Although squash is played all year around, it is primarily a winter sport and so takes place at the coldest time of the year. We all know that feeling of taking a freezing cold squash ball out of our bags that has been stored in the trunk of our car, and the first shot you take it splats the wall like a frozen chicken nugget, and plunges straight to the ground. But what are the best ways of warming up a squash ball? Are there any tried and tested hacks or tricks that can speed this process along? And what is it best to avoid? I have researched several sources, and in this blog post I want to present with you the very best advice all in one place.
So what’s the best way to warm up a squash ball? The best way to warm up a squash ball is by repeatedly hitting it straight down the line high up on the front wall. Volleying works really well for this, as then the ball also doesn’t cool down when it hits the floor. Volley three times and then cross court it to your partner. Repeat.
Read on to find out a more detailed view of how to warm up a squash ball, and some classic do’s and don’ts.
The warm-up technique in more detail
To give a more detailed description of the classic warm-up procedure, do the following. Stand roughly in the centre of the service box, as if you were about to receive a serve. Your partner will be standing in the opposite service box.
Hit the ball high up on the front wall straight in front of you. Allow it to travel straight back towards you. Ideally then volley it straight back at the same point.
A more skilful player will use their backhand if they are stood on the left of the court, and their forehand volley if they are on the right. However, that is not massively important for the warming up process.
Simply repeat three volleys, and then hit it cross court to your partner by hitting the ball high up in roughly the centre of the front wall. Your partner will then repeat the process before hitting a cross court back to you.
How to warm it up for beginners
To make it simpler allow the ball to bounce each time you hit it. The volleying just helps it not hit the colder floor, but this is not essential. The ball will warm up anyway if volleyed or just struck after bouncing.
Why warm it up?
Squash balls in their cold state, or even at room temperature, have nowhere near enough bounce in them to play a match. It would be impossible to have a rally of even three or four shots without the ball warming first taking place.
A period of warm-up play before any squash match is standard procedure across all grades of the game. This period has multiple roles of which warming up the ball is one of the most fundamental; the other main one being warming up for the players.
Why does a ball bounce more when it is heated up?
Cook (2011) states that ‘A warmer ball will bounce higher than a cold one. The reason for this is twofold. In a hollow ball, the change in temperature causes a change in air pressure within the ball. In an enclosed situation, air pressure is directly proportional to temperature. Lowering the air pressure by lowering the temperature has an effect similar to deflating the ball. Increasing the temperature, and thus air pressure, has the effect of over-inflating. The other way in which temperature influences the height a ball bounces is by impacting its elasticity.’
Why does it heat up?
There’s a simple answer to this – friction! The more the ball is hit againt the walls, the more friction is created and more of this is converted into heat energy.
How long does it take to warm up?
It normally takes between 5-10 minutes to reach its optimum temperature. The exact time is determined by a range of factors.
What factors affect the ball’s temperature?
There are quite a few other things that have a strong impact on the temperature of a squash ball, and also of how long it will take to be warmed up.
The court temperature is the main factor. In the broadest definition the court’s temperature should definitely be somewhere between 10°C and 25°C. More specifically it is recommended that it should be between 15°C and 20°C. Personally, I would say anywhere around 20°C would be the ideal.
Court temperature has a huge impact on how the game pans out. This is a real skill to playing on cold courts, or alternatively playing on hot courts. Cooler temperature favour touch players, who like to lob and drop. Warmer temperatures favour power players, and those that like to keep rallies going longer.
The overall court temperature will also have an impact on a couple of other factors. The first is wall temperature. Particularly in winter, you will often find squash court walls are at a lower temperature than the air in the room.
The ideal way of resolving this is to have the heating on well in advance of the game. Of course, this is not always possible, especially if your club or court are trying to economise.
Another factor is floor temperature, and again having the heating on well in advance of the game is the best way of it not becoming an issue later. It is very difficult to warm the ball up at all if either the floor or the walls are cold, and the game will take place with a much lower bouncing ball.
Where to store squash balls
Squash balls are best kept in a warmish place, or at least at room temperature. In a bag in your car in winter is really the last place you want to keep them.
Any other factors that affect the length of the warm-up?
The other big one is how hard the players can hit it. If both are able to give it a good whack then the ball will warm up much quicker. If not, then it will be a longer process. This may be affected by a number of factors. If juniors are playing, for example, it may take longer. Or if the players are quite old. The same process applies however: just whack it down the line a few times then cross court it and repeat.
Are there any things to avoid?
There certainly are! Some of the more well-known practices for warming squash balls up seem to be frowned upon by most squash-experts.
The number one method that I have seen many times is rolling the ball under your shoe on a carpet before starting the warm-up. This seems to be decried by most authorities as being a way of weakening your ball, and placing undue stress on its seam. The most likely result is the ball bursting much sooner than it would have done if it was warmed up in the recommended way.
Another few hacks that I have heard of seem to be equally bad for the ball in different ways. Putting the ball in the microwave was one suggestion I saw a few times! This could potentially damage the molecular structure of the ball.
Another thing I have seen is putting a ball on a radiator. This will quite commonly result in the ball becoming misshapen.
Using car-heaters on the way to a match is another common practice. Again the misshapen issue comes in to play when you start applying heat to one side of the ball.
So don’t heat or roll is the summary of this!
Things to be careful of
The biggest thing to be mindful of is avoiding injury during the warm-up.
A short warm-up before you even start hitting the ball is recommended. Even just a couple of minutes of simple jogging up and down the line, or skipping, or jumping on the spot. This gets blood flowing around your body and begins to loosen up muscles.
The issue with going cold into the warm up is that hitting a colder ball puts much more stress on your joints and muscles. There is a heightened risk of shoulder or elbow injuries during this first five minutes of whacking a colder and much less elastic ball.
You also may need to stoop more, or swing awkwardly when the ball rebounds off the floor at an unexpectedly low height.
What is the best way to warm up the ball if I’m playing alone?
Squash players of all standards will benefit from some sessions of solo practice. This is great way to develop technique, accuracy and racket skills. If you are beginner, I would really recommend that you check out some solo hitting drills.
The quickest way to warm up a squash ball is probably also arguably the most effective solo drill. Stand in the centre of the court facing one of the side walls. Use a forehand to strike the ball quite high up on the side wall so that it rebounds over your head and hits the other side wall behind you.
Then try to backhand against that wall so that it rebounds over your head and hits the first wall. Repeat this process – backhand, forehand, backhand, forehand – until the ball is bouncing much better. You can hit lower down on the wall as the ball heats up. This is possibly the very best way of practising hitting straight drives.
Any other tricks I should try?
There is now on the market a very useful piece of a gear called a ‘ball-warmer’. These are excellent at heating up the ball to a good temperature before you start playing. Ball-warmers have many different benefits.
They help to reduce injury by eliminating that period of hitting with a cold and non-elastic ball. This reduces strain particularly on the elbow and shoulder.
Ever burst your ball half way through a game? This can be quite unsettling, as you normally need to warm up a cold-ball, which takes at least five minutes out of the game and disrupts the flow and rhythm of the match. This can also disrupt momentum. Having a warm ball can get the game back on track quickly.
It makes a great present for birthdays or Christmas!
Ball-warmers of course save time, and that can be important if you have to pay for lights or court-hire per minute.
So the most effective way of warming up a ball is either to use a ball-warmer or else the tried and tested method of hitting it repeatedly down the line and then cross courting it to your partner. Many of the other hacks are not recommended – e.g. rolling it with your shoe or putting it on a radiator. Like so many things in squash keep it simple! The warm up process is also an important process in avoiding injury, and also the time to relax and get into the rhythm of your shots. Good luck warming those balls up, and happy hitting!