back corners.
Good footwork allows you to:
- Get to the ball faster
- Get set for your shot faster
- Hit the shot you want to hit (being in control)
- Get back to center court faster
These are the four keys to controlling the match.
There is a major difference between a player who is forced to shoot a ball from waist high and a player who can take that extra step and hit it from knee high. It is what makes Kane Waselenchuk so good, and why he makes it look so easy. His footwork is flawless.
Types of footwork:
Shuffling – This helps improve your ability to get to your hitting spot faster. When you’re able to set up for a ceiling ball sooner you’re able to judge and adjust your feet much better. The important thing about it is not the speed, but the balance. Anyone can race to the ball, but the best players are never off balance. Balance is the key to being a good shooter.
Ladder drills – This helps improve your ability to make that extra quick step that gets your feet in perfect position. It teaches your brain to tell your feet what to do at a much faster speed. Once you have established a good quick step, the entire game becomes so much easier. Your opponents shots seem slower, and your ability to kill balls becomes greater. It truly becomes more and more exciting.
Hip turns – The ability to turn your hips is absolutely essential to become a better player. A professional is never facing the front wall when hitting, always the side wall. The ability to turn your body to hit a shot can make or break your game. It is just like the shuffling: The sooner you can turn to set up, the more time you have to make a decision on your shot. A fast turn will allow you to re-kill shots that you normally would be defensive on. It also adds a tremendous amount of power to your game and puts much more pressure on your opponent to hit a good shot, which in turn creates unforced errors in your favor.
Good luck everyone! May your feet be swift and your shots be crisp! Work hard, train hard, and I promise you will progress beyond what you thought was possible.