Get more out of the game and head off injuries with this expert advice.
If you’ve become hooked on the sport of pickleball, you’re not alone. It’s one of the fastest-growing sports in the United States, according to a 2021 report from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association.
“Pickleball is a great game to play at any age,” says Robert Linkul, a certified personal trainer and strength coach in Shingle Springs, California. “It’s less physically demanding than tennis, so it gives you an opportunity to be athletic and competitive without so much damage done to the body.”
As with any sport, though, pickleball players are still at risk for injuries to the lower back, ankles, knees, or shoulders. “There is a lot of multidirectional movement and twisting, as well as impact from changing directions quickly,” says Linkul. “If your body’s not ready for it, injury is looming.”
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Build Your Pickleball Muscles
To prevent injury and improve your game, Linkul says strength (or resistance) training is important. “It improves bone density, maintains or increases muscle mass, and helps maintain a healthy weight,” he says.
If you’re new to strength training, Linkul advises working with a certified trainer for a few sessions to get the hang of proper form and technique. The instructors who lead SilverSneakers group fitness classes — which are offered both in-person and online — are another great resource. They’re specially trained in the fitness needs of older adults.
If you’re working out in a gym, he suggests starting with eight to 12 weeks of basic exercises on machines or with free weights. Then switch to exercises using only free weights because they mimic the movements of pickleball better. Prefer a class setting? Try a SilverSneakers Total Body Strength or Circuit class.
To build power, move lighter weights a little faster or throw weighted items, like medicine balls to a partner. “You will see a good transition of that power and agility carry over into your sport,” Linkul says.
To reach more balls, you can also work on range of motion and mobility by incorporating yoga, Pilates, or tai chi movements into your routine. Here, SilverSneakers EnerChi or Yoga Pilates Fusion are good group classes to try.
3 Strength Exercises for Pickleball Players
Strength training will not only help you build a strong base of support to move around the court, but you might also find yourself winning more matches — and having more fun! Here are three of Linkul’s favorite moves for pickleball players.
As always, safety is key. Check with your doctor before beginning a new exercise program.
1. Multidirectional Lunges
Lunge back, forward, and side to side. Do 10 reps in each direction. Work up to holding light weights.
Here’s how to do a basic Reverse Lunge.
- Stand tall and place your hand on the chair for support.
- Shift your weight to one leg and lift the other knee up.
- Hinge forward slightly, stretch your lifted leg back, and place your toes on the floor.
- Find your balance here, and then lift your chest up tall so your shoulders are over your hips.
- From here, keep your weight in your front foot as you bend your knees to lower down for a lunge. Exhale and squeeze your leg muscles to lift back up.
For a Forward Lunge, you will step to the front. For a Side Lunge, you will step out to the side.
Press play to try a Reverse Lunge:
Press play to try a Forward Lunge:
Press play to try Side Lunge Variations:
Do lunges hurt your knees? Here are 4 tips to modify the movement so you can reap the strength-building benefits.
2. Bent Over Row
- Hold a light weight in each hand.
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent.
- Push your hips back and lower your torso until it’s almost parallel with the floor.
- Let the dumbbells hang at arm’s length from your shoulders, palms facing in.
- From here, squeeze your shoulder blades together as you bend your elbows and pull the dumbbells up to the sides of your torso.
- Pause, then slowly lower the dumbbells to return to the starting position. That’s one rep.
- Do 12 to 15 reps.
3. Farmers Carry
- Hold a light weight in each hand (or even two small bags of groceries).
- Walk for 10 to 15 feet with the weight at your sides, keeping your shoulders square and upright.
- Set the weights down, turn around, pick them up and carry them back.
- That’s one rep.
- Do two to three reps.
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