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March 23, 2023

Pickleball and Cross-Training

By Noe Sariban, PT, DPT, Cert. DN, TPI MII, CPTP

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There is one thing we can all agree on: pickleball is too much fun not to play! Most people who try it become quickly addicted. Pickleball brings together people of all athletic backgrounds—ex-athletes, weekend warriors and seasoned couch potatoes. However, all these people now have something in common—they all play pickleball more than anything else. People find themselves playing four to six times a week for multiple hours at a time. While the average age of pickleball players is getting younger, most recreational players are 50 and older. The combination of the higher age range and the number of hours spent on the court is a recipe for injury in the long term.


There are plenty of players who no longer perform activities they’ve been doing for years. I have met plenty of tennis players, golfers and runners who no longer participate in these activities because they are at the pickleball courts when they have free time. While this is the beauty of pickleball, it’s important for players to realize that in order to continue to play this wonderful sport long term, performing other activities and spending some time taking care of their bodies becomes essential.


There are two types of exercises—aerobic and anaerobic. Aerobic refers to exercises that rely on oxygen consumption. These are usually endurance exercises, requiring longer movements (think of running or biking for multiple miles). Anaerobic exercises refer to shorter duration movements where our muscles rely on their stored energy to perform the movement (think of shot put, football, sprints). Pickleball points are short on average—they last anywhere from 5 to 15 seconds. Therefore, most movements and efforts are performed in short bursts and are considered anaerobic.


Performing a combination of aerobic and anaerobic exercise has been shown to benefit cardiovascular health, and helps reduce hypertension, diabetes, and common health conditions such as atherosclerosis.


For pickleball players, there are also many cross-training options. Cross-training refers to performing different and varied types of exercises and activities to challenge your body and body systems in different ways to receive all the potential benefits that each activity can provide. Activities such as swimming and cycling are great aerobic activities (and they are low-impact activities, which is a bonus as it will decrease stress in the joints). In addition, performing regular weight training will ensure adequate strength and conditioning to play pickleball while promoting good bone health.


If you are unsure of where to start in your cross-training, remember that starting slowly and developing regular habits over time is the best way to make any changes. Don’t expect to start cross-training five times a week right away and be able to maintain this for the long term. One of the best forms of activity that can be done anywhere and for people of any level is yoga.


While yoga is traditionally perceived as a good “stretching” activity, there are many additional benefits that yoga offers. It will train and develop strength, endurance, mobility, flexibility, balance and mental focus. All the above-mentioned characteristics are extremely useful in pickleball because the sport relies so much on positioning. Being able to move adequately and having good strength, mobility, flexibility, and balance will undoubtedly improve your ability to play pickleball.


Finally, one of the biggest emphases in yoga is breathing. Breathing regulation is key to athletic performance, and pickleball players (especially beginners to 4.0 players) often experience altered breathing while playing. This leads to increased tension as well as higher levels of uncertainty about how to move and where to be on the pickleball court. Maintaining steady breathing during and between points is a great way to reduce any unwanted body tension and can also help with anxiety related to playing recreationally and in tournaments.


Pickleball is so much fun that it can at times work to the detriment of players. While the enjoyment factor is great for the sport and has in many ways made people more active overall, incorporating some cross-training in your routine would make you a more successful player. Yoga is a great way to get started, since it can be performed anywhere (in-person classes or videos online), and in as little as 20 to 30 minutes per session.


To learn more, contact “The Pickleball Doctor” at The Pickleball Doctor is the owner of Move It Physical Therapy in Chapel Hill, N.C. Free 10-minute consults are available to see if it’s a good fit, and virtual sessions are available if you are not in the area.  

Noe Sariban is a doctor of physical therapy and owner of Move It Physical Therapy in Chapel Hill, NC. He is a certified pickleball teaching professional through the IPTPA, and the tournament physical therapist for the world’s #1 men’s player, Ben Johns. Visit for more information on injury prevention and rehabilitation tips, and like his Facebook page,, for updates and new information.

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