How squash-fit are you?

7th June 2016

‘Improvement’ can often be a vague and imprecise concept to directly measure in sporting terms.

Particularly in regards to technique, whilst match results are obviously one significant indicator, players often have to rely more on subjective measures of how they ‘feel’ and other unquantifiable markers to monitor whether the particular training/coaching regime that they are following is proving effective or not.

With our fitness and conditioning however, we can far more accurately and efficiently measure our levels and improvements, allowing us to record objective scores and targets for different attributes as opposed to just relying on vague ‘feelings’ of whether we’re too slow/weak/stiff/unfit, and thus appropriately direct and maximise our training time.

Fitness Testing can be a key part of any players training regime for a number of reasons:

To assess current conditioning
To identify strengths and weaknesses
To establish training goals
To evaluate individual progress
To evaluate programme design
To provide motivation and positive reinforcement

Most tests used in sports such as Squash are ‘field tests’ – that is, they can be done in most standard training areas and generally without too much specialist equipment. Elite athletes in high profile sports are often subject to a lot more lab-based testing, that allow all manner of blood sampling, work outputs, and detailed physiological assessments to be carried out. For practicality and cost-effectiveness, however, field tests are generally the preferred method for most sportspeople outside of the premier league elite.

The first thing we need to consider when implementing Fitness Testing into our training regimes is exactly what we are going to test, and why. There are 100s of different tests out there, but we need to decide how specific and relevant they are to the physical requirements of the sport. A sport like Squash that is based on repeat dynamic sprints, rapid coordination of movement patterns, and sharp changes of direction needs to have a testing battery that reflects these attributes.

So we need to be focusing on tests that closely assess the physiological demands of Squash, for the results we get to be of any practical use. The closer we can get these tests to replicate the specific movement elements of a Squash match, the more valid and useful they will be.

This is where things get a little more difficult with a sport such as Squash however, as the sport’s relatively low profile means there aren’t really any tests that have been extensively researched and formulated with the game in mind – unlike sports such as cycling, rowing, and team-based games such as rugby and football, which have a whole range of tests that have been designed or adapted specifically for them. Tests then need to be selected from the existing pool that can be seen to have at least some transference to Squash, and minor modifications made where necessary to enhance the specificity.

There have actually been some efforts to put together unique Squash-specific testing protocols based around on-court movements and ghosting activities, but these have proven rather difficult to standardise and thus, unfortunately, none have so far really taken off and become widely used and accepted. Simple things such as Court Sprint based tests can be useful and easily compared, but on a wider scale the breadth of different people using different tests, even at the elite level, means that it has been hard to directly measure and compare Squash players on identical testing regimes – unlike say in sports such as professional Basketball or American Football, where all of the athletes being drafted out of college go through the same ‘draft combine’ of physical tests which allows ease of assessment and comparison.

This dearth of normative data for comparison unfortunately extends even to the more traditional tests that measure key physical indicators such as the Bleep Test (Aerobic Endurance) and the Vertical Jump Test (Leg Power), where it is fairly easy to find research papers and textbooks listing extensive comparative results related to different genders/ages/playing levels for all the popular sports such as football, tennis, and basketball. Little, if any data for Squash is available however.

Hopefully, as the sport grows and networks increase, there will be a comparable growth in the Fitness Testing literature allowing us to compare and contrast methods and results in different players and from different coaches/trainers. In the meantime, most of the comparison scores presented in our SquashSkills Fitness testing series are based upon an accumulation of data researched from sports with similar physical profiles, and from my own years of testing results with Squash players of all levels.

Beyond the tests themselves, we also need to consider how we approach our Fitness Testing in terms of the structure and schedule. For the testing results to be valid and reliable, we need to replicate the settings as closely as we can between each repeat of the test battery. So things like our sleep patterns, nutritional status, and training load in the days leading up to the testing need to be controlled where possible, as these things can all affect our results and thus need to be taken into consideration.

In terms of scheduling, tests need to be performed in such an order that minimises the potential of fatigue becoming a significant factor in later tests – typically the order would be: Body Composition Assessment, followed by Flexibility Testing, followed by Power Tests, followed by Speed/Agility Tests, followed by Anaerobic Capacity Tests, and then finally Aerobic Endurance Tests. Ideally though, testing would be split over several sessions to allow for optimal performance in each of the tests. Strength testing for 1 rep max scores (if included) is best done in a session in and of itself. Re-tests are generally performed at 6-week intervals, but this can be adapted for your own individual training goals and availability.

You can check out our baseline 3 test battery here, to get a start to see where you stand with the 3 foundation elements of endurance, power, and speed. The rest of our fitness tests can be found here – why not have a go of a few, and post your best scores in the comments!

 

Gary Nisbet

B.Sc.(Hons), CSCS, NSCA-CPT, Dip. FTST
SquashSkills Fitness & Performance Director

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