Last weekend I had the opportunity to participate in a pickleball tournament. Sixteen players were invited to this gathering of elite-level pickleball. Naturally, I couldn’t wait to get on the court for eight games of competition and fun. Each participant played or practiced a minimum of five times per week. One could imagine the competition was going to be fierce.

The first games started with an exuberant amount of energy. Jumping to smash balls down to the court, grunting after each shot and sprinting to retrieve balls wasn’t a rare sight. However, as the tournament progressed to the later rounds, a few of the participant’s energy levels began diminishing.

Leaping from the ground to smash an overhead wasn’t as common. Instead, players began to stand straight up on the court, and the “come on!” battle cries after each crushing blow were almost nonexistent.

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The array of adrenaline-filled pickleball competitors bouncing around the courts, like water hitting a highly oiled pan, seemed to simmer down to the movement of a still mountain lake. Apparently, the elite athleticism these participants held couldn’t match up to the cardiovascular endurance demands for some participants. Perhaps the most significant gap in their game wasn’t their paddle work, but the ability to endure four hours of competitive play.

Work around the house, walking to achieve the goal number of steps our wearable technology targets for us or playing pickleball five times a week rewards significant fitness adaptations.

Bending down to pull weeds keeps our knees and backs healthy and mobile. Walking increases our heart rate so we can burn more calories and pump oxygenated blood flow throughout the body. Chasing around a pickleball on a court maintains the ability to scramble throughout play and operate under a stressful bout of physical activity.

Plus, recreational physical activities like pickleball are a ton of fun. These are all forms of work that keep our body functioning and stay active as we age. The more “work” we do, the more calories we’ll utilize as a fuel source.

A problem arises with these activities, though. What happens when we bend down too often when pulling weeds and our back spasms? Or, what if we play so much pickleball that our wrist, lower back and knees develop chronic pain? Indeed, walking and achieving 30,000 steps per day isn’t the solution to these issues.

It’s not breaking news that staying active keeps us healthy. Our favorite physical activities keep our mind, body and spirit in a good place. However, it’s essential to understand that every physical action has checks and balances. Suppose we perform too much of our favorite form of physical activity without reinforcing our bodies via exercise. In that case, we can easily overdo it and put ourselves on the injured reserve for a few weeks up to a few months.

A balanced fitness routine should offer enough structure to support your favorite forms of physical activity. Understanding the aerobic energy system, muscular strength, and concepts of flexibility and mobility are important concepts that help keep us going. Focusing on refining fitness components to avoid being slowed down by injuries allows us to enjoy our recreational activities more.

For example, if frolicking through the garden and hanging out with the hummingbirds and bees by the lavender plants fills your heart with joy, refine the movements that keep you out there. Performing core and lower body strengthening exercises and lower back stretches will optimize your gardening ability.

If we want to continue sprinting around like a cheetah on the court at tournaments with other pickleball-crazed athletes, perhaps focusing on lower body strength could reinforce the lower extremity’s ability to absorb impact, change direction and make dynamic movements during play.

Walking and performing work are effective forms of physical activity. However, if we want to continue our favorite physical activities, it’s worthwhile to identify potential obstacles. Address those variables that might slow you down and apply the correct form of exercise to keep up thriving in the activities we love to do.

SAID means “Specific Adaptation to an Imposed Demand” and this includes long hours sitting in an airplane or car. What can you do to help your body out after you get off the plane or out of your car? 


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 Sean McCawley, the founder and owner of Napa Tenacious Fitness in Napa, welcomes questions and comments. Reach him at 707-287-2727, [email protected] or visit the website napatenaciousfitness.com.