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Pickleball warm-up demo – And what to do with a painful Achilles tendon

Here’s a complete pickleball warm-up routine – with video demos by a sports physio – to get you ready for smashing it on the court. Also: How to warm up for pickleball if you have Achilles pain. Remember, if you need help with an Achilles injury, you're welcome to consult one of our team via video call.

How to warm up for Pickleball.

The terms tendinitis, tendonitis, tendinosis, and tendinopathy mean the same thing for all practical purposes, and we use these interchangeably in most of our articles.

In this article:

We’ve also made a video about this, and there are some clips from the video further down where I demonstrate specific warm-ups:

Why warm up for pickleball?

The main purpose of warming up for any sport or exercise is to prevent injury and improve performance. There is some pretty good evidence out there to show that regular and robust, properly performed warm-ups can help to reduce the risk of injury and help you to move quicker and sharper.

Let’s break this down into some key components:

  1. Our first goal is to raise our temperature and to increase our heart rate; so, we're preparing our body to move around the court and play some shots.

  2. Our second is to warm up our muscles. We're mimicking movements that are similar to those of the activity we’re going to be doing, so they don't get suddenly overstretched, can react quickly, and produce forceful contractions.

  3. We're also warming up our joints so they can move freely through the full range of motion needed for our sport.

  4. We’re preparing our nervous system for what’s coming. Our nerves are in charge of telling our muscles when to relax, when to contract, and how fast and forcefully to contract.

  5. An additional benefit of warming up is sharpening yourself mentally. This is especially useful for competitive activities such as pickleball.

Pickleball warm-ups

Stretching: dynamic vs. static

Dynamic stretching, where we move into and out of a stretched position without holding that position for very long, is better for warming up. So, this is the approach we’re going to follow in the demos below.

There’s evidence that static stretching, where you hold the position for 20 to 40 seconds, could affect your performance during the activity that you're planning to do. However, static stretching has been found to be useful for cooling down after sport or exercise.

1. Increasing your heart rate and core temperature

Jogging on the spot is a great way to get your heart rate up.
Jogging on the spot is a great way to get your heart rate up.

Do 3 to 4 minutes of one of the following, or you can mix it up:

  • Jog in place. You could alternate between aiming to kick your backside with your heels and doing high knees.

  • Jog around the pickleball court. Again, you could alternate between aiming to kick your backside and doing high knees.

  • Side shuffles. Alternate between wide and narrow shuffles.

Once you’ve got your heart rate elevated and you’ve got more blood going to your muscles, it’s time to activate those muscles and increase the ranges of movement you’ll be needing on the pickleball court.

Do between 20 and 30 seconds of each of the following moves, and do them on both sides. The whole warm-up, including getting your heart rate up, should take between 15 and 20 minutes.

2. Lower body dynamic stretches

Knees and hips

Lunge into all directions to activate your muscle and get your body loose.
Lunge into all directions to activate your muscles and loosen up your joints.

Pickleball warm-ups for the knees and hips include:

  • Standing side lunges. The knee on the side towards which you lunge should remain directly above your ankle.

  • Stepping side lunges. Again, the knee on the side towards which you lunge should remain above your ankle.

  • Forward-backward lunges. Your front knee should be above your ankle, and your hips should be level and tilted forwards.

  • Walking forward lunges. Again, your front knee should be above your ankle, and your hips should be level and tilted forwards.

  • Hip circles. Stand with your feet hip distance apart. Alternate between “opening the gate” (lifting one knee and then moving it outwards and then down and inwards) and “shutting the gate” (moving your knee in the opposite direction).

  • Leg swings. Stand on one leg and swing the other one backwards and forwards. You can mix this up by trying to touch your bottom with your heel as you go backwards. Hold onto something for balance if necessary.

💡 Top tip: If you don’t have enough space for a proper session to get your heart rate going, the exercises above (with maybe the exception of the walking forward lunges) can double up for increasing your heart rate.

Achilles, calves, and ankles

Check with your physio if you can use your Achilles rehab exercises as part of your warm-up.
Check with your physio if you can include your Achilles rehab exercises in your warm-up routine.

Warm-ups include:

  • Heel raises. Going up on your tiptoes and coming back down.

  • Walking forwards and backwards on tiptoes.

  • Ankle circles in the air.

💡 Top tip: Many Achilles rehab exercises can also be used for warming up the Achilles, calves, and ankles. For example, if you’re on an Achilles rehab programme, heel raises will probably feature. However, if you’ve been told to steer clear of these because your Achilles pain is too bad at the moment, it’s best to get advice on whether you can do them for a warm-up.

👉Also, see our section on What if you have Achilles pain? further down.

3. Upper body dynamic stretches

With pickleball, obviously we also need to warm up our upper body.

You must include dynamic stretches for your upper body in your pickleball warm-up.
You must include dynamic stretches for your upper body in your pickleball warm-up.

Here, warm-ups you should do include:

  • Core rotation. When we play shots, we need stability and rotation in our upper body. So, do some upper body twists from side-to-side. Twist your upper body, not your hips.

  • For the arms and shoulders, add some forwards-and-backwards arm swings (as if you’re marching) while you twist.

  • Shoulder circles. Straighten your arms and simultaneously rotate them backwards, over your shoulders, and then forwards.

  • Side stretches. Stand, and then slide the palm of your hand down the outside of your leg until can feel a stretch on the opposite side.

  • Thread-the-needle. Get down on your hands and knees, and then stick one arm underneath the other arm and reach through as far as you can.

What if you have Achilles pain?

Stretching with a painful Achilles

Typical Achilles stretches (which also stretch your calf muscles) are the classic runner’s stretch (where you lean forwards with your back foot flat on the floor) and lowering your heels over the side of a step.

Stretching an irritated Achilles tendon can often make if feel worse several hours later.
Stretching an irritated Achilles tendon can often make if feel worse several hours later.

These stretches compress your Achilles tendon against your heel bone, which is natural and not a problem for a healthy tendon but can further irritate an Achilles tendon that is already somewhat irritated.

So, it is better not to do strong static stretches for your calf muscles and Achilles tendons when you warm up for pickleball. (Here’s my article with more detail about stretching with an Achilles injury.)

Don’t use a warm-up to alleviate the following Achilles symptoms

In certain instances of Achilles tendinopathy, the following happens:

⚠️Warm-ups are not about getting your injured Achilles tendon through a pickleball match, and then you deal with the consequences later. If you do this repeatedly, your tendon pain is likely to increase to a point where you won’t be able to play.

If your Achilles tendon behaves as described above, it’s better to get advice from a medical professional. They can advise you on how to rehab your tendon back to health and on whether you should lay off the pickleball for a while or maybe modify how you play it, to give your Achilles some rest.

How we can help

Need help with your Achilles injury? You’re welcome to consult one of the team at TMA online via video call for an assessment of your injury and a tailored treatment plan.

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We're all UK Chartered Physiotherapists with Master’s Degrees related to Sports & Exercise Medicine or at least 10 years' experience in the field. All of us have a wealth of experience working with athletes across a broad variety of sports and ranging from recreationally active people to professional athletes. You can meet the team here.

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Alison Gould

About the Author

Alison Gould is a chartered physiotherapist and holds an MSc in Sports and Exercise Medicine. You can follow her on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.



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