A 5-Minute Warm-Up You Should Do Before Every Pickleball Game To Avoid Injuries

Photo: Getty Images/LPETTET
With pickleball’s recent stratospheric rise in popularity has come a huge uptick in pickleball-related injuries. In 2023 alone, pickleball injuries are anticipated to cost Americans $377 million in healthcare bills—anywhere between 5 percent and 10 percent of overall “unexpected” healthcare costs for this year.

Completing a proper pickleball warm-up before you hit that opening pickleball serve is one of the best ways to avoid becoming part of these statistics. And you don’t have to launch into a long and complicated routine to reap the benefits of a warm-up regimen. Even a few minutes spent preparing your body will go a long way in protecting common pickleball injury locations, like the rotator cuff, elbows, knees, Achilles tendons, back, and ankles.

Experts In This Article
  • CJ Johnson, pickleball coach and certified personal trainer
  • Justin Norris, certified strength trainer and co-founder of LIT Method

On your way to the court

“Generally, we have some kind of walk between our car and the courts,” says CJ Johnson, a pickleball coach and personal trainer. “So the very first thing is to do something to elevate your heart rate and get you huffing and puffing a little bit.” Use a power walk, a jog, or some lateral [side-to-side] shuffles for at least a minute or so as you head courtside.

A good pickleball warm-up should be dynamic

Once you feel your breath and your body starting to warm up, Johnson recommends spending a few minutes on dynamic stretches. Rather than dropping into a stretch and holding that position, dynamic stretching sees you move gently in and out of the stretch’s peak.

3 areas to stretch

Upper leg: “Hamstring and quad stretches would be my go-to,” says certified strength trainer (and recreational pickleball player) Justin Norris. For the quad, try a traditional runner’s lunge. For the hamstring, rest one leg on a raised surface in front of you, with hands on your hips, before gently hinging forward, lowering your torso toward the leg. Keep your spine as straight as possible and your lower back feeling long.

Inner thigh: “We don’t often get to stretch our inner thighs, and there are three different muscles in there that can make this area very tight,” Johnson says, who suggests lateral lunges to open up this area.

Lower leg: Before the following calf stretch, Johnson likes to do a few ankle circles in each direction and on both sides. Then: “Find something—a wall, a fence, or a table—to push against. Standing with your feet flat on the ground and leaning part of your weight forward into your hands, start to pedal through the feet one at a time, so that you feel a stretch in the calf of the straightened leg.”

Norris suggests borrowing a few moves from professional tennis players for your pickleball warm-up

Arm circles

“The number-one thing I would recommend is going to be arm circles with a resistance band.” These exercises activate and gently strengthen the muscles of your rotator cuff. Try 18 to 20 reps in each direction.

Wood choppers

To fire up your core before game time, Norris also recommends the wood chopper. “Attach a resistance band to a low part of either the net or a fence by one end and hold onto the other. Keeping your arms straight and together, draw a diagonal line across your body starting at your hip and ending above your opposite shoulder. Repeat 15 to 20 times, then switch sides.”

Aim to complete two or three sets in total of both exercises.

It’s tempting to get out on the pickleball court right away, but failing to spend just a few minutes on a pre-game warm up could spell injury—which means even more time sitting out from your new favorite pastime. Take five minutes now to prepare your body for a great game. You’ll feel better and play better.

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