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Are Your Tennis Courts Getting a Workout?

With more attention being given to the nation’s obesity epidemic, people are looking for unique workouts that don’t feel like exercise. Although there are plenty of entry-level tennis activities, most people probably don’t think of tennis as a heart-pounding activity, unless you’re Jim Courier or Serena Williams.

In the past, park-based tennis lessons consisted of stretching, whacking a few balls, retrieving the missed balls--and it was over. It wasn’t much of a workout because one’s heart rate probably never popped above that of a couch potato reloading the snack bowl. (The Centers for Disease Control recommends a weekly dose of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity plus strength-training exercises.)

Additionally, most of the class was usually spent listening to an instructor, so participants didn’t get much on-the-court practice time.

That was until the Tennis Industry Association created Cardio Tennis, a workout program that raises participants’ heart rates, challenges and improves skill levels, and provides plenty of hands-on practice. Plus, participants of all skill levels can play together.

Cardio Tennis

“Cardio Tennis was launched in 2005 at the U.S. Open when it was formally introduced to the world,” says Michele Krause, national Cardio Tennis program manager with the Tennis Industry Association. “There are now over 1,700 official Cardio Tennis sites in the United States. The program is in 30 countries, and is very popular in the United Kingdom, Japan, Canada and Germany.”

The program is taught by certified tennis professionals. Each session includes stretches, a warm-up, a cardio workout, games and a cool-down period. Participants hit backhands, forehands and volleys. In addition to the aerobic activity, improvements in flexibility, strength, reaction times and balance are typical. Moreover, the program doesn’t become stale because instructors use a set of interchangeable drills to achieve the coveted aerobic-training zone of 65 to 85 percent of the participant’s maximum heart rate.

“The warm-up is dynamic, hand-eye coordination and other skills are used, and then the class moves to drill-based exercises,” says Krause. “The games are the largest component of this fun and very fast-moving class.”

“I can change the dynamics of the workout to make sure I hit everyone’s skill set,” says Brad Douglas, director of tennis for Parkside Athletics, Pekin Park District in Illinois. “The Cardio Tennis session starts with stretching, a warm-up, some easy footwork, tossing and catching the balls and progresses to feeding drills at a medium-to-fast pace, ball pickup, and then games with transition balls, followed by a cool-down.”

Transition balls are larger in diameter than normal tennis balls, and compress less when hit. This slows down the speed of the ball, making the game safer and leveling the playing field between an experienced tennis player and a newbie.

Tennis Business

“People are attracted to the words “Cardio Tennis” because it sounds exciting and gives them the perception that the class is going to be much faster and more exciting than tennis,” says Krause. “Essentially, this program is incredible for getting people into the game of tennis because it is a good entry point. For infrequent or past players, Cardio Tennis is a way to get people to play more frequently or to pick up the game again.”

Cardio Tennis is proving to be a revenue generator for facilities and tennis professionals. “Cardio Tennis is our biggest program. In fact, it has grown our business by nearly 40 percent,” says Chris Ojakian, president of Ojakian Tennis Inc., and National Cardio Tennis Speaker. “We’ve seen increases in all areas of our business, including private lessons, equipment sales and kids’ programs.” Ojakian Tennis now teaches over 35 hours of Cardio Tennis between its seven facilities.

Different Demographics

As people search for exercise different than what they can get at the gym, more are gravitating to Cardio Tennis. “Cardio Tennis has brought in a whole different demographic of clientele from people who have never played before, to those who have played in the past but have lost touch with the sport,” says Ojakian. “Once they try Cardio Tennis, participants want to take private lessons, and buy a tennis racquet and additional equipment.”

Cardio Tennis is as good as--if not better than--going to the gym. In addition, instructors note that there is a social aspect not found at the gym. “They are working out and supporting each other with positive encouragement during the workout,” says Ojakian. “When was the last time you saw someone high-five the person next to them in spinning class?”

Classes are structured with one instructor per six to eight students. “Finding the right instructor is important,” says Ojakian. “You need someone with a high energy level and who is constantly giving positive feedback. This helps create a positive social atmosphere, and participants keep coming to classes because of the social interaction.”

“In regards to parks and recreation facilities, this is a fabulous program that attracts a diverse demographic, especially when you have a high-energy tennis professional leading the class,” says Krause. “It is not about how and where you hit the ball--it is about moving and enjoying the exercise.”

Who Can Resist Free?

Marketing is as simple as giving people a free sample. “Offer the first class free and an all-day open house to which people can come and watch a class or join in,” says Ojakian. “Plus, offer classes to different interest groups, for example, Beginners, Mommies and Me classes, Cardio Tennis Lite for Seniors, Power Cardio Cardio Tennis and classes for parents who are dropping off their kids for tennis lessons.”

To Get Started

“A facility needs to complete the online registration at growingtennis.com, which notes locations offering Cardio Tennis,” says Krause. “The tennis professional needs to be a certified teaching pro. The coaches leading the classes need to view the educational DVD, and then take a test. Plus, we encourage them to take classes.” Through the Web site, a consumer can find a class within 50 miles of his or her ZIP code.

The player needs to bring a racquet, tennis shoes and preferably a heart-rate monitor to get the most out of the workout. Facilities need a tennis court, transition balls and the ability to play music. “I find that music is almost a necessity to the class,” says Ojakian. “People work harder, and it inspires them to stretch their limits more and have fun.”

Tammy York is the owner of LandShark Communications LLC, which specializes in media and public relations for outdoor recreation businesses. Her book, 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Cincinnati, is available online and in bookstores. You can reach her at landsharkpr@yahoo.com .

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