Understanding Aerobic Training for Squash

February 12, 2012

Unless you have a sport science degree the complexities of squash training can be somewhat difficult to comprehend.  Squash is a difficult sport to coach as squash athletes need to use all three energy systems, and almost all of the physical qualities also play an important role in squash performance. Many sports only need to emphasize one or two qualities: for example strength and power are primordial for an American Football lineman – whereas aerobic qualities have minimal importance – on the other hand aerobic performance is everything to a 10,000 meter specialist, with power and speed (as commonly defined – not referring to “speed-endurance”) of little significance.  The “Energy Systems Chart (ITF, 2007)” is a commonly used, over simplistic representation of sport physiology, as in most team, dual and combat sports, all three energy systems come into play, often simultaneously, during a competition.

Most squash coaches are aware that the aerobic system can be trained using continuous (e.g., a 3-mile run) or interval methods (e.g., ghosting one minute on and one minute off), but behind the scenes the physiological picture is a bit more complicated.  Here is a chart adapted from Sleamaker & Browning (1996) which provides an excellent picture of the different aspects of aerobic training:

Keeping in mind this is only one of several ways to organize or think about aerobic training, note that the aerobic training levels (I to IV) can be defined by the intensity of effort (percentage of maximum heart rate or percentage of VO2max – the HR method being the most practical one to use for squash coaches), and that at each level there are different physiological adaptations going on behind the scenes.

Translating the levels and related intensities into squash terms can be done by adapting the Borg (nothing to do with the tennis player:) Perceived Effort Scale (Rating of Perceived Exertion).  I prefer the older, simpler 10-point scale (although most physiologists now use the new scale) as the exertion ratings can quickly be converted to approximate hear rate (for an average 20-year old) – so a “4” , somewhat hard, would be equivalent to a HR of 140, a “7”, “very hard”, a heart rate of 170, etc. So for a squash coach to understand Sleamaker & Browning’s chart:

  • Level 1 = Borg 2 = HR 120, fairly light rally (e.g., exchanging high, slow lengths from the back);
  • Level 2 = Borg 3 = HR 130, moderate rally (e.g., length only game, medium pace);
  • Level 3 = Borg 4/5 = HR 140-150, tough rally (e.g., length only emphasizing volleys, cutting ball off);
  • Level 4 = Borg 7 = HR 170, very tough rally (e.g., retrieving against a shot-maker)
  • Level 5 = Borg 10 = HR 190-200, this is that last ditch effort, in the last couple of rallies – you are toast (due to high lactic acid accumulation:).

What to do with this information?  When I helped organize the College Squash Association’s Coaching Conference a few years ago (2006??) I asked John Power (Jonathon Power’s dad – a Squash Canada Level 4 Squash Coach, coaching at Dartmouth College at the time) to do an on-court presentation of squash drills and conditioned games to train each of the aerobic levels in order to show college squash coaches a) that aerobic training can be done effectively on court mixed in with “traditional” drills and games; and b) how the same drill or game can be used to train multiple aerobic levels by simply changing a few parameters.  Here is a summary of the organization John used for his presentation.  Note that there is an ideal progression for developing aerobic qualities, basically less intense to more intense as you move through the season, so we have added in the phase of an annual periodized plan to indicate when the training should be emphasized.

Can you demonstrate your understanding by thinking of an appropriate drill or game for each of the physical qualities listed in column 3 of the chart?

GP = general preparation phase; SP = specific prep.; PC = precompetition.

Application for Squash Coaches:

  1. Aerobic training can be done on court to save time, using standard squash drills and games.
  2. To get specific physiological adaptations important for the aerobic system, certain drill parameters (e.g., HR) must be followed.
  3. “Complicated” physiological measures of intensity (i.e., HR, % of VO2 max) can be replaced with easier, more subjective measures.

New Aerobic Training Tool For Squash Coaches: miCoach iPhone App!

August 4, 2010

Regular readers will know that I have been singing the praises of CorePerformance.com for squash strength training since I learned about them while doing the rehab for my hip replacement.  One of the strengths of Core Performance is that if you sign-up as a member ($9.99/month) you can download daily, somewhat individualized workouts to your iPhone – which always includes an “energy systems” (their term for aerobic training) component – usually not that long (e.g., 14 minutes).

Now Core Performance has teamed with adidas to develop an aerobic training tool (free iPhone App and website) called miCoach.  Although the probable goal of adidas is to get consumers to purchase a $139 Pacer which includes a heart rate monitor and stride counter, I think the real value for squash coaches are the well designed and neatly packaged training plans – which do not require a purchase.  Web site registration (which I just completed) and the app is free. There are no plans for squash so I would recommend the tennis or soccer plans – slight edge to the tennis as being more specific to our PAR modern attacking game.

Your athletes will have a chance  to individualize somewhat by selecting their initial starting level or doing a 12-minute self-assessment.  If you are working with more than one athlete great packaging is absolutely key in saving time and communicating and monitoring training plans clearly – this is an area where Core Performance excels.  I will report back after trying out a few weeks of training using the app with my team – in the meantime here is a short review of the iPhone app and a video review of the Pacer:


Aerobic Training for Squash: A Case Study

June 14, 2009

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.  Read the rest of this entry »


Injury Prevention for Squash Coaches: A FREE Resource

April 12, 2009

Back in the late 70’s and 80’s top squash was seen primarily as an aerobic sport, with intermittent bursts of speed and power.  Tales of Jonah Barrington’s and Geoff Hunt’s attritional matches were of legendary status – and I was there in Toronto when Jahangir Khan effectively dethroned Hunt by grinding him down to the point where he literally could not move (I think he also threw his racquet for the first time if my memory is correct?).  I regularly went on six to 10 mile runs, and for several years worked my way up to 24, four hundred metre intervals at the start of every season.

Amongst our Toronto group, there was talk of New Zealand’s Murray Lilley (working in Calgary at the time?) going out and running a 2:23 marathon with little or no specific running training (over and above what he would do for squash).  At our Squash Canada National Team Training Camps (I was there as the mental training consultant), players such a Jamie Crombie, Gary Waite, and Dale Styner were all pulling VO2 Max scores in the low to mid-seventies, which were equivalent to the Olympic Marathoners at the time.  (Note that these scores might be due to misguided training and tactics versus the actual demands of the game and “smart” tactics).  My opinion at the time was that the physiological profile of a top player was very similar to that of a 10K runner.

Runner's World Injury Prevention

Runner's World Injury Prevention

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