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If you're thinking of taking up squash, you've undoubtedly asked yourself how it compares to tennis. I've played squash -- and ping pong, for that matter -- and had some thoughts about how these smaller racquet sports differ from tennis, but I first wanted to hear what some professional squash coaches had to say.

Though all racquet sports share the concept of controlling a ball with a racquet, they are about as different from one another as the different forms of martial arts are from one another in their emphasis, movements and required skills. Certain exercises -- which we will get to later -- will benefit performance in any racquet sports. But probably the greatest single difference between tennis and the smaller racquet sports (squash, racquetball, ping-pong) is the degree of wrist action needed to execute a shot.

In tennis, power comes predominantly from the shoulder, arm and the follow- through. In squash, power is also shared by the wrist. The shoulder and arm are used of course, but control and drive are dominated by the wrist. Therefore, when doing sports specific squash training, it is the wrist muscles that require the most conditioning and training, particularly since these muscles are almost always neglected in weight training programs.

Training the wrist muscle and the associated muscles of the forearm, is not difficult. It's best accomplished using rubber tubing, which is widely available in sporting goods stores. (DynaBand or Spri Products are two excellent brands).

Attach a piece of rubber tubing to a door handle and grasp the other end with the working hand. (If you're more comfortable wrapping it around your hand a few times, that's fine.) Your hand should form a fist, knuckles facing up. If the tubing is attached to a door know on the left side of your body, use your right hand to do the exercise. When the tubing is attached to a door knob on the right side of your body, train your left wrist.

Now flex the wrist, working against the resistance of the rubber tubing (flexing in this case means moving the knuckles in the direction of the elbow). Repeat for 10 repetitions. Before changing hands, change the position of your body so that you're now facing in the opposite direction. (The tubing is now on the same side of the body as the working hand). Now extend the wrist, working against the resistance of the rubber tubing (extending in this case means moving the knuckles away from the elbow in a "bent wrist" position), the exact opposite of the "flexing" you did before. Repeat for 10 repetitions and then change hands.

Alternately, you can use hand weights to accomplish similar strengthening. Take a pair of light dumbbells, one in each hand, get in a comfortable seated position and rest one arm on each leg with the wrist and dumbbell hanging just off the knee. Start with the palms facing down. Now "curl" the wrist, flexing so that the knuckles move up, in the direction of your face. Repeat for 10 reps.

Now turn your arms so that the palms are facing up, with the wrist dangling off the knees. "Curl" the dumbbells up using the wrist. This is a motion known as "forearm curls".

Sprints and short anaerobic intervals involving intense footwork will benefit players of all racquet sports. Short term speed -- the ability to react quickly and get to the ball -- is one of the most important skills to develop. Short dashes -- 10 or 20 yards -- with very short rest intervals (less than 30 seconds) are a good way to develop fast feet.

Many squash first-timers are surprised by the amount of endurance it takes to chase the ball on what seems like a small court. Build endurance by sprinting half the length of an aerobics classroom and back, walking in place for 15 seconds and then repeating the drill. Try even shorter distances and change direction quickly. The ability to stop on a dime, stabilize your weight, hit the ball and quickly prepare for the next shot will make all the difference in your game.

Finally, for both a better game and a greatly reduced chance of the dreaded "tennis elbow" and other overuse syndromes remember this: Relaxed muscles generate more power. The irritation that leads to tennis elbow often comes from tightening the muscles before connecting with the ball and then not following through with the motion, letting the tightened muscle absorb all the force of the ball. Relax, relax, relax. Any tightening should occur only at the moment of contact; then, always remember to follow through with the motion rather than just stopping when the ball connects with the racquet.

After a few sessions on the squash court you'll notice your game improving dramatically. Your best bet is to forget everything you learned in tennis and to think of this as a new sport altogether, which it is.

And most importantly, wear eye protection! Eye injuries are very common in squash, due to tight space constraints and the speed with which both players and the ball move. Try to stay aware of your opponent's whereabouts at all times; body collisions do occur! Keep a water bottle on hand; you'll lose more water in a speedy game of squash than you'd think possible. Frequent water breaks are definitely necessary.

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