Having a strong and powerful upper body is very beneficial for pickleball players. Having a powerful upper body will help you hit harder and put pressure on the opponent.
Well-designed upper body strength training will also help pickleball players be more resilient to injury.
Strength training for pickleball is not about getting muscled up like a bodybuilder. Training the upper body for pickleball is all about functionality and injury prevention and utilizing movements that will directly carry over to the court.
With that being said, you’re not going to see a lot of bodybuilding or biceps and triceps exercises here. Compound movements train these muscles naturally anyways.
So, let’s get into my 7 best upper body exercises for pickleball players to help you stay healthy and hit harder shots!
Upper Body Exercises For Pickleball
Push-ups sometimes get looked down on because they’re considered “too simple”, but honestly Push-ups are one of the best movements a pickleball player can master. I love the Push-up for tennis players because it is a horizontal push, that can be overloaded, and is very shoulder-friendly.
Once you’re able to consistently do sets of 25 quality push-ups, you can easily increase the challenge by adding extra resistance.
Load this movement with bumper or iron plates along the midback (Chains work well too if you have some). Because the scapula is free to move, you will find the weighted push-up to be very shoulder-friendly. Remember to go slow in your progression.
A strong posterior chain is essential for shoulder health and upper body strength. The Pull-Up trains this posterior chain (Lats, upper back, rear delt, rotator cuff) to be strong and resilient. Another added benefit of the pull-up is core and lower back stabilization.
A full range of motion in your pull-ups is critical for success here. I like to progress athletes into pull-ups. We initially will start with an eccentric phase, followed by an isometric, and finally a concentric one. I sometimes have athletes use bands to help with their pull-ups initially.
If you’re not ready for the pull-up, don’t worry! You can start with inverted rows and lat pull-downs to gain strength. I also recommend straight arm hanging and isometric holds with your chin over the bar. These are great alternatives that will help you in the pull-up progression.
Single-Arm Dumbbell Bench
One of my favorite horizontal pressing movements, the Single-Arm Dumbbell Bench Press is a great option for tennis players. This pressing movement is great because it can be overloaded, trains single-arm strength (sport specific), and is extremely joint-friendly.
The thing I like that makes this exercise unique is that Single Arm DB Bench is an anti-rotational exercise. That means that as you bench, the core has to work to keep you from rotating and literally falling off the bench.
This utilization of the core is so beneficial for pickleball players who need to be able to maintain core stability while playing.
Inverted Row (Neutral grip option)
The Inverted Row is a staple movement in any healthy training regimen for a pickleball player. Specifically utilizing the multi-grip bar with a neutral grip option or gym rings (as pictured above). I think this is most ideal for pickleball players because this is very similar to the grip they use with the racket.
Even with a standard barbell, a regular inverted row is tremendously beneficial as it trains the posterior chain, core stability, and grip strength. These are all sport specific, will help enhance performance, and mitigate injuries.
Single-Arm Dumbbell Overhead Press
Single-arm overhead strength is critical to the success of a competitive pickleball player. On the court, we spend a good amount of time hitting and returning shots with our hands over shoulder height (not as much as in tennis, but plenty nonetheless). Therefore, being strong overhead is critical to enhanced performance and resisting injury.
You can execute Single-Arm Overhead Presses seated on a bench, on the ground, half kneeling, tall kneeling, or standing. All of these options are great and can be progressed within a program.
Focus on core stability, neutral grip palms facing in, and finishing with a great overhead position with the bicep near the ear.
1-Arm Dumbbell Row
A classic horizontal row that I love for pickleball players, is the One Arm Dumbbell Row. This is a great rowing variation for single-arm training.
An awesome benefit of this variation is the non-rowing shoulder needs to stabilize as the other performs the row. Because your positioning is perpendicular to the floor, you are also training cross-body tension, engaging that core, and resisting rotation.
We know anti-rotation in the gym will aid in our ability to display rotational power on the court, so this is a great movement to train often!
1-Arm Farmer’s Walk
Grab a dumbbell or kettlebell (start light and focus on posture before going heavy). Hold it at your side and with the none holding hand, place it on your side, and pull the shoulder blades back. Focus on crushing the dumbbell with your grip, squeezing the core, and keeping great posture.
Proper upper body strength training is essential for pickleball players. Getting strong with basic movements like push-ups and pull-ups will help keep you healthy and improve your performance. Let’s be honest, they’re also just flat-out good for your overall health as well.
Balancing pushing and pulling movements is important. In general, for every 1 push repetition programmed, I would aim to have 3 pulling repetitions programmed.
Remember why you are training. Everything you do should have some type of carry-over to your sport. Training with a specific purpose will always help you stay motivated and train hard consistently over time.
Focus on proper form, progressive overload, and continue to work hard on the court and you will see your results pay off!
If you found this article helpful, make sure to check out my favorite core exercises for pickleball as well!