Improve Your Pickleball Serve By Adding Power and Speed

Improve Your Pickleball Serve By Adding Power and Speed

May 9, 2022

As a movement specialist I’m trained in how to analyze, breakdown, and improve movement. Improving efficiency and effectiveness with movement is the name of the game.

Is the pickleball serve as important as a serve in tennis? No and yes.

Let me explain. The serve in tennis takes time to master. You can’t expect to have your tennis serve be a strength of your game without putting in the time and practice to perfect it.

You usually need some instruction to really develop the tennis serve before you are serving up aces.

In pickleball the serve is also important. However serving up aces typically isn’t the goal. For beginner pickleball players, getting the ball in play is really the main goal.

Thankfully, with even just a few minutes of practice, a beginner can expect to serve a legal pickleball serve fairly consistently.

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What is a legal pickleball serve

  1. The server’s arm must be moving in an upward arc at the time the ball is struck and may be made with either a forehand or backhand motion.
  2. The highest point of the paddle head must not be above the highest part of the wrist (where the wrist joint bends) when it strikes the ball.
  3. Contact with the ball must not be made above the waist.
  4. RULES UPDATE (1/25/2021) – A new provisional rule allows for a “drop serve.” The server has the option of dropping the ball and hitting it after the bounce. The ball can be dropped from any height but cannot be thrown, tossed, or otherwise released with any added force to bounce it.

After you get to the point that you can consistently get your serve in play- then the next goal is placement of the serve. The deeper the serve the better.

When you are able to place a deep serve to the other side, it makes it more difficult for the return shot placement. Advanced players are able to place the return shot into the kitchen where you will be restricted with your second shot.

To challenge the return- the deeper the serve increases the difficulty of hitting the return into the kitchen.

Let’s say that you have improved your serve and gotten to a place where you can consistently hit a well-placed deep serve. How else can you make the return shot more difficult? 

One is to add some power to your serve- most skilled pickleball players will have a few different serve options to keep their opponent’s guessing and on their toes.

A power serve is one of these options. As you generate more power with your serve, the ball will move faster requiring your opponent to respond quicker.

The first goal is to still get the serve in, because unlike a tennis serve, in pickleball, you mess-up your serve once by hitting it into the net or hitting it out of play and your serve is over.

Tennis player may choose to “unleash” a power serve that isn’t in play because they know that they still have a second serve. This is not the case in pickleball- so you want to make sure that your “power-serve” still is consistently in-play.

Let’s Talk About How You Can Improve Your Power Serve.

As a physical therapist I’m going to refrain from going over technique. Here is a video you can refer to when considering the technique of a power serve.

You can refer to when considering the technique of a power serve.

Where I can help you is considering the movements involved in a power serve and how you can improve your movement pattern- making sure you have the strength and control to generate force and speed in your serve.

When combined with technique will produce a stellar power serve.

Where does the power in a power serve come from?

Power always comes from your legs hips and core. We want to utilize your strong/ power muscles. If a muscle is large and thick, then you better believe that it’s designed to be strong and powerful.

You can hit a power serve by primarily generating speed and force using your arm. Can this be effective- yes.

But when we do this we aren’t maximizing our true power muscles. The most power generated will happen when we use our stronger muscles and when we are able to transform your serve into a full body movement. Think about other sports.

Can you imagine a major league pitcher stepping up to the mound and trying to unleash a fastball with only their arm? That’s quite ridiculous.

When a pitcher uses their arm without generating power from their legs, hips, and core- you have a recipe for disaster, ie. injury. 

Now as pickleball players, we don’t need to generate 100 MPH fast ball type force, but if you just try to sling your arm around fast- you too are putting yourself at risk of developing a rotator cuff injury, tendonitis, or pickleball “tennis” elbow. So let’s avoid that all together.

Like I mentioned before- the power in our serve should be a full body motion where you are using your legs to push off, and creating some rotational speed through your hips and “core”.

The last piece is the speed from the arm swing. This speed is in direct correlation to the speed you create and initiate through your legs, hips, and core.

You’ll want to stand in a staggered stance where the front of your hips are positioned at an angle so that as you rotate towards the court- your hips will square up facing down the court as you make contact with the ball.

What muscles need to be strong to produce the movement in a pickleball power serve?

Rotation is key here. How is your rotational strength? For most people- rotational strength is very poor. Why? Well what else in life requires you to rotate your body in a fast and coordinated fashion.

Are you doing any specific exercise to develop your rotational strength. Most people who exercise regularly never train their rotational muscle groups. Planks, sit-ups, bird-dogs, crunches… these are your more traditional “core exercises”, yet none of these train rotation. 

Just think about it for a minute- how can you expect to elicit power in a rotational pattern if you never exercise these muscles?

What exercises do I recommend to train your hip and core rotational muscles?

  • Palloff-press: There are a lot of variations of this exercise, and I’ll show you some of my favorites in this video below:
    The palloff press is an “anti-rotational” exercise, meaning that you are resisting rotation. By resisting rotation you are starting to fire your rotational muscles from your legs, hips, up your spine, and into your shoulders. This is a great way to start to “wake-up” these muscles.
  • Russian Twist: now we are starting to rotate that body and generating some rotational speed. This exercise will help to strengthen your abdominal oblique muscles which are important for the power serve. You can perform this initially without any weight and then add some resistance as you build up strength.
  • Standing cable/ band Russian twist: If you don’t have access to a cable column, then you can use some resistance bands instead. Now you can see that this movement is starting to resemble an actual pickleball swing. This will help further develop these muscles so that you can start to feel the difference between an arm generated swing vs a hip/ core generated motion
  • Standing kettlebell russian twist: this last exercise is advanced and if you don’t have experience working with kettlebells- in particular the standard kettlebell swing, then I’d hold off on this one. This one takes the most skill and if performed incorrectly- then you could injure yourself. If you are performing a kettlebell swing or the kettlebell Russian twist and you are feeling fatigue in your arms vs your hips and back- then you are performing this exercise wrong.
    The force should be generated through your hips and core. The prerequisite for this exercise is that you have a strong foundation with a kettlebell swing. If you don’t then you start with the swing and once you perfect this movement- then you  can start working on the kettlebell Russian swing.

If you are recovering from a shoulder injury or surgery and need to develop the speed of your arm swing, or if your shoulder is still tight and you have limited range of motion- then check out this article and supporting videos here.

What To Take Away From All Of This

The pickleball power serve is an effective serve that is nice to have in your repertoire. You have to be able to get any serve in consistently before being able to depend on a certain style serve in a match.

If you can’t get your serve in consistently then your opponent has the advantage.

Adding these exercises listed above will not only help improve your serve, but will benefit other parts of your game, and life, as well. Don’t play injured, especially if your condition is worsening. Use exercises like these to help condition your body.

When you take the time to do so you will improve your game and also improve your overall health to help prevent injuries from occurring in the first place.

The best pickleball players don’t just play more, they train more. So do yourself a favor and start incorporating some pickleball training to help take your game up to the next level!

Contact us now and see how we can help you!

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