The Pickleball Fitness Protection Program

While the spectator’s eye is focused in appreciation of how a pickleball vol- ley is hit by a 5.0 player, or how Nadal sends the tennis ball screaming deep cross court with a two handed back- hand at Wimbledon, the real secret in both examples is in the foot prepara- tion to hit that shot.

Roger Federer, at 37, plays tennis at the highest level in the world, and has experienced remarkably few injuries because he is always in position to hit the ball. It’s when you are out of posi- tion that you put excessive strain on your body.

As our bodies age — and don’t kid yourself, they do age — they get weaker and lose flexibility. When I moved to Ocean View five years ago, an auto-immune attack had previously left my legs withered and me balanced on a cane.

Because of his national reputation among athletes, I went to Bob Cairo at Tidewater Physical Therapy, who man- aged to help me build enough strength to get back into the gym, and then from the gym to the pickleball court, where I subsequently gained leg strength.

I love pickleball, but decades of tennis had destroyed my knees, and the pain became unbearable. You know it is unbearable when you lay awake at night thinking about where you might want the doc to amputate your leg.

After two knee replacements, I did all the prescribed post-surgical physical rehab at 100 percent. For the last six months, three times a week, I did 30 minutes of standard stretching exer- cises, 30 minutes lower-body strength- building exercises, and up to 45 minutes on the various aerobic ma- chines. On alternate days, I replaced lower-body with upper-body strength exercises.

Some players stretch and then,wisely, use the first game of the day for warm-up, avoiding any dramatic at- tempts chasing the ball. However, at Northside Park in Ocean City, Md., several weeks ago, I noticed recre- ational pickleballers arriving and then going out on the court cold, without stretching and warmup.

My observation is that our entire community of recreational pickleballers is improving, and my concern is that, without adequate warm-up, they are asking for trouble.

Excess weight is a major handicap for many. If you doubt my statement, tie a 10-pound bag of potatoes around your waist and see how quickly you get winded. Just the thought of it makes you tired, right? Besides being winded, the extra weight stresses the entire body structure.

When I have this kind of question about the body in motion in sports, I turn to Bob Cairo. I asked him to name the top three things the 60-year- old average pickleballers, or tennis player who just wants social play, should do to try help prevent minor in- juries. Here were his three comments — all equally important.

(1) Do core strength exercises, including both upper- and lower-body exercises.

(2) Do aerobic conditioning and en- durance, since most injuries occur when the body is fatigued.

(3) Do flexibility and mobility exercises regularly.

I understand that we all like pickle- ball because it is fun. I can also tell you firsthand that, when you spend two and a half years sidelined because of surgery or injuries, watching other peo- ple have fun is depressing. Spend sev- eral hours a week in the gym or on the floor at home in front of your televi- sion, mixing his three suggestions into your weekly pickleball ritual.

I don’t know about you, but first thing tomorrow morning, I am going to hit the gym and work on flexibility, strength and aerobic conditioning, and then shadow-box, just because I always like to do something a little extra. But please don’t tell Bob Cairo, who always reminds me that “More is not neces- sarily better.”

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 cap- tain of the Ocean View Crew pickleball community. He spent his career working with top tennis professionals while working for Wilson Sporting Goods and intro- ducing the Prince Tennis Racket and Wimbledon Tennis Lines. For more infor- mation, visit


By Vaughn Baker

Special to the Coastal Point