Training is important for any sport, including pickleball. You need to do certain drills and exercises that were formulated especially for pickleball, to keep you in tip-top shape for your games.
Pickleball involves a lot of movements like running and jumping. The question is: how do you train all those factors? This is where cross-training comes in. Cross-training is one of the best ways to up your game—not just in pickleball, but in most sports as well.
In this article, we will discuss different cross-training exercises for pickleball that you need to do right now.
What is Cross-Training?
Cross-training is simply doing different types of exercise to improve your overall fitness. It can involve combining different aerobic activities, such as running, swimming, and biking, or mixing in strength training and flexibility exercises.
For athletes, this means doing activities that are outside of their main sport. This can help to prevent injuries, improve overall fitness, and reduce boredom. Examples of cross-training exercises include cycling for basketball players, plyometrics for volleyball players, and strength training for football players.
Why Should You Cross-Train in Pickleball?
While pickleball is relatively easier to play compared to other racket sports, it still requires a lot of strategy and skill.
For one, you need accuracy and strength to land specific shots on the court. And because pickleball uses the traditional side-out scoring system, games can last a long time, so you’ll also need to have enough stamina and durability to be able to jump, sprint, and run around the court despite the long games.
So, why cross-train in pickleball? Well, you can use a well-planned cross-training program to improve your skills and stamina and become a better player all around.
What To Target in Your Cross-Training Plan
Before planning out your cross-training plan, you must first determine what aspects you want to target in your exercises.
Do you want to increase your strength so you can lift heavier pickleball paddles? Do you want to improve your shoulder flexibility in order to hit seemingly impossible shots? Or maybe you’re looking for a way to improve your balance and stay on your feet so your momentum doesn’t accidentally carry you toward the kitchen line when you volley.
Cross-training exercises can vary in intensity, depending on a person’s skill level and physical condition. It is recommended to start slow and easy for beginners, then slowly progress to higher intensities as you get the hang of it.
That said, here is a list of what pickleball players should target in their cross-training exercises that will prove useful in real games.
Endurance is extremely important in pickleball as the sport involves a lot of movements that can tire you out after a long game. Being able to last long minutes on the court while maintaining the quality of your strikes will definitely make a difference.
Cardiovascular exercises—or more commonly known as cardio—are the best for training endurance and stamina. However, you shouldn’t overdo it. Go for exercises that don’t put too much strain on your body or get you injured.
That said, here are examples of endurance exercises for pickleball:
One of the most common cardio exercises out there, running is very reliable in building stamina and endurance with a minimum risk of injury. You can create an outdoor route for you to run in various distances (e.g. 3 km, 5 km, etc.) or simply run on a treadmill.
Swimming is a cardio workout that focuses more on the upper body but also requires some leg work.
- Backstrokes will work the muscles of your back and improve your range of motion, especially for your shoulders.
- Breaststrokes and butterfly are challenging but they improve your core strength and flexibility, particularly for your chest, shoulders, and back muscles.
- You can also try water jogging, where you’re basically running while submerged in water. It’s a low-impact exercise that’s great for players with lower-body injuries.
- Treading water is another exercise you can do. Create circular motions with your arms or legs (or both!) in order to stay afloat as long as you can.
This exercise is similar to running, except it puts less strain on your knees as there is no impact on the ground. You can go for short bursts of intense cycling on an indoor bike or go for longer rides outside.
If you have access to an elliptical machine, you can use that to improve the endurance of your legs and arms simultaneously.
Being quick on your feet helps you get to wherever you need to on the court so you can return balls. This is why agility is so important in pickleball. You can hit a shot, shuffle back to your spot, and head towards the return right away in a short amount of time.
Training for agility and quickness in pickleball is easy, and these drills can even be applied to a lot of other sports. Agility drills are universal and don’t require a lot of equipment to perform.
Here are some agility exercises for pickleball that you can do:
The agility ladder is used in most sports, especially basketball, football, and soccer.
Do quick runs with singles (one step per square), doubles (two steps per square), and laterals (sideways) for starters. Emphasize the quickness of each step.
Cones or poles
You can position cones or poles in a zigzag manner to train your change of direction. Sprint towards each cone in a diagonal run. This will help develop stability each time you change direction. You can variate and do lateral shuffles to the cones as well.
Develops the habit of being on your toes. Try achieving as many jumps as you can in one minute. If you want, you can progress to double-unders as well.
Balance & Flexibility
You’ll experience a lot of directional changes in a pickleball game, and it is important to keep your body stable at all times. A simple mistake in your movement without the right balance can cause you to slip, fall, and injure yourself. You might even twist your knee or ankle, which takes weeks—if not months—to heal.
Balance and flexibility training usually involves low-intensity exercises. And a lot of core strength. Here are some pickleball exercises you can do to improve your balance and flexibility:
Yoga is a good exercise that develops flexibility and balance, while also improving all-around strength. It also calms the mind and helps you mentally prepare for your games.
With Pilates, you are able to help develop your balance through your core and hip muscles. This, along with yoga, is best done with a trainer or expert.
These stretches help loosen up tight muscles before games. Tight muscles will restrict your movement and cause injuries in the long run. You can start with simple dynamic stretches, focusing on warming up your quads, hamstrings, and other muscles by doing head, arm, and hip rotations, leg swings, torso twists, and the like.
Aside from pilates, simple core exercises such as the plank, crunches, mountain climbers, and Russian twists can help strengthen your core and develop balance within your center of gravity.
When talking about strength training, people usually imagine buff men lifting large weights. Well, looking strong and being strong isn’t the same thing. And while strength is important in sports like pickleball, you definitely don’t need to look or be super buff.
You just need to be strong enough to lift your legs and move to another spot in a second. You need a strong core to have a good balance. You need to be strong enough to hit the ball towards the other end of the court. You get the gist.
You’ll know that your strength has progressed if you feel either of these things:
- You can perform more reps than before.
- You can lift heavier weights than before.
To test this, try going for an 8 to 10-rep range and increase it to 12 to 15 reps in a few weeks. Alternatively, you can also try doing 3 sets of weightlifting, slowly increasing the weight by a kg or more on the final set. You’ll know how much you can lift by listening to your body.
Having strong muscles also reduces the risk of injury, provided that you don’t overtrain and tire your muscles out before a game.
Here are some strength exercises you can do to improve your pickleball game:
Push-ups and squats are simple yet very effective in increasing your strength without the use of any equipment. They engage the muscles in your upper body and legs, as well as strengthen your core in the process. Other exercises include pull-ups and lunges.
Try doing them in 3 sets of 10s at first, then slowly increase your reps every week if you’re up to it.
Using resistance bands together with your stretches helps strengthen your muscles while also developing your balance and stability.
You don’t need heavy weights to train your strength for sports. Go for more repetitions with lighter weights instead and emphasize power in your sets.
These exercises simply involve jumping on the box to improve explosiveness. There are a lot of exercises in plyometrics and they are all useful in pickleball, especially skater jumps.
How To Plan Your Weekly Cross-Training Exercises
Now that you know the various exercises that you can include in your training regimen, let’s talk about how to actually plan your exercise week. If you’re just starting out in cross-training, it is better to start small, so plan your exercises in a weekly schedule.
Planning weekly gives you more flexibility to change your schedule and exercises. Decide which exercises you’re comfortable doing, and which ones you don’t enjoy as much. Adjust your plan and schedule accordingly. But if you plan on completely removing an exercise (say squats), make sure you add a new exercise that targets the same muscle groups (like deadlifts).
Other than that, here are some things you need to consider when making your workout plan:
Know your exercises.
When planning out your exercises, be aware of the muscle groups targeted by the exercises you’re doing. This is important because you need to let your muscles rest once in a while. Don’t target the same groups on consecutive days.
For example, this is a bad exercise schedule for pickleball:
|Days of the Week
|Formal Pickleball Training
|Weights Training (Legs)
|Running and Plyometrics
In the example, you are putting too much strain on your legs and not allocating enough time for your leg muscles to heal. This will ultimately lead to injury in the long run.
A good workout schedule for pickleball would look like this:
|Days of the Week
|Running and Plyometrics
|Yoga or Pilates
|Formal Pickleball Training
|Core & Activation
Notice that the muscle groups are hit evenly throughout the entire week, preventing excessive strain on one muscle group. Also note that even though there are only two days of full rest per week, yoga and core and activation stretches are light training regimens where your tired muscles can continue to recover to prepare you for the proper pickleball training sessions, which should be your main focus.
Rest is important.
With all these “grind set” mentalities that “motivational” podcasts teach you nowadays, people tend to think that working seven days a week will push your production and improvement rate to the max—which is actually the opposite.
As mentioned earlier, too much exercise will add too much strain on your body, which will eventually lead to injury. Imagine a rubber band that is stretched continuously without rest. Eventually, it will lose its stretch. Well, your muscles are pretty much the same. They need to stretch once in a while, but not all the time.
If you overwork and injure your ankle, you won’t be able to perform physical activities at all for weeks or months. You definitely won’t be able to play pickleball. Talk about counterproductive, am I right?
If you want to improve your skills and conditioning, you need to take care of your body. This should always be your number one priority when training.
Progression is key to improvement.
As said before, how intense your exercises are will depend on your skill level and condition. As you progress, you can little by little increase the intensity of your exercises.
It is vital not to get stuck doing the same exercises with the same intensity over and over again. This will only maintain your condition, not improve it. If you are looking to improve, it is always best to follow progression in your exercise. The level of progression is up to you—whether you want to progress quickly or slowly depends on your willingness and ability to do the exercises properly.
Nutrition is as important as the workout.
People often undermine the importance of food in our workouts. It is a common misconception that exercise affects 100 percent of your muscle growth. In truth, half of your growth—if not MOST of it—is thanks to proper diet and nutrition.
While planning out your cross-training schedule for the week, you can also create a diet plan. It doesn’t have to be complicated. For example, a simple and general diet plan involving lots of carbohydrates in the morning and lots of proteins for recovery meals can be good enough.
Keep this in mind: carbs make you go while protein makes you grow.
Carbohydrates give you the energy you need to start your day and do your workouts. Meanwhile, protein builds muscles, which makes you stronger and helps you recover faster after workouts.
Cross-training not only requires focus and energy—it also requires discipline and consistency. Follow your weekly plan as scheduled and do the exercises diligently to become a more well-rounded pickleball player.