Sport-specific training is common practice today in almost all sports. When playing pickleball, the ability to rotate utilizing the body’s kinetic chain is key to reaching a higher level of play.
The kinetic chain can be described as your body acting as a system of chain links where the energy from one link is transferred to the next. The chain starts from the ground. The power generated from your legs transfers energy to the trunk, shoulders, arms and hands.
The serve, for example, starts with energy from the lower body, back to front, allowing the hips to open toward the target, hinging from the shoulder through the hands into the paddle. There are many things we can do to train off the court to develop our kinetic chain. Not just doing core work but also legs and shoulders.
Neutral or open-stance medicine ball throws are a great way to develop rotational power. When throwing the “medball,” it’s important to remember the energy created to throw the ball comes from the ground up. When the feet push into the ground, the energy is transferred through the legs to the core and finally to the upper body to throw the ball. Remember to accelerate through your throws and don’t use a ball that’s too heavy. Frequently, a ball that’s too heavy will cause imperfections in the throw and slow it down too much.
Squats with a diagonal chop are a great way of training the legs, core, upper body and rotation (see image A). Essentially you’re teaching the body how to sequence the lower and upper body together. Starting with the pulley at a low position, squat down while keeping the chest up and clasp your hands around the handle. As you start the upward movement of the squat, tighten your core and bring your arms with you, extended out in front. As you get to the top of the squat, rotate (foot and hips) and extend arms upward.
In order to have a good transfer of energy from the lower to upper body, you need a strong core. A weak core will cause “energy leaks” and reduce the amount of energy being produced. Two great core exercises are the Pallof press and Swiss ball rollouts. The Pallof press is great for activating the core and building stability. With either a pulley or elastic tubing, stand away from the machine with feet shoulder width apart. Start with the handle in the middle of your chest and push away straight out and return. The rollouts (see image B) are a challenging core exercise that can be performed at any fitness level. Kneel on the ground and plank on the ball. Roll the ball out as far as you can while maintaining perfect posture.
Since pickleball involves a significant amount of rotation, this exercise is very important. Two things will happen if the body does not have sufficient rotation in the T-spine. First, you’ll not be able generate your optimal amount of energy production. Second, and simply said, injury is a greater possibility. The open book (see image C) is perfect for addressing these issues. Lying on your side with the top leg bent at 90 degrees over the bottom leg and the top arm extended straight out over the bottom arm, rotate slowly while breathing out and open the top arm behind you like opening a book then return to the starting position.