There are dozens of different exercise classes available to the average gym goer nowadays, with a variety of different durations, intensities, and pieces of equipment used. Many are variations on a similar theme (such as the martial arts themed Tae-Bo, Body Combat etc.), but few offer any real specificity for the squash player and as such are of limited benefit for those using the gym primarily to get fit for their on-court performance. One class that does potentially hold value for the squash player however, is Spinning.
There is some controversy as to when and by whom the spin-class concept was originally created, but it certainly came to most prominence in the late ’80s with Jonathan Goldberg’s (a.k.a. Johnny G) take on the format. Despite there being a number of off-shoots and very similar classes available, true ‘Spinning’ is a trademarked name owned by Goldberg and ‘Mad Dogg Athletics’. Only authorised instructors and facilities can use the actual name ‘Spinning’, though the term has come to refer to any class based on the use of indoor stationary bikes.
Most gym studio-based exercise classes are promoted unashamedly for their supposed benefits of being able to cut fat and improve body composition. Things like Zumba and Body-Pump offer promises of helping shape your ideal body (though whether they really are the best exercise modality for that is questionable), but are not really geared or marketed toward the athletic crowd. Spinning however is one of the few classes often suggested to be of some benefit to the sportsperson, and for good reason – its focus on high-intensity intervals and lower body based conditioning transfers very well to the squash player, in particular.
One of the core principles of training for the athlete is ‘Specificity’ – trying to ensure that your training replicates your chosen sport as much as possible. Most gym classes are in no way specific to the game of squash, but the duration, intensity, and structure of the Spinning class actually mirrors the sport quite well. While you’re still better served carrying out the bulk of your squash conditioning work on court (the most specific way possible), including the occasional Spinning class can be a great way to cross-train, even if for no other reason than to include a bit of freshness and variety in your programme – even for the most dedicated, there are often only so many court sprint and ghosting routines you can handle!
One particular benefit of a class such as Spinning is the instructor-led nature of the session and the motivation of working within a group. Squash is a very solo sport, and getting into a room full of people with flashing lights and pumping music can be a welcome break from the court. Spinning also has the advantage of being generally non-weight bearing as well, reducing the strain in the joints of the lower body whilst still training and working on the muscles surrounding them.
Do be aware in your Spinning classes however, of maintaining correct posture on the bikes. A lot of classes are held in darkened rooms and with very large numbers of participants, so instructors aren’t always able to really keep a close eye on every member of the group. Try and speak to your instructor before the session to make sure your technique on the bike is optimal, so as to avoid any sagging in the lower back and excessive rounding of the shoulders when you’re working flat out on one of the lung-busting sprint intervals.
Be wary also of classes where there is a lot of getting on and off the bike for floor-based exercises, or randomly added sets of ‘bicep curls’ with the handlebars or other such nonsense. The best Spinning classes are the ones carried out exclusively on the bike, targeting the large muscles in the legs with intervals of varying effort and length – similar to the average game of squash.
So if you’re looking for something a little different and are keen to incorporate a bit of cross-training into your squash-specific conditioning routine, then get on your bike and check out one of your local gyms classes – go ahead and give it a spin!
B.Sc.(Hons), CSCS, NSCA-CPT, Dip. FTST
SquashSkills Fitness & Performance Director
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