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Is Pickleball a Good workout? How Athletically demanding is it?

Are you interested in pickleball but not sure if it’s the right fit for your athletic ability?

Pickleball players vary greatly across demographics and athletic history.

A large swath of pickleballers don’t have much sports history at all, while others are coming from intensely athletic sports such as tennis.

This quick post will give you the rundown on some of the common inquiries that people have about pickleball’s athletic requirements.

The tl/dr is: pickleball is a great workout for some players, but a subpar one for others.

Let’s dive in.

Is pickleball a good workout?

It’s an excellent low to medium-exertion activity. If your pickleball exercise goals revolve around getting some brisk steps in with a few high-energy bursts, then pickleball should satisfy your needs. Pickleball has helped me easily achieve my 20k daily step goals.

Just remember that it’s not a consistent workout like running or walking. There’s a lot of idling around in pickleball between points. You’ll need some very long rallies in doubles or intense singles games to get the type of aerobic exercise as other sports.

Do you want high-exertion exercise? To achieve this with pickleball, you’re likely going to need to play singles or play doubles against players who are much better than you. A very good opponent in doubles will run you around the court taking advantage of open space and lobs, making you work for every shot.

You definitely won’t get run around like you would with other sports like soccer, tennis, or ultimate frisbee. But truly fit can reach good cardio ranges, work up a sweat, and end the day sore but satisfied.

  • Some people’s playstyles are more athletic than others. It’s worth noting that some people run all over the place playing pickleball while others do not. It’s not exactly good form to be constantly moving and shifting and adjusting during points, but it does mean that the person is getting a bigger workout than other players.
  • Pickleball can be great for dynamic movement exercise. Pickleball provides a lot of side-to-side/lateral movement that can strengthen the tendons and tissues around your joints. A lot of people don’t get this type of exercise and stand to gain a lot from it.
  • You can expect to get a lot of steps in, especially with singles. When playing an opponent at the 4.0+ level, I can average 3k+ steps per hour and around 250-300 calories per hour.
  • Pickleball is relatively low-impact, enabling a lot of daily play. People of all ages can play pickleball for a ton of hours per day without incurring injuries. I’ve played with many people in their 70s who play for 4 to 6 hours five days a week, which is awesome and incredibly health-promoting for them. A number of older players I know have dropped a lot of weight, improved their eyesight, and lowered their blood pressure from regular play.

Why do some people say that pickleball isn’t a good workout?

The reality is that doubles pickleball really isn’t typically much more exerting than a stroll in the park. Yes, it’s more fun. But critics will still see it as a subpar athletic outlet.

Pickleball is not consistent exercise, so two hours of slow, low-intensity games won’t have you burning anything close to as many calories as a walk or trip to the gym. Especially if your games consist of mostly standing at the kitchen hitting soft dinks back and forth.

You definitely won’t be sprinting or burning through calories playing doubles like you would with other sports. Though some intense doubles match-ups and singles games can come close exertion-wise. Good competition can result in a nice workout.

In the end, a “good” workout is subjective. Someone who considers a daily walk good exercise will feel very satisfied with a few games of pickleball, while those who need marathon-level exertion to consider an exercise being good, won’t.

If you feel like pickleball is a good workout for you, stand by it. Feel free to ignore those who like to knock down your physical outlet.

Do you have to be athletic to play pickleball?

You don’t have to be highly athletic to play and enjoy pickleball, both recreationally and competitively. If you can take a brisk walk, you can play pickleball. This makes pickleball is accessible to just about anyone.

Athleticism is less important in doubles pickleball than the vast majority of sports. Pickleball involves low-intensity, moderate exercise without having to be constantly aerobic. There is far less court to cover in pickleball when compared to tennis.

Yes, athleticism can help people play better. When players are evenly matched skill-wise, athleticism can give the edge needed to win. But there’s a ceiling on how much it can help, while the technical skills of the game have a much higher ceiling on performance.

I’ve seen many highly athletic players get crushed by less athletic but highly knowledgeable and technically skilled opponents. Shot placement and shot selection triumph over athleticism 99% of the time. At higher levels, like 5.0+, you do need both skill and athleticism.

In singles, you also rely on skill to succeed, but the more athletic player will have a major advantage due to how much more court needs to be covered.

Is there a lot of running in pickleball?

In doubles pickleball, there is rarely that much running involved. You will have short bursts of quick movement, but you’ll rarely enter cardio zones typically associated with running. As such, you do not need to be a good runner to play doubles pickleball. In fact, it’s better to move less and move slower while being more efficient with your movements.

In contrast, tere is a lot of running in singles pickleball. You have to cover a lot more court in pickleball and the play tends to be very fast. This is especially the case when playing against better or equally skilled opponents.

In conclusion

Pickleball is one of the least athletically demanding sports, which is part of why its become so popular. It’s an incredibly accessible game for all demographics and a very good workout for people who are after low-impact, low-intensity physical outlets. It’s also super fun and tends to gets players out on a regular basis.

While not an efficient workout, pickleball is still a great way to have fun burning calories, improving hand-eye coordination, and socializing.

Pickleball is 100% better than nothing exercise-wise. Just don’t expect to be able to run faster or farther playing a few games of pickleball a week.

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