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Keeping fit while on the go: Maintaining exercise momentum on your pickleball travels

by Mo Waja on

For many passionate pickleball players, travel comes with the territory. The nature of the sport, with its rapid evolution and acceleration in popularity over the last couple of years, has lent itself to an environment of broad inclusivity with local communities welcoming the engagement of visiting athletes and encouraging cross-cultural sharing; whether it be between local groups or with players from other states (provinces, here in Canada) and countries, with new and strong pickleball communities arising oceans away in places like South Africa.

Will Travel for Pickleball

Whether we’re traveling for tournaments, to attend or instruct a clinic, or to visit and connect with new communities (an area of particular interest for myself), the type of work we put into developing our game begins to change based on the space and resources available to us — which is important because, the reality is, that successful development and advancement of game is as much about the work we put in off the court as the time we put in on the court. The ever-present challenge, though, is consistency.


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At home it’s easy, we can build a system. We often have access to many institutionalized opportunities for exercise available to us, so keeping consistent is easy… or as easy as building consistency ever is.

When we’re on the move, we can lose our access to pre-planned exercise beyond gameplay, which is where consistency falls apart — and we know that it can feel almost impossible to get back into your rhythm once you’ve fallen out of it.  

Exercise on the Go

The good news is, building out your on-the-go exercise plan to maintain progress and continue to improve in-game performance is easier than you might think.

Before getting into the details of the approach that works for me, it is important to understand where it came from and why it has been so effective:

1. Pandemic lockdown measures: With gyms closed on-and-off over the last 2-years, we‘ve needed to get inventive about keeping in shape in a world without access to the equipment that previously made exercise easy.

2. A need for adaptability: In November 2020, just a few short months after I began my pickleball journey, I suffered a full Achilles rupture. This meant that, through recovery and rehabilitation, I needed to develop a new way to exercise that was adaptable, accommodated for changes in strength and mobility, had the ability to incorporate physio exercises, and allowed for a focus on re-learning or reinforcing the core competencies that are central to effective gameplay. And this work is entirely transferrable to a more general approach to building on-the-go exercise plans.


3 Principles for a great pickleball workout

Developing an effective on-the-go workout isn’t necessarily easy, but it can be made simple by drawing on 3 general principles:

1. The more transferrable your training, the better: Essentially, you want to exercise based on movements that will transfer smoothly into real game scenarios; for example, a curl motion is unlikely to transfer directly to an action on the court, whereas an overhead pull or a core rotation with a tension band can improve the strength of your smash or forehand/backhand drive, respectively.

2. You don’t need fancy or expensive equipment to exercise effectively: You would be amazed at how much you can do with small, portable, easy-access materials (such as two tennis balls or a couple of filled water jugs) and the right mental game when it comes to developing your workout.

3. Build your mobile workout for the space you have: Effective workouts don’t have to use a lot of space. For example, at the height of lockdown, in the middle of a Canadian winter, and while living in a small, urban apartment, I developed a robust workout using only the space available in our building’s compact resident parking lot with access to a non-residential brick wall. If the weather’s poor and you’re stuck inside, you may need to develop your workout to fit the space between your main room and kitchen. While taking a little creativity, this is entirely feasible.

After that, it comes down to your fitness/game enhancement goals:

For improved strength:

Tapping into bodyweight exercises like push-ups, planks, air squats, and step-ups (using stairs) can do wonders. You can also up the difficulty by incorporating heavier-than-anticipated household items. During my injury recovery, I minimized atrophy while stuck inside and seated by building a workout using a few large water jugs (filled to various degrees), my paddle, a ball, and a cardboard box. You can also invest in cost-effective and compact exercise tools like tension band kits, which can elevate your workout and help you meet specific goals.

For foot speed & agility:

Here, nothing beats an agility ladder or a jump rope (or, ideally, both). While jumping rope requires the actual rope (or something similar), if you don’t have an agility ladder handy and don’t want to invest in one, you can still run ladder drills — all you need is chalk and some pavement to draw on. The same is true of most object/layout driven footwork drills.

For hand speed and training those quick twitch muscles:

All you need are two tennis balls (ideally in two different colors) and a wall to bounce them off of.

-Start with one tennis ball, tossing it against the wall and catching it again in one hand.

-Once that gets easy, begin altering the pace and height of the throw.

-Once that gets easy,  add in the second ball, assign one ball to your left hand and one ball to your right hand — forcing you to track both at the same time and take a specific (and different) action for each one. For an added bonus, this also helps with the development of improved athletic intelligence.

My Pickleball Travel Workout

To help you on your way, here’s a sample mobile workout that I default to while on my pickleball travels (without access to a gym):

8-minute warmup:

  • 1-minute laps, running forwards
  • 1-minute laps, running backwards
  • 1-minute laps, run forwards + backpedal
  • 1-minute laps, side-shuffle
  • 1-minute run, figure eight, running forwards
  • 1-minute run, figure eight, running backwards
  • 2-minutes, wind sprints
  • 1-minute, forward jump from stationary
  • 1-minute, backwards jump from stationary

x5 sets:

  • Pushups x10
  • Situps x10
  • Crunches x10
  • Bicycles x10/side
  • Leg-raises x10
  • Flutter kicks, 1-minute
  • V-ups x10
  • Reverse fly (tension band) x10
  • Bicep curls (tension band) x10
  • Tricep extension (tension band) x10
  • Tennis ball drill (as described above), 1-minute

Ladder drill

#1: In In Out Out (forwards)

#2: In In Out Out (lateral)

#3: 5 Hops + run

#4: Crossovers

#5: Icky Shuffle

Total time: 1-1.5 hours

Mo Waja

Mo Waja

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