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Pickleball: The Best Exercises to Decrease Injury and Improve Performance

By: Kelsey Downing, PT, DPT 

Pickleball: The Best Exercises to Reduce Injury Risk and Improve PerformancePickleball; a sport you may have seen or heard a lot about recently, maybe you are already an avid player. Pickleball is quickly gaining popularity and becoming one of the fastest-growing sports in the United States. For those who may have not seen or played the sport yet, it combines elements of tennis, badminton, and ping pong to create one fun game for all to play. Pickleball has become the most popular because it is a low impact cardio workout. While this sport is low impact, it still has its risks for injuries. Due to the pickleball swinging motion shoulder injuries often occur. The pivoting motions on the court can lead to knee and ankle injuries. If you would like to decrease the risk of injury during pickleball try adding some of these exercises to your pre-pickleball routine, they may even enhance your game.

What is Pickleball?

Pickleball is a racquet sport that combines tennis, ping-pong, and badminton all in one sport. The history of pickleball can be traced back to 1965 on Bainbridge Island in Washinton state. Their family house had an old badminton court and when trying to find a way to entertain his family, created what is now pickleball.

What do you Need to Play Pickleball?

The best part of pickleball is that you can play just about anywhere. All you need is a set of paddles, a couple of balls, a net, and you are set to play. You can put all of these in a travel bag and take it with you on road trips or vacation and start a game within a few minutes. For more on the basic rules of pickleball, you can print out an easy rule sheet.

Pickleball Set – pickleball paddles    Pickleball Net – pickleball net

Have knee problems? See the best-hinged knee braces to help you with your pickleball game

The Best Exercises to Prepare for Pickleball and Reduce Injury Risk

Squats 

Start with your feet hip-width apart, slowly start to bend your knees sending your weight into your heels. Make sure that your knees stay behind your knees to avoid knee strain. This is a great exercise to strengthen and build flexibility in your quadriceps and hamstrings. This will give you some great power on the pickleball court to make quick movements and to protect your knees.

Arm Circles 

Standing up straight, relaxing your shoulder down and away from your ears. Keeping your arms straight, start to make large circles with your arms. This will help you loosen up your shoulders and get them ready for big swings. After a few weeks of these, you might even try and use a small weight to get the shoulders stronger and more resistant to powerful slams. 

Standing Glute Stretch 

Standing with your feet hip-width apart, start to bring your right knee into your chest, feeling a stretch in your glutes. This will loosen your knees and hips and your lower body will thank you after the game. If you need some help for balance, try holding onto a chair. You can also do this lying down on your back if needed.

Standing Trunk Rotation  

Standing with your feet hip-width apart, stand up straight with your arms out to the side. Rotate through your spine as far as you can to the right, then slowly return back to the center. Do the same to the left side. Get a smooth, dynamic movement side to side going. 

Runners Stretch 

Standing with the right leg one step length behind the left. Start to bend into the left knee keeping the back leg straight. Push the heel down toward the ground, feeling a stretch along the back of the right leg. Hold this stretch for 30-40 seconds and repeat on the opposite side.

Ankle Bounces 

This is a plyometric exercise that is commonly used as a warm-up activity. This exercise is great for strengthening the muscles of the lower extremities and is a way to work on controlling dynamic movement in the ankle. For this exercise start with your legs hip-width apart, start to bend your knees slightly, and jump up. Try to land on the balls of your feet and control the movements back down to the ground. 

Single-Leg Stance 

Balance plays a big part in the game of pickleball. Quick turns and changes in direction require good balance and proprioception. To work on your balance try this. Start with your legs hip-width apart, begin to bend your right knee coming to stand completely on the left leg. Hold for 30 seconds then repeat on the other side. If you need to try holding onto a chair for increased stability. 

Tips to Improve Your Pickleball Game

  • Know your body:  Understanding your past injuries and protecting yourself will help you prevent future injuries. Think about the use of braces or athletic tape to help support any lingering injuries. 
  • Cross Training:  For pickleball, a good strengthening routine is great but also add some cardio and endurance training to keep you up to the challenges of the game. 
  • Pace Yourself: Play to your abilities and your energy levels. Try not to play yourself too hard and allow yourself time between games to recover. 
  • Warm-up and Recovery: Make sure you give yourself ample time to warm up before a game. Research continues to show warming up before an activity can greatly decrease your risk of injury. After your game takes a recovery period, allow your muscles to relax and recuperate to be ready for your next game of pickleball.

Pickleball is a rapidly growing sport, gaining popularity in people of all ages and activity levels. While pickleball is a low impact activity there is still a risk for a variety of injuries. However, by taking a few steps and preparing yourself you can greatly decrease your risk of injury and possibly enhance your pickleball performance. So do what you can to get the most out of your pickleball game. 

Resources

Greiner, N. “Pickleball: injury considerations in an increasingly popular sport.” Missouri Med. Journal. 6, 488-491 (2019). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6913863/#:~:text=Acute%20traumatic%20injuries%20in%20Pickleball,would%20be%20similar%20for%20Pickleball.

“Joint strengthening exercises for pickleball.” Piedmont Orthopedics. May 2020. https://www.orthoatlanta.com/media/joint-strengthening-exercises-for-pickleball

Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is for educational purposes only. This is not a substitute for a medical appointment. Please refer to your physician before starting any exercise program.

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