The March 2009 issue of the International Journal of Sports Physiology & Performance (IJSPP) (so hot off the press!) contained an article on a squash-specific fitness test – one of the authors was Damon Leedale-Brown – well known for both his training activities with top players and Colorado squash camp at altitude and also as the recently appointed Promotions Coordinator for Prince Squash.
What useful information can squash coaches learn from this article (abstract pasted below)?
This particular study tested both runners and squash players on two tests of aerobic fitness: one test was a running test performed on a treadmill – the second test was a test consisting of squash-like movements (similar to moving around a squash court during mach play). The study results showed that both the running and squash tests were “good”tests, but that both the runners and squash players lasted longer when performing their own activity.
What might account for this? Probably running economy or in the case of squash – economy of movement; and of course the “physical condition’ of the muscles used in the two different activities. In other words, the squash players were “crap” runners, and vice-versa for the runners.
This has two important implications for squash coaches testing the fitness of their players. The first is fairly simple: Where possible use a fitness test designed for squash – like the one used in this study, if and when it is made available.
The second is somewhat more complicated. If the results of this study suggests that movement economy is a factor in fitness results, then care must be taken when using averages or norms when comparing players and designing their fitness training – a player may score better due to economy of movement as opposed to actual fitness.
In the real squash world, the squash players with better anticipation (so earlier start to move to the ball) and more economical court movement (lower heart rate and caloric expenditure for the same movement) do not have to be as fit (or will last longer with the same level of aerobic fitness as measured by these tests). Jonathon Power would be a classic example of this. Another good example would be to watch an experienced Women’s “A” player play a younger (I stereotype here:) male “B’ player – they can go to 8-8 in the fifth (or the PAR equivalent) in a match, but the amount of work the “B” player will do is excessive compared to his more efficient and “wiser” opponent.
So is it better for a squash coach to spend time improving their player’s aerobic fitness or improving their anticipation and court movement skills? Obviously both, but much of the squash world must fit their training into a one to two hour window – and even the world’s top professionals need to limit their total hours per week to some extent or risk burning out. The key to using fitness tests effectively is for the squash coach to interpret them within the context of an overall evaluation of their squash player – and set training objectives in each of the four training areas (technical/tactical/physical/mental) accordingly.
Abstract – (full article available for a small fee through the IJSPP website listed above):
Purpose: This study examined the validity of a squash-specific test designed to assess endurance capability and aerobic power. Methods: Eight squash players and eight runners performed, in a counterbalanced order, incremental treadmill (TT) and squash-specific (ST) tests to volitional exhaustion. Breath-by-breath oxygen uptake was determined by a portable analyzer and heart rate was assessed telemetrically. Time to exhaustion was recorded. Results: Independent t tests revealed longer time to exhaustion for squash players on the ST than runners (775 ± 103 vs. 607 ± 81 s; P = .003) but no difference between squash players and runners in maximal oxygen uptake (Vo2max) or maximum heart rate (HRmax). Runners exercised longer on the TT (521 ± 135 vs. 343 ± 115 s; P = .01) and achieved higher Vo2max than squash players (58.6 ± 7.5 vs. 49.6 ± 7.3 mL·kg−1·min−1; P = .03), with no group difference in HRmax. Paired t tests showed squash players achieved higher Vo2max on the ST than the TT (52.2 ± 7.1 vs. 49.6 ± 7.3 mL·kg−1·min−1; P = .02). The Vo2max and HRmax of runners did not differ between tests, nor did the HRmax of squash players. ST and TT Vo2max correlated highly in squash players and runners (r = .94, P < .001; r = .88, P = .003). Conclusions: The ST discriminated endurance performance between squash players and runners and elicited higher Vo2max in squash players than a nonspecific test. The results suggest that the ST is a valid assessment of Vo2max and endurance capability in squash players.