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How To Play Your Best Pickleball!

Let’s face it, pickleball has arrived and is here to stay. It’s no longer merely considered a game— it’s become a competitive sport, with prize money for Pro divisions increasing year by year. As with most sports, it requires certain attributes to be successful. In addition to drilling and practicing your pickleball skills, mobility, stability, functional movement, strength, power and agility are necessary physical requirements for any athlete to perform at a high level. But where do you start when you’re not sure how to improve your physical attributes?

Mobility is the foundation of all movement, and should be at the top of the list when starting to work on improving your physical capabilities.

Once adequate mobility has been achieved, it’s important to develop stability in order to control our body while performing athletic movements. With stability and mobility established, you can start training functional movements, which include various basic movements such as a squat or more advanced pickleball-specific movements such as side steps, lunges, shuffle steps, etc.

Once you have developed proper mobility, and flexibility, stability, and can perform functional movements, it’s time to start adding strength training. At this point, we know the body can perform all necessary movements, and therefore loading the body with weight training has a decreased risk for injury. Finally, the last step is to develop power, which is the ability to exert a maximal amount of force in the shortest time possible, therefore leading to more explosive movements, and improving performance over time.

Step 1: Mobility
This is the foundation of all athletic prowess (beyond talent and skill). It is the base of our pyramid and should not be overlooked. Can someone perform well without good mobility? In the short term, possibly, but down the line, a lack of mobility is bound to lead to injuries. Mobility (and flexibility) are the most basic requirement of athletic performance, as it enables our body to move efficiently while maintaining its structure and integrity with athletic movements. Skipping this step in your training would be a vital mistake as adding strength training and power development on top of a poor mobility baseline is a recipe for disaster, and ultimately has been shown to lead to injury. Consulting a movement specialist (no matter what your level of play) such as a Physical Therapist who can help identify impairments is a great first step if you are unsure of how to develop adequate mobility.

Step 2 & 3: Stability and Functional Movement
Once Mobility has been established/restored, it’s important to develop stability around your joint in order to decrease your injury risk while performing athletic movements. In addition, improving/perfecting basic functional movements is key to ensure we are prepared for all the different movements required in pickleball. Functional movements include squats, lunges, hopping, jumping, balancing, etc. A good thing to incorporate in your training is something called Multiplanar Training. This is often overlooked as people focus solely on the necessary skills required for their sport. However, adding this in your training will greatly improve your performance. There are three planes of motion and Pickleball movements occur in each of them simultaneously.

The frontal plane bisects the body into front and back halves. Movements in this plane include sidestepping and bending sideways, as when someone hits a dink wide to you.

The transverse plane divides the body to create upper and lower halves and generally refers to motion that rotates or pivots, such as with serving, overheads, forehands, backhands, and sudden changes of direction.

The sagittal plane bisects the body into two halves (left and right) and motion in this plane includes running forward, backward, and bending forward (or backward). Of the three planes, the transverse plane poses the greatest challenges to balance and dynamic stability and most lower extremity injuries occur during transverse plane movements. However, the majority of traditional strength and conditioning exercises occur in the sagittal plane. Typical exercises include bicep curls, chest press, push-ups, running, and cycling (all sagittal plane movements). By training exclusively in the sagittal plane it’s impossible to effectively prepare a pickleball player for all movements of the game.

Step 4 & 5: Strength and Power
Strength and Power can be developed after Steps 1-3, and also need to be trained in multiple planes of motion. To learn drills and exercises encompassing multiplanar training, visit www.thepickleballdoctor.com for more information and video demonstrations. •