Should you be playing the healthiest sport?
Ever wondered what the healthiest sport is? Well, accodrding to a survey by Forbes Magazine (1), squash is top of the leader board. After consulting with personal trainers, coaches and exercise physiologists, 10 sports were listed as being the 'healthiest'. Squash took first place, closely followed by rowing, rock climbing and swimming. Also featuring in the top 10 were cycling, boxing and running - many of our favourite ways to keep fit! If you're wondering what makes squash so healthy, we've got the lowdown.
What's so great about squash?
According to Forbes, 30 minute spent on the squash court gives you 'an impressive cardio respiratory workout.' Constant running and rallies build endurance and muscular strength in your lower body, and squash can even improve flexibility in your core and back, thanks to the twists, lunges and turns necessary to keep the ball on the go.
The word on the court
Each sport in Forbes' survey was given a score out of five across six categories:
- Cardiorespiratory endurance
- Muscular strength
- Muscular endurance
- Calories burned in 30 minutes
- Injury risk
Squash scored an impressive 5 out of 5 for muscular endurance and calories burned (517), 3 for muscular strength and flexibility and 2 for injury risk. When playing squash, you run the risk of tearing your Achilles tendon and pulling muscles in your groin, but training before a game with sprinting, long-distance running and yoga can be helpful.
The health benefits
Not only is squash loads of fun - those mad rallies where you dash from one side of the court to the other and let your competitive streak show are also physically exhausting! Here are a few other health and fitness benefits the game brings to your life:
- Burn calories - All that rallying makes continuous energy demands of your muscles, giving you little recovery time, which is good news for weight loss!
- Improve your aerobic fitness to boost your heart, muscle and lung endurance
- Boost your flexibility thanks to the lunging and stretching motions
- Develop strength and power in your arm and leg muscles
- Improve hand-to-eye co-ordination - those squash balls can be speedy little buggers!
- Boost cardiovascular fitness so more oxygen can be pumped through to body to energise your muscles
- Boost mental strength and concentration - matches can last a while!
Easy to get into
Squash is a racquet game which can be played by anyone of any age and level of fitness - you'll find it's easy to learn and equipment is minimal and fairly affordable. Most towns and cities have at least one squash club and many clubs will let you have a few sessions for free before deciding if you want to join. Did you know that an hour of squash could burn up to 1,000 calories - the ball moves at up to 170mph!
Squash is played on a court surrounded by high-walls and the basic principle is to keep volleying the ball against the front wall, taking it in turns to hit it. In squash, the ball can only hit the floor once before each shot - but it can bounce off as many walls as you like! A match is the best of five games, and you'll only really need three things to get started:
These are usually made of graphite or kevlar and weight between 110 to 200g. Whilst you'll find expensive high-end racquets, a beginner's racquet shouldn't set you back more than about £20 - we recommend Head or Dunlop.
Balls are coloured according to their speed - blue balls are the fastest, red are medium and green are slow. You'll also find yellow and double yellow balls (slow and super-slow). Most players start using a medium ball.
Indoor trainers or squash shoes
You could invest in specialist squash shoes which are designed to provide excellent grip on court and plenty of protection for your ankles. But a good pair of indoor court shoes or trainers will do the job just as well if you're starting out.
In addition you'll need some light clothing such as shorts and a t-shirt or vest as squash can get pretty hot and sweaty!
Because the game can involve lots of stopping and starting, it's important to protect yourself from injury - here are a few tips:
- If you haven't exercised for a while, are over 40, have a medical condition or are overweight, it's best to see your GP for a health check before playing
- Always warm-up and stretch your muscles before playing, particularly your leg muscles!
- Cool-down exercises are a must after a match, to prevent aches and pains
- Stay hydrated! Drink plenty of water before, during and after the game
- Invest in some eye protection as squash ball eye injuries are not uncommon
- Ensure you're wearing shoes which offer plenty of grip and ankle support
Beginner's squash tips
As with any racquet sport, squash takes a while to get into (and to get good at) and your first few sessions are likely to be tough - you'll definitely feel exhausted and in need of a post-workout snack! It can be easy to develop bad habits when playing solo, so we recommend avoiding this by taking lessons with a professional squash coach (most clubs have them). Some aspects of the game can be really tricky to learn, such as returning a serve on your backhand side. A qualified coach will help you overcome problems and any weaknesses and strengthen your game!
Try to ensure you always hit the ball deep into the back of the court. Make sure you keep your opponent moving around the court as much as you can. Remember, the more they're running back and forth, the more tired they will be - and therefore more likely to make mistakes that could cost them the match!
Find out more
With over 5,000 squash and racketball courts across England, you're sure to find a great club in your local area. Head for the England Squash and Racketball website to search for clubs in your area. If you live in London, you'll find Get Active London has more information and useful contacts.
READ THIS NEXT: Try something new - boost your fitness with bouldering