If you're thinking about stepping onto a pickleball court when you’re cold and stiff, think again. Whether you’re playing in a tournament final or just running some drills at the court down the street, you should always warm up before you start. Even though pickleball is a low-impact sport, you still need your body to be ready for quick and explosive movements.
Preparing for pickleball means preparing your upper body, lower body, and core muscles. To boost your performance on the court and prevent injury, try the following dynamic warm-up exercises before you step onto the court:
- Forward lunges with rotation
- Lateral lunges
- Leg swings
- Arm circles
Making a strong first impression can set the entire tone of the day. If you start cold and rigid, you’re more likely to fault or worse, get injured. Before diving into the specifics of warming up, take a second to learn about the muscles you’ll use in pickleball.
Muscles Used in Pickleball
When it comes to the movement of the human body, there are numerous possibilities. Forward and backward movements can be seen in activities like sprinting or jogging. But side-to-side motion is a whole different beast – think skiing and ice skating.
Pickleball, among other paddle and racquet sports, incorporates rotation which is a more nuanced and specialized movement of the body. There are specific muscles that pickleball players use that many athletes don’t.
This is important because the more you know about the specifics of how your body moves in pickleball, the better you’ll be at avoiding injuries.
- Lower Back: Did you know that overuse injury in the lower back is common for pickleball players? This is most likely caused by rotation of your trunk when swinging the paddle, but can also be caused by bending forwards to return a low shot. Make sure to stretch the lower back before playing.
- Tendons: And of course, you have common injuries you might expect in pickleball, such as elbow tendinitis and knee pain - both of which stem from overuse injury.
- Legs: Injuries to the hamstrings, groin, and hips are also possible because of the constant starting and stopping in pickleball, as you react and reset throughout a rally.
- Abdominal Muscles: Don’t forget about the ab muscles either. The obliques are particularly involved in rotational movements like pickleball.
- Shoulders: You use your shoulders in pickleball, but they’re at less risk of injury than other sports like tennis, which have lightning-fast overhead serving motions. But to be safe, you should still warm up and prepare your shoulders before playing.
That's quite a list, right? Being an athlete isn't just about taking your body to the limit, it's also about making sure you don't push things too far!
When going for peak performance, you have to give all of those hardworking muscle groups fair warning. Otherwise, they could take you from thriving on the court to cheering your friends on courtside.
5 Dynamic Warm-Up Stretches For Pickleball Players
Get your body ready to be at its best with these 5 dynamic stretches! These quick warm-ups will have your muscles primed and prepped for a winning performance.:
Stretch #1: Forward Lunge with Rotation
Pickleball is a fast-paced game that's sure to test players' coordination, agility, and quick thinking. You'd better be prepared to twist and turn like crazy - you'll constantly change directions as well as contort your body in ways you never thought possible.
After each rally, it'll feel like you've done some sort of metaphysical dance; but in reality, you're just playing the game the way it was meant to be played, and it's time to reset for a new serve.
That's why you're warm-up should prepare you to move in every direction. The forward lunge gets you ready to run forwards, stop, and reverse directions. Adding a rotation to this movement prepares your core muscles and spine for swings as well.
- Step 1: Begin by standing with your feet together.
- Step 2: Take a big lunge step forwards and pause with your hands in a ready position.
- Step 3: Twist your shoulders and chest towards the leg you stepped forwards with.
- Step 4: Turn back so that your chest faces forwards.
- Step 5: Step your front foot back to your rear foot and repeat on the other side.
Stretch #2: Lateral Lunges
Much like the forward lunge, this exercise prepares your body for moving in multiple directions. As you know, facing the net is pretty important to the game - you don't see a lot of people winning games facing their baselines.
The challenge with facing forwards is that at the same time, you might need to move laterally to anticipate your opponent's next shot. This warm-up gets you ready to move side-to-side.
- Step 1: Stand with your feet together.
- Step 2: Take a big step to the left.
- Step 3: Bend your left knee, push your hips back, and lean forwards slightly.
- Step 4: Press off your left foot and step your feet back together.
- Step 5: Repeat by stepping out to the right.
Stretch #3: Inchworms
This movement is unlike anything you’ll do on the pickleball court, well hopefully you won't do any inchworms during a rally, but it’s extremely useful for your warm-ups.
It combines an upper body warm-up with some core activation and dynamic stretching of the hamstrings. It’s similar to a push-up but not as intense, plus it gets your shoulders ready to hit the ball.
- Step 1: Start in a push-up position.
- Step 2: Slowly inch your feet forwards, keeping your knees locked out. Your hips will lift as you go.
- Step 3: When you’ve stepped your feet as far forwards as you can, begin to walk your hands forwards until you’re back in the push-up position.
- Step 4: Repeat this sequence, beginning with your feet again.
Stretch #4: Leg Swings
Pickleball is a total leg fest! You’re going to do a fair bit of running in any pickleball game - especially singles. To get the most out of your play - instead of just limping off afterward - give your hips and hamstrings some pre-game love with simple but effective leg swings.
That way, you’ll be ready to spring into action on the court. Plus, it’ll give you the chance to work on your balance a little before the match starts.
- Step 1: Find a wall to put your hand on if you have trouble balancing. Face perpendicular to the wall with your feet together.
- Step 2: Lift one leg and kick it forwards, similar to the motion of kicking a soccer ball.
- Step 3: Instead of putting your foot back on the ground, swing it back and up, like a pendulum.
- Step 4: Continue to swing your leg back and forth for the desired number of reps before switching legs.
Stretch #5: Arm Circles
We've covered the legs, hips, and core, but what about your upper body? Think of it this way: with every shot you take, and any time you move to make a return, your arms are doing the equivalent of the heavy lifting by keeping you balanced in an athletic stance!
Be sure to address your shoulders and upper body before playing, after all, they are supporting the paddle. So to help you get your upper body game ready, try arm circles - they will prep your shoulders, chest, and upper back before your upcoming victory.
- Step 1: Begin by standing with your feet together. Your hands should be empty.
- Step 2: Reach your arms straight out to the side until your elbows are fully extended.
- Step 3: Draw small circles in the air, moving forwards.
- Step 4: Draw small circles backward in the air.
- Step 5: Draw big circles forwards.
- Step 6: Finish by drawing big circles backward.
Are you ready to snatch up that pickleball paddle and claim your win? Make sure you complete all five of these tailored dynamic stretches beforehand, so your body's ready for the grueling match ahead.
Don't worry - we handpicked them to make sure all those hard-working muscles get their pre-match attention.
Should You Stretch Before Playing Pickleball?
Don't make the mistake of thinking you can just pick up a paddle and breeze onto the court - your body needs to be properly prepped first! Without warming up, not only will your game suffer but also an unfortunate twist or sprain might put a damper on all that fun.
Playing pickleball with a stiff body is like trying to run a race in flip-flops: not the best use of your time. Instead, before you hit up that friendly match with friends, take some time out for stretching - it's key to ensuring both physical performance and an injury-free day on the courts.
But you knew that already - and the right question isn't about whether you should or shouldn't stretch before playing pickleball. No, the right question is what type of stretching should you do before playing pickleball?
Stop Static Stretching - Start Dynamic Stretching
When you hear the word “stretch” you’re probably thinking of static stretching. This is the technical term for stretching a specific muscle to the point where it feels slightly uncomfortable, then holding that position for at least 15 to 20 seconds.
The problem with this type of stretching is that, by design, you’re not moving - the goal of static stretching is to remain still long enough to elongate the muscle.
That's a problem because the lack of movement means that you’re not warming your body and not completing one of the more important parts of warming up. Simply put, your muscles work better when they’re warmer.
If you hold stretches for too long, like static stretching, it can make your muscles less powerful and more inefficient, ultimately hurting your performance on the court. However, if you don’t hold a stretch for very long, your performance shouldn’t be affected.
For many years, static stretching was previously thought to be the best form of warm-up because it increases the range of motion of your joints. However, a relatively new form of warm-up called dynamic stretching is now regarded as better. More on dynamic stretching in a minute though.
Static stretching was ingrained in everyone's mind as the only way to stretch starting at a very young age. So thinking about moving while stretching as a better form of warming up can challenge conventional thinking.
While you shouldn’t do static stretching before playing pickleball, it’s perfectly fine to do it after a match - AKA your cool down.
When you’re done playing your muscles are already warm, and stretching can cool your body down. Plus, if you stretch consistently, you can increase the range of motion of your joints.
So set aside those simple stretches from high school phys ed class. They aren't doing much anymore anyway; instead, you'll want a warm-up routine tailored specifically for improving your game on the court.
What Kind of Stretching Should I Do Before Pickleball?
There are different types of stretches and warm-up exercises you can do based on your sport or activity. To ensure a top-notch game of pickleball, you need to be ready for any direction the ball takes. Make sure your body is prepped and primed with some creative stretches or warmups so you can catch those tricky shots.
Doing so will warm your muscles and make you more agile for whatever bounce comes your way. So consider a mix of the following 3 stretches for warm-ups before your next pickleball match:
- Dynamic Stretching: A combination of stretching and light exercise that loosens your muscles and warms your body, without expending too much energy.
- Foam Rolling: A form of stretching that incorporates massage-like therapy to the muscles, loosening them for activity.
- General Warm-Up: Light exercises done before more rigorous activities that aim to increase your heart rate and warm your body.
You're certainly familiar with all 3 forms of stretching - but do you know why they are so helpful? Prepare to become an expert in pre-game prep!
1. Dynamic Stretching
One of the benefits of dynamic warmups is that you actually warm your body while you stretch. Since you’re doing exercises, it gets your body moving much more than static stretching. It mimics the movements of sports without tiring you out. Plus, it also increases your range of motion.
Done properly, dynamic stretching can increase your range of motion just much as static stretching. This might be hard to believe, but you don’t need to do as much dedicated stretching as you might think to make your body more flexible.
If you're concerned that there's a tradeoff in stretching by shifting from static to dynamic, you should know there isn't a drop in performance if you do dynamic warm-ups before playing pickleball. In fact, it might even elevate your game.
Static Stretching - Don't Do This
Stretching it out? Make sure you know the difference between static and dynamic stretching - if not, your pre-game routine could be a whole lot less impactful. A static stretch might be something like the classic toe touch, which focuses on the hamstrings.
With your feet together and knees straight, you bend forward and reach towards your toes, slowly moving closer or holding the stretch for up to a minute.
While this can loosen your joints, it doesn't warm your body or increase your heart rate going into any sort of competition. So skip the static moves and get more dynamic with your stretching.
2. Foam Rolling
Maybe it’s strange to think of foam rolling as stretching, but it has similar benefits. A study conducted with elite tennis players compared the benefits of foam rolling versus dynamic stretching before a match. They found that the results were very similar, and one type of warm-up didn’t have many benefits over the other.
Foam rolling, also known as self-myofascial release, is a type of warm-up that mimics massage. You do need a foam roller to perform it, as well as some basic knowledge of proper technique, but it isn't difficult to learn.
In general, to use a foam roller, you’ll put it on the ground and position yourself so that the muscle you want to roll out is directly on top of the roller. Then, you’ll move your body so that it rolls over the foam roller, covering the entire muscle.
For example, if you want to roll out the muscles in front of your thigh, you’d start in the middle of your thigh and go up to your hip, then down to your knee. Your body weight presses the muscle against the roller, which can cause pain or sensitivity.
Some rollers are very stiff, which can be painful - so if you decide to try out this form of stretching, be sure to kick the tires before buying so you can get one that's softer or more suitable to your preferences.
While foam rolling is sometimes inconvenient, and also requires purchasing products just to stretch, it does more than just parody other forms of stretching.
Foam rolling before a match can increase your performance slightly. Research shows it can make you a little faster, giving you an extra boost to get to the ball. And for everyone who limps off the court and out of bed the next day, foam rolling before playing pickleball can reduce muscle soreness and pain.
Foam rolling isn't just a funny-looking activity - it's actually useful. If you're sore from too much pickleball, or an intense workout, use foam rolling as your secret weapon before your next match. You'll be glad you did!
3. General Warm-Up
Foam rollers and dynamic stretching don't always have to be your answer; sometimes all it takes are a few simple exercises to get your body ready for match time. Who needs fancy equipment when some good old-fashioned calisthenics can help you take your game up a notch?
The biggest difference between a dynamic warm-up and a general warm-up is the type of movements you’re doing.
If you do a dynamic warm-up, you’re choosing exercises based on the type of activity you’re about to do. The exercises should reflect the movement of your sport and are designed to prep your body for a specific activity.
General warm-ups aren’t necessarily related to the activity you’re about to do. The goal is to simply increase your heart rate and body temperature. A 5-10 minute general warm-up can do just that. You don’t need to get a full workout before your match to get warm. Rather, exercise at a low intensity so that you don’t waste energy.
Jogging before your match for a few minutes can warm your body. You can also do stationary cycling if you have access to a stationary bike.
That's the beauty of a general warm-up - it's simple. You can even do jumping jacks or run in place for a few minutes to get ready for your match.
You don’t need to memorize a sequence or worry about whether or not you’re doing an exercise correctly. While it might not be as beneficial as a dynamic warm-up, you can still prepare your body to play.
Always Prep Your Body to Play
Put your pickleball game into high gear by priming your engine first - even if you're pumped up, give yourself a few minutes of warm-ups.
If you’re stiff and cold as you walk onto the court, take it as a sign that you need to spend a few minutes giving your body a pep talk. Don't jump straight onto the court unless you've got that body warmed up; otherwise, it'll be an uphill battle all match long
Dynamic stretches are perhaps the best form of warm-up for paddle sports like pickleball. You’ll move your body, warm your muscles, stretch your joints, and prime your muscles for activity. Taking just a few minutes to go through a dynamic stretching routine can boost your performance and prevent injuries.
There are other ways to warm up, including general light exercises and foam rolling, but dynamic stretches are always more specific to your sport. So before your next court appearance, try the 5 new dynamic stretches you've just learned, and reap all the benefits they have to offer.