Racquetball is a complex sport that involves multifaceted movement patterns and muscular involvement. Analyzing the unique demands of the sport and the needs of the athlete provides strength and conditioning specialists with the requirements needed to optimize performance and prevent injury. Unfortunately, there is almost no research about racquetball and what research we have is extremely dated. So, when trying to program for racquetball, how do you do it? We recently published an article on this very topic.
Racquetball is characterized by short intermittent bursts of intense multidirectional activity such as changes in direction, twisting, stretching, hitting, and lunging in response to an opponent’s shot. Proficient agility, quickness, and neuromuscular control are essential for optimizing acceleration, explosiveness, and reactiveness. Dynamic balance and the ability to control one’s center of gravity are imperative for quick lateral and angular movements displayed on the court. Such multifaceted movement patterns and muscular involvement necessitate integrative training programs that focus on increasing strength and power while also improving balance and coordination. One of the challenges of the sport is that it requires whole body training and uses both aerobic and anaerobic systems. A racquetball player needs to be explosive but at times must also compete for long periods.
As the sport of racquetball continues to evolve and push physiological boundaries, there is a tremendous need for tailored strength and conditioning programs that address its various sport-specific demands. Trying to summarize an entire training program within a couple of pages is not possible, and we recommend reading the entire article when it is officially published (abstract here) or contacting one of us for a copy. However, one area we want to emphasize briefly is the need for periodized strength and conditioning training for the sport. Simply lifting some heavy weights or doing some plyometrics here and there may help, but it is going to work effectively. Conversely, focusing on being able to move for a long time without developing explosiveness will not suffice either.
Customizing programs specifically tailored to each team and athlete takes time and intentionality, and periodization provides the tools necessary to do so. In essence, periodization means the athlete trains and prepares for specific time points within a season so that he or she is at the best possible physical condition when it really matters.
Since periodization is often contingent upon the competition season of the athlete, manipulating and adjusting critical variables (especially volume and intensity) allows training to elicit specific adaptations (i.e., increased muscle mass, strength, power) at varying time points throughout a season. For example, linear periodization involves a gradual progression of high volume, low intensity to low volume, high intensity throughout a training season. This approach aims to produce peak performance for a specific competition period or planned event. In contrast, programming for sporadic competition/tournament dates, where "peaking" and "maintenance" periods do not fit perfectly within a planned cycle requires a more frequent manipulation of intensity and training volume.
The means by which training volume and intensity are altered during a periodized program impact the magnitude of neuromuscular adaptation achieved through training. When executed well, periodization optimizes the principle of overload, thereby providing the continuation of progress as well as avoidance of plateaus and/or overtraining. In other words, if periodization is done right, the athlete continues to improve throughout a season and avoids injury and overtraining. However, following such a plan means there will be times when the athlete is not at their best. The key is to perform when it really matters.
How this is accomplished is why we wrote the article in the first place, and again, cannot be explained in a few words. However, we encourage coaches and athletes to begin considering when and how they train and prepare off the court, so their best performances on the court are maximized when it matters most.
Chantel Anthony CSCS
Timothy Baghurst PhD