I’ve always had an aversion to the idea of a personal trainer. I can’t explain it. I think it’s the thought that that any desire one might have to get fit can only come to fruition when the insistent (and in my imagination, deprecating) goads of an infinitely fitter individual finally get the better of you. But I’m being prejudiced, I’ve never tried it, yet I know friends with personal trainers who always seem to come back from a session looking a bit sheepish.
Encouragement does, however, work. And as the heat tends to force one inside and physical exercise becomes pretty minimal beyond dashing between taxis, I went in search of a way of getting a one- on-one fitness programme that was somewhere close to fun along the way.
With Wimbledon coming to its conclusion this week, it seemed appropriate to try to enlist the help of a tennis trainer who offers personalised training. I said I wanted to learn the very basics – iron out a string of bad habits and get over a shocking lifelong deficiency in hand-eye coordination.
The tennis trainer, I find, is infinitely more understanding than the personal trainer of my imagination. Armed with a trolley full of balls he stands opposite, flicking shots over the net and barking congratulatory or muffled noises depending on which direction the balls ping off the side of my racket.
It may sound obvious, but the privilege of having someone bash fast balls at you over and over again is so much more therapeutic (and helpful) than staggering around trying desperately to keep up a half-decent rally. Not only do you get to repeatedly try swing after swing after swing, but the trainer’s chants of ‘nice shot!’ or ‘careful now’, each spoken with exactly the same intonation, put some distance between you and the self-conscious instinct to get it all very wrong. Slowly, you fall into a peaceful world of shoulder movements and weight shifts that makes it a whole lot easier to relax and concentrate.
Trainers insist that beginners should stay rooted to the spot in the early lessons. They work entirely on stance, how to deal with an approaching ball accurately and, above all, learning not to exert yourself too much before you know what you’re doing. The effect is still a fairly decent workout.
Talking to Douglas Griebenouw, a coach at Clark Francis tennis, he explains that tennis training is ultimately a multitasking exercise: “Look at the professional tennis players; they rely on unbelievably good footwork, cover a lot of ground in the course of a game and have to be perfect in their swings all the time. If you are coached in tennis as opposed to personal training then in many ways there’s a lot more to think about.”
I’m told that as a complete beginner, I shouldn’t go to tennis coaching specifically for physical exercise: “With coaching, you’re learning a skill. It’ll get you swinging and demonstrate how to hit a ball correctly. You don’t necessarily come to this looking to ‘get fit’, it’s a way of staying active that will teach you a skill which you can use to keep fit once you know what to do.”
I’m still unsure about how much this can qualify as a summer sport, though. A midday game of tennis at this time of year is not just hot, it’s damned impossible. Even opting for an evening lesson is quite a heated experience. The court raises the temperature by a few degrees as it gives off heat retained in the day and, while not necessarily unbearable, even minimal darting about left me sticky.
So can this be an alternative to personal training? It’s hard to say. If you were even considering getting a personal trainer then chances are you’re looking for fitness results far quicker than steady tennis lessons can offer.
But there is something more normal and real about having a tennis coach. As so much of Dubai hibernates in their air conditioned homes at this time of year, it’s good to be out there exercising, while avoiding the stark confines of a gym. I’m told it’s also possible with some coaches to tailor your programme to incorporate elements of physical training.
So perhaps this is the way forward to anyone with a distaste for being barked into a press-up. A convert, I think I’ll be leaving bootcamp to the patsies.
CF Tennis (04 282 4540) offers tailored programmes for beginners and upwards. Courses are sold in blocks of 10 lessons, priced Dhs1,200, with lessons lasting 45 minutes. Individual lessons are Dhs150. 15-minute induction assessments are free.