Peter Nicol, 28, is the World Open squash champion, a title he will defend this December in India. Formerly ranked No 1 in the world, he is now two places lower. Last week he won the world's richest tournament, the Qatar Masters in Doha. Initially he represented Scotland at international level, but frustration at the lack of funding north of the border forced him to change his allegiance to England.
What are the basic fitness demands of playing squash at the highest level?
A bit of everything, really. You need explosive power and acceleration to get to the ball, and around the court you also need speed. But as a match can last up to two hours, stamina is essential; better fitness often decides the winner. Agility is also vital. Without balance and poise you will never be able to play shots.
How do organise your training to accommodate all these different needs?
It is completely different now to a few years ago. For instance, I top up my stamina only by work on court. But if I got injured and had to rebuild that stamina, I would have to do a programme similar to the one I did years ago. Then, I ran for half-an- hour each morning, and every second day would do one hour in the afternoon. In addition I did track work, 300m, 500m and 800m runs.
What do you do to develop explosive power?
This all comes from the legs. I did most of the work years ago and now maintain my levels through court work. To get strength in the legs means doing lots of exercises like squats, split-squats, box jumps and calf raises.
What on-court training do you do?
Apart from technique, these are split between those with a ball and those without – "ghosting sessions". I do a lot of short-step work to make sure I am getting in the right positions and my feet are placed correctly. Then a lot of short, sharp sprints of, say, 30 sec-onds on, 30 seconds off. I am working on speed, maintaining that over a length of time, and stamina. Basically it is interval training done to replicate the hardest match conditions. All my training is based around match conditions, and I train harder than I might work in an actual tournament – so, if a final comes down to fitness, mental and physical, I will have the advantage.
How important is disciplined stretching?
Vital. Whether training or playing, I will do three hours' stretching during the day. It helps balance, allows the suppleness I need to get to the ball and bounce straight back up, and if done properly helps strengthen the muscles and prevent injury. This summer I took up yoga as well; now, if I'm not training I will do a yoga session. I cannot stress how important stretching is to sportspeople, particularly squash players.
Do you have a specific diet?
Not any more. I just try to be sensible and stick to moderation. I did have a very strict diet, low in sugar and low in salt, no bread before midday and plenty of fruit and vegetables. But it was difficult to maintain around the world. You can't over-regulate your life.
How seriously do you take your training?
If you aren't going to do it properly, don't do it at all. When I used to hit the 300m bend in a 400m sprint I used to push myself by thinking it was 8-8 in the deciding set, and I could win the match. Quality really is better than quantity, and it helps train your mind as well. If you always do things to the best of your ability it becomes a habit you can't break.