Which parts of the body are you exactly working on while playing pickleball? In this piece below we look at the various muscle groups that get a decent workout in a regular game of pickleball.
Pickleball is becoming popular in the USA, and for good reason. The sport has a great multi-generational appeal because of the simple equipment, straightforward rules and friendly competitive nature. It also gives various muscle groups a great workout, catering to many active lifestyles.
More than 36 million Americans enjoy playing this sport, and it’s an excellent way to get in shape.
We have already spoken about the various health benefits associated with pickleball in our piece here. In the article below, we expand on the different muscle groups you work while avoiding that pickleball kitchen and how to make the most of your session.
Primary Muscle Groups Used While Playing Pickleball
Pickleball is technically a full-body activity but still targets a handful of primary muscle groups. These are the main muscles used during a pickleball match, from head to toe.
Your shoulders are the most heavily stimulated upper body muscles during pickleball. The rotator cuff, anterior deltoid and lateral deltoid generate much of the power behind your hitting technique.
They also stabilize the rest of the arm and play a key role in each shot’s accuracy.
Power and accuracy make for a lethal combination in pickleball and other racquet sports. Pickleball’s dominant playing style is spamming overhand power shots that give the opponent little time to react. Strong shoulders are invaluable at the highest levels of the game.
Your abdomen is the second-most important upper-body muscle group. The rectus abdominis — better known as the “six-pack” — and obliques are the main muscles. You might not have noticed it, but your abs naturally brace themselves every time you hit the ball.
This reaction stabilizes the spinal column and keeps you balanced during compound movements.
Creating spinal flexion during ab exercises is the key to effectively training your abs and unlocking your core strength. Rounding and extending the back ensures your abs get a deep stretch and contraction.
Once you master this training fundamental, you can generate maximum power from your abs and hit more challenging shots.
The quadriceps get near-constant stimulation during a pickleball match. They’re the big flashy muscles on the front of your thighs. In fact, they contain more muscle mass than any other group on the body. They are important in extending and stabilizing your knees when you run, jump, kick or squat.
If your legs start to burn every time you play pickleball, it’s probably because your quads don’t have great muscle endurance. Since they’re so big, they need different types of exercise to get more stimulation and achieve consistent results.
A combination of strength, circuit and cardiovascular training will do the trick.
The hamstrings are the beefy muscles along the backs of your thighs. They are responsible for bending the knees and extending the hips. Think of them as the biceps of the lower body.
The hamstrings stretch when you lunge to reach a shot and contract when you change direction. Sudden acceleration and deceleration can lead to injury without proper exercise.
Your hamstrings don’t generate as much power as your quads or glutes, but they’re still crucial for pickleball players. The standard court is only 44×20 feet, resulting in a lot of quick stops and starts to keep up with the pace of the game.
Including hamstring flexibility movements in your pickleball training routine is essential.
While the quads contain the most muscle mass, the glutes are the largest and strongest muscle group on the whole body. That’s because they are responsible for stabilizing your trunk and pelvic tilt. Proper pelvic alignment helps you walk, run, squat and jump correctly and avoid injuries.
Since racquet and paddle sports rely so heavily on your body’s dominant side, they tend to lead to glute muscle imbalances.
An interesting study from 2011 found that professional tennis players had more asymmetric glutes than professional soccer players. You might have the same experience with pickleball, so remember to focus on glute symmetry during your training.
Secondary Muscle Groups Used While Playing Pickleball
Secondary muscle groups don’t get much direct stimulation during exercise but are still essential for performing the movement. These four secondary muscle groups support the primary ones during pickleball.
Holding a paddle isn’t much of a workout, but you still need a firm grip to be an effective pickleball player. A strong set of forearms helps with your forehand shots because of the wrist flexion involved. You need to beef up your forearms to be a good forehand player.
However, forearms aren’t always the problem. Sometimes players use the wrong paddles and can’t get a good grip. The grip size for pickleball paddles ranges from 4-4.5 inches in circumference and can weigh 6-14 ounces.
You might have to experiment with different paddles before you find one with a comfortable grip.
The adductors are small inner thigh muscles that play one important role — to bring your legs to the center of your body.
This function helps stabilize the larger glute and hamstring muscles, improving your hip mobility. Whenever your glutes and hamstrings are engaged, your adductors work behind the scenes to support every sudden movement.
The abductors are found outside your thigh and have the opposite role of the adductors. They move your legs outward and stabilize you in a side-stepping or squatting position.
Pickleball players often find themselves in these positions, especially when serving the ball.
The calves are considered the most stubborn muscle group in the whole body. They are difficult to develop and are also prone to muscle cramps due to the constant stress from walking and running.
The famous “tennis cramp” usually affects the calves and feet. Make sure you stretch your calves before hitting the pickleball court.
No Pain, No Gain
Pickleball is a popular low-impact activity for older folks, but it can also be an intense, fast-paced sport that incorporates many muscle groups. Expect some growing pains if you want to take your game to an advanced level.
Pickleball requires strength, stability, flexibility and endurance, so focus on training these muscle groups to see the best results on the court. You will boost your fitness level and be able to play to the best of your ability, so your pickleball sessions will be even more enjoyable.