6 Best Exercises to Do Right Before You Play Pickleball

By Amy Leibrock |

Take your game to the next level and help prevent injuries with this 5-minute warmup routine.

6 Best Exercises to Do Right Before You Play Pickleball

Pickleball is having a moment, especially among older adults — and it’s no surprise why. Studies show that the fun, fast-paced, and social sport helps older adults improve their heart health, stay active, and even cut their risk of depression.

Achy joints can benefit too, since the smaller court and lighter ball and racquet mean it’s not as strenuous as tennis. Even so, pickleball injuries are on the rise along with its popularity, according to a 2021 study published in the journal Injury Epidemiology.

In fact, among players over the age of 60, pickleball-related injuries are now on par with tennis-related injuries. When researchers looked at data from emergency room visits from 2010 to 2019, they found that most pickleball injuries in older adults result from slips, trips, and falls that lead to strains or sprains, fractures, and contusions.

Ouch!

Older men are more likely to strain or sprain a part of the body playing pickleball. Meanwhile, older women are more likely to suffer a fracture, especially a wrist fracture, according to the study.

You can minimize your injury risk with a proper — and consistent — warmup routine, says senior fitness expert Robert Linkul. He’s a certified personal trainer and strength coach in Shingle Springs, California.

Just a few minutes right before the game can help you prep your body for all the twisting and quick, multidirectional movements, Linkul says. He put together this quick warmup routine that you can do courtside.

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How to Use This Pickleball Warmup Routine 

Arrive a few minutes early to work though some ranges of motion. “Gentle, constant but slow movement helps prime the muscles and minimize injuries,” says Linkul,

He says the body parts that need the most pre-game love are:

  • Lower back
  • Hip
  • Knee
  • Ankle
  • Shoulders

“If your body isn’t primed and warm and ready to go, then we’re actually causing the injury by not warming up,” he says, adding that as you age, your body is more susceptible to sports injuries.

Remember to do these exercises slowly and continually without holding any positions for more than five seconds.

As always, safety is key. The exercises here may be different or more advanced than your regular SilverSneakers class. If you have a chronic condition, an injury, or balance issues, talk to your doctor about how you can exercise safely.

Build strength and power in the key muscle groups involved in pickleball by trying the 3 Best Exercises to Improve Your Pickleball Game.

5-Minute Pickleball Warmup Routine

Exercise #1: Modified Bird Dog for the Lower Back

How to do it:

  1. Stand facing the back of a sturdy chair, keeping both hands on the chair.
  2. Keep your neck and spine straight and knees slightly bent.
  3. Brace your abdominals and lift one arm and opposite leg until they’re in line with your spine.
  4. Pause, then return your hand and foot to the starting position.
  5. Repeat with the opposite arm and leg. That’s 1 rep.
  6. Do 10 to 15 reps.

Exercise #2: Walking Lunge for Hips and Knees

Walking Lunges

How to do it:

  1. Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Step forward with your left leg, letting your right heel lift off the floor.
  3. From this staggered stance, bend your front (left) knee to slowly lower your body as far as comfortable.
  4. Allow your back knee to bend as well until it hovers a few inches above the floor, but keep your weight pressed into your front heel.
  5. Draw your lower belly in, and lift your chest.
  6. Pause, then press through your front (left) foot to bring your back (right) foot forward and return to standing.
  7. Continue for 30–60 seconds, alternating legs.

Exercise #3: Step Out-and-In With Calf Raises for Lower Legs and Ankles

How to do it:

  1. Stand tall with your feet about hip-width apart and your arms at your sides, palms facing in. (Position yourself near a wall, bench, or fence for support, if needed.)
  2. Bend your elbows to bring your hands near your shoulders.
  3. From here, step your right foot out to the side as far as is comfortable and push your hips back slightly to lower into a shallow squat.
  4. At the same time, straighten your arms.
  5. Push through your right heel to step your right foot back in and bend your elbows to return to your starting position.
  6. Continue alternating side to side for 30–60 seconds.

Make it easier: Eliminate the step motion. Instead, hold onto a wall or bench for support. Rise up on your toes then return to standing. Do this 10 times.

Variation: Staggered Stance Heel Raises

  1. Stand tall with your hands on a sturdy support object.
  2. With your toes pointing straight ahead, slide one foot forward so you’re in a staggered stance.
  3. Brace your core, then shift onto the balls of both feet.
  4. Pause here and slowly lower your heels back down. That’s one repetition.
  5. Do 10 to 12 reps.

Exercise #4: Trunk Twists for Spine and Upper Back

How to do it:

  1. Sit or stand tall with your feet hip-width apart and knees slightly bent.
  2. Roll your shoulders back and down and bring your belly button toward your spine to engage your core.
  3. Stretch your arms straight out to your sides, hands level with your shoulders in a “T” position.
  4. Lifting your head and spine toward the ceiling, slowly rotate your torso to the right as far as is comfortable, twist back to center, and then rotate to the left. That’s 1 rep.
  5. Do 10 to 12 reps.

Note: Twisting exercises may not be safe for those with osteoporosis; check with your doctor. It’s OK to skip this move or replace it with a Seated Side Bend.

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Exercise #5: Side Lunges for Inner Thighs and Hips

How to do a basic side lunge:

  1. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointing forward.
  2. Take a 12- to 24-inch step to the side with your toes still pointed forward.
  3. Shift your hips toward the step direction and slightly back at a 45-degree angle, with your weight on the mid-foot and heel.
  4. From there bend at the knee and hip to lower down into a side lunge position, stretching the inner thigh of the non-stepping leg.
  5. Hold the down position for 5 seconds, then push off with the food to return to standing.
  6. Repeat on the other side.
  7. Continue alternating side to side for 30–60 seconds.

Exercise #6: Band Pull-Aparts for Shoulders

How to do it:

  1. Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart, arms straight out in front of you, and palms facing down, holding a resistance band with both hands.
  2. Your hands should be far enough that the band is taut, but not stretched tight.
  3. With control, squeeze your shoulder blades together to pull your hands farther apart.
  4. Pause, then slowly reverse the movement to return to the starting position. That’s one rep.
  5. Do one to two sets of 10 to 15 reps.

Want more feel-good moves to level-up your pickleball game? Check out our SilverSneakers Yoga class. This online or in-person class includes seated and standing poses and is appropriate for all fitness levels.

Don’t Forget to Cool Down

After the game, take a few minutes to gather yourself, bring your heart rate down and give your muscles a chance to recover.

“A couple of minutes of deep breathing will increase oxygen flow to the muscles,” Linkul says.

He likes this breathing technique called 1-to-10:

  1. Breathe in for one second, then out for one second.
  2. Do the same thing for two seconds in and two seconds out.
  3. Continue all the way up to 10 seconds in and 10 seconds out.

Also, spend a few minutes doing some stretching. “Dynamic stretching like you did in your warm-up is always a good cool down,” says Linkul. “Or you can do static stretching, where you sit and hold each muscle group for 30 to 40 seconds.”

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