There’s one sport that turns even mild-mannered men into wildly competitive beasts, willing to play psychological tricks on their opponents if that’s what it takes to win.
It’s not a sport that takes place in front of madly cheering crowds. It’s squash. I love playing it, and I’m as guilty as the next man of playing tricks. Not breaking the rules, but trying to unnerve the other guy even before the game starts.
Staring them right in the eye can work. Or just saying, ‘You look a bit tired today.’
The competitive spirit of squash is part of the fun. It’s addictive. And there are few other sports where you can burn 1,000 calories in about an hour.
But, as a fitness trainer, I worry about some of the people — mostly male — who play it. Because squash isn’t for everyone: it’s simply too demanding. And even super-fit players push their bodies too hard.
In short, there’s a dark side to squash.
We’ve known for a long time that people with heart disease mustn’t play squash. Heart attacks on the squash court – or soon after a game – are rare, but the sport poses a greater risk than most. The problem is that men return to the game after a long break, and plunge back into extreme activity that their cardiovascular system can’t handle.
Much more common is the wear and tear I see all the time on the squash court — repetitive strain injuries that can force very fit men to have hip replacements.
The thing about squash is that it develops the muscles on one side of the body (the right side if you’re right-handed). You can see the muscles building up on one arm and leg but not the other. There are wrist problems, too. This can be avoided if you’re doing proper training and balanced strengthening exercises to compensate, but few players do.
Squash gives you a rush that can lead you to neglect quite obvious things. It has a blokey, macho ethos, a philosophy of ‘no pain, no gain’, that encourages guys to make a virtue of their deep heat treatments and bandages. ‘Look how impervious to pain I am! Come on, I dare you to beat me!’
My advice? For anyone thinking of starting, try a slower game such as racquetball before taking it up.
Warm up thoroughly — don’t forget to stretch — and remember to maintain your fitness levels between your visits to the squash court. If you’re over 40 and haven’t exercised regularly, get a check-up. Eat healthily.
And, above all, try to relax. But, as I’m the first to admit when my opponent is playing mind games to unnerve me — and I’m playing them back — that’s easier said than done.