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In a scientific paper presented to the 1st World Congress of Science and Racket Sports Professor Craig Sharp outlines ‘The Formula for Racket Sports Fitness’ concentrating particularly on squash.

The Fitness Formula for Squash and racket sports
consists of a number of items:

  • Cardio-respiratory fitness; 
  • Muscle endurance, a combination of the ability to deliver appropriate anaerobic and aerobic power together with the ability to recover (mainly anaerobic recovery);
  • Muscle strength, which is more important in tennis than the other racket sports;
  • Muscle speed, an important component of power in all the racket sports;
  • Flexibility
  • Low percentage body fat.

Squash is a game which may last from 6 minutes to 2 hours 48 minutes. One rally may last one stroke and 1.5 seconds, or 400 strokes and 10 minutes. More usually – for training purposes – rallies can be categorised into three populations, those lasting <5 seconds, those between 6-20 seconds, and a small but important number which last upwards of 20, but not usually longer than 60 seconds. There are approximately 7 seconds between rallies, which are played at a rate of up to 40 strokes per minute.

The heart rate rises in the first few minutes of play to 80-85% of maximum, which is maintained throughout the match. Body temperature may rise by 20C in the first 40 minutes, thereafter more slowly. Male players may lose up to 2.0 litres/hour of sweat, and women approximately half this rate. Systolic blood pressure rises by up to 30% in the first five minutes, but thereafter falls linearly to pre-match levels after 30-40 minutes. Diastolic blood pressure tends to fall by about 10mmHG or more according to standard throughout the game. Oxygen consumption ranges from 2.0 to 3.5 litres/minute (40ml/kg/min men, 32 ml/kg/min women), with energy expenditures of 10 to 18 kcals (42-75kJ)/min. Lactic acid level after 30-40 minutes play ranges from 3.5 to10.0mmol/l, and may be reduced during play by exploitation of suitable tactics. Lactate levels may also be reduced by 4 to 8 weeks of suitably phased interval ‘shadow-training’ or ghosting. Such interval-training regimes are surprisingly specific in their application to individual players. In players of all standards, a poor tactical sense may surface as an apparent lack of physical fitness.

Top class male players tend to have maximum oxygen uptakes in the mid-60’s and upwards, high anaerobic thresholds (60->80% VO2 max) and body fat percentages between 7% and 12%. On the Wingate anaerobic test they tend to have leg peak powers of 12.5-13.5w/Kg, a ‘fatigue index’ of between 10 and 15 W/sec, and a ‘recovery index’ (on a repeat test 4 minutes later) of 95-98%. They tend to have hand-grip strengths of 45-60kg.

Female players tend to have a VO2 (max) in the low to mid-50’s, with similarly high anaerobic thresholds, and body fat percentages in the 18 to 25% range. Their anaerobic leg peak powers tend to be around 7.5-8.0 w/kg, and their ‘fatigue indices’ tend to be between 8 and 15 W/sec, with ‘recovery indices’ of 94-100%, and grip strengths of 30-45kg. Within limits the amount of force required to hold a racket tends to vary inversely with the diameter of the grip.

On time-lapse cinephotographical analysis, players of county-standard and upwards tend to markedly deviate through the ‘T on moving from the front to the rear (or vice versa) of the court; club and recreational players tend to have a more random movement pattern around the court. The Physics Department of Birmingham University has timed national standard players to hit the ball at upwards of 70m/sec (>156mph), and club players at 40m/sec (90mph). Due to the coefficient of restitution of the squash ball being set at around 20%, the front wall rebound speeds are of the order of 14 and 8m/sec, (31 and 18mph) respectively. It is this disparity of rebound speed which confuses beginners.

Players of both sexes tend to have better-than-average simple and complex reflex response times, and to have good dynamic balance at upwards of 20 sec out of 30 sec at 5 degrees from horizontal stabilometer displacement.

A good pre-season physical training programme will incorporate the triple strands off 

  • aerobic/cardiorespiratory training;
  • lactate/glycolytic training (for both anaerobic power and recovery); and
  • phosphagen/speed training. (Some of the last two elements may be incorporated into on-court pressure training.) The physical programme will have an appropriate in-season maintenance component and an appropriate series of phased macro-cycles to peak for the highlighted tournaments and championships.

The physical programme will, of course, be fully complemented with solo and pairs practices, practice and conditioned games, and games against opponents selected to probe particular technical, tactical or physical weaknesses. Squash players are not alone among racket players in too often wishing to train their strengths rather than their weaknesses, whether in skills or physical attributes, and whether on or off the court.

Squash as a sport needs a mix of both types of fitness - we know that it needs the anaerobic component because if we measure the lactic acid (the waste product which indicates that anaerobic work has been going on) level at the end of a game and it is high - say about 50% of maximum. (It could be 10 mmols, in the units in which lactic acid is measured, as opposed to 20 mmols, which is the human maximum.) At the end of a 400 metre race runners would measure 20. They generate this in 44 seconds.)

In squash where players play for an hour they have say 7-10 mmols - but this is a huge amount of lactic acid to tolerate for that amount of time. Marathon runners have about 1.5 mmols when they finish the race. This is a real aerobic sport - but squash fitness requires a mix. When squash players are training for local muscle endurance they are doing two things. Firstly they are training the ability to produce anaerobic energy, and secondly they are training the ability of the muscle and the body to remove the lactic acid that is its fatiguing by-product. Lactic acid training is always two things, one to increase the anaerobic power and the other to remove faster more lactic acid. Shadow training and ghosting intervals are the basic training methods.

Recommended Reading:-
Balksby, BA, Eliott, BC, Davis, KH and Mercer, MD. Blood pressure and rectal temperature responses of middle-aged sedentary, middle-aged active and ’A’ grade competitive male squash players. Br. J. Sports Med 14: 133-138. 1980.
Hammond, M.O. An investigation into the anaerobic aspects of the game of squash rackets. MA Dissertation, Department of PE and Sports\Science, University of Birmingham, 1984.
McKenzie,I. ‘The Squash Workshop,’ Marlborough, Wiltshire: The Crowood Press. 1992.
Montpetit, R. Applied Physiology of Squash. Sports Medicine 10 (1) 31041. 1990.
Reilly, T. The racquet sports, in ‘Physiology of Sports,’ edited by Reilly T and Williams C. London, E and T.N. Spon. pp337-369. 1990.






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