There is an old saying in squash – “get fit to play squash, don’t play squash to get fit”. Squash is considered one of the best sports in terms of health benefits and the amount of calories used per session. This is mainly due to its repeated high-intensity nature as well as its demanding movement patterns, which require a huge amount of mobility, muscular strength, power and endurance.
Considering the demands of squash there are a number of physical attributes that need to be trained to improve squash performance (don’t forget that racquet skills are probably the number one determinant of performance, but all things being equal, fitness will help a lot).
These attributes include;
- Mobility and Flexibility: the ease with which one moves their body through a range of motion, and specific to squash, how easily someone lunges around the court.
- Strength: the amount of force the body can exert in specific movements. Strength helps to underpin speed and mobility.
- Speed and agility: the ability to move fast in a variety of movements. To some extent determined by your genetics, but can be improved through training and practice.
- Anaerobic endurance: is the physical attribute that delivers high-intensity bursts of work during a squash match.
- Aerobic endurance: the attribute generally associated with fitness. On a squash court a high level of aerobic fitness is there to enhance recovery between high-intensity bursts of work to allow them to be repeated again.
Many physical attributes help squash performance so how can you train all these and have any time left during the day or week? The answer is sensible exercise prescription around each attribute, where different aspects of fitness can be combined into one workout to maximise time and impact. Each of these physical attributes has a required level of training stimulus to elicit improvements.
Improvement in Mobility and Flexibility requires frequent practice as the body needs to be stressed at the limits of its range of motion in a variety of ways to produce a positive change. Training for mobility and flexibility can be incorporated into warmups using various movement patterns that challenge the range of motion that squash requires, for example very deep, long lunges. Circuit based type mobility work is highly effective. It not only offers a stimulus to improve range of motion but can also stimulate an improvement in aerobic fitness. General static stretching should also be performed after training sessions to relax muscles but also to restore pre-session range of motion and help improve flexibility.
Speed and Agility work requires high-quality efforts done with maximum intensity and long rest in between. Speed and agility training is usually done at the start of a workout after a good warmup, to ensure the quality of the work is high and not performed in a fatigued state. It can be done using a number of methods but is best performed in a squash-specific task, for example ghosting.
Strength work or resistance training is important to ensure ease of movement into and out of the sometimes-extreme positions that a squash player can find themselves. It also enhances speed of movement as being stronger for your bodyweight equates to a higher relative strength, making it easier to move faster. A variety of strength exercises are available in order to impact on this attribute. A squash athlete’s strength training should include both general strength exercises (squats, deadlifts) and squash-specific strength exercises (lunges).
Anaerobic fitness – development of this fitness attribute will enhance the ability to perform high-intensity efforts during a squash match. It is also very important to be able to repeat these high-intensity efforts and learn how to deal with the dreaded lactic acid that slows down many a sportsperson when it accumulates in the working muscles. To train the anaerobic system, intensity needs to be very high for short (20-60 seconds) bursts with enough rest between these efforts (2-5 minutes) to allow intensity to be maintained. This quality is generally best developed in a non squash-specific exercise. For example running, cycling and rowing.
Aerobic fitness – developing a powerful and efficient aerobic system has been at the heart of sports training programmes for years. All other factors being equal, a fitter athlete will always stand a better chance of winning. To develop the aerobic system, training sessions need to be of a long enough duration and of a relatively continuous nature. There is a need to develop both a powerful aerobic system (how hard you can work for 2-4 minutes) but also one that can deliver a sustainable effort (being able to work solidly for 45-90 minutes). Within the training performed on court to develop the skills required for successful squash performance a lot of aerobic adaptations can be seen. The key is to balance this with high-intensity aerobic training that develops aerobic power and is the key to recovering quickly between very hard points during a squash match.
Clearly Squash presents a demanding multi-faceted fitness challenge and training for all these physical attributes as well as performing the court work needed to improve racquet skills can be a daunting task. It is possible to combine multiple sessions to ensure it’s not necessary to do 12 training sessions a week, trying to develop all these attributes separately. The off-season offers a fantastic opportunity to improve fitness without the pressure of having to be ready for competition where physical attributes cannot really be improved due to the need to rest and be fresh for matches.
To optimise fitness development for squash during the off-season it’s important to have a plan in place that emphasises what needs to be done to improve performance. With vast experience in physically preparing the world’s best squash players, both at the top of the game and as they develop from a young age, Moving Strong can develop off-season training plans that will transform fitness levels. Get in touch today and help push your squash to the next level.