Yoga and Pickleball: A Match Made in Heaven
So, you have fallen in love. Not just any type of love, but the pure love of the game. Congratulations you lucky duck! Now that you have found your athletic soulmate, it is important to stay in the game for as long as possible so that you can continue to pursue this captivating sport. This means taking care of your most important piece of equipment; your body. Pickleball is an enjoyable low-impact sport, but it is certainly not for wimps! Every exciting game is full of repetitive movements and asymmetrical loading of key muscles and joints. A regular yoga practice will help you manage the sport’s impact on your body to keep you in the game for many years to come.
The Yoga-Pickleball Connection
Like yoga, pickleball is both physical and mental. Yoga invites you to become more familiar with your physicality, and by doing so helps to bring your mind-body balance into top form. The better you know your body, the more confidently you move on the court. Yoga techniques will improve your agility, balance, and spatial awareness for all that fancy footwork. The mental clarity you gain will help you evict that opponent who always seems to get in your head. A Pickleball Yogi is the new court superhero.
The Physical Nitty-Gritty
As an active pickleballer, you will experience a greater demand on the dominant side of the body (the paddle hand side) and a heck-of-alot of repetitive motions. This means there are imbalances that need to be addressed pre and post game. Before we play, we should stretch and warm the muscles and joints. We know this, we’ve been told a million times, but to be honest that quick ten minute stretch routine can be tedious and is often set aside. It’s also important to understand that doing the same basic stretch routine becomes obsolete after a surprisingly short amount of time. Yoga offers a rich variety of movements that will keep things interesting and move your progress in the right direction.
Target Areas for Pickleballers
Yoga asana (the practice of physical poses) is a vast encyclopedia of beneficial movements. A good yoga teacher (ahem…) will know the right poses for your body. As a basic rule of thumb, here are some key areas that are notorious in the pickleballers’ physique.
Shoulders – You want to go for poses that loosen tight rotator cuff muscles caused by repetitive movements. It is important to develop shoulder stability with a combination of strengtheners and lengtheners. You want openness for maximum mobility that is backed by strength for more powerful execution.
Wrists and forearms – These poor bastards get primary impact and very little attention. Poses for this area should develop strength to sustain impact and repetition. At the very least choose a few poses post game to enhance your range of motion and free up tightness.
Hamstrings and calves – A good coach will instruct you to keep your knees slightly bent on the court to enhance your agility and reactivity. This is good, and to recover from sustaining that bent knee position, give a little lengthening love to the back of the legs with a forward fold type of pose.
Low back – Ah, the spine…I could write you a novel on how to care for the central mainstay of our body, but I will spare you for now. In short, try gentle twisting poses to promote spinal flexibility. This will also develop strength to power your shots evenly and precisely. Twists can also correct the hemispheric imbalance of dominant side playing. Take a few moments to also ground the low back by laying on the floor with knees bent.
Here is Your Freebie:
Downward Facing Dog: An excellent pose that ticks nearly every box for the pickleballers’ physique: It will strengthen and open the upper back, arms, and wrists. It will lengthen the back of the legs and relieve the lower back with subtle traction (you can also twist in the pose under the care of an experienced yoga teacher). Downward Dog is as close to an all-in-one as a pickleballer is going to get, and it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
And Now, the Practice of Yoga
While it is certainly not convenient to throw down a full-scale yoga practice at the start and end of every match, adding a bit of yoga to your life routine will help you become a better player (and human being). Try a class to learn the practice and get into a modest routine at a suitable time for you. Or try a no-commitment, private session with me for some useful tips and a take-away recommended practice designed just for you. You will develop a very useful toolbelt to combat the demands and enhance the benefits of this fantastic sport.