Hey Pickleball Fans! Is your Split Step up to Speed?

by Alpine Fit PT, Physical Therapy, Pickleball

As the fastest-growing sport in the U.S., pickleball is capturing hearts and paddles everywhere. Its dynamic nature offers a fun, active escape for all ages and abilities. Unlike running or biking, pickleball demands multi-directional movement. In previous articles, we’ve tackled ways to avoid pickleball injuries. Today, we dive into the world of lower extremity mobility, unraveling the secrets behind a key defensive move—the elusive split step!

But First, What is a Split Step in Pickleball?

Mastering the split step is pivotal in elevating your pickleball game. This defensive posture primes you for swift reactions when your opponent fires the ball your way. Picture this: feet slightly wider than hips, a subtle bend in hips and knees, weight poised on the balls of your toes—ready for action!

Beyond pickleball, this dynamic stance is a versatile gem and I like to think of it as an athletic stance that allows for a quick transition into your next movement. Pro Scott Fliegelman of Boulder Pickleball expertly dissects this technique in this insightful video below, providing a comprehensive guide to enhance your gameplay.

Mobility for the Split Step

Assessing your lower body mobility is key to unlocking the full potential of your pickleball game. The art of a proficient split step hinges on the flexibility and movement of your spine, hips, knees, and ankles. Optimal mobility in these joints enables a deeper and more effective split step, enhancing your readiness for rapid, explosive reactions on the pickleball court.

When mobility is restricted, attempting the split step strains these crucial joints, risking injury. Impaired ankle, knee, hip, and spine flexibility not only impedes the shift of your weight to the balls of your feet for ball retrieval but can also jeopardize balance, leading to potential falls. Gauge your lower body mobility with the deep squat mobility screen below and pinpoint areas for improvement!

Ankle Positioning in Pickleball Split Step

Whether we play pickleball or not, many of us grapple with tightness in our ankles—a common hurdle revealed in the deep squat test. Why does this matter? Restricted ankle flexibility diminishes our capacity to absorb and efficiently transfer force into subsequent movements. The pivotal spring-like action in our Achilles plays a vital role in executing the split step effectively. Ankle joint mobility constraints commonly contribute to issues like calf strains, Achilles tendinitis, and various foot discomforts. Explore a targeted ankle mobility screen and discover effective exercises below to enhance flexibility and alleviate potential pains!

Ankle Mobility Screen for Pickleball

Forward Lunge Ankle Mobility for Pickleball

Lateral Lunge Ankle Mobility for Pickleball

Importance of Spine and Hip Mobility for Pickleball Split Step

Optimal mobility in our spine and hips is indispensable for any pickleball player. The explosive transition from a split step to those initial strides toward an approaching ball demands considerable flexibility in these regions. The broader, reactive steps needed to reach a precisely placed ball place significant demands on our hips and spine. When tightness restricts movement in these areas, our knees and shoulders may unwittingly compensate, risking strain. To maintain fluidity and prevent compensatory stress, incorporate the dynamic mobility drills below to ensure your spine and hips are in prime playing condition for pickleball.

Hip 90-90 Mobility Exercise for Pickleball

Pelvic Tilt and Lumbar Mobility for Pickleball

Key Take Aways for the Pickleball Split Step

Mobility is a game-changer across sports, and pickleball is no different. Elevate your performance and safeguard against injuries with enhanced mobility. By incorporating these screens and targeted mobility drills, you proactively prioritize your body’s well-being, ensuring a prolonged and thriving journey as a pickleball player. Should you require personalized attention, feel free to reach out, and we’ll gladly assist. Otherwise, see you on the courts, ready to conquer the game!

If you’re curious about more ways to prevent injury, talking with a Doctor of Physical Therapy is a great place to start.
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