I’m 37, and my joints have more mileage on them than a Deadhead’s Volkswagen bus. I hate the monotony of jogging, even with my favorite music. I despise waiting for equipment in overcrowded gyms, and the ludicrous preening of most of its members, male or female.
I saw my older brother tear his acl in a pickup basketball game, then endure surgery, physical therapy, and an enduring reluctance to play any sport again.
The last time I played in a soccer game, I was kicked in the head because someone didn’t back off from the ball I had trapped as goalie.
My boxing trainer—in a punch-drunk flashback—punched me in the kidney so hard; I lay on the mat for ten minutes. Curled in a fetal position and gasping for air (think “Crying Game”).
Softball leagues have become beer-chugging parties where every team has at least one ringer who played college ball, and can singlehandedly make more novice teams look foolish.
But I crave the challenges and demands of competitive sports: strength, agility, speed, coordination, competitive fire, stamina, and focus. And fitness to me just means not being fat. I don’t need the musculature of an MMA fighter, or the endurance of a Kenyan runner. I just want to get a good sweat, an elevated heart rate, and maybe kick some ass in the process.
I tried CardioTennis to find out what the hype was all about. It seemed like tennis’ answer to Tae Bo or Zumba, with denizens of people offering testimonials about how it changed their lives. So I thought what the hell?
When I walked on court for the workout, I saw red and orange transition balls, agility ladders, and lots of colored rubber place markers. The absence of standard size and compression tennis balls ensured safety (getting pegged by a regular ball can hurt like hell). The transition balls have less compression, and don’t bounce as high, so great footwork is a must in order to hit a good shot. Also, because the ball doesn’t travel as fast (think Nerf), points last longer, equaling a better workout and more fun.
I was hooked up to one of those Steve Austin/Bionic Man apparatus that measure heart rate and calories burned. While this $120 piece of equipment wasn’t required for the class, I was curious to see if statistically this class was worthwhile. How many calories would I burn if I followed instructions and really busted my ass on the court? Would my heart rate elevate and remain fairly elevated during workout, even while I was standing around, or maybe picking up balls?
On Waiting, and How it Got to Be That Way
If we weren’t taking our turn in a drill, there were rubber markers placed on the court for safety, place-marking, and denotation of activity type. For one drill, a green, circular marker meant we had to ‘shadow stroke’ (“Increase your reps; don’t stand around.”), a yellow marker meant one-legged forward lunges, and a red marker meant jumping jacks. In another drill, a slender lane marker served as a line over which we hopped back and forth to improve agility.
But before we arrived at these waiting stations, there was normally an agility ladder through which we had to pass—either hopping on one leg, jumping hop-scotch style, or shuffling with two feet inside each square space.
These activities most definitely minimized wait time, kept each drill and game fast paced, and made me very tired. I could definitely feel how the extra practice made me less lazy in my footwork once it was my turn to participate in any drill or game.
I hate waiting, especially in tennis clinics for which I pay money to play. I’ve seen and participated in, many a clinic where lines resemble airport security lines, and I’ve even seen people made to sit on the sidelines (!).
This practice is unacceptable.
You either hire another pro to split the group on an additional court, or cap the number to something more manageable. That’s called a money-grab. As a tennis consumer, avoid those situations.
The time I spent in line for CardioTennis was minimal—10-15 seconds, at the most. Ten minutes into the workout, I was definitely hoping for a longer wait interval.
- A Warm-Up Phase
- Intense, Drill Based Play (the pro feeds, player hits, and that’s it)
- Super-Intense, Game-Based Play (competitive, interactive play)
- A Cool-Down Phase
We started in pairs and spread into approximate quadrants on the court. A designated tosser pitched a ball underhanded in a general 5 foot area at which he/she was center. The retriever was supposed to catch the ball before it bounced twice, and toss it back to the tosser. This exchange continued as the tosser tried to ‘wrong foot’ the retriever, or turn in another direction to toss the ball away from the retriever, then roles were switched. Then the retriever used a racquet to tap the ball back to the tosser.
In this quick warm-up, we immediately worked on anticipation, speed, agility, and eye-hand coordination. The pacing was superb, as each person was allowed to play each role. There were no lulls in action, as each turn lasted close to thirty seconds. Coupled with another drill or two—an obstacle course, and some tandem volleying)—our warm up lasted five minutes maximum. I was absolutely sweating and feeling exerted.
My heart rate: 148 beats per minute; close to 80% of my supposed cardiovascular capacity.
Calories Burned so far: 138
This part of the workout was extremely fast-paced, with wait time at a bare minimum (even with 12 people). By the time I finished hitting balls fed to me, ran through the agility ladder, took a practice swing, I was back in the mix to hit again:
- Forehands and backhands, running across the baseline, running around my forehand to hit a backhand, and vice versa
- Drop shot then lob retrievals
- Hitting an approach shot, then poaching diagonally to pick off a floating putaway
- Hitting a series of three volleys across the court
- Hitting a putaway volley, then moving back to hit an overhead
Again, the drill variety and continuity permitted me to find an adequate rhythm, work on footwork and agility, and prepare me for CardioTennis’ next component. Picking up balls (done while jogging) was a welcome lull in the action, however brief.
My sustained heart rate? 178 bpm. Calories burned? 413
This component showed clearly why the orange transition balls were so vital (by the way, you can break a racquet string while hitting these; I did). Even for tennis pros at levels ranging from 4.0 to 5.0, the orange ball was a velocity handicapper. But there was hardly a sacrifice of directional placement, like, say, a waffle ball would present.
Very few screaming winners were registered, except for gimme overheads and putaways. Points were lengthy, better crafted, and even fun to watch. It even heightened the sense of camaraderie, as players cheered and applauded points. Mismatches in ability were therefore minimized. The slow-drag ball emphasized the necessity of mental toughness, focus, and superb footwork.
Drills were doubles-based, allowing for a larger number of players, and an emphasis on the transition/attacking game.
My favorite drill was called “Intense”, where the feeder placed the ball anywhere in the court to begin the point: usually where a player was not. If a player was up at net, a lob would fly over his/her head to be retrieved. If a player was back, a mad scramble netward for a drop shot could be expected. Attempts to straddle the service line were thwarted by picking a half volley form one’s shoelaces.
Errors committed were rewarded by elimination/banishment to place markers to do jumping jacks or squat lunges. The same consequence was paid for those who allowed themselves to be passed (if a team was passed up the middle, both players were eliminated). To further prevent excess waiting dynasties could only last for three consecutive points.
The feeder created the kind of chaos in a doubles point that vexes most doubles teams, and also provided opportunities for players to take advantages of the strategic openings they presented.
With a bunch of uber-competitive players, the orange ball was definitely a safe option for games-based play. A 24-year old pro, fresh out of a Division 1 college poached, and I caught said ball right in the calf. Fortunately, the impact was a nerf-like sting; a regular ball would have sidelined me, most definitely. For 20 minutes, no prisoners were taken, no punches pulled.
BPM? Topped out at 181. Calories burned? 879
The session eased gently into a cool-down period of mostly cooperative games. It was a much-needed departure from our super-heated, competitive fires, and highly elevated heart-rates. Some of the games:
- Around the World Mini Tennis—A player hit the ball from the service line to the opposite side, then hauls ass to the other side to sustain the rally. Repeat process.
- Volley Ping Pong Exchange—One designated volleyer sustains a rally of only volleys with a line of players, each one hitting a volley and sprinting to the end of the line.
One exception to the cooperative cool-down game nature was the Team Serving Game. Two teams were pitted against each other at the baseline with a giant basket of balls near the back fence. Two players per team at a time were given the opportunity to successfully hit a serve in. Each correctly executed serve was rewarded one point. Playing first to 15 points, if a player missed a serve, he/she had the opportunity to serve a second serve from the baseline (you can only hold one tennis ball at a time) after running back to the basket to retrieve another ball.
If the second serve was missed, the player had to run back, retrieve a third ball, and attempt the serve from the service line—The line of shame.
Three failed attempts equal zero points for a team, where time was of the essence in accumulating points.
The game was a surprisingly quick-paced but fun way to practice the serve and one’s “clutchness”.
Max heart rate? 157 bpm. Calories? 1049.
My experience with CardioTennis was thoroughly enjoyable. It lived up to its hype. It was engaging, exciting, upbeat, rigorous, mentally and physically demanding, and fun. And no preening in the mirror meatheads.
I burned nearly 3 times the calories I would have in a typical singles tennis match. That’s also close to the amount of calories in a Big Mac.
Now I don’t feel so bad about heading to the local bar to have a few pints of real beer.