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Learn Racquetball

Sunday, November 14, 2004; Page M07

Looking to work up a sweat old-school style? Try racquetball. The sport of choice for short-shorts-clad execs in the '70s has stayed popular for a simple reason: It's a fast-moving game that's easy to learn.

It's also an intense workout. According to the U.S. Racquetball Association, you can burn up to 13 calories per minute of play, and all of those stops and starts work magic on under-used muscle groups like the inner thighs. For once, bouncing off the walls is a good thing.

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What to Expect: Racquetball's rules are based on those of handball, with all six surfaces -- four walls, ceiling and floor -- used as playing surfaces. But unlike handball, racquetball requires -- yep, you guessed it -- a racquet, similar to the kind used in squash. A regulation court is 20 feet by 40 feet and is divided into a service zone (where you stand to serve the ball) and a receiving zone (where you stand to return the serve). All players face the same direction.

The goal of the game is to slam the ball against the front wall in such a way that your opponent can't return it before it bounces twice on the floor. To return a serve, you can hit the ball off any surface -- including the ceiling -- as long as it doesn't bounce twice on the floor before you get to it. Only servers win points, which are earned by winning a rally. Many local health clubs and gyms boast courts, and if you're really into the game, a handful even offer lessons and leagues.

What to Bring: With that ball whizzing around so close to your peepers, protective goggles are a must -- most clubs have extras on hand, along with regulation balls, although it's BYO at some public facilities. Pros recommend gum-soled athletic shoes for the best traction, but regular tennies will do just fine, too. Racquets are available for rent or loan at most clubs; one of your very own will set you back at least twenty bucks, though fancy ones can run several hundred.

Cost: Use of public courts is generally free or, at worst, a few dollars. Local health clubs with racquetball courts require you to pay widely varying monthly or annual membership dues. Some gyms also charge a small rental fee for the use of courts, and those that sponsor leagues may charge extra.

Emily Heil

GET THE BALL ROLLING

You can go the no-frills route with public facilities that offer courts but little else, or try your swing at a club, which offers the opportunity to hook up with other players, take a lesson or join a league.

Centennial Park. 9801 Old Annapolis Rd., Ellicott City. 410-313-4700. www.co.ho.md.us. Run by Howard County, this bucolic park boasts six racquetball courts set amid facilities for horseshoes and boating. Use of all facilities is free.

Fairfax Racquet Club & Fitness Center. 9860 Lee Hwy., Fairfax. 703-273-9276. www.fairfaxracquetclub.com. Annual membership dues at this family-friendly neighborhood fixture are $125 for a singleton and $190 for a family or couple. Hourly court rentals range from $9 to $12, and league play costs about $5 a match. Park Junior with the on-site nanny on Sunday evenings while you stop by for an informal game.

Lakeforest Sport & Health Club. 700 Russell Ave., Gaithersburg. 301-258-0661. www.sportandhealth.com. Membership at this snazzy, newly renovated club (all candy-bright colors and mod lighting) starts at $49 a month. Use of any of the eight courts is free for members, and private lessons start at $40 an hour. League play is also available.

McLean Racquet and Health Club. 1472 Chain Bridge Rd., McLean. 703-356-3300. www.mcleanracquetandhealthclub.com. Twentysomethings dig the clubby feel of this venue (meet you for a post-workout happy hour in the lounge?) as well as its three courts. Use of courts is free to members, who pay dues starting at $155 a month, and there are racquetball pros on hand to give private lessons, starting at $45 an hour. Monday nights are open for informal drop-in matches, and the club also hosts regular events like beat the pro night.

Sport Fit Laurel Racquet. 204 Fort Meade Rd., Laurel. 301-953-1414. www. sportfitclubs.com/laurelracquet. At this eight-court mega-facility, you can join a league, take a class or watch the pros at one of the occasional tournaments hosted here. Monthly dues start at $50; courts are free, and league play costs $28 for each 10-week season.

University of the District of Columbia Physical Activities Center. 4200 Connecticut Ave., NW. 202-274-5024. www.universityofdc.org. A community pass (the new price hasn't yet been set) gets you access to the racquetball courts at this utilitarian space, which also offers plus a weight room and exercise classes. Bonus: it's Metro-accessible.


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