Preparing Your Body for Pickleball: Tips from Physical Therapists

Tips for getting in on the pickleball trend, including advice and exercises from Hinge Health physical therapists.

Senior woman doing squats outdoors

The pickleball craze Just. Will. Not. Quit. What was once a fun pastime has become a full-blown national obsession. It’s currently the fastest-growing sport in America, according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association. Participation doubled in 2022 alone, and the game has seen a nearly 86% increase year over year. That’s quite a lot of racquet! (Sorry, we couldn’t help ourselves.)

“I think the biggest appeal is that it’s very easy to learn, there’s a huge social aspect to it — my teammates and I are always joking around — and it’s smaller and more manageable than a tennis court,” says Hinge Health physical therapist and pickleball enthusiast Amber Oates, PT, DPT. 

Whether you’re already an avid player, or are interested in trying it out, you may have read a lot about possible injuries related to the sport. “With any sport there’s a chance that you could injure yourself. But pickleball is pretty safe. And I always like to say that your likelihood of experiencing pain from being sedentary is higher than your likelihood of injury from exercise. So I am very pro activity,” says Dr. Oates. 

It is true that your body might need to adjust to a new form of movement (be it pickleball or running, cycling, hiking, you name it). And if you’re a current pickleballer, it’s always a good idea to slowly increase your activity level and not try to up your game too much, too soon. But if you listen to your body, pickleball is a great way to get your heart rate up, strengthen all your major muscle groups, and have some fun with friends. 

Here, learn more about how to prepare your body for playing pickleball, including good warm-up exercises from our Hinge Health physical therapists.

Our Hinge Health Experts

Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Peterson is a Hinge Health physical therapist who focuses on developing clinical exercise therapy programs and member education.
Jonathan Lee, MD, MBA
Orthopedic Surgeon and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Lee is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and an Associate Medical Director at Hinge Health.

Your Body on Pickleball

Pickleball is a full-body sport. It works all of your major muscle groups, although it primarily targets your lower body. It’s also a great activity for honing your balance and mobility. Here are some of the muscle and body areas that pickleball particularly benefits.

Quads. “The lateral side-to-side movement of pickleball works your quads in a different way than exercises such as lunges and squats,” says Dr. Oates. That kind of variety in your movement routine can be a good thing for promoting overall muscle balance, strength, and coordination.

Hamstrings. Your hamstring muscles, on the backs of your thighs, work with your glutes to extend your leg at the hip joint. 

Glutes. Your butt muscles are a powerful group consisting of three different muscles. They help you lunge to hit the pickleball and allow for quick stop-and-start play.

Calves. Your two main calf muscles, the gastrocnemius and soleus, assist in stabilizing your ankle joint during pickleball play and everyday activities like walking and going up and down stairs. 

Core. Your ab and back muscles engage to keep you stable as you jog back and forth on the court, and the rotational movement of hitting the ball gives your core an extra challenge. 

Arms and shoulders. Pickleball builds upper body strength in your shoulders — particularly your rotator cuff — biceps, triceps, and forearms, and also helps with shoulder mobility.

Pickleball Preparation Tips

Pickleball is an accessible sport no matter your age or ability level — that’s part of the beauty of it. These tips can help you enjoy the game and make sure your body is ready for the activity.

  • Avoid playing on a wet pickleball court. The slippery surface could cause falls.

  • Dress the part: Wear proper sneakers, sunscreen, and a hat if you’re playing outdoors. Protective eyewear (safety goggles or even sunglasses) is also a good idea.

  • Bring plenty of water to drink.

  • Warm up and stretch before you play to limber up your muscles and help prevent strains and other injuries.

  • Try to avoid backpedaling on the court. “One of the biggest things that we see with pickleball is when people try to run backward to get the ball and fall,” says Dr. Oates. It’s safer to turn your body to hit the ball as opposed to backpedaling.

  • Communicate with your partner so you don’t bump into each other.

  • Give your body a bit of a break from the sport if you feel sore, or have pain from using one muscle group a lot. Tennis elbow is a common one among people who frequently play pickleball, according to Dr. Oates.

Good Exercises to Do Before or After Pickleball

Tap into pain relief. Anytime, anywhere with our app.

Get exercises from a licensed physical therapist and more to relieve your pain. All right from your phone. At $0 cost to you.
Start your app tour

These exercises warm up your body and help cool it down before and after playing pickleball. They also strengthen some of the major muscle groups you’ll use, to prevent potential injuries and allow you to just play and enjoy the game.

The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.

PT Tip: The Win-Win of Pickleball 

“Pickleball is a great way to socialize and meet new people with similar interests,” says Dr. Oates. “Exercise has been shown to decrease stress, improve sleep, decrease anxiety, and improve overall mental/physical health. Pickleball allows you to get together with friends, meet new people, and get a great workout in.” 

How Hinge Health Can Help You

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program. The best part:

You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you. See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

Looking for pain relief? Check if your employer or health plan covers our program

Hinge Health is available to over 1,600 companies and benefit plans!

References

  1. SFIA’s Topline Report Shows Physical Activity Rates Increased For A Fifth Consecutive Year. (2023). Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA).

  2. Health & Safety (n.d.). USA Pickleball. Retrieved from https://usapickleball.org/play/health-safety/

  3. Kovacs, M. S. (2009). Movement for Tennis: The Importance of Lateral Training. Strength and Conditioning Journal, vol. 31, no. 4,pp. 77–85. doi:10.1519/ssc.0b013e3181afe806

Senior woman doing squats outdoors

Preparing Your Body for Pickleball: Tips from Physical Therapists

Tips for getting in on the pickleball trend, including advice and exercises from Hinge Health physical therapists.

Published Date: Dec 7, 2023
Senior woman doing squats outdoors

The pickleball craze Just. Will. Not. Quit. What was once a fun pastime has become a full-blown national obsession. It’s currently the fastest-growing sport in America, according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association. Participation doubled in 2022 alone, and the game has seen a nearly 86% increase year over year. That’s quite a lot of racquet! (Sorry, we couldn’t help ourselves.)

“I think the biggest appeal is that it’s very easy to learn, there’s a huge social aspect to it — my teammates and I are always joking around — and it’s smaller and more manageable than a tennis court,” says Hinge Health physical therapist and pickleball enthusiast Amber Oates, PT, DPT. 

Whether you’re already an avid player, or are interested in trying it out, you may have read a lot about possible injuries related to the sport. “With any sport there’s a chance that you could injure yourself. But pickleball is pretty safe. And I always like to say that your likelihood of experiencing pain from being sedentary is higher than your likelihood of injury from exercise. So I am very pro activity,” says Dr. Oates. 

It is true that your body might need to adjust to a new form of movement (be it pickleball or running, cycling, hiking, you name it). And if you’re a current pickleballer, it’s always a good idea to slowly increase your activity level and not try to up your game too much, too soon. But if you listen to your body, pickleball is a great way to get your heart rate up, strengthen all your major muscle groups, and have some fun with friends. 

Here, learn more about how to prepare your body for playing pickleball, including good warm-up exercises from our Hinge Health physical therapists.

Our Hinge Health Experts

Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Peterson is a Hinge Health physical therapist who focuses on developing clinical exercise therapy programs and member education.
Jonathan Lee, MD, MBA
Orthopedic Surgeon and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Lee is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and an Associate Medical Director at Hinge Health.

Your Body on Pickleball

Pickleball is a full-body sport. It works all of your major muscle groups, although it primarily targets your lower body. It’s also a great activity for honing your balance and mobility. Here are some of the muscle and body areas that pickleball particularly benefits.

Quads. “The lateral side-to-side movement of pickleball works your quads in a different way than exercises such as lunges and squats,” says Dr. Oates. That kind of variety in your movement routine can be a good thing for promoting overall muscle balance, strength, and coordination.

Hamstrings. Your hamstring muscles, on the backs of your thighs, work with your glutes to extend your leg at the hip joint. 

Glutes. Your butt muscles are a powerful group consisting of three different muscles. They help you lunge to hit the pickleball and allow for quick stop-and-start play.

Calves. Your two main calf muscles, the gastrocnemius and soleus, assist in stabilizing your ankle joint during pickleball play and everyday activities like walking and going up and down stairs. 

Core. Your ab and back muscles engage to keep you stable as you jog back and forth on the court, and the rotational movement of hitting the ball gives your core an extra challenge. 

Arms and shoulders. Pickleball builds upper body strength in your shoulders — particularly your rotator cuff — biceps, triceps, and forearms, and also helps with shoulder mobility.

Pickleball Preparation Tips

Pickleball is an accessible sport no matter your age or ability level — that’s part of the beauty of it. These tips can help you enjoy the game and make sure your body is ready for the activity.

  • Avoid playing on a wet pickleball court. The slippery surface could cause falls.

  • Dress the part: Wear proper sneakers, sunscreen, and a hat if you’re playing outdoors. Protective eyewear (safety goggles or even sunglasses) is also a good idea.

  • Bring plenty of water to drink.

  • Warm up and stretch before you play to limber up your muscles and help prevent strains and other injuries.

  • Try to avoid backpedaling on the court. “One of the biggest things that we see with pickleball is when people try to run backward to get the ball and fall,” says Dr. Oates. It’s safer to turn your body to hit the ball as opposed to backpedaling.

  • Communicate with your partner so you don’t bump into each other.

  • Give your body a bit of a break from the sport if you feel sore, or have pain from using one muscle group a lot. Tennis elbow is a common one among people who frequently play pickleball, according to Dr. Oates.

Good Exercises to Do Before or After Pickleball

Tap into pain relief. Anytime, anywhere with our app.

Get exercises from a licensed physical therapist and more to relieve your pain. All right from your phone. At $0 cost to you.
Start your app tour

These exercises warm up your body and help cool it down before and after playing pickleball. They also strengthen some of the major muscle groups you’ll use, to prevent potential injuries and allow you to just play and enjoy the game.

The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.

PT Tip: The Win-Win of Pickleball 

“Pickleball is a great way to socialize and meet new people with similar interests,” says Dr. Oates. “Exercise has been shown to decrease stress, improve sleep, decrease anxiety, and improve overall mental/physical health. Pickleball allows you to get together with friends, meet new people, and get a great workout in.” 

How Hinge Health Can Help You

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program. The best part:

You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you. See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

Looking for pain relief? Check if your employer or health plan covers our program

Hinge Health is available to over 1,600 companies and benefit plans!

References

  1. SFIA’s Topline Report Shows Physical Activity Rates Increased For A Fifth Consecutive Year. (2023). Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA).

  2. Health & Safety (n.d.). USA Pickleball. Retrieved from https://usapickleball.org/play/health-safety/

  3. Kovacs, M. S. (2009). Movement for Tennis: The Importance of Lateral Training. Strength and Conditioning Journal, vol. 31, no. 4,pp. 77–85. doi:10.1519/ssc.0b013e3181afe806