13 Simple Exercises to Improve Your Pickleball Game
Pickleball may not sound like the hottest trend in sports, but, trust us, it’s a strong contender. The game grew an impressive 15% from 2020 to 2021, according to the USA Pickleball Association, and now draws 4.8 million players of all ages. Incorporating elements of different racket sports, pickleball is played on a court roughly the size of a badminton court with a net shorter than a tennis net and paddles slightly larger and squarer in shape than Ping-Pong paddles. Players say that it’s addictively entertaining, not only because it’s easy to pick up, but it can be played as doubles, making it a natural pre-happy hour—or anything hour—activity.
“The pickleball court is small, so it’s easy to jump in and learn the game,” explains Julie Johnson, a senior pro pickleball player and physical therapist. “Plus it’s a lot of fun and something the whole family can do together.”
And if a solid workout is what you’re looking for, pickleball delivers on that, too. An American Council on Exercise study found that the game torches about 350 calories an hour and that playing regularly meets cardiovascular exercise guidelines.
But like with any sport, you’ll want to make sure to incorporate pickleball warm-up exercises and strengthening and stretching exercises to avoid injury while—bonus!—improving your game. The P.volve Method’s functional movement routines target the whole body, including the muscles that pickleball calls on. Get started with the moves below.
Agility Exercises for Pickleball
“Pickleball requires short, quick bursts of movement,” says Johnson. “The court may be small, but you need to be fast to cover it.” Use these three agility exercises to put some speed in your step while building balance and control—all of which will up your pickleball game.
Stand with feet wider than hip distance and slightly bend at your knees and hinge at your hips so that you’re in a mid-squat position. Staying low, run in place, keeping on your toes.
Continue for 15 to 20 seconds, alternating feet as quickly as you can without losing form.
Stand with feet hip distance and step right leg back, then slightly bend at your knees and hinge at your hips into a small lunge. Look down, then push off your left foot and jump out to the right, landing on your right foot while drawing your left leg behind you with your knee bent. Push off your right foot to jump to the left, landing on your left foot with your right leg bent behind you.
Continue for 15 to 20 seconds, continuing to alternate directions.
Stand with feet hip-distance apart, elbows bent, and arms at chest height. Step left foot behind right foot, then quickly step right foot out to the right. Immediately step left foot in front of right foot, and step right foot out to the right again (so that you’re forming a quick crisscross motion). Continue with this crisscross movement to the right, then switch directions, stepping right foot in front and behind while you move toward the left.
Repeat for 45-60 seconds, continuing to alternate directions.
Pickleball Shoulder Exercises
Pickleball doesn’t put as much strain on the shoulder as tennis does, says Johnson, but it’s still important to strengthen this area of the body to avoid injury. Work toward stronger shoulders with these pickleball shoulder exercises.
Start in a hip hinge (feet hip-distance, slightly hinged at hips with a soft bend in knees, and abdominals engaged) holding a pair of light weights out in front of you at chest height. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and open your arms out to the sides, then return arms to start position.
Continue for 15 to 20 seconds.
T-spine Rotation with Chest Fly
Stand with feet hip distance, hold a pair of light weights out in front of you at chest height, then step your left leg back and slightly bend at your knees and hinge at your hips into a small lunge. Keeping hips square, punch left hand forward while rotating at spine to open right arm out behind you. Rotate back to start position.
Repeat 15 to 20 seconds and then switch sides.
Rotator Cuff Rotation
Stand with feet hip distance and hold a light weight in your right hand with arm bent at a 90-degree angle, palm facing in (imagine you’re squeezing a piece of paper between your arm and body). Keeping a 90-degree bend and maintaining that squeeze, externally rotate your arm out to the right from the rotator cuff, then rotate back in toward your body.
Repeat 15 to 20 seconds, and then switch sides.
Pickleball Elbow Exercises
Ever heard of tennis elbow? Pickleball elbow is a thing too. Making sure you have the correct grip size is important, says Johnson (if the paddle handle is too large, you may increase the chance of the overuse injury). Additionally, use these three pickleball elbow exercises to help strengthen the area around your elbow joints.
Kneel on a mat with legs at a 90-degree bend, core engaged, and light weights in hands. Press hands up to the ceiling, then hinge forward at hips, keeping back straight while pressing arms behind you. That’s one rep.
Do 20 reps.
Stand with feet underneath the hips and hold weights at shoulder height with palms facing in. Roll the shoulder blades down the back then, keeping core engaged and elbows at sides, lower the weights then squeeze biceps while lifting weights back to shoulder height. That’s one rep.
Do 20 reps.
Stand with feet underneath the hips and hold weights in front of you, arms bent 90 degrees, palms facing each other and elbows at sides. Keeping core engaged, press the right weight to shoulder height while simultaneously lowering the left weight to your side. Then lower the right weight to your side while simultaneously pressing the left weight to shoulder height. That’s one rep. Do 10 to 15 reps.
Pickleball Warm-up Exercises
Warm up your body and lubricate your joints before a pickleball game—or cool down post-match—with the below feel-good dynamic movements.
Johnson also suggests stretching out your lower back with exercises like downward dog to help ease any aches caused by standing in the “ready position” at the net. And because pickleball’s quick changes in direction on the court can place stress on the ankle joint, it’s smart to add on these ankle mobility exercises or an ankle weight workout.
Stand with feet hip-distance apart, hands on hips. Lift your left foot off the floor and roll your ankle in a circular motion for 20 seconds, switching direction of your circles halfway through. Return to start position and repeat on the other side.
Standing Hip Stretch
Stand with feet hip distance and step right foot back and to the side with both knees slightly bent. Keeping your back flat, sit back into your right hip while reaching arms back on the right side, then shift your weight into your left foot to return to standing while rotating your body and sweeping arms up and to the left side.
Arm Reach and Row
Start in a wide hip hinge (feet wider than hip-distance, slightly hinged at hips with a soft bend in knees, and abdominals engaged) and hold a foam roller at hip height with a hand on either side. Keeping back straight, reach down then sweep arms forward and push through feet to press foam roller overhead. Pause for a moment and actively stretch up, lifting the sternum. Then glide arms down with your elbows bent to return to start position.
Kneel on a mat, sitting back on your heels, and bring your right arm behind your head so that your hand is on your back. Use your left arm to press down gently on the right elbow for a stretch. Hold 10 to 15 seconds, then release and repeat on the other side.
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