Sunday, October 1, 2023

Lee Witham Part 2: Squash is a brilliant sport with so much to offer, especially the agility that will help your body stay stronger for longer

‘Squash movements offer so much more than static routines in gyms, but nobody is out there selling the game effectively’  
By LEE WITHAM (Squash Mad Correspondent)

Today I want to help everyone in squash understand the huge benefits offered by racket sports, and squash in particular, when compared to the workouts offered in most gyms.

Going to the gym largely encompasses weight training machines, treadmills, ellipticals, cycling, steppers, and rowing. All of this is helpful and certainly better than doing nothing.

The benefits include de-stressing, calorie-burning, good blood circulation, and building bone density.

However, there’s one issue: all movements are linear and predictable. Meaning, you know exactly where your next movement will be.

As we all know from playing squash, racket sports force you to move both back and forth and side to side. This helps improve balance and weight shifting, and all of this is great because we don’t exactly know which direction the next step will be. Promoting ‘Agility’ is very much a forgotten subject.

Most of us are very aware that ‘problem-solving’ keeps us mentally sharp. It is particularly important when the retirement age comes along. Significant change can be seen in people who quite rightly want to ‘switch off’ and only months later realise they are bored or need something to mentally stimulate themselves. This is another area, that of mental agility.

The real issue is the fitness industry. You would have thought they were fully aware of the benefits of physical agility. Visit any gym and try to find examples. The closest is following an instructor in dance, Zumba, aerobics and spinning. Even martial arts classes these days are very much about following a routine with very little combat.

Research has shown that the downside of not including agility exercises is increasing your chances of a fall. Often accidents happen when we are not able to react to a movement that’s not within our typical range.

Studies have shown having hip surgery after the age of 65 has a 30% mortality rate within three years. The thinking is that less movement decreases the chances of further injuries, when in fact it’s the opposite.

In simple terms, racket sports provide problem-solving for the mind and body. Including racket sports in your life is an ideal supplement to other aspects mentioned and should be backed up with strengthening and stretching exercises.

When it comes to racket sports, each one provides agility and can be categorized in terms of the demands on the body and to which demographic it is best suited.

Pickleball has the bandwidth that encompasses both young and old. It’s relatively easy to get started with and ideal for seniors as the movement is quite manageable, but probably not challenging enough for the 18 to 45-year-old demographic full of folks who are fairly fit.

Padel also has a wide demographic and is certainly challenging for most age groups. Padel, like many racket sports, becomes more challenging when your level of play improves.

Tennis is very similar to Padel, but the length of the racket, and having good technical ability are important. The size of the court makes it a less desirable option for clubs due to the number of players that can play within the overall space. Nevertheless, still a good sport for improving general agility.

Racquetball and badminton are up against some stiff competition in pickleball and padel, being very similar in terms of the physical demands for recreational players.

The advantage we have in squash is that it is probably the ultimate sport when it comes to the overall required agility. This is very attractive to good athletes and the 13 to 45-year-old demographic. Although I would argue it is still a sport that can accommodate a very wide demographic, with some adjustments to the court.

Once you make the decision to include agility into your life and start a racket sport, look for introductory classes to better understand the rules and safety. Remember to speak with your doctor about including new exercises in your routine.

When given the all-clear, you will feel the immediate impact of introducing agility via a racket sport into your exercise routine. Start slow, no scoring, just hit the ball back and forth with a focus on manageable movement. With time, your movement will become more fluid. Naturally, you will start to focus on strategy and look to challenge yourself.

Personally, I like to vary what I play in any given week. Squash provides a more intense workout, and combined with padel’s fewer intensive movements it works well for me. I suggest trying all racket sports, mixing and matching to identify what fits best within your physical comfort zone.

So, what are we doing wrong in the world of squash? To start with, as Eduardo Alvarez has mentioned in a superb previous article, nobody in squash is doing any advertising to promote the game at grassroots level.

Actor Kevin Bacon dives across the court in a TV commercial for a mobile phone network, but NOBODY in squash is advertising the health benefits the game has to offer in a professional manner, says Eduardo Alvarez in this Squash Mad article published in 2020

The fitness industry relies on advertising and sales pitches, round the clock seven days a week, to process new members.

Squash needs to promote agility as part of an exercise programme. Instead, we talk about things like calorie burning, it gets you fit, and it’s affordable. Everything a gym offers, too (but without the social side either).

We have this opportunity to fit in and alongside every fitness programme. There needs to be a massive marketing campaign to let people know we are a requirement and not just another exercise.

Promoting general health is an easy sell. We need to point out the massive benefits of playing squash in simple terms because we belong in everyone’s life. You never know, they may enjoy it!

This Squash Mad article from 2016 featured a medical survey that produced scientific evidence backing up the long-term health benefits of playing squash and racketball, but how many clubs or federations took any notice?

Much of this knowledge has been shared in previous articles by Squash Mad editor Alan Thatcher, who wrote this report in 2016 about a significant medical survey that confirmed how playing racket sports will enhance your life expectancy.

Everybody in squash still harps on about a rigged “survey” set up by Forbes magazine 20 years ago, but here we have a genuine medical study providing scientific results praising the benefits of squash. Yet nobody on any squash federation refers to this research to help promote the sport. For squash to survive, we need urgent improvements to the way the game is delivered and marketed, at every level and in every nation.

Thank you for the kind and supportive responses to yesterday’s article and to the interview by Alan the day before. Please share these articles and the messages they contain with everyone you know who is connected to a squash federation or committee.

We have a truly wonderful sport that has so much to offer. But the federations need to follow the fitness corporations and start selling!

TOMORROW: Encouraging young players and retaining senior players

Related Links:

Squash has a great product to sell, but who is doing the advertising?

We need to shout louder about the health benefits of squash and racketball

Main picture courtesy of PSA World Tour 


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