How To Hold a Pickleball Paddle
For anyone who has ever taken a tennis lesson, the discussion of how to hold a pickleball paddle will sound totally familiar as the terminology is the same and the results are too. But for those just getting going in pickleball or any other racquet sport, this may all feel confusing and technical.
But the good news about how you grip the paddle is it only needs changing if you are trying to improve. Then trying out a new grip will be part of the equation. Investing a few minutes to make sure you are getting the basics right is important though.
The better news about grips is that you can mess around with this without it costing you anything. But do check out our discussion of grip products as they do need to be replaced periodically.
3 Reasons Grip is Important
It's All About Geometry
Wait a minute - no one said there was math in pickleball! Fortunately, you don't need to drag out your old Geometry textbooks to figure out pickleball grips.
It is true however, that how you grip the paddle handle will determine the angle the paddle strikes the ball. That angle, along with factors like the pace and spin you are putting on the ball, will determine the arc of the shot and the path it takes.
By example, if the paddle is angled downward the ball is going to go in that direction. If it is angled upward, the ball will go in that direction. The latter will increase the arc increasing the depth of the shot.
Pickleball is often a game of quick exchanges at the kitchen line. You will often not have time to make changes from forehand to backhand and these shots will make a huge difference in who wins the point.
Clearly, reaction time makes a gigantic difference in most shots as you won't have much time to swing the paddle around. So, how you hold the paddle's handle determines how the paddle face hits these shots.
Pickleball elbow, like its close cousin tennis elbow, are painful injuries that can have many different causes like pickleball paddle weight, the grip circumference, your physical condition and simply how hard you swing the paddle. But one other cause can be your pickleball paddle grip style.
Fortunately, pickleball elbow is not as significant as in tennis due to the fact that a pickleball paddle is not as long or as heavy as a tennis racquet. A tennis racquet causes more vibrations and torque while hitting both backhand and forehand shots.
The Pickleball Paddle Handle
For left-handed players, the numbering would go counterclockwise so Bevel 2 would be where 8 is for right-handed players and so on. Knowing this will help a pickleball player understand where their hand and fingers should be located with each style of grip.
Paddle Grip Styles
Positioning The Index Finger in the Continental Grip
Also known as the hammer grip or the neutral grip, the continental pickleball grip is the most common grip used as it can be used for both forehand shots and backhand shots. Playing pickleball with this grip means your hand stays in this neutral position for all shots.
The plus to the continental grip is that you do not move your hand around the paddle. But there is a price to pay for this convenience: neither the forehand or the backhand grip is optimized. Neither is bad but neither is optimal - it is a neutral grip.
Eastern Forehand Grip
The eastern grip involves rotating your hand approximately 45 degrees (Geometry again!) clockwise. Here the V is on Bevel 2 of the paddle.
This grip is optimal for the forehand drive as it forces the hand to lead the paddle to the ball allowing for more wrist action and more power. This can then allow more spin to be applied on the forehand side which, for most players, is the dominant hand.
Unlike the continental grip, this is not neutral. The eastern forehand grip is great for that side, but for most players, is a weak grip for backhands.
If you rotate your hands another 45 degrees clockwise so the V is on Bevel 3, you have an even more extreme grip for the forehand side. Hitting shots from this grip position are designed for maximum spin but are exceedingly hard to hit and require rapid hand movements to hit a backhand.
Go another 45 degrees and you find your hand nearly upside down. In tennis, this is very common among baseline hitters who want very heavy topspin (see Raphael Nadal.) In pickleball, this is rarely a good idea, and a western grip is very uncommon.
By now, you can understand that the continental grip is the basis for comparison to all other grips. For each player, the determination of what is a strong grip or a weak grip is a very personal determination and requires experimentation.
Special Grips for Special Shots
As you might have already guessed everything for backhands is reversed from forehands. Rotating your hand to Bevel 8 or 7 will give you good leverage to drive the shot with topspin whereas maintaining a continental grip may be preferable for slice drives.
Two Handed Backhand
If you have to hit the two hander (and many people do - just not at the kitchen line) the key is comfort. With both hands, you can generate as much power as you want so finding the correct hand position is very individual.
Some pros will teach the dominant hand (right for righties) will be on the bottom in the continental grip with the top hand being the off hand (left for righties). The off hand V could be on Bevel 6, 7 or 8 depending on player preference.
Drop shots are an essential skill in pickleball particularly the third shot drop. The key here is not so much the position of the grip, but the strength of the grip. Relaxing the grip a bit should be helpful in controlling depth.
Hitting dink shots is a delicate, finesse shot and no matter how many different paddles you try, this is more about angles and tactics and practice than anything else. Keeping a normal forehand grip or backhand grip is standard.
There are times you find yourself out of position for highly angled dinks. When running these down, grab the end of the paddle in the palm of your hand. Most pickleball grips have a raised area there allowing the index finger and middle finger not the thumb to provide the strength to return the shot.
Here, the entire arm from the shoulder to the palm to the tips of the index finger and all the fingers work in concert to generate power. A weak grip such as having the V on Bevel 6 would take away some power as hitting these shots are usually on the forehand side. Use your standard continental grip for these.
Choosing Grip Sizes
See our detailed discussion of this topic. Tennis players often want the same grip size as they have for tennis. But there aren't as many grip options for pickleball paddles.
A smaller grip size should be chosen if your hand is in between the standards. An in between sized hand can be accommodated by using grip tape or an overgrip to build up grips.
Length of the Grip
Players who want to hit a two handed backhand or to hit the occasional shot with their off hand (that's left-handed for righties), may want to consider a longer handled paddle. Grips can extend up the shaft without materially impacting the balance of the paddle.
Obviously, the shape of the handle on a paddle will directly impact the shape of the grip. Some manufacturers are selling products with a tapered handle for their paddle and others may or may not have a knob at the end of the paddle.
The shape will not usually impact a continental grip or the placement of the thumb or index finger (for instance.) But shape may very well impact the comfort level of a paddle for an individual player.
The key for grasping a paddle is that the hand stays where you want it to. The concept of tack or tackiness is the general reason why grips must be replaced regularly. If you hand is slipping badly, you know you have a problem.
The reason hands slip (other than lack of strength) is that perspiration comes between the palm of the hand and the grip. Different people have different levels of perspiration in their palm and fingers.
There are 2 ways to effectively manage this perspiration:
1) Have a grip on the paddle that effectively absorbs sweat or,
2) Wear a glove that keeps the palm and fingers dry.
No matter which way you go, over time, any product simply loses its ability to absorb sweat and simply must then be replaced. Since these are very lost cost items, replacement can be done often.
Also falling in the category of personal preference, some players want a smoother surface to make it easier to adjust on the fly. However, others are attracted to perforated or even ridged products. Ridges are especially attractive to those who are in between sizes and who are trying to increase the diameter (ok - no more Geometry!) of the handle.
Many consumers hesitate to do anything to their paddle due to fear of damaging this important piece of equipment. In the case of grips however, removing an old grip and replacing it with something different is definitely a DIY project.
Don't be afraid to experiment with different textures and shapes. If you don't like one, just take it off and try something new since it will only cost you a few dollars.
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