Competitive squash requires a comprehensive blend of all of the body’s different energy-producing pathways, due to the high pace, prolonged rallies, and short recovery periods inherent to the game. Using set-distance interval running sessions is a great way to help develop the necessary fitness base needed for success on the court, and 400m repeats are one of the very best of these kinds of high intensity workouts.
Ghosting, court sprints, and bike sprints are all amongst the most familiar training modalities for dedicated squash players, from amateur level right up to elite. 400m repeats out on the track are another method heavily favoured by many pro’s, yet they’ve never seemed to gain quite the same traction with recreational players. This may partly be to do with the lack of facilities some people face, but may equally be down to just how hard and painfully unpleasant they are for many people!
The brutal toughness of them comes from the combination of speed and duration of the reps, where you’re being asked to sustain your run as close as possible to sprint pace, over a fairly prolonged distance – it’s neither a flat out sprint nor a steady jog, instead, holding a unique place somewhere in that very painful middle ground of burning legs and heaving chest!
There’s not much we can do about how tough they are (indeed, that’s all part of the experience!), but we can adjust the format slightly to make them more convenient if getting access to a track is difficult. A simple and effective way to carry out your 400m sessions in a much more restricted space is to set it out into a series of shuttles instead. A 25m length ran 16 times gives you your 400m, and 25m is fairly easy to map by measuring out 32 standard paces – or another equivalence to use, would be the length of a standard tennis court plus 1 additional metre.
A good session to start off with, whether you’re using a track or using a shuttle format, is to complete 5 sets of the 400m taking 2mins rest between each. A good initial target is to be able to complete all 5 sets each in under 90secs (track), or 2mins (shuttles). The time taken to complete the shuttles is around 20-30secs slower for most people, with the turns at each end making it harder – although these turns actually also make it that much more specific for squash, where the ability to quickly decelerate, stabilise, turn and accelerate away is a key performance aspect.
Pro players, of course, aspire towards a greater intensity and volume. A standard pro session would typically consist of 8 sets of 400m, aiming to complete all sets under 70secs (track), or 100secs (shuttles). There are stories of some of the legendary players of yesteryear such as Aussie fitness machine Geoff Hunt, completing up to THIRTY back-to-back sets of 400m – for most mere mortals however, once the volume of sets goes above 10-12 the intensity and quality drops considerably, limiting their effectiveness in building true squash-specific fitness.
So if you’re looking to incorporate some challenging stamina building sessions into your training programme, 400m repeats are a great session to try. The tough grind of the sets are great for developing your physical strength, and the high level of committed effort needed to power your way through is also a great route toward enhancing your mental resilience.
B.Sc.(Hons), CSCS, NSCA-CPT, Dip. FTST
SquashSkills Fitness & Performance Director
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