What’s in a number?

While spring connotes sunshine, blooming flowers and nesting birds, it’s also the season for USTA league tennis — meaning that during these three months, one’s wins and losses really matter. Each fall, after victorious teams have gone on to Districts, then Sectionals, and finally Nationals, the computer re-calculates everyone’s NTRP (National Tennis Rating Program) rating, and it either keeps players at the same level, or it moves them up or down depending on a complicated and mostly secret algorithm — one that people may profess to understand, yet no one can explain in full.

I play 3.0 ladies’ tennis. For those who aren’t familiar with USTA, this is not an impressive level. Most “real” tennis players look down their noses once they hear I’m only a 3.0, or they’re friendly but somewhat condescending.  Sure, I’d like to move up to 3.5 – what 3.0 wouldn’t want the respect that comes with the extra half-point?  At the same time, other than wanting respect and acceptance, I’m actually fine with being a 3.0.  The point of USTA ratings, after all, is to help people play against opponents with about the same level of ability and consistency, thus giving everyone a decent chance of winning or losing.

Non-tennis players aren’t off the hook here, though: tennis is merely my topic of the moment.  The situation of a 3.0 who wants to move to 3.5, or a 3.5 who thinks this is her year to go to 4.0, is pretty much the same as that of an executive who believes she should move one level higher in the organization, and earn perhaps twenty percent more — then she would be satisfied.  Or the school volunteer who calculates that, if she could only be nominated to the Executive Board, her talents would finally be recognized for what they really are.  We all want to demonstrate progress, whether it’s with our tennis rating, compensation package, community leadership, the size of house we live in, or some other measure that matters to us.  [Read more…]

P90X-ing the midlife body

Most of us have seen the infomercials with the “before” and “after” shots: ugly folks with bad hairdos and fat that spills over their shorts, transformed in only ninety days to svelte people with rock-hard abs, biceps and bikini-ready bodies – not to mention cute hairstyles and good skin. Too good to be true?  Yes, but not entirely.

I started on P90X because I was fed up with being out of shape (see this post, for example), and because my college kids told me it might be too hard for me. In other words, the gauntlet had been thrown! I went online and looked at testimonials. I  was hooked when I saw the cute Asian guy, a self-proclaimed “computer nerd,” who used to sit in front of his screen and eat junk food all day, but now does P90X and looks like someone my daughter should meet. I ordered the DVDs and figured I’d give it a try.

I took my “Fit Test” on December 31 and passed it, barely. At least I was fit enough to start P90X’s “extreme home fitness!” Monday, 1/3/2011, was the start of my New Regime. I skipped the recommended “before” photos, as I didn’t want a potential source of blackmail. On Day 1, you do “Chest & Back,” a one-hour workout consisting mainly of push-ups and pull-ups. I had little prior experience with either. (Read: this was hard!) Then you do the sixteen-minute “Ab Ripper.” Enough said. I finished at 11:30 a.m. and went back to bed for an hour. I made a note to myself, “Must cheat. Must take breaks.”

Day 2 was better, as the workout was cardio that, while difficult, was not as foreign to me. I thought, “Well, maybe I can do this after all.” But Day 12 came, and I still wasn’t feeling more fit. Plus, doing P90X was taking 1 to 1 ½ hours per day. But I made up my mind to keep going.

It was probably around Day 20 when I decided P90X was okay. My husband encouraged me, telling me he thought my body was getting more toned. My teenage son was less generous, choosing to mimic my least-favorite workout, “Kenpo X.” Whenever the subject of P90X comes up, he calls out, “Hook, undercut, sidekick,” punching and kicking the air for emphasis. [Read more…]

Am I out of shape or what?

A week ago I did a fitness and conditioning class for tennis players.  Now that I’ve rested up from that, I ‘m ready to get going on a more structured exercise plan.  My first step was order some books from Amazon, which conveniently delivered them to my door in two days (no exertion required).  I thought that since I like to play tennis, I should make tennis conditioning the goal of my fitness program, the thing that would motivate me and keep me going after the first couple of workouts when I knew I would feel sore and completely out of shape.

So these books sounded perfect.  My favorite is Complete Conditioning for Tennis, which is published in association with the USTA and has a lovely photo of James Blake on the cover.

It also includes a DVD, so you can not only be a couch potato and read the book (as I have done), but you can watch fit people doing the exercises and imagine that you would do them with just as good form.  Unfortunately, James does not appear inside the book or on the DVD — it appears he lent his image and endorsement for the cover to help the USTA sell more copies.

Another good one is The Ultimate Guide to Weight Training for Tennis, which can help you figure out what to do in the gym besides chat with other people who, like yourself, are there to socialize or waste time while pretending to work out.  I’ll warn you, however, that this one is more intense, as it includes quite a few grids with small print concerning reps and sets.  For me, it’s a bit much.

So at least I’ve been THINKING about what I’m going to do to get into shape, and I suppose that’s a start.  But really, rather than work out hard, it’s so much easier just to check my email for the umpteenth time, write a blog post about exercising, and maybe cap that off by walking the dog around the block.

I realize that over the years my kids and I have collected a lot of the basic equipment I can use to get in shape at home: a jump rope, cones, assorted dumbbells and ankle weights, stretchy bands, you name it.  It’s simply time to put it all to use.

Maybe writing these confessions online will help me get past them.  Maybe my friends will hold me accountable.

In the meantime, let me know if you’re free for coffee or lunch — but maybe not for a hike, and definitely not for a run.

Happiness is . . . working out with the ball machine

I worked out with the ball machine yesterday.  It was great!  I just love how you can set it to keep on feeding you forehands, or backhands, or volleys, with whatever kind of speed or delay or spin or anything you choose.  And then you always know what’s coming.  That’s a really nice feature, don’t you think?  I mean, when I knew exactly where the ball was going to be, I could watch it all the way to the strings.  I could hit it to the same target five times in a row.  I could slam a volley down the line.

There were some much better tennis players on a nearby court, and that was great, too.  Just being near them and feeling the vibe of their higher-level game gave me a boost of confidence.  A couple of them even waved hi to me!  I mean, I know I’ll never play tennis as well as any of them, but it’s nice to think of myself as a member of the club, as someone who works out at the same time as better people are playing “real” tennis matches.

I also love the fact that, when you play against the ball machine, you always win.  Now one of my favorite pros pointed out to me that, considered differently, you always lose to the machine, but I disagree!  When you play against the machine, YOU are the one keeping score, and you are the one who is winning — unless, of course, you are super-tough on yourself.  It’s silly to tally how many balls make it over the net versus how many are left on your side when you’re cleaning up, as everyone knows that numerous balls are wasted in fine-tuning the machine’s placement of balls before you can move over there and hit any of them.  Not to mention the ones that are dead and don’t bounce correctly in the first place. . . . Plus, didn’t you set up the machine to practice that tricky new shot that you’ve been afraid to try in matches?  Any time you can execute it successfully, you’re one step closer to using it against an opponent when it will count.

So go ahead: spend a few dollars on a ball machine workout.  Not only will you get to focus on the shots that have been giving you trouble, or shots that are “weapons” you want to perfect, but it’s a quick way to perk up your self-confidence, on and off the court.  Between you and the machine, you’ll definitely be the winner!

Wimbledon fashion largely disappoints

Grand Slam matches provide a worldwide stage for tennis stars and their sponsors to flaunt their newest gear and clothing lines, with lots of free advertising.  Unfortunately, however, there is little to celebrate by way of fashion at Wimbledon this year.  Rafa and Roger are stunning as always, but both are unusually subdued, even classical in their attire.  After causing a stir last year when pulling a “15” gold-trimmed jacket out of his bag for the awards presentation that marked his record-breaking 15th Grand Slam victory, Federer is setting an understated tone so far.  Not sure about the mesh bag, though.

Things are a bit more interesting on the women’s side, but not much.  Mercifully, the all-white Wimbledon regulations prevent Venus from pulling another “French Open” fashion faux pas, where the bright yellow dress and flesh-colored panties caused many to wonder if she was truly “going commando” or just trying to play the part of provocateur.  However, her self-designed outfit must be one of the worst on Centre Court: a low cut top and frilly skirt that looks more like Miss Muffet, or perhaps one of those exfoliating body puffs, than actual tennis attire.

[Read more…]