While the social component of pickleball is appealing, at the end of the day, we all want to crush our opponents on the court, right? Well, there's a not-so-secret weapon that can take your game to the next level - getting strong!
Sure, improving your groundstroke technique can add some power to your shots, but if you want to truly dominate, you need some muscle behind it. The stronger your muscles are, the easier it'll be to confidently throw some power behind those forehands and backhands.
So, how do you get that kind of strength? Easy - hit the weights. Well, at least it's easy from the point of view that the directions are simple, but the work to get it is tough. And although it'd be nice to just play your way to a stronger physique, that's a great approach for getting in shape and building endurance, but it won't do much to beef up those muscles. That's where strength training comes in - it's hands down the best way to achieve that extra power on the court.
Not only that but lifting weights can also help correct any imbalances your body may develop from playing pickleball. So, if you're ready to up your game and leave your opponents in the dust, it's time for tried and true iron sessions in the gym - here are the 5 best strength training exercises for pickleball players:
- Split Squats: Help you run faster
- Lawnmower Rows: Build your back muscles and obliques
- Goblet Squats: More leg power
- Dumbbell Chest Press: Build chest and shoulder strength for swings
- Single-Leg Deadlifts: Better balance and greater hip strength
A lot of sites will tell you that you need a fancy and expensive subscription to start strength training but don't buy the hype. All you need is a single workout with these 5 exercises to help you build your muscles to become a pickleball powerhouse. Don't worry, we won't leave you hanging - keep scrolling as we talk through all 5 of the exercises above, including step-by-step instructions on how to do them, why they'll help, and ways you can modify each to better suit your fitness needs and goals.
Understanding Strength Training and Pickleball
There are tons of ways to build strength. You can do bodyweight exercises like squats, push-ups, and sit-ups - those are all considered strength training movements. Or, if have access to a gym or equipment, you can use dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, or cable machines to get your fix.
Generally speaking, when you're training for strength, your goal is to lift more weight each time you work out. That means you'll do a consistent number of reps each set, but you'll change the weight to make it harder or easier.
For pickleball players specifically, there are benefits to both bodyweight and weight exercises. The upside of using weights is how easy they are to modify when trying to make an exercise easier or more difficult. But with bodyweight exercises, it's a bit trickier to change the amount of weight you're using.
Either way, the key is to find a routine that works for you and stick with it. You don't have to be a bodybuilder to reap the benefits of strength training - even just a few simple exercises can make a big difference in your pickleball game.
Can You Build Muscle Playing Pickleball?
Yes, playing pickleball can help build muscle, but it's not the most efficient way. Instead, focus on exercises like squats, lunges, and push-ups to build strength in all the right places. Beginners can build more muscle than those who have strength training experience, specifically in leg and hip muscles.
Pickleball is incredibly strenuous on the leg and hip muscles, which means you’ll probably build them by playing. In a similar sense, runners can build leg muscle by running. In pickleball, your legs handle much more strain than your arms. While it might feel like your arms are doing a lot of the work in a game, and you might build some arm muscle from playing, it's not very likely. Your legs are doing most of the heavy lifting on the court. So, if you're looking to build up those biceps or triceps, you might want to look elsewhere.
Don't get us wrong - pickleball is a great workout - but it's not the most efficient way to build muscle. And if you rely solely on pickleball to get in shape, you could end up with some muscular imbalances because of the overreliance on a dominant hand and side of your body. The motion of your swings is slightly different on each side. With weight training, though, you can work both sides of your body equally and avoid any imbalances.
There are 3 major benefits pickleball players receive from strength training.
3 Benefits of Strength Training Pickleball Players
Overall, there are a few reasons to avoid the weight room if you want to get better at pickleball, but there are far more reasons to embrace the weight room. Here are three that stand out in particular.
1. Overall Performance Boost from Power
Let's talk about the power factor. When you lift weights, you're building up your muscles and increasing your overall strength. And that means you'll be able to hit the ball harder and with more confidence. Plus, the faster the ball is coming at you, the more force it has - so you need some serious strength to hit it back.
2. Enhanced Speed and Endurance
Stronger muscles mean faster running and more endurance to chase down each and every shot. You may not think of weight training as a way to boost your stamina, but it makes sense if you step back a bit - as you get stronger, running and hitting become easier, and you can keep doing them for longer.
3. Decreased Risk of Injury
Perhaps the best part for anyone dealing with some past injuries is - weight training can decrease your risk of injury. By strengthening not only your muscles, but also your bones, tendons, and ligaments, you're making your joints more robust and less prone to injury. And, of course, warming up properly before you play is key too.
Not all exercises are created equally though. If you build strength in your wrist, that's not going to have a profound impact on your game. When it comes to picking exercises, you want to focus on moves that will directly benefit your playing ability - look for movements that mimic what you would do in an actual game. Think of movements that simulate hitting, rotating, running, squatting, and lunging. Need some ideas to get started? Check out these 5 exercises that will have you crushing it on the court in no time.
5 Essential Exercises for Pickleball Strength Training
You can do all five of these exercises in a single workout or add them to any existing workout program you currently have. And if you want to go all in, you can repeat the full workout twice a week on non-consecutive days for a complete routine that hits all the major muscle groups.
Trust us, these exercises are no joke - together, they'll work your entire body and help you build strength and endurance for those long, intense pickleball matches. So, grab your sweat towel and get ready to feel the burn!
1. Split Squats
In pickleball, you’ll often hit shots that drop below your hips or knees. Bending over with your torso to hit the ball isn’t the best strategy. Rather, you should use your legs to get low and hit the shot. This exercise builds your leg strength so that you can easily get those low balls.
- Step 1: Start standing with a dumbbell in each hand
- Step 2: Step one foot forwards so that your feet are about two feet apart
- Step 3: Lift your back heel into the air
- Step 4: Bend both knees to lower yourself toward the ground
- Step 5: Go as low as you can without touching the ground, then come back up
- Step 6: Complete all reps on one leg, then switch feet
You’ll use your quadriceps, glutes, and hamstrings in this exercise. These powerful leg muscles do the bulk of the work. You’ll also use the abdominal muscles and lower back to keep your torso upright.
To make this exercise easier, start without using weight. Hold onto something like a chair or railing to steady yourself and take some of the weight off of your legs. To make it harder, elevate your rear foot on a bench or chair.
2. Dumbbell Lawnmower Row
This movement mimics the starting of a lawnmower. Don’t worry, you don’t need any landscaping experience to try it. Not only will you strengthen your back muscles, but you’ll also train your core to rotate with more strength, which translates to hitting forehands and backhands in pickleball.
- Step 1: Start in a lunge stance with one foot forwards and one back
- Step 2: Put a dumbbell on the ground next to your front foot
- Step 3: Put your front forearm on your front leg
- Step 4: With your rear arm, reach down and grab the dumbbell
- Step 5: Pull the dumbbell up towards your stomach, rotating slightly with your shoulders
- Step 6: Lower the weight back to the ground
In this movement, your quadriceps and hamstrings will stabilize your legs as you lift. The latissimus dorsi, rhomboids, teres major, and trapezius in your back will do the bulk of the lifting for your upper body. Your biceps will help as well. The oblique muscles will stabilize your trunk and help you rotate.
To make this movement easier, put your front knee and front hand on a bench to stabilize yourself. That way, you don’t have to use your legs much. To make it harder, keep your front arm off of your front leg and use your core to completely stabilize your trunk.
3. Goblet Squat
The squat strengthens your legs and helps you explosively jump out of your ready position in pickleball. It also helps you stay low and build leg power for your shots.
- Step 1: Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell with both hands in front of your chest
- Step 2: Set your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart
- Step 3: Squat down as low as you comfortably can, keeping the weight in front of your chest
- Step 4: Stand back up to complete the rep
Goblet squats primarily use the quadriceps and glutes, although the hamstrings contribute a little. You’ll also use your lower back muscles and abdominals to stabilize your torso since the weight will be pulling you forward. Your biceps and shoulder muscles must also work to hold the weight in front of your body.
To make this easier, put a chair or bench behind you and sit down on each rep before standing up. To make it harder, hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in each hand, resting them on your shoulders.
4. Dumbbell Chest Press
Pickleball favors one arm over the other, which is why it’s important to do this exercise. In the dumbbell chest press, each arm works independently and is strengthened by itself, which corrects any strength imbalances from pickleball.
- Step 1: Hold a dumbbell in each hand and lie down on a bench on your back
- Step 2: Press the weights toward the ceiling until your arms are straight
- Step 3: Turn your hands so that your palms face your feet
- Step 4: Lower the dumbbells until they touch the outsides of your chest muscles
- Step 5: Press the weights back up until your elbows are straight.
This upper-body exercise is focused on the chest muscles. It also works the front deltoid and tricep muscles.
To make this exercise easier, simply lower the weight you’re using. To make it harder and get your core involved, do it with one dumbbell at a time so that only one arm is working while the other rests.
5. Single-Leg Deadlift
The single-leg deadlift is as much for your balance and coordination as it is for your leg muscles. You’ll build serious athletic ability and sprint speed if you get stronger in this movement.
- Step 1: Hold a weight in your left hand
- Step 2: Kick your left leg behind you into the air, leaning forwards with your torso
- Step 3: Bend your right knee slightly and reach down as far as you can with the left hand
- Step 4: Stand back up and put your left foot on the ground
- Step 5: Repeat until you’ve reached the desired number of reps, then switch legs and hands
Your hamstrings are the main target of this movement, although you’ll also work your gluteus maximus and gluteus medius. Plus, your lower back muscles will prevent you from rotating too much and will help you stand up from the bottom of the movement.
To make this exercise easier, hold onto something steady with your free hand for balance. To make it harder, hold a weight in each hand.
How to Incorporate Strength Training into Your Pickleball Routine
Make sure you're creating a balanced plan. Don't try to cram all your exercise into one day - try to spread it out as much as possible. And if you can, give yourself a rest day after strength training to let your muscles recover before hitting the pickleball court again.
You don't need to spend hours in the gym to see results. Keep your workouts to around 45 minutes or so. And if you're new to strength training, start by doing each exercise twice a week, and then add more days as you feel comfortable.
Focus on your form, not the speed or just powering through a set with improper form! Doing exercises poorly can increase your risk of injury, so make sure you're doing everything correctly. If you're not sure how to do a particular exercise, consider hiring a trainer to guide you.
Within just a few weeks, you'll notice that you can lift more weight than before. And within a month or two, you'll feel an extra pep in your step and more power in your shots.
Don’t Let Your Opponents Out-Hit You
For anyone looking to seriously improve their game, strength training is essential. It not only improves performance on the court but also decreases the risk of injury. And by targeting all the major muscle groups used in pickleball, you'll be able to run faster, hit harder, and dominate your opponents.
So, what exercises should you be doing? Split squats are great for those low shots, while lawnmower rows and dumbbell chest presses will help you smash the ball with your upper body and torso. And don't forget about squats - they're key for building leg power. Single-leg deadlifts are also great for improving your balance and coordination.
Now, we're not gonna lie - these exercises can be tough at first. But stick with it, and you'll start seeing the results on the court. Before you know it, you'll have the strength and power to take on anyone who comes your way.