CrossFit keeps squash pro fighting fit in Finland

Mahesh Mangaonkar, India’s reigning national men’s champion shuttles between European cities, representing clubs as a contracted player, apart from taking up other assignments with federations.

Mahesh Mangaonkar has worked as sparring partner for top players like Gregory Gaultier and Paul Coll.

Mahesh Mangaonkar has worked as sparring partner for top players like Gregory Gaultier and Paul Coll.   -  Prasanna Venkatesan

Far away in cold Finland, squash pro Mahesh Mangaonkar is into CrossFit to maintain fitness levels so that when restrictions on movement and travel are lifted, he can get on with life playing in European club leagues. The 26-year-old is currently the sparring partner for players of the Finland men’s team and is on paid leave at present.

“This (Finland) is a good set-up training wise and money wise. I am on paid leave at the moment, work is supposed to start on May 30.”

He added: “I work for the Finnish Squash Federation as a sparring player for the men national team, live in Helsinki and train at the Talihalli Squash club. Earlier, I was at The Hague (Netherlands) with the Houtrust Squash Club and moved (to Finland) because there are more opportunities here for me as a pro athlete.”

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India’s current national men’s champion shuttles between European cities, representing clubs as a contracted player, apart from other assignments.

The World No. 49 said: “The European leagues which take place every week gives me match practice, so I am also travelling every week for at least a day to play matches for the clubs I am with.”

Talihalli is one of the clubs he represents. COVID-19 curbs resulted in him being stranded at Helsinki. “(The lock-down is) pretty similar to most part of the world. We are in basic quarantine level. Clubs, gymnasiums, government offices, restaurants are closed but we are still able to move outdoors for some period in a day,” he said.


Replying to a query about tracking the virus-linked infections in India and steps to be followed by the people, he is clear and blunt. “Stay at home! This is not a vacation, this is a national emergency. People should take this seriously and stay indoors, spend time with family and unwind.”

Asked if social distancing norms for the public should apply to an indoor sport like squash, he replied: “It has many possibilities of spreading the virus due to excessive contact (between players) during the game on court.”

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Pro squash demands high fitness and systematic training for competitions. “I love to train, so maintaining my physical strength and endurance is not a problem. If something is taken away from me, then I will find other way or areas to get fitter and stronger. I think every pro athlete out there should focus on the physical aspect because that's the only thing easily accessible to us right now.. I do a lot of CrossFit to stay disciplined towards training.”

He follows a programme designed by French fitness coach Pierre Macron, called the Pirates Program. As one of the pro CrossFit athletes, he gets a mail every Sunday night from the coach, detailing the training to be done for the week. “CrossFit has functional movements, involving gymnastics, weightlifting and endurance training. I borrowed a kettlebell, dumbell and a 50kg barbell from my gymnasium to use at home. We post our scores on the Facebook page, compare and realise what is lacking.”

Squash is yet to gain entry into the Olympics programme, but the India international feels for probable Olympians from India and other nations, following the postponement of the Games to 2021. “It is going to be hard for many athletes because their whole training program is mostly based on the Olympics, aiming to peak at the Games. The situation is mentally challenging but has affected everyone and not just athletes. The world is dealing with bigger problems right now than having to cancel the Olympic Games. So it (postponement) is the best decision taken by the IOC. Our first priority should be staying healthy.”

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