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Pilates and Pickle Ball

We love that opening up our new studio at the Highline Athletic Club in Burien means we get to serve a whole new demographic – Pickle Ball players! So, now seems like a great time to look at the sport and the ways doing Pilates enhances playing and supports players so they can be as fit as possible on the court.

First – a definition of pickle ball from the official USAPA site: http://www.usapa.org/what-is-pickleball/

“A fun sport that combines many elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong.”

We talked with Caroline Ellison to learn more about why she’s so hooked on Pickle Ball and where Pilates can fit in to make her an even better player:

Bodycenter Studios: What do you love about Pickle Ball?

Caroline: It’s addictive, and it changed my life! It was so much fun that I went from grudgingly exercising two to three times a week, to really looking forward to going to the gym five or six days a week, and being more enthusiastic about keeping fit in general. We usually play doubles, which is more social and less exhausting than singles, and we have a great time.

Bodycenter Studios: What’s the difference between Pickle Ball and other racquet sports?

Caroline: It’s great exercise, but not as hard on the body as some other sports, so it’s a little more forgiving for older folks – I started at age 50. It’s easier to learn than tennis, racquetball or squash, especially for someone who is not necessarily adept at hand-to-eye coordination, because the ball is closer to the hand with a short paddle than with a longer racket. There’s also not as much torque on the body. In my younger days, I had tried tennis and was hopeless at it, but Pickle Ball was doable. Now that I’ve become a decent Pickle Ball player, I can play tennis.

Bodycenter Studios: What’s the most difficult aspect of the sport?

Caroline: It can be much faster than other racket sports, especially when you’re at the net – we occasionally have rallies where the ball is being volleyed every half-second – so quick-twitch muscles are helpful.

Bodycenter Studios: What are some key body positions you need to play well?

Caroline: You need to be able to move from side to side quickly, move forward and back to either play at the net or run to the back of the court to return a lob, and there’s more wrist and forearm movement than a full-arm motion such as in tennis. Lat strength is important for hitting the ball hard, but pickle ball is often about short, accurately placed dinks just over the net, so strength is sometimes less important than in other sports.

Bodycenter Studios: Do you ever get hurt playing Pickle Ball?

Caroline: My right forearm can sometimes ache (I’m right-handed), although a brace (a velcro strap) helps that.

Pilates works on developing your body awareness so that you are always working in good alignment. Pilates also works to balance the body and develop muscular symmetry. In a racket sport like Pickle Ball a player typically uses the same hand and arm to hit the ball, developing muscle imbalances due to the one-sided nature of the sport. Since Pilates is so focused on balanced muscular alignment you would work to lengthen the overworked tight muscles and strengthen the weaker ones with asymmetrical exercise. Balancing the body will help to prevent injuries that might otherwise occur when stress is placed on an unstable structure.

As Caroline mentioned you need strength to not only move quickly and hit the ball with force but you need fine motor skills. Pilates exercises also focus on the smaller muscles that help to stabilize a joint as well as the bigger muscle groups that help to create big movements like hitting a ball or moving your entire body quickly from side to side. Pilates will strengthen the deep abdominal muscles needed for a stable base from which to hit that winning shot. No matter what kind of athlete you are you can simultaneously increase your strength and minimize your risk of injury with Pilates training!