There are a handful of sports and activities that can improve your racquetball game tremendously. Most cross-trainers have a positive impact, but some are definitely better than others. I have comprised a list of sports and activities that are beneficial to racquetball. Some are similar to racquetball, some are different, and some are random. Some have been major contributors to my racquetball game, some not so much.
Here are my three personal favorite cross-trainers for racquetball:
This was my first choice because bicycling played a large roll in my improvement in college. For parts of my college years I was without a car and only had my bike. What started out as a hassle later turned into a joy and part of my training. Biking gives you a great leg workout with very little impact on your joints. It gave me the leg strength and stamina that I was lacking in my early years. It also simulates racquetball very well if you are riding in hills. Uphill is the rally, downhill is the rest. I like to imagine a rally in my head when I am climbing a hill, then I focus on breathing and recovering on the downhill. I notice a large improvement in my leg stamina in the rallies, also my ability to stay low on my shots.
I used to play basketball quite a bit because there were very competitive pickup games at my gym. Basketball is similar to racquetball because the length of the games are about the same, the hardwood surface is the same, and the shuffling is near identical. When defending another player in basketball you are forced to move side to side very quickly. You also must go forward and back and stay balanced the whole time. Basketball also has less time in between possessions. It is a fast paced game so it is harder to catch your breath. I notice my recovery time in racquetball is better when I have been playing basketball. I find myself much more exhausted after playing basketball than I do racquetball. The only problem I have with basketball is I sprained my ankle really bad once and it put me out of racquetball for a while. So if you play I suggest wearing high tops and/or ankle braces.
Before I started boxing I never guessed the impact it could have on racquetball. Aside from it being good to learn, requiring good footwork and shoulder stamina, boxing gives you great hand speed. Boxing activates the fast twitch muscles in your shoulders which are also used in the racquetball swing. The faster your muscles can react the better shot you can take. I noticed a huge difference in my hand speed and re-kill ability when I was involved in boxing. If you don’t want to get into boxing then at least check out the speed bag. The speed-bag is like the hand version of the footwork ladder or jump-rope, telling your brain how to move your arms in a split second. Fast hands in the front court is a deadly weapon and will win you many matches.
Similar, yet not-so-good for racquetball
Tennis- I like tennis but I have rarely played it. Tennis involves a stiff wrist and top spin. Racquetball requires a loose wrist and flat swing. I remember playing tennis for a few days as a kid. When I returned to the racquetball court I noticed my swing was off. At that point I decided to stay away from tennis for the most part. Racquetball was always too important to me and I didn’t want anything to get in the way. I play once in a while, usually during the summer, and I still love watching major tennis championships. I marvel in their shot-making ability, stamina and focus it takes to play a four hour match. I like watching the players closely to learn and relate to the mental aspects of a different one on one racquet sport.
Squash- Squash is even more similar to racquetball than tennis. Racquetball and squash share wooden floors and the same wall surfaces (cement, panel or glass). Squash requires a lot of stamina, accuracy, patience, touch, and so on. The stroke is less powerful than racquetball and the movement requires a lot of lunging. Lunging in racquetball will get you out of position. In racquetball it is best to keep your feet under you to stay centered, balanced and quick. The footwork in squash is geared towards a defensive strategy, and racquetball is more offensive. In squash you must hit the ball above a tin, but the ideal shot for racquetball is as low as possible. The similarities are there, but if I’m going to spend time in a big white box it might as well be a racquetball court.
There are also sports that seem to be complete opposite in nature but have a great impact on each other.
A perfect example of this is football and ballet. Many professional football players have been known to take ballet classes in the off-season. Ballet requires calf strength, balance and grace. The added calf strengths gives a football player better pop off his toes, the better balance now allows him to stay centered and on his feet, and the grace gives him smoother moves and better agility.
Athletes of all sports, shapes and sizes have been known to practice the art of yoga to become more flexible. Yoga requires a lot of strength and elasticity in order to perform even the basic poses. Flexibility is important in all sports because the longer the muscle the stronger it is. Flexibility also helps with injury prevention and keeping your muscles young which lengthens your career.
Swimming does not have any major benefit to my racquetball game. It helps with shoulder strength, stamina, and can help prevent injury, but for the most part it involves slow twitch muscles. I like to swim because it is always good to be a strong swimmer and it is quite relaxing. It also feels good after a long workout or when I’m not feeling well. I don’t use swimming as a cross-trainer for racquetball. Sometimes it is nice to get away for a while.
Golf and racquetball seem to have a good relationship. If you are good at racquetball, it is likely that you are good at golf. Most of the top racquetball professionals are very good golfers. Both sports require a lot of hip and shoulder movement, timing, hand-eye coordination, and they share the same contact point. The basics of both swings are the same: Hips firsts, then shoulders, then hands, keep your head down and eye on the ball, follow through. The only difference is that golf is more upright and racquetball is low and flat. I like golf because it is nice to play a game that is less physically demanding for a change.
I personally have never played competitive hockey, but from what I hear, and what I’ve seen out of Kane, it can be very beneficial. Hockey requires incredible leg stamina as well as core strength. The ability to change directions forward, backward, and side to side takes a lot of strength in hockey skates. It is also a very physical sport, you gotta be tough to play. And more importantly, it involves the same type of hand eye coordination, using a stick and puck as opposed to a racquet and ball. The slap shot is almost a mirror image of a racquetball swing. We get low and use our core to ignite a powerful swing. It is a sport I wish I played more of as a kid.
Cross-training can come in many forms. It can be a sport you love or an activity you do just to become better at another sport. For many of us, cross-training is a way to explore other forms of competition. That is why it is rare to find someone with only one sport. Athletes like to diversify their cross-training. Some are team sports, individual, fast or slow, and they all feed our thirst for freedom through competition.
What is your cross-training?
I welcome all feedback.