Racquet Sports: Tops in Training

Playing tennis or racquetball is a fun way to boost the intensity of your fitness program, as well as improve your balance, strength and agility.

Racquet sports alternate bursts of high-intensity exercise while points are played, with brief rest periods while the ball is picked up and served. This stop-and-start activity resembles interval training.

Playing racquet sports, or any active sport, three hours a week can cut your risk for developing heart disease and lower your blood pressure, according to the Cleveland Clinic Foundation (CCF). One key to getting a good aerobic workout in tennis or racquetball is to keep the rest periods brief; that way, the heart continues to work at an aerobic level but without the sustained stress.

It's also important to prepare for your game as you would for a workout. Start with at least 10 minutes of warm-up activity followed by another 10 minutes of stretching.

Be sure to check with your health care provider before beginning an exercise program.

The take on tennis

Playing tennis at a moderate to vigorous intensity burns calories. It also builds strength in your upper body, legs, hips and abdomen and improves your speed and overall flexibility.

To get the most from your workout, you and your opponent should agree to play for the aerobic benefit, as well as for fun. Instead of firing aces past each other, plan on a volley-and-return match that keeps you both moving. Scatter your shots around the court to maximize the distance you both run. Also limit the number of serves, or play for total points instead of using traditional scoring.

Health tips for tennis

To keep your game injury-free, follow these suggestions from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons:

  • Warm up before you begin to play. Good warm-up activities include jumping jacks, riding a stationary bike or running in place for 3 to 5 minutes.

  • After you've warmed up, doing some slow, gentle stretches.

  • If possible, play on a court with a forgiving surface. Hard surfaces to avoid are cement and asphalt.

  • Make sure your shoes offer good support for your ankles.

  • Dry your racket handle frequently to prevent blisters.

  • When serving or hitting the ball overhead, protect your back by bending your knees and raising your heels.

Rating racquetball

Racquetball has plenty of benefits for fitness. A racquetball game played to 15 points usually takes about 20 minutes. Players usually spend an hour playing a typical match of three games. During that hour, you can burn lots of calories. Because racquetball demands lots of twists, turns and dives, it also helps you maintain flexibility and fine-tune your concentration, balance and reaction time.

Health tips for racquetball

  • Always eye protection when playing, says the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). Buy eye guards that have been certified by the American Standard of Testing and Materials. If you wear eyeglasses, wear eye guards over them; your eyeglasses are not designed to give enough protection.

  • Drink plenty of fluids before you play. The AAFP recommends 16 to 32 ounces of water or other fluids one to two hours before you begin.

  • If you feel pain or cramping, stop the game.

  • Keep at least a foot and a half of space between you and your opponent. If you think you are too close to swing your racket without hitting your opponent, hold your swing or stop the game.

  • After the game, allow time to cool down before taking a shower. Do some stretching exercises as you cool down.

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