Racquetball Fitness

racquetball serve

Closely related to tennis, racquetball is one of the most popular indoor sports in America. Unfortunately, it also has one of the greatest risks for injury if played improperly or without protective gear. Some of these injuries can include elbow injuries such as lateral epicondylitis, sprains, fractures, groin strains, and cuts, scrapes and bruises from falls, wall contact or player collisions.

The most pertinent and also most commonly omitted protective article is goggles. Protective goggles are required to prevent eye injuries as the racquetball typically moves at a very high rate of velocity. Many players also wear gloves to minimize blisters and arm bands to avoid accidentally throwing the racket due to sweat. Much like many sports activities, racquetball requires a partner to play.

The average number of calories burned during racquetball play ranges from moderate at 640 per hour (Prevention, 1995) to 794 per hour (Mens Health, 1995) to a high level at 13.7 per minute or 822 per hour (Sports Training Institute). With the average game taking twenty minutes, a player will normally run over two miles in only one hour of play. To enjoy the game, however, a player must be physically fit, flexible, highly coordinated, possess reasonable upper body strength, and be capable of jogging one continuous mile.

Racquetball offers both aerobic and anaerobic benefits. Hence, for an individual to successfully play the sport of racquetball, they will need to be able to physically support a sustained high level heart rate, short bursts of energy, and meet the muscle endurance and strength requirements. Furthermore, racquetball taxes nearly every muscle group, including sustained, repetitive use of large muscles that increase the number of calories burned per hour, thus reducing an individual's body fat percentage.

Playing The Game

Normally, a racquetball game is played between two opposing players, although three and even four-player variations exist. Two-player games are called singles or "one-up" (1-on-1 for the entire game); three-player games are called "Ironman" or "Cut-throat" (2-on-1 for the entire game), where each player takes turns serving to the other two.

The "California" or "In-and-Out" variation of racquetball is a 3-player game played as a three-way singles game, except that the losing player of the previous rally remains in the back court, out of play, while the other two play the next point. The four-player game is called "doubles" and is similar to tennis in that two teams of two players are required to play the game.

To serve, and start play of the game, the serving player must bounce the ball on the floor once and forcefully strike it against the front wall — making the ball rebound beyond the short line and strike the floor, either with or without touching a side wall, otherwise the serve counts as a fault. After the ball bounces behind the short line or passes the receiving line, the ball is in play and the opposing player(s) may strike it in turn.

After a successful serve, players alternate hitting the ball against the front wall. The player returning the ball may allow the ball to bounce once on the floor or hit the ball on the fly. However, once the player returning the shot has hit the ball, either before bouncing on the floor or after one bounce, it must strike the front wall before it hits the floor. Unlike during the serve, a ball in play may touch as many walls, including the ceiling, as necessary so long as it reaches the front wall without striking the floor first. Only the serving player or team scores points.

Getting Started

racquetball off the wall

Obviously, racquetball may not be for the individual just starting to exercise regularly, but is often regarded as a valuable activity when other exercises are becoming dull, or as a competitive and fun sports activity. To begin, a racquetball player will need a racket, rubber balls, protective eye wear, comfortable shoes and a place to play.

Although there are some outdoor racquetball courts, typically a player will need to find a local university or fitness center to find an indoor racquetball court. Indoor racquetball courts normally require that the individual make a reservation to ensure that there is a court available.

There are proper etiquette requirements that are important to become acquainted with, associated with the specific fitness center, prior to playing the first game at the facility. In fact, failing to show up for a reserved court can result in a ban from the facility.

For individuals that have never played the game of racquetball, it is recommended that they schedule a court during an off-peak hour and practice volleying the ball alone. By doing so, the individual will get a feel for how the ball moves in the court and how it feels to run in such a small area. Much like other competitive sports, becoming familiar with the rules of racquetball before playing can go a long way towards enjoying the physical activity that comes with playing the game.

Training for Racquetball

The following is a strength and endurance training program for racquetball that is designed to be used for four to six consecutive weeks:

Rest Period Between Sets: 1-2 minutes, Workout Program Duration: 60 - 80 minutes




Typical Injuries Associated With Racquetball

Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis): Occurs in 40% to 50% of average recreational racquetball and squash players. This is a painful inflammation of the soft tissue on the outside of the elbow. The most common cause of tennis elbow is the one-handed backhand. The combination of conservative treatment and stroke correction has been shown to have a 90% chance of excellent or good results when symptoms have lasted less than 6 months, and an 82% chance for symptoms lasting over 6 months.

Shoulder Impingement: A common shoulder problem in tennis that can also occur in racquetball, shoulder impingement is a narrowing of the space where the rotator cuff tendons and bicep tendons lie. When the arm is raised overhead, the tendons may be constricted, causing pain and limited range of motion. Analysis of the strokes reproducing the painful shoulder symptoms are important. The common strokes that may lead to shoulder impingement include the topspin forehand and the serve. Close analysis of the timing and sequencing of the kinetic chain prior to the acceleration phase is required to determine the optimal contact point.

Overuse knee injuries: Are very common in racket sports players due to the quick, repetitive and multi-directional movements made during play. Patellofemoral tracking dysfunction and patellar tendonitis are common problems and may be caused by biomechanical isues. Inadequate strength or endurance of the quadriceps is often part of the problem, and muscular imbalance of the vastus lateralis to the vastus medialis is often present. Strengthening of the quadriceps by performing one-quarter squats wall sits, and thereafter progressing to multi-angle lunges and plyometrics will help stabilize the patellar motion.

Nutritional Advice for the Racquetball Player

Tomato juice has more potassium than orange juice or a banana. In addition, the salt in tomato juice will assist the athlete in minimizing water loss (sweat), and hence maintaining a higher level of hydration.

racquetball player lunging

Drinking tea and caffeinated coffee or soda within 2 hours of a meal will decrease the amount of iron the body is able to absorb from that meal.

The first 15 minutes after strenuous activity are the most critical for replacing carbohydrates and replenishing glycogen levels. Fruit juices, rather than sports drinks, contain more carbohydrates per ounce (with the exception of Gatorade, which was developed specifically for carbohydrate replacement).

Minimize chromium intake or supplementation to less than 200 micrograms per day, as any value over this amount may cause an iron deficiency.

In post-competition recovery, alcohol consumption interferes with rehydration and the loading of carbohydrates in muscles (glycogen resynthesis), thus slowing recovery from strenuous activity and increasing risk of injury.

Thick-crusted veggie pizza ordered with extra sauce and only half the amount of normal cheese provides more carbohydrates, potassium and other macronutrients to assist with all forms of post-exercise recovery.