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The Olympic games are finally here! And among thoughts such as, “Wow, that was a great play,” and “Those athletes must be really strong,” you may find yourself watching a sport thinking, “Huh, that looks pretty fun.”
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Watching the Olympics can make even the proudest of couch potatoes wish to be a pro athlete. But you don’t need to have elite fitness skills to take part in some Olympic events of your own at home. Activities like table tennis, badminton and beach volleyball don’t require too much equipment and can often be played with just a few friends. And, hey—2024 isn’t too far away, so you can just consider it pre-trials training.
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1. Table tennis for indoor and outdoor fun for all ages
Chances are you’ve played a round or two of ping pong before. You may not have the speed or dexterity of Olympic table tennis players, but it’s a lot of fun at any level. Table tennis games are played to 11 points. Players alternate serving, with each player serving twice every turn. Professional table tennis games are played best three out of five or four out of seven, but “social” games can be played best two out of three, according to Team USA.
All you need to start playing table tennis at home is a table and a friend to play with. One quality option is the Prince Tournament 6800 Indoor Table Tennis Table, which has a 4.3 star rating out of more than 200 reviews and reviewers that say they’re thrilled with its quality. The table also measures in at regulation size: 108 inches long, 60 inches wide and 30 inches tall. It doesn't come with a set of paddles and balls, so we recommend going with the matching Prince four-player racket set, which sets you up to play singles or doubles.
For a more affordable option, try the GoSports indoor and outdoor table tennis set. It’s slightly smaller than regulation size at 72 inches long and 36 inches wide, but can be used inside or outside and comes with a set of paddles and balls. This table has more than 2,000 reviews and 4.6 stars, with customers saying it's a versatile, durable piece of equipment that's ideal for fun family games.
2. Tennis to change up your workout
Tennis is a beloved sport that’s great to play in the nice summer weather. It’s a fun game and although scoring sounds complicated, it’s pretty easy to learn the rules. One point is counted as 15, two as 30 and three as 40. A tied score is called “all” and when the game is tied 40-40, it's “deuce.” Players only have to win by one point, unless the score is deuce, when they have to win by two points.
You don’t need tons of equipment to get started—just lace up a pair of sneakers, grab your racket and head to the nearest public court. When it comes to rackets, you have plenty of options. A good rule of thumb is the larger the racket, the easier it is to hit the ball, so new players may want to start with a racket with more coverage and move to a smaller one as they advance. One such beginner-friendly racket is the Head Ti.S6, which reviewers say provides great value for its price and can help beginner and intermediate players gain confidence in the sport.
For a more exact racket fit, you’ll also need to know your grip size. To find it, measure between the bottom lateral crease of your palm (the “life line” if you’ve ever tried to read your friend’s palm) and the top of your ring finger.
Many schools, public parks and gyms have spaces available to the public, and a quick search for “tennis courts near me” can direct you to the nearest spot. If you don’t live near any public tennis courts, don't worry. You can buy a portable tennis net so you can play anywhere with a flat hard surface. One good option is the Aonkey mini portable tennis net, which reviewers say is lightweight and easy to set up.
3. A trampoline to upgrade your favorite childhood activity
Trampolining is one of the more visually breathtaking Olympic sports, with athletes gracefully soaring high in the air for competitions. You may have fond memories of jumping on a trampoline as a kid, but with one of your own at home, you can practice some of the basic moves you’ll see on TV.
In the Olympics, athletes are awarded points for difficulty, execution, horizontal displacement (which measures how far away you land from the center of the trampoline) and time of flight (i.e., time spent in the air). No matter how advanced you get, competition moves are variations of three basic jumps: pike (a toe touch), tuck (a cannonball-like pose) and layout or “straight” (a flip with the legs extended). Athletes add extra twists and flips to increase the difficulty, trying to increase complexity and outdo their opponents.
With your own equipment (and a large backyard), you can practice some basic jumps at home. For outdoors, the Trampoline Package Acon Air 16 Sport HD features heavy duty springs that provide a powerful bounce, which reviewers love. If you don't have as much room, you can get a mini trampoline for indoor jumping. Consider the JumpSport Indoor Lightweight 39-Inch, which reviewers say has a quality build and is easy to use.
4. Track and field to commit to your running routine
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) refers to this sport as “Athletics,” but to most of us, it’s called track and field. In any case, it’s one of the oldest Olympic sports, and all you really need to start is a good pair of running shoes. Athletics includes track and road events including sprints, distance runs, relays, race walks and marathons, all of which pretty much anyone can do, at either running or walking paces.
If you’re new to running, take it slow. It’s easy to injure yourself if you go too hard, too fast. Try walking for five minutes, then running for one minute. It may sound boring, but after 20 to 30 minutes, you'll feel it. Eventually, you can work your way up to running more than you are walking, and feeling like an Olympian in your own merit.
When looking for a pair of running shoes, we recommend going to a specialty running store to get fitted by a professional. But if you don’t have the time, we recommend the Brooks Ghost for average-width feet, Nike Pegasus for narrower feet and New Balance Fresh Foam 880 for wider feet.
You might also want to get a good pair of running headphones so you can listen to music or podcasts while training. We love the Jabra Elite Active 75t for their durable design and abundant features. And when you’re ready to pick up the pace, we recommend the Garmin Forerunner 245 Music running watch to keep track of and improve your performance.
5. Badminton to level up your backyard games
Badminton is an ever-popular choice for backyard get-togethers, but it's also a sport that people play for Olympic hardware. It’s fun to play for all ages and easy to set up in a backyard. The game is a racket sport like tennis, but instead of playing with a ball, badminton is played with a shuttlecock (also called a birdie), or a cone made of feathers in a rubber head, though most home badminton sets use shuttlecocks made of molded plastic. You can play singles or doubles, and games are played to 21 points, best two out of three.
Reviewers love the Baden Champions backyard badminton set for its sturdiness, and of course, the fun they have playing badminton with it. It can also be used to play volleyball, as it comes with one. Another net option is the Boulder height-adjustable net, which is height-adjustable and allows you to play multiple sports, though you'll need to buy your rackets (or volleyball) separately. If you don't have the space for a net, you can buy a racket-and-shuttlecock set like the Hiraliy badminton set–which comes with four rackets, 12 shuttlecocks, replacement grip tape and a carrying bag–and just have fun batting around the birdie.
6. Road cycling to enjoy a low-impact sport
Cycling is a great sport, especially if you’re looking for something that gets your heart pumping without a lot of stress on your joints. It works your muscles and your heart rate, without any jumping or pounding on pavement. Though the Olympics also includes mountain biking and BMX biking, road cycling is probably the easiest for regular folk to pick up.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not challenging. Road cycling can involve hills, uneven terrain and inclement weather. If you’re just looking to bike around and don’t care much about gaining top speeds, go for a hybrid bike. This kind of bike blends qualities of road bikes and mountain bikes, which makes for a lightweight yet rugged build and is best for casual use. If your aim is to eventually race, you’ll want to specifically buy a road bike, which has a lighter frame, skinnier tires, multiple gears and often requires special cycling shoes to clip into it.
7. Rhythmic gymnastics to embrace your artistic side
Rhythmic gymnastics takes an acrobatic floor routine and makes it more challenging by adding props, called apparatuses. Athletes use ropes, hoops, balls, clubs and ribbons during their routine. But just because rhythmic gymnastics looks pretty doesn’t mean it’s easy. In between throwing their apparatus of choice high in the air, gymnasts jump, turn and flip around the floor, never letting the apparatus touch the ground.
To start rhythmic gymnastics, you need to master some basic movements, like leaps and turns, before adding in an apparatus. You could purchase all five apparatuses right away, or pick one or two to master—the ball, clubs and ribbon are readily available on Amazon, for example. No matter what, it’ll make you appreciate the coordination and athleticism of the rhythmic gymnasts you see on TV.
8. Soccer to get your friends in on the fun
Soccer (or “football” as it’s called at the Olympic games, and by most of the world) is a great sport to play recreationally because many people have some idea of the object and rules. All you need to get started is a few friends, a field and a soccer ball—the Adidas Starlancer soccer ball is a good start for a high quality ball without the high price.
Professional teams have 11 players and games last 90 minutes before any overtime. But if you don’t have enough people, that’s OK. Just divide your players evenly and enjoy the extra challenge of playing multiple positions each. A quick Google search can help you find a public soccer field near you, but if you can’t find one close by, you can play at a park or in someone’s backyard with makeshift goals.
9. Handball to play with your more competitive friends
Handball is a quick-paced and entertaining game that you may not be as familiar with. Like soccer, handball is played on a large field with goals on either end. But handball has large semi-circle areas around each goal that are off-limits to players other than the goalkeeper, so players must jump inside the semi-circle to shoot and throw the ball before touching the ground.
Players can only take three steps while holding the ball for a maximum of three seconds, so passing is frequent and speedy. While players aren’t allowed to tackle each other, they can body-block others. Each team has seven players and games last 60 minutes, but if you have less people you can still make do. Once you have some semblance of two teams, all you really need is a handball, such as the Molten Elite Handball, the official ball of the International Handball Federation. You can also make your own court at home with markers, because handball courts are not as common as tennis or volleyball courts.
10. Beach volleyball to keep the fun going all summer long
Beach volleyball is an ultra-popular summertime game. Many beaches offer volleyball nets for visitors to use, and some public parks have sandy courts to mimic the real thing.
Professional beach volleyball has teams of two and a court that’s 16 meters long by 8 meters wide. This is smaller than most courts you’ll find on a beach, but those are designed to accommodate larger teams, like the ones you might find yourself joining if you show up for a pickup game. Beach volleyballs are lighter, softer and slightly larger than indoor volleyballs, so make sure to purchase one intended for outdoor play. The Chance outdoor volleyball is the one to beat, according to its 800-plus reviewers, who say it's durable yet still feels soft and velvety to the touch.
And if you can’t make it to the beach, don’t sweat it. You can play with a net in the backyard or a local park with enough space and still enjoy a high-adrenaline game, minus the sand between your toes.
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This article originally appeared on Reviewed: Olympic sports you can play at home