Are you PHYSICALLY prepared to play after a long break?

I have asked a local physical therapy professional, Daniel McCarthy, to guest write this post.  The following is a comprehensive piece with helpful information that you can use to build a personalized fitness program aimed at helping you to safely begin playing pickleball, when play is again allowed.  You will find lists of exercises, along with links to illustrations (pdf’s) and videos demonstrating each exercise listed.  You will be able to create workouts with variety by selecting a few exercises from each list, for each workout session.

Daniel McCarthy, PT, DPT, FMSC, is a Board Certified Orthopedic PhysicDan headshotal Therapist and Functional Movement Specialist in Toledo/Sylvania, Ohio.  Aside from general physical therapy, he specializes in injury prevention and fitness.  Originally from Dayton, Ohio, Dan received his bachelors degree from Capital University, where he also played varsity soccer.  He earned a Doctorate in Physical Therapy from the University of Maryland, Baltimore.  He currently lives in Sylvania, Ohio with his wife, Mimi and works for PhysioSource Physical Therapy.

Preparing yourself physically to return to the pickleball courts

Thanks to COVID-19, most outdoor recreational activities have been on hold. You’ve probably been cooped up in your house for the past 6+ weeks, trying your best to stay in shape and keep your sanity!  You likely have been limited to walking and performing basic static exercises and stretches in your home.  Some of you might have set up a home practice area on a wall or in your driveway.  But for most, your paddles have been set aside.  As things begin returning to normal, you’re probably getting excited to socialize, travel, and…… play pickleball again!

Not…So… Fast

After all this time off, your muscles and tendons have not been put through the regular stresses and strains of pickleball movements.  Although you might be exercising regularly at home, you likely have not been making sudden directional changes or quick side to side movements (like you do when you run/reach/react to hit a ball), or reaching and forcefully swinging your arms above your head (like you do when you hit a smash), just to name a few.  Most of you will go from not playing at all to playing 4+ times per week as soon as the courts reopen. Returning to prior levels of intensity and frequency on the pickleball court can lead to overuse injuries quickly.

The good news is……

There are things you can do now to prevent injury when you start playing again. Common pickleball injuries caused by rapid or sudden movements, or from an increase in repetitive activity after a period of inactivity include:

  • Ankle sprain
  • Knee sprain
  • Achilles tendinopathy/tendonitis
  • Hamstring, quad, calf, groin strain
  • Shoulder strain
  • Wrist sprain

We can reduce our risk for injuries with solutions ranging from wearing proper footwear, to sufficient hydration, to maintaining a well balance diet, and directed exercising.  The purpose of this article is to discuss the exercise portion of injury prevention as we prepare to return to the pickleball courts after a lengthy break.

First things first……Warm up!  

As you prepare yourself to start playing again, an emphasis should be placed on properly warming up and preparing the body; muscles, tendons, and ligaments for activity.  Warming up helps prevent injury by gradually increasing blood circulation/oxygen to your muscles and tissues, making them more extensible/flexible and less susceptible to injury.

  • Warm-up your whole body!  Start with a brisk walk or jog and then progress to full body movements, like squats, lunges, shoulder circles/rotations and progressively larger twisting movements. Make sure you move through pain-free ranges of movement. You should be able to do this in about 5-10 minutes.

Exercises to help prepare your body for increased activity

The following are focal areas, along with lists of exercises for each.  Pick and choose from these lists to build a workout that fits your desired intensity level and will help you accomplish your goals.

  • Mobility/Flexibility – these would include stretches and yoga

    • Stretch  exercises to wrists, shoulders, groin, quads, hamstrings, and calves. Hold each stretch for 15-20 seconds, 3-4 times, 1-2 times a day.
    • Mobility exercises to your spine/back, hips, ankle, and shoulders. Perform 10-15 repetitions, repeat 2 times, once a day
      • Examples:
        • Standing calf stretch
        • Standing hamstring stretch
        • Seated piriformis stretch
        • Hip adductor stretch
        • Quad stretch
        • Cross arm stretch
        • Tricep stretch
        • Lat stretch
        • Wall overhead thoracic mobility stretch

Click  Pickleball Stretches for illustrations of these exercises.

Go to www.hep.video and enter the video # listed with each exercise description.

  • Strengthening 

    • Resistance strengthening for wrists, shoulders, back, hips, knees, and ankles. Perform 10-15 repetitions, repeat 3 times, 2-3 times a week.
      • Examples:
        • Standing heel raises
        • Side-lying clamshell
        • Bridging
        • Squats
        • Lateral monster walk
        • Triceps push up
        • Shoulder external rotation
        • Horizontal abduction

Click Pickleball Strengthening for illustrations of these exercises. 

Go to www.hep.video and enter the video # listed with each exercise description.

  • Plyometrics

    •  This is a key component that is often over-looked in injury prevention programs.  Pickleball requires quick and sudden movements.  These exercises help to train, strengthen, and prepare the “fast twitch” muscle fibers for sport, and can help reduce your injury risk when returning to the courts.
      • Examples:
        • Jumping jacks
        • Hop stick – forward
        • Hop stick – lateral
        • Forward and backward jump
        • Jump tucks
        • Speed skater drill
        • Burpee

Click Pickleball Plyometrics for illustrations of these exercises. 

Go to www.hep.video and enter the video # listed with each exercise description.

  • Balance

    • Many pickleball injuries occur when players fall or lose their balance.  This often occurs when moving backwards, or with quick, rapid, reactive movement.  Performing some basic static and dynamic balance activities can help improve your balance and prevent falls.
    • Practice each position until you can hold each position for 20-30 seconds without losing your balance or significant unsteadiness.
    • As you progress, grab your paddle and do arm swing motions as you do these balance position exercises
      • Examples:
        • Rhomberg stance – single leg
        • Rhomberg stance – single leg – eyes closed
        • Rhomberg stance – single leg – unstable
        • Rhomberg stance – single leg – eyes closed – unstable
        • Tandem stance balance
        • Single leg stance – reach twist
        • Medicine ball – single leg stance – toss

Click Pickleball Balance Exercises  for illustrations of these exercises. 

Go to www.hep.video and enter the video # listed with each exercise description.

Don’t forget to cool down.

The cool down is a much overlooked segment of a workout, but is necessary for injury prevention.  A slow walk will bring down the heart rate.  Then, stretching all muscles/joints starting with the ankles and working up through each joint area, ending in the shoulders/neck.  This will help increase your flexibility and reduce the risk of injury in the future.

For each muscle group, stretch just to the point where you feel the stretch, and hold for 10-15 seconds. Relax and repeat 3-5 times.

NOTE TO READERS:  The information provided in this post is intended to help you build your own workout plan,  based on your own physical fitness level and desired intensity level.  It is not implied that you should attempt to do every exercise listed in every workout, but instead for you to pick and choose from the lists to provide variety as you prepare to begin playing pickleball again.

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