Some people take up squash to keep fit. Running around the court for 40 minutes or an hour will certainly give you a useful workout and improve your fitness if you do it regularly. However, there usually comes a time when to be competitive you need to do a bit of extra work, whether you aim to win the US Open, your club league, or simply thrash your old sparring partner in your weekly duel. The information presented on this page is based on an article written by Joe Dunbar which was first published in Peak Performance.
Because of its constant whole body activity, squash is a sport that demands a high level of aerobic fitness. In a typical game you will be working at about 80% of your maximum heart rate as you pounce from corner to corner and back to the 'T' for the next shot. Although the distance traveled in each movement is short and explosive, the continuous nature of the rallies with recovery periods in between means that the energy supply comes from aerobic metabolism.
This does not mean that you have to run hundreds of miles in training, because there are other fitness demands in the game as well. It is important to have speed in order to be able to pick up your opponent's craftiest backhand drop shot and get back in position after your reply. Anaerobic endurance is also an essential fitness requirement. During long, heart bursting rallies the ability to keep going at high intensity is critical, and this relies on solid local muscular endurance, particularly in the legs.
Muscular strength is important for both the lower and upper body. Strong legs will contribute to anaerobic fitness, while strong arms, chest and back will help with racket speed and power. Toning of the muscles in the back, abdominals and legs will also enhance good posture on court. It is also essential to have a full range of movements in the muscles you are using, since agility is vital in a game with so many rapid shifts of direction. This means that sound flexibility is crucial not only to a match performance but also in helping prevent injury.
The main playing season in the US covers the winter months so the summer is the ideal time to undertake some conditioning training. The way to make significant gains in fitness and provide a base to be maintained during the playing season is to do some development work on both strength and endurance.
Always remember that it is not sensible to be training hard just when you want to play at your best, so you may need to build your program towards the matches that really matter to you. This will mean more endurance work at the start of the program, followed by work on anaerobic endurance using shorter speed work towards the key competition period. To be at your best when it really counts means you have to phase the fitness training.
Squash carries such a wide range of fitness requirements and the best prepared players will have a varied training program. The proportion of the different sessions will change throughout the year. To develop aerobic endurance it is best to do some steady state running. Cycling and swimming will help to condition the heart and lungs, but remember that you play squash on your feet! For base endurance you can do a long slow run of up to an hour one day, and then on another day try a 35 minute faster effort. If you do not do much running normally, be sure to build up gradually.
Court sprints are a useful way to boost anaerobic endurance. They involve running a series of lengths of the court at a fast pace and then resting briefly before repeating. This sort of work does not have to be done on a court; short sprints can be conducted on the athletics track with sprints over 30 to 60 meters.
For specific speed work on court, ghosting is a useful routine whereby you run at random (get a partner to call) to different parts of the court. The key here is to keep the efforts short and the recovery sufficient to maintain good quality.
Work in the gym, lifting weights or circuit training, is an excellent way to develop strength and should be fitted into the schedule. In the meantime, do not forget stretching before and after all sessions, to prepare for and recover from exercise, although dedicated flexibility sessions are useful if time allows.
This type of session is becoming more popular at the top level of squash and is used by National Coaches, Alex Cowie and Paul Wright, to get their top international players sharp for big matches. The nature of the session means that you have to be fit first. It isn't a workout to build up fitness at the beginning of the year but the final icing on the cake, hopefully to give that winning edge.
The basic idea of the session is to mix a series of routines with conditioning work in the form of 'ghosting'. For those not familiar with the jargon, ghosting is a drill where no ball is used; instead, the player runs around the court, getting into position and playing an imaginary shot. Naturally, the player will start and go from the T, the principal position in the centre of the squash court. From here, you move to position for the shot and back in quick fashion, before immediately going to the next position. As you will see, the style and speed of ghosting can and does vary throughout the session.
One of the beauties of the session, particularly from the routines point of view, is its flexibility. The skill routines can be chosen by the player and coach to suit individual requirements. Normally a wide variety of routines are incorporated, but should a player be struggling with a particular aspect the game, for example, volleys, then routines focusing on that aspect of play can be used more often.
How the session works
To start with, the player will ghost all over the court at a steady pace as a warm-up for 2 minutes. The player moves around the court to each corner but going through the T each time. The coach or partner will be timing this accurately.
Next, a routine is played. For example, the feeder plays a boast, the player plays a cross-court drive, the feeder plays a straight drop and the player responds with a straight drive. This routine
(hopefully continuous!) goes on for 2 minutes before changing sides for another 2 minutes.