By Jay D. Prince
Squash is a funny game. It’s one of those games where a person who is not terribly fit can still play well if they have superior skills or knowledge of the game (that is, compared to his/her opponent). And it is a game in which a person with superior fitness can win even with inferior skills so long as they can outlast his/her opponent—yes, even with PAR scoring, though a strong argument can be made that the fitness aspect is rapidly taking on less importance.
But for the rest of us who have neither superior skills or fitness, that inferior fitness can be brutal. You know what I’m talking about—your heart racing faster than an Indy car; your lungs seemingly unable to take in enough 02; and your legs getting more and more wobbly as the points get longer. Or how about chronic pain in your feet, back, hips, knees…dare I say, “all over?”
If you’ve played squash for more than a week, you’ve no doubt heard somebody say, “You have to get fit to play squash; you don’t play squash to get fit.” One would be hard-pressed to find a more universal mantra. While I’m sure the same could be said about fitness and other sports, it is remarkable how much different an hour on a squash court can feel if you have already put in time off the court getting your aerobic and anaerobic capacity up to snuff.
My own personal journey has been enlightening. Ten years ago I put on a whopping 40 pounds in 12 months! Like so many people in their early to mid-thirties, I was getting my business off the ground, raising young kids, eating way too much and exercising way too little. And our bodies just don’t operate as efficiently in their fourth decade as they did in the first three.
Also like so many Americans, and I’m singling out us Yankees simply because the whole weight-loss industry is a juggernaut in this country, I’ve tried several times to drop the weight, only to follow early success with ultimate failure. Up and down the scale, over and over, only to wind up right where I started.
This past March I entered the US Championships—again—and promptly suffered a first round loss in part because my opponent outplayed me, but even more telling was my back screaming at me. Throughout the weekend my body was clearly driving home the point that unless I shed the tonnage it was trying to haul around the court, this game was going to leave me behind.
Whether that was the catalyst for me or not, I’m now three months into a renewed effort to get my body back into the kind of condition that’s necessary to be competitive on the squash court again. I’m not doing anything crazy, like some low carb, or high carb, or smoothies-only, or whatever. I’m just counting calories and working out…hard. Playing squash is one part of my fitness regiment, but spinning and road cycling is a big part too. So far it’s paying off as I’m down about 20 pounds.
The payoff? I can now get around the court with virtually no pain in my back. I can play points that go on and on…and on. I don’t find myself doubling over, gasping for air, after a long game. Heck, I don’t even need to take five minutes between games!
The point of this is that while cognitively I’ve always known that to play squash well, we need to put in time off the court to get our bodies ready for the rigorous demands of this fabulously gruelling game. For me, spinning is the the only non-squash activity I’ve found that keeps my heart rate elevated like it is on the squash court. Cycling outdoors can do the same thing, with the added benefit of, well, getting outdoors.
We’ve run a lot of articles in the LessonCourt section of this publication that attempt to explain the benefits of getting fit to play squash. We’ve also printed articles about proper nutrition. An added benefit to calorie counting, for me, has simply been the education I’ve obtained from truly learning just how many calories I’m throwing down when I plow through a basket of bread in a restaurant (a major weakness of mine). If you’re interested, there’s an “app” called “LoseIt” for the iPhone that has been great!