A proper swing isn’t just in your arms. It takes a well-oiled machine, complete with fine-tuned wrist flicks, elbow control, a wide range of shoulder motion, and a flexible core. Bring that all together and you have a fluid, continuous path for transferring power from your legs to your paddle.
A simple stretching routine can help you get there, and to keep you on the court. Our 8-stretch, 10-minute warm up below is designed to develop a more flexible, powerful swing, smoother body movement and footwork, and to reduce your risk of strains, pulls, tears, and on-court injuries.
But before we start stretching, we need to make something clear. Flexibility doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a long and gradual process, and trying to stretch too far, too fast can lead to the same strains you hope to avoid. It’s absolutely crucial to listen to your body, focus on form, and know your limits, day-to-day. Be sure to consult a doctor before starting any new exercise program, including the stretches below. If any stretch becomes uncomfortable or painful, stop it immediately.
Now let’s get limber.
Getting limber starts with getting relaxed.
Take a second to slow down your breath. Breathe all the way in and slowly fill your lungs with air. Pause, and breathe it all the way out. Breathe in again slowly and repeat the process till you can feel your body start to relax. With each breath out, you’ll feel your muscles getting looser, and your tension start to dissipate.
Stretch 1: The Wrists
While sitting or standing (your choice), extend your arms in front of you with your palms faced down towards the ground. Pick a hand to start with and make a slow, circular movement based around your wrist joint, first clockwise, 3 – 5 times, and then again in the other direction. Keep doing this rotation until you feel your joints begin to move smoothly. If you’re in a hurry, you can also hit both hands at once by mirroring your motions.
Stretch 2: The Elbows
If you were sitting for the wrist stretch, be sure to stand back up for this next one. Start by lifting one arm in front of you with your elbow near the side of your ribcage, bent just about 60º. Your palm should be facing you at eye level. Now rotate your hand and forearm in a sweeping circular motion down and across the opposite side of your body, while maintaining that same position of your elbow. If it helps, you can use your other hand to secure your elbow near your ribcage as you rotate your arm. You should nearly brush your opposite hip before rotating back, passing just in front of your “belt buckle area. At this point in the rotation, you’ll want to rotate your elbow and forearm so that your palm is now faced away from your body. You should feel the muscles in your inner elbow slightly engage. As you continue the circular motion, you’ll brush past your close hip and once again slightly rotate your elbow, arm and wrist, so the palm of your hand is back facing your body. Continue the rotation up and around and back to the starting point in front of your face. Continue this slow, deliberate circular motion until your joints are moving smoothly. Reverse the direction of the circular movement and continue the rotations until you’re ready for the opposite elbow. Follow the same steps, and then finish by spreading both arms out in front of you at shoulder height. Take a deep breath, and relax your muscles.
Stretch 3: The Shoulders
Start with both arms in stretched in front of you, unbent with your palms facing down. Then lift one of them up in the air in a slow and sweeping circular motion, continuing over your head and behind you. As your hand begins to pass overhead, you should feel your shoulder muscles start to stretch. Your palm should be faced away from you as it continues the circular motion, until it reaches the furthest point in the rotation. Then, you’ll slightly rotate your arm and elbow so your palm is faced back towards your body as it brushes past your hip. Continue the rotation back to the starting position, and do this rotation until your shoulders are feeling loose, and your joints are moving smoothly. Switch the direction once again, bringing your arm down, back and behind you, then overhead and to the front, before repeating the process with the opposite arm and shoulder.
Stretch 4: The Core
Next, we move onto the core. Take a seat on something comfortable, like a towel, carpet or yoga mat. Lie back with the back of your head flat against the mat, your arms out to the sides with your palms facing up, and your knees bent with your feet flat on the ground. This will be the position we return to. Now slightly tighten or flex your abs, and simultaneously lift one knee up off the ground, bringing your foot up, too, and extend your other leg straight out in front of you, with the bottom of your leg lying flat on the mat. Then in one smooth motion, rotate your hips and core so the knee you have raised reaches over towards the floor on the opposite side of your body. Don’t worry if you can’t quite reach it. When you’re performing this motion, allow everything from your core down to gently rotate with your knee, but keep your head, shoulders, upper back and arms lying flat in a fixed position on the floor. Hold this for 3 – 5 seconds and then reverse the motion back to the starting position. Repeat this 5 – 10 times and then switch sides, lifting the opposite knee this time and performing the same movements in the opposite direction. Finish the stretch in the position we began at, with your head, shoulders, back, arms, and feet flat on the ground, arms stretched out the sides, and your legs and knees bent out in front of you.
Stretch 5: Hips
Just like the last stretch, we’ll start by lifting one knee off the ground and extending the opposite leg straight in front of us. Lift your knee a little higher this time, and make a slow, circular movement towards to the side, using your hips to drive the rotation. Try to imagine there’s a paint brush taped to the top of your knee. Now paint a perfect circle, as wide as you can comfortable do, feeling your hip muscles stretch and engage as it rotates away from you. Continue “painting” until your hips are moving smoothly, then reverse the direction of the movement and keep painting. Finish in the starting position, and then do the same circular movements with your opposite knee.
Stretch 6: Knees
Start in the same position that we ended on above. We’ll follow the exact same steps as the hip stretch, except this time, your hips should stay still, and the rotation should begin at your knee. Flex your ankle downward until the top of your foot is almost parallel to your shin. Now imagine that paint brush is taped to the top of your foot, and start painting some little circles in the air. When your joints are feeling good, reverse the direction, and then do the perform the same movements with the opposite leg and knee.
Stretch 7 + 8: Hamstrings and Quads
You’re almost done! These final two stretches are performed as a pair. The quads and hammies are commonly known as “mirror muscle groups”, meaning that whenever you stretch your quads, you’ll tighten your hamstrings, and vice versa. Because of this, you’ll want to follow each quad stretch with a hamstring stretch for balance.
Start in the same position as the last three stretches, and begin by lifting one knee off the ground and extending the opposite leg outward. But this time, as your knee begins to rise, start to straighten your leg and lift your foot as high as in the air as you find comfortable. Now reach forward with both hands and wrap them around the back of your below the knee. Then very gently start to pull it towards your body. Your head, shoulders, and upper back should raise off the ground, engaging your ab muscles as you bring your leg in closer to your chest. Be sure to know your limits here and don’t attempt to overdo it. Just pull your leg towards you until you can feel your hamstring stretch, and then hold that position for about 30 seconds. Then, let go of your leg and allow it return to the ground slowly.
Lay flat with both legs out, and then turn over onto your side, so the leg you just stretched is directly above the other. One of your elbows should be touching the ground now. Gently slide it across the mat and away from your body, so the bottom of your upper arm is flat on the ground and in line with your legs and core, with forearm angled up, your hand in the air, and your palm faced away from you. This will help keep you stable. Now bend your top knee out in front of you to bring your foot a bit closer to your body. With your free hand, reach down along your side and cup the top of your foot, gently pulling your back towards your glutes. When you begin to feel your quads stretch, hold that position for 30 seconds, and then let go of your foot and lie back on the mat. Take a few deep breaths and relax, before switching to the opposite leg and doing the same two final stretches.
One final deep breath and you’re done.
And every time you do it, this routine gets even easier. With a bit of practice and regular effort, these 8 simple stretches will have your full body working as well-oiled, smooth-serving Pickleball machine. See you back on the courts soon.
(Article by PBU)