Aerobic Training for Squash: A Case Study

There is no doubt that the aerobic system contributes greatly to squash performance at all levels.  Our players have to be aerobically fit at all levels of play – and playing squash is a great way to get aerobically fit.

What exactly should a squash coach do to increase their players aerobic fitness?  There are very few highly publicized guides to aerobic fitness programs for squash – and because of individual differences in a a players age, training background, current fitness, body type, susceptibility to injury, and psychological characteristics (motivation, tolerance for pain, etc.) there is no guarantee that “canned” aerobic programs of the type found in Runner’s World will work for our particular athlete.

I thought it would be useful for squash coaches to read a case study which involves prescribing an “off-season” aerobic training program for a squash player.  Rather than go into a detailed lecture and description, I will simply present the two e-mail communications that I had with the athlete (yesterday).  By following the rationale that I present to her, squash coaches can gain insight into the art of sport science program design. 

The athlete, let’s call her “Sheilah” (Oz joke:), is a 21-year old female, in her third year of playing squash, who has been running recreationally (3-5 miles a day, 4-5 times a week) for the same amount of time.  She plays number 4 on our Smith College Squash Team, and although she is incredibly smart (GPA of 4.0 – which is perfect here in the U.S.)  and coachable, lacks speed, agility, and explosiveness (we have been working on getting her to hit the ball hard, while getting her to adopt a lob/drop style to temporarily cover her weaknesses when she plays important matches).  Due to other interests, she does not play outside of our 19-week U.S. college season, and resists my attempts to get her to work on speed/agility/explosiveness out-of-season – preferring instead to do her long slow runs “I need them to stay sane”.  She wants to be able to run a 5k at a 7 minute-a-mile pace (current pace is 9:00/mile) by the time the season starts (I told her that is what a decent female squash player should be able to do).

>>> Sheilah Robertson 06/12/09 3:38 PM >>>


Here is Runner’s World plan for me:

what do you think? 16 weeks, 2 times a week some rest, three times a week WALK 4 miles (11.26 per mile is almost walking speed, is not it?) and one tempo run – and after 16 weeks, i only get better by 1 minute. i think it’s useless.


Hey Sheilah,

Couple of points then the program:

1.  Each pace category represents a different physiological change in the body (not mutually exclusive).

2.  The physiology of an elite 5K is almost identical to that of the physiology of elite squash (as an “A” player I ran 6 minute miles (for distances from 3-6 miles) – as did most of my competitors.  National team women were about 1:30-2:00 minutes per mile slower for a 5K (e.g., 19:28 for Lori Coleman a 19-year old at our center – NOT a runner at all).

3.  Slow running is NOT useful for squash fitness except for 4-6 weeks of the year in the off-season or early season.  After that it only serves to work AGAINST  a squash player (except as a recovery technique) and preventing them from attaining a high rate of work, and slowing down their on-court speed.

4.  Too make a long physiological story short: slow running increases capillerization (blood supply) around the muscles (this needs 4-6 weeks – after that improvement in capillerization is minimal);  running close to an Anaerobic Threshold pace (75-85% HRmax depending on the individual’s training background) increases the utilization of FOG muscle fibres and the body’s utilization of glycogen as a fuel (and concomittent buffering and tolerance of lactic acid).  Training at this pace pushes the AT upward allowing higher rates of work to be performed aerobically – it IS the key factor in fast running and squash.

5.  There are two types of “AT Threshold” running training:  short fast runs of about 15-20 minutes (Our 100 touches is this type of training) AND interval training (run-rest-run-rest, etc.).

6.  Normally we start with longer intervals and work towards shorter (and faster) ones – to improve our 5K time.  Ideal interval lengths would be 200 m (probably 35-40s for you) and 400m (probably 90-110 s for you).  The most famous squash interval program was that of Geoff Hunt who would work up to 26 X 400s @ 75s with 60s rest in between (I would do 24 X 400 at about 85s with 90 s. rest) .  Rest with running intervals is slow jogging to help eliminate lactic acid.

7.  For squash intervals of about 30 sec. on and 30 sec. off are ideal (what we do on the team with our 6-pts. and stars).

8. Properly training squash athletes get their fitness to the point where they start the short intervals the first week of practices (having done 4-6 weeks of LSD and 4-6 weeks of longer intervals during the summer).

So – if you want to run a 5K at a 7 min/mile pace (what I would consider a minimum/good pace for an aerobic sport like squash – probably most of the top 6-7 Trinity and Princeton girls could do this) here is the program:

1.  Two interval workouts, plus one maximal race pace run for 15-20 minutes a week.  If you are playing squash three times a week you do NOT need to do anymore running than that.  If you want to run another three times (easy runs of 3-5 miles) that is fine PROVIDED that it does not affect the quality of your faster training.

2.  If you do not have a long history of interval training I suggest we start with 200’s (feel easier and get leg speed up), work up to 400’s, and then back down to 200’s as the squash season and target race approach Sept. 27th).

3.  There are 12 weeks between now and the start of the squash season (which is also your taper week for your race), so I suggest three cycles of four weeks where we build for the first three weeks of the cycle and lower the volume and intensity in the fourth (longer runs, water workouts, more stretching, etc.) to prevent injury and maintain the quality of your program.

Here is the program  – you can send me your times and we can adjust for the next cycle (Here is the link to the Runner’s World Pace calculator).  There should be at least 48 hours between each of the three workouts (e.g., MWF).  Jog or fast-walk 200-300 meters between intervals (so rest of 60-90 sec. – you can go sooner if you feel ready to make the target time).

Week 1:  Day 1 & 2: 8 x 200 @ 59s (8:00 pace)  Day 3: run 15 min. hard

Week 2: Day 1 & 2: 10 X 200 @ 57s (7:45 pace) Day 3: run 15 min. hard

Week 3: Day 1 & 2: 12 X 200 @ 55s (7:30 pace) Day 3: run 15 min. hard

Week 4: no intervals or race pace runs – easy runs (65-75%), biking, swimming, lots of stretching

Week 5: Day 1 & 2: 10 X 400 @ 1:59 (8:00 pace) Day 3: run 15 min. hard

Week 6: Day 1 & 2: 12 X 400 @ 1:55 (7:45 pace) Day 3: run 17 min. hard

Week 7: Day 1 & 2: 12 X 400 @  1:51 (7:30 pace) Day 3: run 20 min. hard

Week 8:   no intervals or race pace runs – easy runs (65-75%), biking, swimming, lots of stretching

Week 9: Day 1 & 2: 12 X 400 @  1:51 (7:30 pace) Day 3: run 20 min. hard

Week 10: Day 1 & 2: 12 X 400 @  1:48 (7:15 pace) Day 3: run 20 min. hard

Week 11: Day 1: 12 X 400 @ 1:44 (7:00 pace), Day 2:  12 X 200 @ 52s (7:00 pace) Day 3: timed 5K

Week 12:  First week of squash season – do what the Coach says!  5K Run is on Saturday!

So basically what we have done is taken the difference between your current time and desired time, and gradually increased the pace of your training to get to the desired pace, while at the same time building up the distance of your runs to match the race distance.  Physiologically, your AT should be moving upwards so you can run faster aerobically, and your FOG fibres should be adapting more “speed-like” properties.

Drop me a line every couple of weeks to let me know if you feel you are on track with your training – not too easy , not overwhelming.  If necessary we can adjust.

I’ll be following your progress on FaceBook,


Application for Squash Coaches

  1. Find a reputable guide for prescribing aerobic training programs, like Runner’s World.
  2. Follow guidelines for 5K training, as that physiological profile and training methods are similar to squash.
  3. Do not forget to include time spent playing and practicing squash in your reckoning of training load to avoid injury and overtraining.
  4. Make sure to take individual differences into account when prescribing aerobic training.
  5. If you are coaching juniors, make sure to follow LTAD guidelines – kids are not miniature adults!
  6. The best resource for aerobic training is unfortunately out-of-print but can be obtained used: Sleamaker’s Serious Training for Endurance Athletes – wonderful guide for squash coaches!


One Response to Aerobic Training for Squash: A Case Study

  1. […] hitting the ball)  exercise I developed for my Smith College team this morning that integrates aerobic training (physical), with “tactical” court movement […]

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