By ALAN THATCHMARSH
As Britain swelters in a spring heatwave, squash players all over the country are succumbing to a plague of gardening-related injuries.
Squash coaches report a seasonal downturn in coaching income due to players pulling out of lessons with back strains brought on by long hours spent cutting the grass, digging up weeds and tending borders.
The reasons are simple: the players who know about stretching will suffer fewer injuries than those who never warm up properly.
Technique is just as important in the garden as it is on the squash court. For example, many lower back injuries are caused by players carrying heavy bags of compost without learning the safe methods of lifting.
Gardening, to my knowledge, has yet to feature in any squash-training manuals but maybe it’s time to change that scenario with a whole range of stretches and movements that will help you cope with the physical demands of the squash court and your back yard.
Another key factor is the time you spend in the garden, often under the watchful eye of a partner relaxing in the sun-lounger sipping a glass of Chablis.
They have hardly seen you all winter because of your obsession with squash, and every late night after a team match at the other end of the county has been carefully logged in their diaries.
So, cometh the spring, you have more than a few hours of home-time to make up before you get back in the good books.
And what better way of doing this than lovingly tending the lawn, planting flowers and digging your own healthy, organic veggie-patch.
If you’re smart, you can combine your gardening routines with some off-season training drills. These are designed to strengthen your core muscles and avoid injuries on the court when you’ve accrued enough brownie points to be allowed back to the squash club.
Here’s a few tips to mesh your squash training with your gardening routine.
1: Get rid of the lawnmower and buy a scythe. This will improve your swing and your backhand drop shots. Learn how to balance properly and swing low to achieve an even cut. This brings a new meaning to the art of slicing the ball.
2: Lawn sprints. An alternative to the above is for you to pull the lawnmower yourself. So charge it up, point it in the right direction and attach it to your waist. You will very quickly realise the need to stay in front of the lawnmower to avoid serious heel and ankle injuries. Warning: Heavy industrial footwear is advisable. This, in turn, will strengthen the calf muscles.
3: Tending the rockery. Pick up the rocks and use them as free weights. Be careful not to drop them on your head or feet.
4: Weeding Lunges: Next time you bend to dig up the weeds, take a running start from the other side of the garden and lunge towards the affected areas with your weeding implement. Once you have built up a pile of weeds, place your refuse sack six feet to the left (assuming you are right-handed). Again, lunge into the weed pile, transfer the weeds to your left hand, then lunge towards the refuse sack. Repeat until the garden is tidy and weed-free.
5: Volley branches. If you have trees or tall shrubs in your garden, they will need trimming after their spring growth spurt. Get rid of your ladder and learn how to jump and swing at the same time. If you are tall, like James Willstrop, this routine will come naturally. Warning: If using an electrical appliance, keep well away from your neck and ears.
6: REST: Remember to factor in some well-earned rest periods into your gardening/training routines. You probably spend 40 minutes on a squash court but under the forced-labour conditions imposed by your partner, you may well find yourself spending several hours on gardening duties.
Every time you work up an intense sweat, go over and try to hug your partner, glowing with pride at every menial task you have completed in the garden. The effect is just the same as if you were wearing your sweaty, smelly squash gear. They will push you away and tell you to go and change your shirt. Take advantage of this window of time to put your feet up, rest your weary muscles, and read your favourite squash magazine.
7: Fluid intake. During the above window of time, make sure you keep up your fluid intake to avoid the risk of dehydration, just as you would in the club bar.
Coming soon on Gardener’s World: Alan Titchmarsh and fellow Yorkshireman, world champion Nick Matthew, swap their rackets and spades for a special edition called Court Short.