It’s a year round fitness option that improves reflexes, boosts cardio fitness and comes with an instant social life. Jennifer Kang shows you how to get started in the fast and furious game of squash

It’s one of the older active pursuits, but many of us recognise this racquet sport only with reference to tennis. The one with the wall, right?

Indeed, like tennis, squash requires players to hit a ball – albeit significantly smaller than a tennis ball – onto either side of certain lines. Unlike its horizontal-court counterpart, however,  squash demands that players use the walls, which is where its fitness credentials shine. The speed and intensity of squash make it a competitive workout prospect.

PT Brett Handreck says incorporating squash into your training regime can add more variety to your fitness routine, taking you out of what can sometimes be a “confining” gym environment.

“The variety that comes from participating in sports and games is an important factor in maintaining a healthy mindset and attitude to training, as well as bringing a competitive edge to a fitness regime,” he says.

Tempted? Here’s your guide to squash and what it can do for your body.

The basics

Squash is a racquet sport played by two players in a four-walled court with a rubber ball.

After serving, the receiver will have to hit the ball against the front wall first. The ball may hit any number of walls before landing in the opponent’s quarter court. The exception is the serve, which shouldn’t hit a side wall before hitting the front wall.

After the serve, players take turns hitting the ball. The ball can hit any number of walls, but must eventually hit the front wall before bouncing on the floor. All shots must stay within the red lines of the court and if the ball touches the line, it’s considered out.

Similar to tennis, points are awarded when the receiver of the serve hits the ball out or misses the front wall, obstructs the server during the point or fails to strike the ball before it bounces twice. Games are played to nine, 11 or 21 points.

Handreck says you should feel free to modify the rules to suit your fitness and skill level.

“If you make it easy and free flowing, you are more likely to enjoy your squash experience and therefore participate more often, leading to improvements in skill and overall fitness,” he says.

Getting started

Both the racquets and balls are different to those used in tennis, so be sure you have the right equipment before you begin playing at your local court.

Buy your own racquet or hire one from your local squash court centre and choose the right ball. The type of ball used in squash is determined by the level at which you play – the colour of the dot on the ball indicates its degree of bounce and the speed it’s capable of reaching, so choose according to your ability.

As an example, Dunlop offers balls that indicate their suitability to different levels of play. Beginner balls are blue in colour and slightly oversized, balls for competitive squash are marked with a single yellow dot, and professional balls are marked with double yellow dots. Also available are balls suitable for intermediate players.

A beginner ball is bouncier, so you don’t need to hit it as hard. As your squash-playing ability progresses, you’ll be able to hit the ball harder and with more accuracy, and move up to the next level ball.

Protection is necessary to protect your eyes from potential injuries caused by the ball and the racquet. It is mandatory in all international squash tournaments, so make sure you have purpose-designed protective gear while you’re playing.

“Many squash players wear safety goggles, as a squash ball, when hit hard, can injure your eye severely,” Handreck says. “A squash ball’s shape means it can lodge in your eye socket and can cause bleeding around the eye or even detach the retina. This is not to be taken lightly and goggles are highly recommended.”

Also ensure you have the right shoes – squash is a high-impact sport, so it’s best to opt for squash shoes that offer plenty of shock absorption. Thin-soled or lightweight shoes should be avoided, as should running shoes, which may not provide adequate ankle protection. Ankle support is particularly important in squash, when you’re more susceptible to ankle rolling and subsequent injury, so be sure to provide your ankles with added support from shoes or wrap-around bands.

Pick your squash partner carefully – depending on what you’re looking to achieve in a session, you may choose to play with a person who is already familiar with the sport so you can be well-guided, or you may choose to play with another beginner so you can progress together.

Once you’re equipped with the right gear, you’ll be ready to start leaping, running and diving for the ball, so wear clothes that enable you to move freely.

The benefits

Squash provides an array of fitness benefits. The most significant is its ability to help improve cardiovascular health as it provides an intense cardio workout that will raise your heart rate for the duration of the game.

“The cardio benefit is significant as the heart rate remains elevated due to the fact that you are on the move throughout each point,” Handreck says, likening the sport to interval training.

Handreck explains that the majority of us ordinarily move in straight lines and, more specifically, move through around four set patterns – walking, sitting, lying down and standing up.

“In terms of the movement potential of the human body, this is barely scratching the surface,” he says. Squash, conversely, brings in various movement types spanning one-leg actions, stop-start movements. and even backwards movements through lunges and other impromptu moves.

Aside from the physical benefits, squash can also claim a certain cerebral cachet, demanding steely concentration to keep track of the ball. It promotes good hand-eye and overall body coordination.

Being an indoor sport, squash answers all weather conditions, whereas most tennis courts are limited to dry days.
You can also incorporate a competitive edge to your routine.

“Healthy competition with others brings out the best in people, and everyone loves to be pushed every now and again,” Handreck says.

The risks

Squash is a strenuous sport, so it may not be the right type of sport to launch into if you haven’t played a high-impact sport for a long time. Not only does it put strain on your joints, but it also puts a strain on your heart, particularly if you haven’t engaged in intense cardio workouts in the past.

Handreck explains the nature of the sport lends itself to knee and ankle strains and sprains as there is a constant change of direction while stopping and starting abruptly.

As such, a gradual approach to squash is best.

“A solid conditioning base is recommended before and during regular squash involvement,” Handreck says. “Without a good conditioning base, you can be more susceptible to injuries, which in turn, halts training and limits the results being attained.”

As a squash novice, ensure you play at a slow and steady pace to avoid injury and remember to warm up before a game to make the most of what can be an exhilarating sport.