Is Racquetball a Good Workout?

low angle view of a woman playing tennis

While it enjoyed a surge of popularity in the 1980’s, racquetball is no longer one of the first exercises to come to mind for losing weight and getting into shape. Racquetball still has many loyal players, however -- 5.6 million, according to the International Racquetball Federation – who can tell you that racquetball is not just a fun way to get your exercise, but it also provides a thorough cardiovascular workout as well.

History of Racquetball

According to the International Racquetball Federation, the sport was conceived by Joe Sobek who, in 1949, designed the short paddle that is still associated with the game. The rules were an amalgamation between those of handball and squash. The game caught on, and in the 1970’s and 1980’s racquetball courts were being built all over the country. By the end of the 1980’s, popularity fell and many clubs closed; however, a steady number of enthusiasts remained, and the sport has gained international popularity as well.

Fitness Benefits

The President’s Council on Physical Fitness lists racquetball as one of the cardio activities which, if engaged in for twenty or more minutes, will provide the level of activity needed to maintain fitness. More specifically, playing racquetball at moderate intensity burns up to 794 calories per hour, and results in a high heart rate that is sustained throughout the workout. The U.S. Racquetball Association website claims that a game of racquetball works every muscle group, and that a one hour game requires a player to run an accumulated distance of over two miles.

Aerobic and Anaerobic Benefits

Racquetball is an aerobic activity because it is a sustained activity that uses large amounts of oxygen via respiration for the muscles of the body to burn fat. Aerobic activity makes your heart beat faster and increases your rate of respiration. Racquetball is also an anaerobic workout because of the hard, fast bursts of energy it requires; during such anaerobic exercise, the body relies upon an internal metabolization process to burn glycogen for energy, which also helps build muscle. Sprinting is an example of anaerobic exercise.

Equipment Needed

The U.S. Racquetball Association notes that a new player only needs four pieces of equipment in order to get started. First is a racquet, which can be purchased at a sporting goods store, and will cost between $20 and $200. The more expensive racquets may have a better “feel” and handling, but you can choose a racquet to fit your budget. Next is eyewear, such as goggles, to prevent eye injuries caused by a fast-moving ball or a roving racquet. Indoor court shoes or tennis shoes can be worn, or you can look for shoes made especially for racquetball. Finally, you may wish to purchase your own balls, which are available in several colors.

Warming-Up and Conditioning

Even if you feel you are in good shape, experts like certified athletic trainer Brad Quigley note that a good warm-up including stretches before your game is crucial for avoiding injuries. He recommends stretching your hamstrings, quadriceps, calves, and gluteal muscles, as well as doing some strength training for your shoulders and arms in order to avoid tennis elbow and rotator cuff injuries. In addition, sports medicine expert David Watson, M.D. suggests “wind-sprints” to simulate the short, back-and-forth runs required on the court. These extra efforts take a little time, but will pay off in fewer strains and a better game.

Things to Consider

As with any new workout program, check with your doctor before starting to play racquetball. Racquetball is a high intensity, high impact sport; those with arthritis or joint or muscle weaknesses, as well as anyone with a compromised cardiorespiratory system, should not engage in this activity without appropriate medical advisement.