Pickleball Points: Getting into pickleball shape

Some of you are interested in competitive pickleball. The January tournament in Pocomoke, Md., recently had 142 participants entered, and when I spoke to Bob O’Malley, he was only several teams shy of being fully booked for the June 8-9 Ocean Pines, Md., tournament — six months from now.

I told you last year that I thought Ocean Pines would become one of the top tournaments in the Mid-Atlantic region. I had planned to make Ocean Pines my return tournament into competitive pickleball, but I am already wait-listed. Oh, my — I am not superstitious, but I hope this doesn’t foretell my future.

As part of my pledge to help your pickleball game in 2019, I think it appropriate to talk about the physical aspects of the game. When I reflect back on my own experience, with everything else equal, it is the player in better mental and physical shape who will win the day. In my previous column, I wrote about being positive. This week, I am writing about getting, and then staying, strong.

First, some encouragement: In the Lee Euler newsletter called “Aging Defeated,” Euler mentioned a disturbing new trend that younger people in their 40s are now at risk of cognitive decline because of isolation within their communities. Answer: Pickleball!

They also mentioned that the British Journal of Sports Medicine compared six different sport categories among 83,000 people, and those who played racket sport were 47 percent less likely to die of a medical condition, and 56 percent less likely to die of cardiovascular disease than the other sports studied. (Couch-sitting was not one of the sports analyzed.)

As some background, I had two full knee replacements over the last 20 months, and they healed well, and I tried to begin playing last September. I suffered three false starts where my leg muscles were still not strong enough. I had lost flexibility in my left hip over the past decade of playing tennis and pickleball with a protective brace.

I went to see Bob Cairo, our revered physical therapist in Ocean View at Tidewater Physical Therapy. I told him that I wanted to be able to play competitively in four months, and then explained my physical problems — that my left thigh yelled out loud in pain. I asked him to not baby me, but to put me on a crash course to physical improvement.

Here is exactly what he said:

“First, lose those 25 pounds you packed on during your recovery period.”

He went on to point out that 25 pounds is equivalent to approximately 100 pounds on the knees and hip, and that unnecessary weight will only slow me down and possibly either damage my new knees or more swiftly degrade my hip.

In order to appreciate his suggestion, he suggested I run around the court with two 50-pound bags of cement strapped to my back and chest. As if trying to hammer his point into my hard head, he reminded me that to have lost 25 pounds four months from now requires safe weight loss of 5 or 6 pounds a month — very serious business.

Next, he told me to improve my flexibility to reduce my immediate pain problem. The muscles connecting my new knee to my rigid and less-than-stellar hip were fighting one another. He demonstrated some easy exercises to do at home, and which gym machines might prove most beneficial.

Third, he went on to say, “Face it — we are not as strong as we were when we were 20, so we both need core-strengthening exercises to maintain what strength we have.”

He suggested I have a physical trainer develop and supervise a core-strengthening program.

Finally, he pointed out that our balance fades over time, and we need balance-maintenance exercises. He pointed out some simple exercises I can do at home, and my physical trainer can suggest exercises in the gym.

I’ve already started with his suggestions. My wife and I have set everything else aside and made health our No. 1 priority. In the immediate future, it will be five days in the gym and two days playing pickleball. As I improve physically, that ratio will obviously flip-flop.

Remember: One pound is approximately 3,500 calories, and I personally need a daily deficit of about 1,000 calories. I plan on burning another 500 calories in the gym, and to slowly ramp up to more than 1,000 calories burned playing pickleball.

It’s unhealthy to lose weight too rapidly, and it’s important to stay hydrated because you are adding new stresses to the body. Don’t let the scale dictate, but judge your progress by what you see in the mirror. The muscle you are slowly building weighs more than the fat you are losing.

“Mirror, mirror on the wall: Where is that body that once was 6 feet tall?”

See you in the gym!

Vaughn “The Baron” Baker is a Senior Olympics gold-medalist in pickleball, and is public relations director for the First State Pickleball Club (FSPC) and captain of the Ocean View Crew pickleball community. He spent his career working with top tennis professionals while working for Wilson Sporting Goods and introducing the Prince Tennis Racket and Wimbledon Tennis Lines. For more information, visit PickleballCoast.com.


By Vaughn Baker

Special to the Coastal Point