"I walk through the club where I work and I get frustrated watching the poor people on the machines. They're attached to these medieval torture devices when they could be getting a much better workout, and having fun, playing racquetball."—Jim Winterton, former head coach of the US Racquetball Team.

An intense racquetball session burns a lot of calories and and does wonders for hand-eye coordination and reflexes. It also adds a fun, competitive edge to your workout routine. Even with all its benefits, racquetball remains underutilized as a fitness activity. Perhaps beginners think it will be difficult to learn, or maybe they are afraid of getting hit by a ball.

Fear not. "Racquetball is the easiest racquet sport to learn," says Winterton, who is currently head coach of the Junior US Racquetball Team. "The ball and the racquet are big, and you can hit the ball almost anywhere." As for getting hit in the eye, you just need to wear safety glasses. "Eyeguards are the first piece of equipment anyone needs. It only takes getting hit once to do serious damage, but if you wear eyeguards you will be safe," Winterton assures players.

The Basics

The rules of racquetball are fairly simple: "Just hit the hollow blue ball to the front wall. Do whatever it takes to get it there," says Kelley Beane, assistant coach of the Junior US Racquetball Team. Beane, who was ranked 5th nationally as a player in the 25+ age group, mentions that the ball is allowed to bounce once, but it is okay if beginners let it bounce two or three times as they learn how to hit and rally. "The important thing is to lighten up and have fun when you are first starting. If you like it, it becomes almost addictive. You will get pretty good pretty quick," Beane adds.

Once you can keep a rally going, you can start keeping score. Winterton encourages match play because "competition pushes you and makes you work a little harder." Beane says as long as you play with an opponent whose ability level is well matched to yours, you will have a great time.

Scoring is simple. You only win points on your serve. In other words, if the server wins a rally, he or she scores a point. The non-server is fighting for the right to serve. Games are played to 15, and you only have to win by 1 point. Usually, matches are best 2 of 3 games. If the match goes to a tie-breaker (game 3), 11 points wins it.

What a Workout!

With every muscle group working during play, it is not surprising that racquetball can burn a lot of calories. Spend an hour playing hard on the racquetball court, and you will walk off the court sweaty and spent. Even better, you will never watch the clock. "I never realized what a great workout racquetball is until I was injured and could not play. No workout I tried, not even spinning, could match it," Winterton attests.

Beane agrees. She attributes this to the court, which is 20 feet wide, 40 feet long, and 20 feet tall. She says it "is strategically designed to make you think you can get to everything. So you work really hard chasing down every last ball, but you are having a blast doing it."

With any sport there is a chance of injury. A few quick steps may help keep you safe on the court.

How Not to Get Hurt

Give your muscles a few moments to gear up. Try a light activity that involves your entire body like a walk or light jog around the court.

Some common injuries are avoidable if you use proper technique. So before taking on racquetball for the first time, consider taking a lesson to make sure you are doing things right.

Safety glasses are the most important protective equipment you will need. This is a precaution that bears repeating several times. Eye protection is crucial. A ball in the eye could easily cause a detached retina.

In addition to safety glasses, Winterton recommends wearing a wide-bottomed shoe that can accommodate the quick starts and stops of a racquetball match. The right shoe can prevent the ankle sprains that might occur with this kind of movement.

Also make sure you have a racquet with a tether. Remember you will be sweating a lot, and the tether keeps the racquet from flying out of your hand and into your opponent's (or your) head.

Sometimes even every precaution can not stop an injury. Most injuries will respond to ice and a little rest. If an injury continues to give you trouble despite rest, see your doctor. Treating a minor problem now may keep it from becoming a bigger problem later.

Do Not Forget Conditioning

Overall fitness is important, but you also have to get your body ready for the rigors of racquetball. Focus on core training. That is, strengthen the muscles that stabilize the spine and pelvis over the entire length of the torso. They can help you make the quick changes and shifts required for a competitive game.

Aerobic exercises will also help you with your endurance so you can last the whole game. When choosing exercises, consider how your body moves when you play racquetball. Exercises like quick sprints, jumping, and throwing will help you keep your edge. Finally, strength exercises may help you prevent injuries in your arms and shoulders.

If you are looking to pick up the pace of your workout routine, consider a few rounds of racquetball. It might just be the extra boost you need when you hit your training plateau.