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Raising a racket

Cardio tennis combines the fun of the sport with heart-pumping exercise
by: Jim Clark, A cardio tennis class at the Portland Tennis Center.

As 'Stayin' Alive' by the Bee Gees thumps from a boom box, Tino Fabros starts lobbing tennis balls at his students. One after another the balls fly over the net in Court 1 of the Portland Tennis Center, and the nine students take turns hitting them back toward their instructor - dashing to the right for a low ball, falling back for an overhead smash, charging forward, then to the left, over and over, until Fabros empties the ball cart. The drill ends, and the students stop to take their pulse and catch their breath before the next drill.

Welcome to Cardio Tennis, a sweat-inducing, calorie-burning class that's part aerobic exercise, part tennis drill and total cardiovascular workout.

'It's a lot more strenuous than playing regular tennis,' says student Mike Kim, 40, of West Linn, a regular in the Sunday afternoon Cardio Tennis class that Fabros teaches.

Fabros agrees. 'Cardio Tennis is like running a marathon or riding a bicycle uphill - just a heavy workout,' says the 51-year-old tennis pro, who has worked at the Portland Tennis Center since 2002.

'It's really a workout. It's a sweatbox when you finish.'

The U.S. Tennis Association developed Cardio Tennis three or four years ago with an emphasis on encouraging tennis players to work out, Fabros says, 'not just on their skills but their exercising.'

The program is offered at hundreds of facilities all over the United States; other Portland-area locations include the Gresham Cascade Athletic Club. And you don't necessarily have to know how to play tennis to take the class - 'as long as you can get to the ball,' Fabros says.

Some of his Cardio Tennis students are former tennis players who have returned to the sport, including Mike Kim, who played the game in high school in California, then picked it up again about a year ago.

Elise Newman, 33, of Portland played tennis as a child and attended her first Cardio Tennis class last month. It was the second class for her boyfriend, Michael Lepis, also 33.

'It feels good,' Newman said after her first class with Fabros.

Each hour-long class begins with a warm-up followed by intervals of short, high-intensity tennis drills with periods of rest, then a cool-down at the end. The goal is to elevate participants' heart rates to their recommended aerobic heart rate zones. To calculate your recommended rate, subtract your age from 220; the ideal Cardio Tennis workout zone is 65 to 85 percent of that number, according to the program's Web site, www.cardiotennis.com. The Web site also notes that players who aren't in shape or are recovering from major surgery might want to set their aerobic range at least 10 percent lower than the norm.

Cardio Tennis is for all ages. Of the two classes that Fabros teaches, one typically draws 20- to 40-year-olds, while the other includes older players. He adjusts the tempo of the drills depending on the players' skill levels and abilities.

'Anybody can do it as long as they're willing to run for the ball,' he says.

And the classes use dance music to keep the players moving. 'You don't get too many tennis classes that provide music,' Fabros adds. 'Some students dance to it.'

To learn more about Cardio Tennis, including facilities that offer it, visit www.cardiotennis.com