Just like any sport, playing pickleball uses a lot of different muscle groups and body parts. With all of this running around and swinging of the paddles, your body is exerting plenty of energy and potentially putting itself at risk of injury as well.
When we’re working this hard and using parts of our body that we might usually not, it’s natural that we’ll feel the strain. This could be in the form of a pulled muscle or just an overall tightness in the body that prevents us from playing our best, and so a warm-up is needed.
The best way to warm up for sports, including pickleball, is with some simple drills that you can do before you play. Drills, along with dedicated stretches, will ensure your body is flexible and agile while preventing injuries and strains, so they’re a must-have for players of all skill levels.
You might think pickleball sounds a fun and harmless sport, and while that’s true for the most part, it’s still serious exercise that can result in injuries. These injuries don’t come from playing a dangerous game though, but rather because people aren’t warming up before and stretching after they’ve hit the court.
There are a few different ways you can get injured playing pickleball with one of the most common being an ankle sprain where you might tear or stretch a ligament. Things like changing direction or overextending can cause this, or a simple matter of taking the wrong step somewhere.
Other injuries including hamstring strains that can occur when you reach for a ball, Achilles tendon strains from stopping and then moving suddenly, and even fracturing your wrist if you fall backward. Although they won’t happen all the time, you can significantly reduce your risk of injuries by warming up and taking the time to stretch afterward.
The best way to warm up for a game is with dedicated pickleball drills that get the whole body loose and ready for action. Before you start a drill, you can do something simple like a few laps around the court to get your heart beating and then get into it.
As always, these drills are better done with a partner or opponent but you can do them alone if necessary. Try some of these drills before you start your next game and you’ll likely notice a huge difference in your performance.
With your partner, aim to hit at least three serves and three returns each. Not playing competitively, these should be slow movements and with an overextended reach. The goal is to land the ball within a few feet of your partner’s baseline each time.
These slow but effective movements will help to stretch out the muscles you’ll be using in the game and ensure everyone is warmed up.
You and your opponent each stand at the kitchen line and try to dink the ball back and forth with them. Avoid trying to get competitive or do a put away shot or volley because the goal here is to warm up. Aim to each hit 10 forehand dinks first, and then another 10 backhand dinks to get ready for the game.
Working with your partner again, the aim of this drill is to split step whenever your opponent hits the ball. This is a move from tennis that works well with pickleball. Do a quick hop while your knees are bent, then bring the paddle up to the ready position.
You should be able to easily follow the ball wherever it goes and take turns hitting to each other and practicing your split steps.
Working with your partner again, slowly go through the most common shots that you’ll take throughout a game. Practice five of these shots each and make sure the movements are slow and deliberate. It’s not about beating anyone or having a better shot but about moving through the range of movement you’ll be using and warming up.
A common misconception with stretching and exercise is that it’s all we need to do to work out. The truth is, stretching should only be done once your body is warmed up. Therefore, don’t attempt any stretches until you’ve done your drills and your body is loose and ready for action.
Dynamic stretching is when we do a continuous movement to stretch, and not just static stretches as we stand still. You want to work through your entire body with things like swinging arms around in circles, core twists, touching your toes and coming up, or even squats. Dynamic stretches should be done after your drills but before you start playing.
When you’re done, static stretches are the best approach. Focus on the key areas you used during the game including hamstrings and biceps, and spend around 15 seconds holding each of them. It might seem minor, but this will help reduce muscle soreness and lactic buildup after each game.
Pickleball is often seen as a fun and frivolous racket sport, but we need to take it as seriously as we do with other types of physical activity. Although it’s a lot of fun, it also uses our body quite vigorously when we play and so we have to warm up and wind down in the right way.
Without stretching afterward or doing dedicated pickleball drills before you start playing, you’re not only opening yourself up to injury but also limiting how well you play. Therefore, learning some stretches and drills and incorporating them into your game could be the best thing you’ve ever done for success on the court.