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  • Writer's pictureSerendipityPTW

Pickleball: The Most Commonly Weak Leg Muscle that Impacts Your Game



Pickleball is of course a sport that requires a lot of movement, meaning that overall conditioning and strength is naturally an important thing for all players. Weakness in one area of the body can definitely influence the likelihood of an injury happening, contribute to abnormal movement patterns, and decrease a player’s quality of play.


However, when I work with pickleball players, I find that there are specific muscles that stand out as being very weak in a disproportionately large number of players. In the case of the leg, one muscle stands out much more than all the others, contributing to a higher potential for injury and worse pickleball play!


The muscle that I’m referring to here is your gluteus medius (Glute med from here on out, because anatomy terms are so much more palatable to talk about when abbreviated). Without going into a long and boring anatomy lesson, the glute med is one of the muscles of the butt.


Movement wise, this muscle is best known for helping us bring our hip out to the side. However, the glute med also serves a critical function as a stabilizer of the leg. Because of this, the glute med serves a major role in both allowing players to play with good technique and positioning, as well as minimizing the likelihood of injury.


You see, if the gluteus medius muscle is weak, this can and will impact the entire leg as we maneuver around the court. Not only will weakness contribute to a less stable hip, but people typically will have more issues with knee control. They may also find that they’re more likely to over-pronate through the ankle (meaning that the foot rolls inward). People will also usually naturally compensate for a weak hip by overusing their low back, which may lead to injury in that area as well.


The above mentioned problems can contribute to a lot of unpleasant ailments, including hip bursitis, iliotibial band syndrome, knee arthritis flare-ups, lumbar disc issues, patellar (kneecap) dislocations and plantar fasciitis, among other things.


What about your game, though?


Glute med is important for most of the leg motions and stable positions that you’ll do during a game. It’s the powerhouse behind all of those nifty side-to-side motions that you do up at the kitchen line. It provides you with a large amount of our power if you decide to jump to hit a ball. Those side lunge type movements that you have to make in order to return a low dink or a shot at your feet? You guessed it. Glute med is your buddy there, too.


It’s also worth mentioning that the function of glute med can be impacted not only by weakness, but other issues such as sciatica, hip tightness, or pain. The strength has to be there, but so does a lack of hesitation and the available mobility needed for this muscle to kick on at its best potential.


Alright, so glute med strength is important, right? What do you do to work on strengthening it, then?


Well, the good news is that there are oodles upon oodles of exercises out there that strengthen the glute med. You’ve got activities such as forward and side step tap-downs, squats, hip abductions, lunges, clamshells, side lying leg raises, monster walks, side planks with a leg lift, steamboats, a variety of plyometric activities…..


Okay, okay, okay, there’s a lot of glute med strengthening stuff. But what’s the best?


Well. As with anything else out there, the answer to that is going to differ from person to person.


At the end of the day, the best glute med strengthening exercise is one that:


1. You can consistently do with good form. No exercise will help you if your form falls apart.


2. You can complete for at least 20 repetitions to begin with. Pickleball is an endurance based sport, and your exercises should reflect that if you want them to serve you best.


3. Is as relevant to what you want to want to work on as possible. It’s okay if you find that a side lying leg raise is a good starting point, but recognize that this movement is not very similar to anything you do during the game. Eventually, your goal should be to progress towards sports specific movements.


4. Does not aggravate or cause pain, numbness, or tingling. Know the difference between typical muscle soreness and pain. A proper exercise should result in soreness alone. Other types of symptoms indicate that that exercise is not appropriate for you at the moment.


It’s a lot to consider, and one of the common problems with glute med strengthening exercises is that it is VERY easy to compensate during exercises without even realizing it! Because you want to make sure you’re getting the most out of your exercises, make sure to look out for any unintentional ‘cheating’ that your body may try to do.


If you need help getting started, the good news is that we at Serendipity Physical Therapy and Wellness are well versed in helping people properly strengthen and condition the glute med, in addition to addressing issues such as aches, pains, or tightness that may impact its performance.


If you’d like to improve your game or get back out there with less pain, achiness, or weakness, please give us a call at (239) 232-8155, or send us an email at Contact@SerendipityPTW.com. We would love to see how we can help get you moving at your best!


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