Most of the college team sport athletes I have observed use two main methods to stay in shape when their season is over: a 30- to 60-minute aerobic workout, usually running or biking; and strength training in the weight room, usually for a similar amount of time.
This type of off-season training program will allow them to maintain some conditioning and perform well on standard aerobic and strength tests such as the 1.5 mile run, squat and bench press.
The problem with this type of training is that it does not involve most of fitness components that are actually involved in performing a team sport. Continuous running and biking of the type performed in the off-season primarily involves slow-twitch muscle fibers and the use of fat as a fuel for motion. It usually does not involve the FOG (fast oxidative glycolytic) fibers characteristic of the high-intensity, stop-and-start movements of team sports, nor physiological adaptations related to lactic acid, anaerobic threshold, and use of muscle glycogen as a fuel.
The strength training exercises are usually performed slowly in the 10 to 12 repetition range, a method which does not duplicate the often explosive, plyometric movements of team sports that feature heavy recruitment of fast-twitch fiber.
Missing fitness components include agility, dynamic balance, reaction speed, power and the challenging of joint propioceptors whose involvement is critical to avoiding injuries such as ACL tears.
Although these shortcomings in the usual off-season training programs can be overcome playing occasional games, the lack of an available opponent and more than several teammates can be problematic.
Squash is a sport which involves an aerobic component that is greater than all of the team sports, and yet it also features the same stop-and-start interval type of movements that train fast-twitch and FOG fibers, as well as agility, balance, strength, reaction speed, coordination, lactic acid-related physiological qualities and dynamic flexibility. It also features a social component which is usually important to team players without the scheduling obstacles involved in getting a whole team together. Since the high-intensity elements are part of the game, an athlete is not solely reliant on the high level of individual motivation required to do interval and lactic-type training – it’s fun!
Table 1 shows typical VO2 max scores (a measure of aerobic performance) for squash and various sports drawn from a number of scientific sources. Table 2 shows how sports can be classified according to the importance of the aerobic system and strength. Note that squash is situated very close to the team sports.
For those without access to squash courts, it has been shown that playing racquetball can produce similar results, although the aerobic benefits are usually are usually about 10-15% less. Appendix 1 contains links used to compile the information I this article and links related to the health and fitness benefits of squash.
Table 1. VO2 max scores from elite sports (ml/kg/min) – values are for males unless specified, if two are presented, the second is for females
Endurance sports (runners, cyclists, skiers) 75+
Rowing 65-69 60-64
Volleyball 55-60 48-52
Basketball 50-55 40-45
Tennis 48-52 40-45
Table 2. Classification of Sports According to the Importance of the Aerobic and Static Strength Components
(From: Jere H. Mitchell, William Haskell, Peter Snell, & Steven P. Van Camp, J Am Coll Cardiol, 2005; 45:1364-1367,
© 2005 by the American College of Cardiology Foundation, downloaded October 24, 2007 from:
Links related to compilation of VO2 Max
Links Related to Fitness & Health Benefits of Squash