A strong core is essential for pickleball players, and honestly, for athletes of any sport. A strong core helps transfer power, aids in balance and provides stability.
For pickleball players, being able to stay balanced and stable on the court along with generating rotational power when needed is extremely important for success.
In this article, I’m going to give you my 10 favorite core exercises for pickleball players to help maximize their performance on the court.
Core Exercises For Sprinters
You’re not going to find a bunch of high-rep isolation exercises like crunches here, because they’re not always the best at improving functional strength that actually translates to the sport. (Plus, I think we’re familiar with how to do crunches.)
Instead, I’m going to share with you core exercises that focus on core stability through multiple planes and a few of my favorite power movements for the core.
There are so many reasons that I love programming Planks for athletes, especially pickleball players.
First, it teaches and reinforces what it means to brace your core. Knowing how to properly, and effectively, brace your core is the foundation of being able to stabilize your core so it happens naturally without having to think about it.
Second, holding a plank can sometimes be as mentally challenging as it is physically challenging. I think anytime you can introduce situations (safely!) that get athletes out of their comfort zone and force them to strain is beneficial.
Finally, planks are extremely versatile. You can add weight or time to make them more challenging. You can switch to a side plank to incorporate more obliques and they also work great as a competition to finish a workout.
- Start on the ground on your stomach.
- Assume a push-up position on your elbows and toes. Elbows should be directly under the shoulders.
- Position your body in a straight line from the shoulders through the hips, knees and ankles.
- Brace the core tight. (As if you’re going to be punched in the stomach)
- Do not let the body slouch to the ground nor push the hips up high in the air.
- Hold for the designated amount of time.
The biggest mistake that I see with Front Planks is athletes holding the position, but not properly keeping the core engaged and just allowing the torso to slouch. So, while they are technically up on their elbows and toes, all they’re really doing is straining the low back.
The other mistake I see is the exact opposite and that is athletes shooting their butts into the air, resembling more of a Down Dog position. The difference between the two is the second, having your butt too high, is easier to notice and corrected more often.
However, letting the body slouch during a plank is often allowed to pass as ‘good form’ when it is not.
When it comes to core training, core flexion drills like sit-ups and crunches can often far outnumber core extension movements. However, the glutes and low back are just as important for pickleball players as the abdominals.
I love working Bird Dogs into the warm-up because they also function as a great glute activation exercise.
- Start on the ground, on your hands and knees.
- Simultaneously lift one arm and the opposite leg.
- Lift the arm straight out in front of the body, palm down. It should finish parallel to (or slightly higher than) the torso.
- Lift the leg straight out below the body, squeezing the glute at the top. It should finish parallel to (or slightly higher than) the torso.
- There should now be a (relatively) straight line through the ankle, knee, hip, shoulder and hand.
- Reset back to the starting position and then repeat the movement on the other side.
- Continue to alternate back and forth until all reps are completed.
Keep the eyes focused down with the head neutral throughout the movement. Do not try to look up as this will cause the back to overarch.
Dead Bug is a great core exercise for teaching players how to brace and coordinate movement while maintaining stability.
Maintaining core stability through movement will be a central theme for all the core training exercises on this list.
- Core Abdominals (Rectus Abdominis, Obliques Externus Abdominis)
- Tensor Fascae Latae (TFL)
- Quadriceps Rectus Femoris
- Begin by lying on the floor on your back.
- Raise both arms straight up toward the sky.
- Bend both knees at a 90-degree and raise the legs until the knees are directly vertical of the hips.
- Tuck the hips and flatten the low back against the ground.
- Brace the core and simultaneously lower the right leg and left arm toward the floor.
- The arm should end up six inches from the ground directly overhead.
- The leg should end up six inches from the ground directly below the hip.
- Return both back to the starting position and then lower the opposite arm and opposite leg.
- Continue alternating back and forth, pausing and ‘locking-in’ each rep.
The back will naturally want to arch as you go through this movement. Try not to let it. Keep your hips rolled up and your low back flat against the ground.
Don’t rush through this exercise. Stay nice and slow and under control. Pause each rep at full extension before returning to the starting position.
Seated Med Ball Twist
Pickleball is a rotational sport, maybe not as much as Tennis, but being able to generate rotational power is a definite advantage. The next two core exercises on the list will focus on this rotational aspect of the game. As far as rotational core exercises are concerned, Seated Med Ball Twists are one of my favorites.
- Medicine Ball
- Start by grabbing a medicine ball and taking a seat on the floor.
- Slightly bend the knees and raise your feet roughly six inches off the floor.
- Start by rotating your torso to the left and lightly tapping the med ball against the ground.
- Now turn your shoulders and rotate your torso to the right and, again, lightly tap the ball against the ground.
- Keep legs mostly still and maintain the feet off the floor throughout the movement.
- Continue rotating back and forth until all reps are completed.
Coaching Points (Common Mistakes)
The biggest mistake I see with my athletes when doing Seated Med Ball Twists is moving the ball back and forth primarily with their arms instead of rotating through the core. The focus should be on the rotation. The ball touching the ground is simply an added bonus to the movement.
Speaking of the ball touching the ground – there is no need to bang the ball off the ground as hard as possible each rep. Stay in control of the movement and the med ball and lightly tap it on the ground.
Med Ball Side Throw
Medicine Ball Side Throws are a more dynamic version of Seated Med Ball Twists. With throws, we’re able to generate as much power as possible without worrying about having to decelerate the ball between each rep. Focus on bracing the core and generating power through the hips, not just throwing the ball with the arms.
- Medicine Ball
- Grab a medicine ball and stand perpendicular to a sturdy wall*.
- Distance away from the wall will vary based upon the type of medicine ball you have**.
- Stand in a good athletic position, feet shoulder width apart, hips and knees bent.
- Begin by rotating away from the wall, reaching the medicine ball toward the back hip.
- Now, aggressively rotate toward the wall, turning on the ball of the back foot, opening the hips toward the wall and releasing the ball into the wall.
- Catch the ball off the ball, reset and repeat. Once all reps are completed switch sides.
The biggest mistake I see athletes make is using their arms (and not their hips) way too much to throw the ball. Power for the throw should primarily come from rotating the hips and torso and the arms should be secondary.
*If you have a partner, you can throw to each other instead of into a wall.
**The distance away from the wall will vary depending on what type of medicine ball you have. If you have a hard rubber medicine ball then be prepared for the ball to bounce a good ways back off of the wall. If you have a soft Dynamax-type medicine ball then you can stand much closer as the bounce off the wall will be much less.
Single Arm Farmer’s Walk
The Single Arm Farmer’s Walk, also known as a Suitcase Carry, is a unique core exercise that emphasizes stabilization in the frontal plane. The ability to stay stable while bending and lending to make shots are an important part of the game. I’m not sure any other exercise addresses this better than the Single Arm Farmer’s Walk.
- Dumbbell or Kettlebell
- Quadratus Laborum (QL
- Gluteus Medius
- Core Abdominals (Obliques Externus Abdominis, Rectus Femoris)
- Erector Spinae
- Secondarily: Forearms & Trapezius
- Grab a single kettlebell or dumbbell.
- Brace the core and begin walking in a slow, controlled manner.
- As you walk, focus on keeping the core braced and the shoulders and hips square and level.
- Once you cover the assigned distance (or time), switch hands and repeat on the opposite side.
You do not need to grab the heaviest kettlebell you can find. Find a weight that you can walk with and maintain proper form.
Don’t rush through. Single Arm Farmer’s Walk can be done for time or for distance. If going for distance, it should not be a speed walk to cover the ground as fast as possible. Stay under control and focus on form.
Single Leg Pallof Press
Single Leg Pallof Press is one of my favorite anti-rotation exercises that stresses the core and glutes. I love to utilize the Pallof Press in the warmup on lower body days as a simple, but effective, glute activation movement.
- Resistance Band (Preferably a thin one)
- A Band Anchor (A squat rack works perfectly)
- Start by looping a band around the vertical beam of a squat rack.
- Stand far enough away from the rack to get proper tension on the band. You should feel the band pulling and trying to rotate you, but not so much that you cannot maintain your balance.
- Grab the band with one hand and then place the other hand over top.
- Start with your hands right in front of your sternum.
- Lift the leg furthest away from the rack up off the ground.
- Now, in a controlled tempo, press the band straight out in front of you and then return it to the starting position.
- Repeat for the required amount of reps.
Keep the movement slow and controlled. Don’t rush through the exercise.
Try to keep the opposite foot off the ground for the duration of the set. Touch the ground only if necessary to regain balance. Press straight out in front of the sternum. Don’t allow the path of your hands to drift off in one direction or the other.
Stir The Pot
Stir the Pot is an extremely challenging core exercise that challenges your ability to stay braced and stabilized as your arms shift around on a stability ball.
I love this exercise for pickleball players because being able to brace and maintain core stability while chaos is taking place throughout the rest of the body is exactly what will translate to the court.
- Stability Ball (also sometimes called a Physio Ball)
- Start on your knees with the Stability Ball directly in front of you.
- Place your forearms on the ball and clasp your hands together.
- Now slowly lift up off of your knees, balancing yourself with your forearms on the ball and toes on the ground.
- You should now basically be in plank position, but with your forearms on a stability ball instead of the ground.
- Now work your hands into small circles. This should simulate, you guessed it, stirring a pot with a big wooden spoon.
- Work clockwise until all reps are completed and then switch and go counter-clockwise as well.
- Once all reps are completed lower back down to your knees.
Take your time getting properly set up! If you’ve never done this exercise before it can be surprising just how hard it is to balance yourself on a stability ball in this manner let alone shift in circles.
Make SMALL circles. Trying to go too big with your circles is a good way to end up lying on your back.
Too often when athletes think about doing ‘core work’ they only think of working their abs.
However, low back work is just as important, but it’s often either overlooked or just ignored. Hyperextensions are one of the best movements you can do in a weight room to focus on building a strong low back. Hypers will also work the glutes and hamstrings as well.
If you don’t have access to a Glute Ham Machine, you can try either Supermans or Back Crunches. Both also work the low back and require no equipment.
- Glute-Ham Raise Machine
- First, you are going to want to get the glute-ham raise machine adjusted to the correct length.
- I recommend adjusting the machine so that your hip crease is at the end of the padding of the machine.
- Locking your feet in, facing the ground, keep a neutral spine by focusing your eyes on the floor below.
- Take in a deep breath, brace the abdomen, and keep your hands on the handles until you are ready to perform the eccentric movement.
- Once ready, take your hands off the handles, extend your body, keep your arms at your side, and control your body down until your torso is about perpendicular to the floor.
- Pause for 1 second in the bottom of the position to maintain stiffness in the muscles before coming back up.
- After 1 second of the isometric hold, pull yourself back parallel to the floor, engaging the glutes, hamstrings, and low back, while also keeping stiffness in the abdomen and upper back.
Hyperextensions are surprisingly easy to mess up. One of the easiest ways to make a mistake is going down too fast and “whipping” yourself back to the starting position. As with any exercise, the setup, initial breath before eccentric movement, maintaining control, pausing, and breathing out during concentric contraction are important.
It is important for the lifter to maintain a neutral spine, maintaining tension in the abdomen and upper back. Remember to breathe in and hold the breath during eccentric (lowering your body) and breathe out as you perform the concentric movement (bringing your body back up).
Hanging Straight Leg Raises
Hanging ab exercises like Hanging Straight Leg Raises are some of my absolute favorite core exercises. Not only are they very challenging ab movements, but they also provide extra benefits as well.
They’re a great way to sneak forearm and grip work into your workout which will also be beneficial for your game as well.
- Pull-Up Bar – Ideally a stand-alone pull-up bar or one connected to a squat rack although any sturdy object you can hang from will technically work.
- Abdominal Core Muscles (Rectus Femoris, Obliques Externus Abdominus)
- Quadriceps, Rectus Femoris
- Tensor Fasciae Latae (TFL)
- Back and Forearms
- Find yourself a pull-up bar and grip the bar with an overhand grip.
- Engage your lats so your body doesn’t go limp once you begin to hang.
- Now hang from the bar and keeping your legs straight, drive them up to hip height (or slightly above hip height).
- Finally, actively lower your legs back to the starting position – don’t allow the legs to just swing down.
- Repeat until all reps are completed.
The biggest issue that most of my athletes run into when doing Hanging Straight Leg Raises (or any hanging ab exercise for that matter) is how to keep from swinging out of control. To keep from swinging, you have to actively lower your legs back down. If you ‘let your legs go’ and just allow gravity to take over you’ll completely lose control of the movement.
Timing and rhythm are also both important for Leg Raises and you can’t achieve either if you’re not in control of your legs throughout the movement.
Need a Training Program?
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So, whether you’re getting ready for next season or just getting ready for beach season, we have you covered!
Are these the only 10 core exercises that I like to use for a pickleball player’s core training? Absolutely not. There are dozens of core exercises to choose from so there is no need to get in a rut of doing the same movements over and over again all the time.
You also don’t have to limit yourself to just bodyweight abs, like crunches and sit-ups, either. Grab a medicine ball or find a pull-up bar and add some variety (and difficulty) to your core routine.
Finally, don’t forget about that posterior chain! Exercises like Hyperextensions, Supermans or even Back Crunches can help strengthen your low back – an important part of your core.