Friday, September 30, 2016

Is squash the ultimate sport?

Recently, I was researching how far a person runs during of a game of my chosen sport, squash. Hard information is difficult to find but, for the record, it's actually less than I expected, probably only a few kilometres, although the intensity of the game and the constant lunging and direction changes make a simple step count approach next to useless.
In terms of calories burned, for example, it is one of the most demanding sports out there, only equalled by boxing, handball (!), jai alai (!) and fast skipping (and who's going to spend an hour doing THAT?!). Other sources put it just below activities like competitive-level running, cross-country skiing, speed-skating, vigorous skin-diving, and fast wood-chopping (!). An hour's squash uses around 750-800 calories (more than 1,000 according to some sources), depending on weight, level, etc, which is substantially more than games like tennis, soccer, basketball, hockey, etc. It is also one of the few major sports which are to a large extent anaerobic (i.e. the demand for oxygen cannot be maintained during a strenuous rally, and the player must slip into oxygen debt). This all makes me feel a bit better about feeling so wrecked after a game these days...
Another article I found, based on a 2003 Forbes study, suggests that, overall, squash is perhaps the healthiest sport of all, followed by rowing, rock-climbing, swimming, cross-country skiing, etc. Analysed across six different categories - cardiorespiratory endurance, muscular strength, muscular endurance, flexibility, calories burned, and injury risk - squash scored an impressive 22.5 points (for comparison, rowing and rock-climbing both earned 22 points, swimming 20.75, cross-country skiing 20.5, basketball and cycling 19, running and modern pentathlon 18.5, and boxing 17.5).
Obviously, all these comparisons and studies are subject to a good deal of variability: my game of squash is most definitely not the same as Nick Matthew's or Gregory Gaultier's, and "running" or "swimming" can mean a whole plethora of very different activities, depending on the individuals. But it is interesting - and gratifying - to see that squash is definitely up there in the top echelons in terms of physical demands and health benefits (even though it is still not an Olympic sport - don't get me started on that!)

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