A hand grips a wooden pickleball paddle and bounces a white whiffle ball upward in front of a black background.

Pickleball shoulder injuries and elbow injuries can take the joy out of the game and leave you sore. 

If you search for “pickleball shoulder injuries” or “elbow injuries,” you’ll find a host of exercises designed to help someone recover. We’d like to prevent these injuries before they occur. We can do that through fitness.

Injuries to the elbow and shoulder are often related to old dings and dents, loss of range of motion and decreasing strength. We can’t do anything about the first one, but we can definitely address the other two, which will alleviate the symptoms of old injuries.

Many people see declining strength and range of motion as inevitable aspects of aging, and we can all expect to lose some function to the calendar as the years pile up. But active people who train for fitness see very small declines in strength and range of motion. In fact, it’s likely that most of the physical decline attributed to aging is likely due to inactivity. 

To see some of the research that supports this idea, read “You Don’t Have to Be Old and Broken” by Lon Kilgore.

Here’s what we’ve seen in the gym: active seniors who start a carefully programmed and well-coached fitness program become stronger and fitter than they were 10 or 20 years ago.

We believe fitness is the best way to prevent an injury. Here are a few movements you can do that will specifically strengthen your upper body so strong muscles will stabilize your joints and reduce the risk of wrist, elbow and shoulder pain.

Click here to read about our top preventative exercise for the lower body!

Pickleball Shoulder Injuries: Prehab

1. Ring or Body Rows

A group of older adults perform ring rows as part of a program that can be used to prevent pickleball shoulder injuries.
To make the movement easier, move your feet back so you’re more vertical. To make the row harder, move your feet forward.

We highly recommend ring or body rows to strengthen the muscles on the back and prevent pickleball shoulder injuries. Many people have imbalances caused by overly developed chest muscles or bad posture, and strengthening the back muscles can do wonders. Ring or body rows will work the biceps, lats, rhomboids, trapezius muscles, posterior deltoids and a host of stabilizing muscles. Here’s how to perform a row:

A. Use a set of rings, a barbell safely secured in a rack or a stable object you can hang onto. Safety first: ensure you won’t fall over backward. We’ve even seen clients perform rows by gripping a door frame. Place feet at hip width and slowly lower yourself backward under control. Keep your abdominals engaged so your body moves like a stiff board. Only your arms and shoulders move. Use a spotter if you have any worries about falling.

B. At the bottom, ensure your shoulder blades are pulled together, and then use your arms to pull yourself back up. If you’re using rings, they should touch your shoulders. If you’re using a bar, it should touch your chest.

C. If the movement is too easy, adjust your feet so the angle of the body is closer to parallel to the floor. If the movement is too hard, adjust the feet so the angle of the body is closer to vertical.

General starting point: 3 sets of 8-10 reps with about 60 seconds of rest between sets.

2. Dumbbell Floor Presses

A senior performs a dumbbell floor press as part of a program that can be used to prevent pickleball shoulder injuries.
Dumbbell floor presses can be done with one or both arms.

While the bench press can place a lot of stress on the shoulder joint, the floor press limits the range of motion and is often much easier on the shoulder. This movement will work the pectorals and triceps. Here’s how to perform a floor press:

A. Lie on the floor on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor at shoulder width.

B. With your elbows on the ground 45 degrees from your torso, rotate your forearms perpendicular to the floor. Have a training partner or coach hand you light dumbbells.

C. When you’ve stabilized the dumbbells, use your chest and arms to press the dumbbells toward the ceiling. When your arms are fully extended, slowly lower the dumbbells until your elbows gently touch the floor. Have your spotter take the dumbbells when the set is complete.

D. If the dumbbells are too light, increase the load. If they are too heavy, reduce the load. A spotter should watch to make sure the dumbbells never fall on top of you.

General starting point: 2 sets of 8-10 repetitions with about 60 seconds of rest between sets.

This is a barbell floor press, but the principles and execution are the same with dumbbells:

3. Dumbbell Shoulder Presses

A man with glasses performs a dumbbell shoulder press as part of a program that could be used to prevent pickleball shoulder injuries.
Be sure to keep your abs tight and avoid arching your back.

Some people have shoulder conditions that prevent them from doing shoulder presses. If overhead movements cause pain, they should be avoided. But if you have pain-free overhead movement, pressing can strengthen your deltoids, triceps and traps and preserve range of motion. Use it or lose it! By moving the shoulder joint through its full range of motion and building strength, you can avoid pickleball shoulder injuries related to overhead smashes. Here’s how to perform a dumbbell shoulder press:

A. Stand tall with your feet under your hips. Engage your abs to pull your rib cage down, and avoid arching the back. Bring two dumbbells to your shoulders with your palms facing each other.

B. Press the dumbbells overhead, ensuring movement comes from the shoulders only. You should not arch your back or lean back. 

C. After your arms reach full extension, lower the dumbbells slowly until the upper arm is perpendicular to the floor. 

D. If the dumbbells are too light, increase the load. If they are too heavy, reduce the load. A spotter should watch to make sure the dumbbells never fall on top of you.

General starting point: 2 sets of 8-10 repetitions with about 60 seconds of rest between sets.

4. Single-Arm Dumbbell Bent-Over Rows

A fit woman in purple shorts performs a bent-over row as part of a program that could be used to prevent pickleball shoulder injuries.
The bent-over row can also be performed without a bench for support, which increases the role of the core muscles.

The bent-over row is similar to to the body row. It’s another great exercise you can use to strengthen all the muscles of the back and avoid pickleball shoulder injuries. We’re going to do it one arm at a time to avoid letting a stronger arm compensate for a weaker arm. Here’s how to do a single-arm dumbbell bent-over row:

A. Find a stable bench. To work your right arm, place your left hand and left knee on the bench. Reverse for the left arm.

B. With your support arm straight and your spine braced in neutral, use your arm to pull a dumbbell toward your torso. 

C. Slowly lower the dumbbell back to the starting position.

General starting point: 3 sets of 8-10 repetitions with about 60 seconds of rest between sets.

This is a version of a dumbbell row performed at home with a water jug and a couch.

Don’t Wait Until It Hurts

If you’re playing pain-free or have never experienced pickleball shoulder injuries, now is the time to act. You have healthy shoulders, and you can prepare them for sport—and life—with some basic exercises performed regularly. It’s common to say, “I feel fine.” But what happens when you don’t? You can’t play, and you lose momentum. 

Fitness is the best defense against injuries. Even better, fitness will help you play better and win more often. For athletes in any sport, we always recommend supplementary training that builds general fitness, corrects imbalances and prevents injury. 

If you’d like to learn more about how our program can help you or someone you know, click the button below!

Book a Free Consultation

High hang snatch 3-3-3-3

Hang snatch 2-2-2-2

Low hang snatch 1-1-1-1

Rest 2 minutes between all sets


3 rounds:

12 STO (95/65lb.)

12 Toes-to-bar

36 Double-unders

Time cap: 7 minutes

Enjoy the #204Open 19.5 highlight reel. Thanks to everyone who participated this year! 


Walking lunges 12-12-12-12-12

Rest 2 minutes

5 rounds:

9 strict ring dips

7 dumbbell floor presses

5 strict handstand push-ups

Rest 60 seconds

Check out the 19.4 highlight reel—and don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube Channel!

A muscular man in a tank top exhibits mental toughness as he grinds through a set of barbell burpees in Open Workout 19.4.

Mental toughness: the thing that separates two equally fit athletes.

CrossFit Games Open Workout 19.5 is for all athletes a test of will power. 

For top athletes who can do unbroken or large sets of thrusters, it will be question of finding the will to move quickly and do the reps despite the burning. Those who will need to break things up regularly must find the will to step back to the bar maybe 100 times in 20 minutes. That takes commitment.

Last week, we wrote about how 19.4 was loaded with intensity. 19.5 has a measure of that because thrusters and pull-ups are great for generating power, but 105 thrusters and 105 chest-to-bar pull-ups significantly reduce the intensity and ensure everyone will be taking breaks. This isn’t a straight-up Fran, in which athletes can go unbroken on everything and post 2:00 times. 

No, this is a mental test.

19.5 is all about mental toughness.

A black and white closeup photo of a bearded man in a knitted cap setting his mind before a workout that will challenge mental toughness.
What goes through your mind at moments like these?

Mental Toughness: I Can, I Will

In recent years, the Open has more often than not concluded with challenges that test your will. Every Open workout makes people a little nervous, and every workout tests resolve. But longer tests for time don’t allow you the escape route that’s available when the workout is for reps. 19.5 has a time cap, but at 20 minutes, you can be certain you’ll be talking to yourself quite a bit.

We’ve done lots of workouts like this during the year. In fact, we’ve done some that are longer. I recall many Friday monster mashes and lots of 5-round workouts where the end seemed so far away. With a huge number of reps in front of you, it’s very easy to feel overwhelmed and beaten. That’s when the inner monologue starts:

“I can’t do 105 pull-ups.”

“I’ll never finish.”

“I can’t do this.”

“I’ll rest a little longer and wait for the time cap.”

But it’s in this type of workout that you have a chance to improve your mental fitness. You’ll improve physical fitness, too, but the real gains in 19.5 will be made in the brain.

That’s no mistake. CrossFit Founder Greg Glassman has long said the greatest adaptation to CrossFit might be in the mind, and he’s also said he’s proudest of the workout Fran, his most famous creation. So 19.5 is a significantly more difficult version of Fran, and you have a chance to improve your mental toughness.

Under the eyes of the judge wearing a large furry hat, a woman in a tank top grimaces at the bottom of a barbell thruster.
It would be easier to quit. But your goals are worth the effort.

One Rep at a Time

It’s a cliché, but the secret to this workout is to break it up into a series of winnable battles. For some, every rep will be a battle, and it’s important to keep you mind only on the task directly in front of you.

I’d encourage everyone to set realistic, measurable goals. Here are a few:

Do the set of 33 reps in 5 sets.

Rest a maximum of 15 seconds between sets.

Break the pull-ups into singles right from the start to avoid failing later.

Stuff like that. The exact goals will vary from person to person. Crystal said that when she attempts this workout after the Open, she’ll try for 33 unbroken thrusters because that’s an area of strength for her. She’ll also break up the pull-ups into 5s no matter how good she feels in the first set. That’s smart, and it’s realistic.

Setting realistic goals ensures you avoid that tidal wave of failure you feel when you make a mistake. And it allows you to set up a series of wins that build momentum. That’s what’s needed here: momentum.

The old saying holds true: The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single rep. Or was it a single step? Either way, it’s true. You have 210 reps in front of you. They’re hard reps. You’ll get to enjoy the dark hole at the bottom of a thruster 105 times. And 105 times you’ll get to make that squishy face you make when you give the last bit of effort required to bring chest to bar.

An athletic female performs a supinated grip pull-up at a CrossFit gym.
Keep pulling in 19.5. One rep at a time!

Master Your Mind

A lot of negative thoughts will pop up in 19.5. Some are probably popping up already. But you’d do well to accept that they’re present, then replace them with more powerful thoughts. Develop mental toughness.

I can.

I will.

I’m tired, but I will keep going.

I’ll do one more rep.

I’m not going to quit.

Forget about carefully laid plans. Forget about knee sleeves and pre-workout supplements. Forget about your favourite pull-up bar or your lucky barbell. Forget about music.

Forget about all of that. 

For 20 minutes, you get to talk to yourself.  You can choose to cultivate hope or despair. You can choose to feel beaten or to feel unbeatable. You can choose to say “quit” or “keep going.”

So what will you say in Minute 12, when the end seems so far away?

Make that decision now. 

And if you choose wisely, you’ll feel like a victorious warrior when the clock hits 20:00.

Read “Reflections on Mirrors”

The theme for 19.5 is Beach Night! Wear your beach apparel and props to earn points for your Intramural Open team. This is the final opportunity to score – make it count!

Remember to head over to One Great City at the end of the evening to wrap up the Open with the whole tribe, and wish Jen Finateri  safe travels!



Thrusters (95/65lb.)

Chest-to-bar pull-ups

Time cap: 20 minutes

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