We may earn a commission through affiliate links. Details

How to Stay in the Game and Avoid Injuries

Tyson Mcguffin reaching for a ball in Mesa
Tyson Mcguffin PPA 2024 (Picture Kerry Pittenger)

If you surf the internet these days in search of pickleball related topics, you’ll eventually come across an article that focuses on the rise in pickleball related injuries. If you’ve played for any length of time, you’ve probably had your share of issues. 

Talk with any experienced (old) player before you hit the court and ask them how their body is doing. Chances are they will have more than one nagging injury or trouble spot to tell you about. It’s part of the deal we make when we push our older bodies to perform. And it’s a deal we make willingly. It beats the alternative of sitting on a bench and watching the world go by. 

Rotator cuffs, elbow tendinitis, Achilles tendon issues, and knee injuries are among the pitfalls of playing our game. Sometimes these problems are unavoidable – the result of a random misstep or simply the accumulation of years of wear and tear on our mortal frame. 

However, some injuries and chronic pain are avoidable by preparing our bodies for action in the short term (stretching, warming up properly) and in the long term (cardio, strength training, agility and balance programs). If you don’t want to be another pickleball casualty, here are some strategies to lessen the risk of injury and prolong your playing life. 

Your Optimal Pre-Game Routine

How to actually warm up

Once you reach the court, avoid the habit of chatting while you stand in one spot and exchange leisurely dinks. It’s okay to do a few of those but it’s important to get moving and dink as you would in a game with depth and angles. Exchange some ground strokes to get your whole body moving and raise your heart rate. One of my favorite pregame drills is to have my opponent hit attacking balls at my feet from the kitchen line as I stand about ten feet in front of the baseline and attempt to reset shots back into the kitchen – and then exchange positions. Finally, exchange some quick volleys at the net, hit a couple of practice serves and you’re good to go!

Stretching gets overlooked

We know that movement is essential for cardiovascular health. We also know that when we move, sometimes we fall down and go boom. To counteract these possibilities, always stretch before and after you play. Make sure to get your heart pumping by warming up with brisk movement beforehand. This is simple common sense that gets overlooked when our hurried lives cause us to jump out of the car and onto the court with no time to spare. Make time to not only warm up your body but focus your mind on playing smart, fundamental pickleball once you get out there.

Building a Physical Foundation for Pickleball

To improve your odds of playing healthily and playing well, build your cardio, strength, and flexibility prior to embarking on your quest to be world (or retirement community) champion. Pickleball-specific exercises should target cardio, agility, balance, core strength and lower body strength. 

Key areas to focus on

-Your cardiovascular fitness improves your pickleball. And your pickleball improves your cardio. Don’t you just love win-win scenarios? When you make cardio a priority, you get to more balls and can play longer at a higher level.

-For agility, practice shuffle steps and quick change of direction moves after warming up and before you play. You can also do drills that focus on quick movements in the dink game and proper footwork such as split-steps as you move from the baseline area to the kitchen.

-For balance, yoga poses are very helpful. Proper balance results in better shot-making and fewer falls. Improved balance and movement from playing pickleball also enhances your overall health.

-Core strength is especially important for the twisting moves you make on the court. A strong core helps keep your back healthy, supporting your more fragile lower back and hip areas. (We may not be able to rock that six-pack anymore, but we can stay strong underneath those groceries we’re carrying around).

-Squats and lunges strengthen your lower body and enable you to maintain a low, balanced posture as you play. Whole body resistance exercises keep your bones and muscles functioning well and enable you to play more powerfully.

If necessary, find a personal trainer to gently encourage or whip you into shape depending on your goals. Every sport depends on a sound body. Prepare yours properly and you’ll play better, healthier, and happier. And that’s what we’re all here to do.

Photo of author

About Mike Branon

Mike Branon is the bestselling author of Pickleball & The Art of Living. His latest book, The Joy of Pickleball, seeks to help older athletes play their best and experience the physical and emotional benefits that pickleball offers. He has appeared on numerous podcasts, TV and radio shows around the country, sharing his knowledge and passion for the game. Mike has coached hundreds of novice and experienced players from age 8-80 -something. His books and instruction are dedicated to helping others live their best lives and to play better, healthier, and happier. Mike lives in Carlsbad, California with his wife, Diane, and designer mutt, Cabo. As a well traveled pickleball connoisseur, Mike will be writing about tips and strategy for those who are looking to improve their game. mike@pickleballportal.com

2 thoughts on “How to Stay in the Game and Avoid Injuries”

  1. Thank you Mr. Branon for this very straight forward advice. I love the game and want to play it for the long haul. I’m going to begin incorporating some of your suggestions tomorrow! Again, thank you. Arne Brandon


Leave a Comment