Photo: Steve Line/SquashPics.com

You’ve seen the pictures: two people dressed in all white, wielding racquets with tiny heads, are locked in a room with high walls, a small red line about 18 inches off the floor on the front wall, and maybe a glass back wall. They whale away at a little rubber ball, while the racquet miraculously misses heads and bodies—well, most of the time. The game is squash. And, if you haven’t played, you might consider taking it up as one of the best exercises on the planet.

Historically, the domain of prep schools, Ivy League colleges and the very exclusive men’s clubs of the Eastern establishment, squash has gradually gone mainstream. Public facilities have opened in many cities, and courts have appeared outside their former elite bastions. You should be able to find venues today in most places. Furthermore, the game also has been globalized, with one set of rules and type of ball authorized for play. The old rules are arcane. Today’s single set makes the game easier to play and enjoy. 

The ball’s softness makes it easier to return, flattening the initial learning curve. But as your level of play advances, it becomes more difficult to put away a point in this game, which is played to 11 points scored. (Games must be won by two.)

Get ready to gear up. Greg McArthur, the head squash professional at Sleepy Hollow Country Club in New York, recommends a lighter racquet, about 120 grams, for beginners. Professional squash players, he says, also use 120 to 140 gram racquets, but you can find racquets today up to 150 or 160 grams. The heavier versions may be cheaper, but the lighter, carbon-fiber models are easier on the arms and better for striking the ball. Look for brands such as Harrow, Dunlop and Technifibre, a French brand, which is a new favorite of professionals. Expect to pay $180 to $200 for a top-of-the-line model.

You will not only need a shoe designed for tennis or squash, with solid side support, but some terry cloth wristbands to wipe off your sweat. And then, depending on your weight, get ready to burn 800 to 1,000 calories an hour in a thrilling hour of intense competition in a closed space.