Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Why Fitness Testing Is Important

Today I'm going to talk about why fitness testing is important. I don't expect the average amateur club player to do any fitness testing, although those that are training for tournaments and want to get fitter will benefit from it. Most of the kids I coach don't enjoy doing fitness testing. It means maximum effort and if you haven't been training and preparing you don't want to 'fail' the test. But a test if a good way to take a baseline fitness measurement while testing someones psychological strength. However you score can be used to set goal setting if you feel this is an area you need to improve upon. What type of testing do you do? How often do you do testing?

I'll get into what type of testing I use. I have done the beep test a number of times over the years and I actually enjoyed doing it. If I needed a kick in the pants and wasn't fit enough this would let me know. At a high level of squash fitness is crucial to performance. Sometimes you may feel pretty fit, but how fit are you really? This is why I enjoy finding out. Doing poorly on a test doesn't have to be disappointing, just use it as motivation to put in some extra work into this area of your game.

The type of fitness testing I prefer doing these days is on court that involves squash specific movement patterns. The test I run I have a person move 1 squash ball from the back left corner, up to the front left one, to the back right, to the front right, and then back to the start in the back left corner. They must always go through the T and they must touch the ball on the strings of a racquet lying in each corner. After they do this with 1 ball and have equal rest time (about 10 seconds) I add a 2nd ball. When they do this they take the 1st ball up to the front left corner and place it on the racquet and one back for the 2nd one. They do this all the way around the court until it arrives back at the starting racquet (approximately 30-40 seconds). I then add a 3rd ball and eventual a 4th before working their way back down subtracting a ball until they do the same with just 1 ball again.

In the above mentioned fitness test it measures the speed, agility, anaerobic and aerobic fitness, along with the leg strength and fluidity of court movement. This test also challenges people psychologically. Unlike the beep test where you can get to a respectable level and call it quits, you have to finish all the way through this test. It's just a matter of your time for each set.

Remember you can do testing for all different types of exercises. You can do some simple ones like how many pushups can you do in 1 minute or how long you can do a wall sit or a plank? Or how many court sprints can you do in 2 minutes. These don't take long and are easy to administer. If you want to know if you are getting stronger, faster, or fitter try doing some simple tests. Don't wait until you've already sen training to do the test just so you score well. Take a test early in training so you can measure later on how much you've improved.

When I was young I thought the hardest thing about playing squash at a high level was maintaining a high cardiovascular fitness level throughout the year. Only later on did I realize that I didn't have to keep this so high. That in the offseason I could focus on different areas of my training and if my aerobic fitness dropped a little I knew I could pick it back up pretty quick once I got back on court every day. So depending on the time of year should influence the testing you do. What fitness quality is important at this time of year for you? Right now we are at the beginning of the competitive season, but the biggest tournaments are later in the year. Although nowadays the off season is shorter and there are important events from November to April. We want to be in our best squash shape leading up to our biggest events. So we focus our training so that we peak leading up to these tournaments. If you really want to play your best and be prepared to give yourself the best chance possible than fitness testing is a tool that can help you.

Seeing results on your fitness testing gives you confidence leading into a tournament. If you know you are fitter than your opponents you will have a mental and physical edge on them. The fitter player doesn't walkways win, but you can't make it successfully through 4 to 6 matches without being in very good physical shape.

The last tip I have about fitness testing has to do with how you train. I heard that the NHL players do a lot of fitness testing on bikes. This is great if this was how they prepared for the test. But if one of them was preparing by running or swimming surely they wouldn't score as well. This is the sport specificity rule. This is why they also do a lot of testing on the ice in their skate. This is what matters most. Not how fast and far they can ride a bike. I've done a VO2 max text on a bike and found it quite uncomfortable. Back then I rarely rode a bike so I didn't score nearly as well as if I'd done a test moving around a squash court. So I should have not only though that the test wasn't specific enough, but that I also could benefit from doing more spinning. Not just would that improve my VO2 max test on a bike but it would have some crossover benefits that I wasn't getting from just my squash training.

Have I convinced you fitness testing is important? Use the results for goal setting and to ensure you are prepared for important tournaments. Testing gives your some guidance and motivation in your training. It also increases your mental strength. The scores are personal and although you may push yourself to beat someone else's results, it's about improving your times and your fitness, and in particular your squash specific fitness.

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