Squash Mad

With heart rate reaching 199 beats per minute, new data suggests squash could be world’s toughest racket sport

Ramy Ashour in action in Zurich

Wiring up Ramy Ashour and Tarek Momen delivers amazing data
By SEAN REUTHE and ALAN THATCHER

 

The Professional Squash Association (PSA) has released new data captured through innovative partnerships with Sports Data Labs and interactiveSquash that suggests squash could be the most physically demanding racket sport in the world.

Through the use of pioneering new technology, data captured during recent PSA World Tour events in Chicago, Sweden and Zurich saw player heart rates regularly exceeding 190bpm. Players often covered up to five kilometres in a single match, combined with hundreds of lunges, multi-directional movements and explosive bursts of acceleration.

For the first time quantifying the physicality of top-flight squash, the data has shone a light on the supreme physical demands required of professional squash players when competing at the sport’s elite level – while reinforcing squash’s position as one of the healthiest sports in the world.

The data has simultaneously placed squash at the forefront of conversations surrounding biometric data with Sports Data Labs tracking player heart-rate data in real-time. The stats have been fed live for in-broadcast use to improve viewer experience and translate the intensity of lengthy rallies, and the players’ recovery abilities, into homes around the world – emphasising the sport’s commitment to enhancing athletes’ and viewers’ experiences, a cornerstone as squash vies to be included in the Olympic programme.

Their systems saw players peaking regularly between 190-199 bpm – with the average recorded heart rate throughout the monitoring period 171 bpm. The data, which offers a true glimpse into the minute-by-minute exertions placed on a player, is set to be available for commercial activation in the near future.

During one match recorded by interactiveSquash’s distance-tracking programme ‘MoTrack’, Egyptian Tarek Momen was followed as he won a thrilling 97-minute five-game match over Frenchman Mathieu Castagnet. Momen covered just shy of 5 kilometres during a total of 100 contested points – an average of 49 meters per point – while striking the ball almost 1,000 times.

Tarek Momen was monitored during his match against Mathieu Castagnet

The longest single rally recorded during the time period, a 141 second affair won by another Egyptian, Ramy Ashour, saw the 30-year-old cover 235 meters and complete a dozen lunges of 90 degrees or greater – while striking the ball almost 50 times.

Through an average 52-minute match, players can expect to cover 2.5 kilometres, execute more than 100 lunges and strike the ball over 500 times – with the ball in play 63 per cent of the time for an average of 33 minutes – a figure that pushes squash towards the very top of the relative time-in-play tables compared to other sports.

“Squash has long had a reputation as one of, if not the single most demanding racket sport out there courtesy of the complex movements required and the repeated bursts of short, intense action with little rest periods – without mentioning the mental focus and concentration needed to compete at the elite level,” said PSA COO Lee Beachill.

“That reputation is one that we have lacked the ability to directly translate to fans and viewers in the past. But the trials we have run with Sports Data Labs and interactiveSquash have allowed us to develop a true understanding of players’ movement and relative fitness for the very first time, which goes a long way to help illustrate the physicality of the sport – and reinforce the health benefits associated with playing the game at the amateur level.

“The numbers we have seen have made for compelling reading. To see players covering over one kilometre in a single game is staggering. That movement is made up entirely of three-six meter sprints, of which 30-40 per cent is a backwards movement, followed by a lunge or dynamic movement before striking the ball – a movement which in itself requires precise timing, strength and deft motor skills.

“We’re hugely excited about what this data can mean for squash moving forward and the next step for us is to fully integrate the technology into our broadcast programming and social media channels in real-time to add a new dimension to the sport and enhance the experience for players and fans alike whilst also exploring the commercial opportunities that accompany these kind of data streams.”

Sports Data Labs President and Co-Founder Stan Mimoto said: “Sporting associations, media organisations and fans alike are demanding new forms of data to enhance both the viewer and player experience. We’re delighted to be working with the PSA to help bring squash to life with the addition of real-time human data that helps illustrate just how demanding the sport is.

Paul Coll dives across court to get the ball against Joel Makin in a Commonwealth Games match lasting 106 minutes

“We have seen first-hand that the data can greatly enhance the viewer experience and add a new layer to the broadcast production. It also allows players to gain greater insight into their own body which can be utilized in a number of different ways to improve their overall training and levels of play. In addition to player performance, we are excited that our technology opens up an entirely new commercial marketplace for the sport.”

The interactiveSquash system, developed in partnership with ASB Squash Court, records player movement, gather distance and movement patterns, while plans are in place to expand the tracking system to record data such as ball speed and swing speed – metrics which would yield a greater insight into the demands of playing at the top level.

InteractiveSquash founder Markos Kerns said: “It is hugely exciting for us to be involved in this new step for squash.

“Gathering performance based data showcases just how phenomenal these athletes are and we are thrilled to be at the cutting edge of this new development in squash.

“It is one of the fastest and most dynamic sports in the world and it takes an exceptional talent to compete at the very elite level. It takes an extraordinary athlete and talent to win at this level and we look forward to working closely with the PSA to develop the technology even further in the coming months.”

The release of data by the PSA was timed to coincide with World Health Day (they are only 18 years behind the launch of World Squash Day) and came as the Commonwealth Games showcased the sport on a global scale.

The Games featured several marathon battles, listed below, with Joel Makin of Wales featuring in three absolutely massive matches and champion James Willstrop coming through two phenomenal battles before closing out the final in under 50 minutes.

Men’s Bronze Medal match:
Nafiizwan Adnan (Malaysia) and Joel Makin (Wales) 81 minutes

Men’s Semi-Finals:
Paul Coll (New Zealand) and Joel Makin (Wales) 106 minutes

Men’s Quarter-Finals:
Joel Makin (Wales) and Alan Clyne (Scotland) 99 minutes
Nafiizwan Adnan (Malaysia) and Nick Matthew (England) 81 minutes
James Willstrop (England) and Cameron Pilley (Australia) 95 minutes
Paul Coll (New Zealand) and Daryl Selby (England) 77 minutes

Third Round:
James Willstrop (England) and Campbell Grayson (New Zealand) 70 minutes

Second Round:
Chris Binnie (Jamaica) and Saurav Gosal (India) 74 minutes

First Round:
Rex Hedrick (Australia) and Eain Yow Ng (Malaysia) 93 minutes

Fittingly, the longest women’s match was an epic battle in the final between Joelle King of New Zealand and Sarah-Jane Perry (England) lasting 78 minutes.

Pictures courtesy of PSA and WSF 

 

Posted on April 10, 2018

Like this Article? Share it!

About The Author

Alan Thatcher

Lifelong sports journalist and squash lover. Event promoter, coach, author, voice artist. Founder of World Squash Day.

6 Comments

  1. Ferez Nallaseth April 11, 2018 at 2:11 am

    Dear Alan,

    Thanks for the excellent coverage of this impressive technical tour de force in quantifying the demands of Squash! The numbers that the Pros accrue are as amazing as their moves and strokes when we watch them on the court! These new data released by the Professional Squash Association (PSA), Sports Data Labs and interactive Squash have made a significant elevation in relevance, information and precision over previous nearly identical attempts (listed in references 86 – 89). Those older previous attempts also included PSA Pros including then World #1Thiery Lincou. The Pros were subjected to a modified form of Jonah Barrington’s Ghosting and were cued by random audiovisual signals generated by computers (references 86 – 89). However, the current studies differed in critically important ways! In the current studies by including the Squash Ball in Real Time, On court and in Match Play conditions the neuro-physiological and cardio-respiratory measurements become far more representative and rigorous than in the previous attempts (listed below in references 86 – 89).

    To say this as carefully (and delicately!) as possible the conclusions of the latest studies, although far more relevant and better reinforced, are neither unexpected nor entirely new. It has been repeatedly established that Squash is the most physically (cardio-respiratory, neuro-physiological and in other ways) demanding of all racket sports – although the other sports have demands that are greater in distinct ways (references 74 – 95 in the PAPER below).

    Furthermore establishing the fact that Squash is physically the most demanding of sports is not the limitation e.g. to its inclusion in the Olympics! The limitation is the fact that Squash does not get effectively communicated on TV and so cannot accrue economic and political clout derived from commercial TV. Links in the ‘hitthenick’ link below: (https://hitthenick.wordpress.com/about/).

    Although making more rigorous measurements of the physical demands of the game, are important and necessary they are unlikely to change the attitudes in the Sports World and consequently the repeated disappointments that we face.

    Kind regards,

    Ferez

    References:

    (86) Locke S., Colquhan D., Briner M., Ellis L., O’Brien, Wollstein J., Allen G., Squash racquets. A review of physiology and medicine, Sports Med. 23 (2): 130 – 138 (1997), http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9068096

    (87) Steininger, K., Dr. med. And Wodick, R.E., Prof. Dr. Dr. rer . nat , Sports- Specific Fitness Testing In Squash, Brit J. Sports Med. 21(2): 23 -26, (198&) http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/21/2/23.full.pdf+html

    (88) Girard, O., Sciberras, P., Habrard, M., Hot, P., Chevalier, R., Millet, G.P., Specific incremental test in elite squash players; Br J Sports Med; 39: 921 – 926 (2005).
    http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/39/12/921.full

    (89) Girard, O.,Sciberras, P., habrard, M., Hot, Chevalier, R., Millet, G.P., Specific incremental test in elite squash players, Br J Sports Med 39: 921 – 926 (2005), http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/39/12/921.full.pdf+html

    More complete and relevant references are listed in reference numbers 74 – 95 in the paper accessed through the links below:

    PAPER:
    https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2015/05/10/a-patients-perspective-on-open-heart-surgery-from-diagnosis-and-intervention-to-recovery/

  2. Mark Campbell April 15, 2018 at 8:27 pm

    There is no doubt as to this great sports physical demands and as someone who has trained some of the best players in the world there is a huge amount of physical preparation that needs to go into preparing the body to tolerate these huge demands.

    The really intriguing balance that is struck in a sport such as squash is the physical capability of an individual in relation to the sport and the high level of tactical and technical ability that is required and can sometimes overcome physical inequalities. The fittest and fastest does not always win, but it certainly helps and the higher the level of the sport everything tends to level out and weaknesses (either physical or technical) are able to be exposed.

    From a physical development point of view key qualities that younger squash players need to develop include:
    – good mobility/flexibility to meet the range of motion demands of the sport (particularly in the lunge position) and provide the foundation to allow the development of general athletic and sport specific movement. This quality will offer a training variety that is key to balancing out a sometimes monotonous and highly repetitive training environment.
    – basic muscular strength to ensure both the capability to move the body quickly but strengthen tissues to tolerate the high forces that need to be absorbed and produced during squash. A solid foundation of strength will also confer injury prevention by ensuring the body has enough of a capacity to deliver training and competitive loads at a relatively lower level of stress.
    – Aerobic fitness developed at a young age will confer the benefits of allowing great recover not only during matches but also between matches and most importantly between training sessions. Simply put fitter athletes recover better from training but also injury.
    – Speed: With the game lifting to higher and higher tempos as it evolves speed is a key quality to develop in a young squash athlete. This should encompass both non-specific high quality athletic sprinting and change of direction ability as well as including sport specific squash speed training that emphasises the speed of movement through key patterns on a squash court namely movement off the tee and into lunge positions.

    As squash athletes progress from the junior ranks through the seniors and onto the professional tour the intensity of the match play increases significantly. The all round physical base should be in place around the key qualities of Mobility/Flexibility, Strength, Aerobic fitness and Speed. With these in place it is a combination of sport training and physical training that will allow the professional squash athlete to compete at the top level.

    All these basic physical qualities are continually worked on and improved throughout a squash athletes career. The physical demand that now plays the biggest part in predicting playing level in the pros is their repeated high intensity ability. In other words delivering a high intensity effort recovering and going again and again. This quality can be developed by the squash athlete through a combination of a number of modalities including:

    – Repeated speed running with short rest durations
    – High intensity strength based circuit training
    – High intensity ghosting, shot and a ghost court based sessions
    – High Intensity lunging/jumping bodyweight circuits
    – High Intensity court based shuttle, repeated speed sessions.

    The volume of this high intensity work that my athletes can tolerate during training both within session and during the training week will in the end define the physical level they can reach. As you can see there are a lot of factors that go into allowing someone to reach this level of training.

    Another important factor then is to intelligently balance out these training sessions throughout both the year and during the training week. When working with my squash athletes the offseason (usually June-August/early September) forms the key period to make physical improvements without the pressure of the competition schedule. A needs analysis through sensible physical profiling of each individual will help target the training program to ensure no physical quality is left underdone. This is a time of year that I think is invaluable to a squash athlete to allow them the ability to push on into the long squash season knowing they are physically better prepared.

    I hope that gives a flavour of what I consider the key training factors for squash players but also gives some insight into how these amazing athletes prepare for such a fantastically demanding sport.

    Mark Campbell
    Senior Strength and Conditioning Coach
    English Institute of Sport, Sheffield
    (Currently Strength and Conditioning coach to Nick Matthew, James Willstrop, Laura Massaro, Chris Simpson, George Parker, Nick Wall, Harry Falconer and Lucy Turmel)

  3. Ferez Nallaseth April 15, 2018 at 11:57 pm

    Thank you for joining in! We are in agreement with a host of studies on the physical demands of squash. However, as pointed out the one in this article by Alan Thatcher and my comment to it, is the most relevant, realistic and close to maximal on court demands.

    Needles to say your contributions and credentials are impressive – from the very pinnacle of the sport. Although I’ve trained rigorously at the national amateur level in India it does not compare with those you work with at the pinnacle of international squash. A modified version is posted under my training regimen for the Rutgers USRC. It is based on the regimens of Jonah Barrington, Geoff Hunt and others.

    However, for reasons already posted the real problem for squash being accepted in its rightful place in the world of sports is communicating the minute moves in muscle, racket and ball movements. This is an entirely separate matter from training!

  4. Ferez Nallaseth April 16, 2018 at 12:00 am

    Correction:

    Needless to say

  5. Bill Angove April 18, 2018 at 7:58 am

    I thought needles was a nice turn of phrase 😁

  6. Ferez Nallaseth April 18, 2018 at 4:32 pm

    Thanks but it was a precocious stumble – and unfortunately, in this case stoked the fires!

Leave A Response