Thierry Lincou of France, right, and Laurens Jan Anjema of the Netherlands,… (Andrew Dent / AFP/Getty…)
Want to burn some calories? No, really burn some calories. Like, 600 to 1,000 an hour?
Then check out squash, my friend. The U.S. Open Squash Tournament starts Friday (and continues through Oct. 6), the perfect time for a primer on the sport, some information on why its popularity is growing, and why playing it makes you sweat like a farm animal.
First, the name has nothing to do with the vegetable, but everything to do with a fast-paced two-person racquet sport played on an indoor court that requires stamina and mental focus. In the past it's been associated with people named "Kip" who prepped at Phillips Exeter, but that image is fading as more public courts are being built and the demographics widen.
That means more people are discovering the game may be one of the most physically challenging sports, since it's a cardio workout that also works on strength, balance, reaction time and speed.
"You get an incredible workout and it keeps you interested the entire time," said Dent Wilkens, program director for U.S. Squash. Wilkens, former captain of the Princeton squash team, added, "You're not just being exhausted by doing a repetitive action over and over--you're constantly having to think and use your brains as much as your body."
Rewards come as players improve: "As you progress you have more shots in your repertoire," he said. "It's not something that causes people to get bored as they get better."
Squash offers an aerobic workout due to the steady endurance required to sustain a game, but also an anaerobic workout because of moments of high-intensity play. While the lower body does most of the work, the upper body is engaged in twisting and turning movements as the racquet swings. Dynamic, explosive plyometric moves work fast-twitch muscles.
"You move the racquet quickly, you're lunging hundreds of times, and you're changing direction over and over," Wilkens said. "You build up strength and flexibility because the game requires an incredible amount of balance as you're lunging and swinging the racquet and getting out of your opponent's way."
Just as the sport isn't boring, neither is the training, since you can mix it up among cardio, strength, stretching and balance workouts. Another nice feature of the sport, Wilkens added, is that all physiques are welcome: "There are people with so many body types who can get into it and enjoy it. We have pros in the sport who are five-foot-three, and others who are tall and powerful."
Newbies needn't be intimidated. Wilkens says the squash community is welcoming and new players are always appreciated. "We are so excited about our sport," he said. "We think we have a pretty special game."
The U.S. Open will be streamed live on Squash TV, but a subscription is required. The semifinals and finals will be streamed on ESPN3.