This Pickleball Workout Will Give You The On-Court Advantage
Pickleball is fun as hell. Let’s start there. The tennis-lite sport is all the rage because anyone can start it up. You don’t have all those serious tennis “pros” to compete with, and it’s a damn good time. The first rule of pickleball is not to take it too seriously and enjoy the fun of it.
Aside from being easy to pick up and a great way to bond with friends, pickleball is a secret weapon for staying active. It’s the low-impact superstar of the sports world, honing hand-eye- coordination and providing a quality cardio workout. But just because pickleball is accessible doesn’t mean you shouldn’t train for it. It is a sport, and requires endurance, strength, a lot of lateral movement — and to get good, your exercise routine needs to adapt accordingly.
Cole Fritz, a fitness coach and the owner of Battle Born Coaching, is no stranger to working with clients interested in training for the sport. To be court ready and stay injury-free, he stresses a focus on full-body workouts that prioritize the muscles and movements you use in pickleball.
“The lower body needs to be strong and mobile. Your core should be able to rotate to create power in awkward positions,” says Fritz. “And your upper body should be flexible enough to move while producing force behind the ball when making contact.”
To develop speed and strength that will help you on the court — and keep you from getting exhausted or injured while playing — here are exercises to add to your routine.
How To Get Yourself Pickleball Ready
Strengthen Your Legs For Court Movements
Pickleball is all about quick movements around the court. Sprints. Directional changes. Lateral lunges. Your legs are crucial in all of these, and also help stabilize you while bending, extending, and reaching after the ball.
These exercises below work your quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves all at once, mimicking the demands on your legs during pickleball. Plyometric exercises like kettlebell swings and box jumps help you “transfer power in the direction you’re trying to move, which is important as pickleball is more of an explosive sport versus an endurance sport,” Fritz says.
Perform these five exercises at least twice per week.
1. Squats: 3 sets x 15 reps
Why: This is the single best exercise you can do to build lower body strength, for power and speed in pickleball.
2. Multi-Planar Lunges: 3 sets x 8 reps each leg
Why: To build lower body strength while practicing moving in multiple directions, mimicking direction changes during a match.
3. Kettlebell Swings: 2 sets x 6 reps
Why: To mimic hip hinge movements on the court used during low shots.
4. Box Jumps: 2 sets x 6 reps
Why: To develop explosive power required to handle quick starts and stops, lateral movements, and fast directional changes on the court.
Condition Your Upper Body for Power
Don’t underestimate the importance of your upper body. Shoulder muscles carry out serves and smash overhead shots, while your chest and back put the oomph behind your shots that send an opponent running.
These first three exercises build strength while medicine ball slams and throws “build muscular endurance and simulate the angles and moves you’ll find yourself in during a pickleball match,” Fritz says.
Do these five exercises at least twice per week.
1. Push-ups: 3 sets x 8 reps
Why: This is the single best exercise for building upper body strength, which is essential for powerful pickleball shots.
2. Pull-ups: 3 sets x 8 reps
Why: To strengthen the upper back muscles and create a strong and stable upper body position to approach and hit the ball with good form.
3. Shoulder Presses: 3 sets x 8 reps, starting with 40-50% of your body weight
Why: To improve shot accuracy, as stronger shoulders contribute to better stability, leading to more control of your swing.
4. Medicine Ball Slams: 2 sets x 6 reps
Why: To engage the entire body with a powerful explosive movement, while also mimicking the serve.
5. Medicine Ball Throws: 2 sets x 6 reps
Why: To improve coordination and timing between the upper and lower body, which is beneficial for timing movement and shots on the court.
Stabilize Your Core For Better Balance And Power
Your core muscles act as your body’s anchor. Abs, obliques, and your lower back keep your body steady as you turn, pivot, and rotate around the court. Maintaining your balance will prevent trips, falls, and any unintentional acrobatics when chasing wild serves and dinks.
Perform these three core exercises at least twice per week.
1. Planks: 2 sets x 30-45 seconds
Why: This is the single best exercise for strengthening your core, which will help maintain balance on the court.
2. Russian Twists: 2 sets x 12 reps
Why: To develop rotational strength, mimicking the rotational patterns of hitting the ball.
3. Crunches: 2 sets x 20 reps
Why: To maintain an effective pickleball stance so that you keep your balance hitting the ball.
Develop On-Court Explosiveness
Pickleball gets your heart pumping with quick bursts of movement, short sprints, and constant directional changes. Don’t let a lack of cardio be the reason you lose a game.
Do at least one of these three exercises two or more times per week to improve your on-court speed and agility.
1. Crossover Ladder Drill: Place down a ladder, then run sideways through it, with legs crossing over one another so only one foot is in each ladder box. 6 sets.
Why: To improve the crossover footwork pickleball often requires.
2. Shuttle Runs: Place one cone at the start, a second about 25 yards away, a third 25 yards further, and a fourth 25 yards even further. Start at the first cone, run to the second, then back to the first. Next, run to the third cone, then back to the first. Finally, run the longest distance to the fourth cone, then back to the first. 6 sets.
Why: To help you sprint faster toward the ball.
3. The X Drill: Set up cones in a box shape. Starting at the back left cone, sprint diagonally to the top right, sideways to the top left, diagonally to the back right, and sideways back to start at the back left cone. 6 sets.
Why: To simulate directional changes on the court.
Build Endurance to Last
Although pickleball is more of an explosive sport than an endurance one, you still need to be able to last the entire length of the match — or several, especially if you enter a tournament.
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a great way to build endurance. Start with this 15-minute, at-home HIIT workout to develop your cardiovascular strength. Once that becomes too easy for you, add in any of these 25 HIIT exercises to lengthen your workout.
The Best Pickleball Warm-Up Routine
Don’t let your excitement for the game rob you of your warm-up — because no one likes hobbling off the court mid-match from injury. Kick off your warm-up with light cardio and a few dynamic stretches to loosen up and improve your mobility.
Light Jogging: 3 minutesSkipping: 1 minuteHigh Knees: 1 minuteButt Kicks: 30 secondsWalking Lunges: 1 set x 10 reps each legPush-Up Walkouts: 1 set x 10 repsWindmills: 1 set x 10 reps each side
Wrap it up with a few minutes of easy practice hits with a partner to get a feel for swinging and moving around the court. Then, it’s game time.