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Monday, July 2, 2018

Pickleball Performance Training - Squat and Hinge

It's all to do with the training: you can do a lot if you're properly trained...

The next post from our fitness guru, Nat Littauer, is specific to strengthening the body parts that help prevent injury and maximize performance at the NVZ line. Nate discusses 2 exercise movements - the squat and the hinge.


Pickleball is a game of close quarters. While it contains similar components of other court sports such as tennis and badminton, it has a unique aspect that needs to be considered when playing and training to hone your Pickleball skills. The kitchen line is where a majority of the Pickleball action takes place, and in order to succeed at the line you must be prepared for a few things.

First, the initial rush to the line after a serve in order to have a good vantage point creates a huge amount of force when you stop at the line. These forces, due to the quickness of the movement to get there, can place large amounts of stress to the hip, knee, and ankle joint. Second, the amount of vertical movement that takes place when you make and return the various shots in order score/not be scored upon.

In order to adequately prepare for these two major aspects of movement at the kitchen line, we need to train to primary patterns: the squat and the hinge. Before I go any further, I know that in the past people have often relayed the message from a 1960's Sports Illustrated article saying that squats are bad for knee health, however this movement pattern has been highly researched and proven to aid in injury prevention when performed correctly. The hinge is also the movement pattern that is often associated with the deadlift, which many have also thought to be a movement that is bad for the back (this also comes down to proper teaching and technique to maintain safety). 

The reason the squat is so effective for improving performance at the Kitchen Line is that the movement pattern has a huge impact on ankle, knee, and hip strength. While predominantly great for training the muscles of the thigh and calves, this movement pattern also helps strengthen the hips. It is also very similar to the ready position that many assume when at the kitchen line (an athletic stance is essentially a 1/4 squat). In order to prepare for the kitchen line, training this movement pattern will be essential to keeping the knees, ankles, and hips safe.

The hinge pattern is primarily associated with a deadlift, but is actually defined as a movement that is hip dominant in nature and strengthens the posterior chain muscles (hamstrings, glutes, and spinal erectors). In order to have a stable knee and ankle, one also needs to have stable hips. The greatest hip stabilizers are the muscles of the posterior chain, which I mentioned above. Training this movement pattern allows you to build strength at the hips, which will effect how stable your knees are when you move, as well as when you reach for low shots. Training this movement pattern is essential both of these things.

Now, in order to get the most of these movement patterns, two different approaches are very important. The first is the just doing the movement regularly, descending into the squat or hinge, then coming back up. This is great for building general strength. The other approach is to do what is called a Tempo movement, of which the emphasis should be placed on the lowering phase of the movement. When you stop at the Kitchen Line, your muscles contract eccentrically (muscle gets longer) to act as a braking system for the body. This braking system can be trained by controlling the descent of a movement for a certain duration of time, with a faster ascent from the bottom of the movement. 

These two approaches to both movement patterns will drastically improve your ability to play dominantly at the Kitchen Line, as well as prevent injury. Stay tuned for my next post regarding the various types of the squat movement and hinge movement patterns that may suit you individually  better than a traditional squat.

Nate Littauer, CSCS is the Head Coach for Jump and Total Performance at Parisi Speed School in Hendersonville, NC. He also serves as the Head Coach for the Pickleball Performance Training Program at Parisi, a Sport Performance program that enhances on court performance through physical fitness.

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