Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Strength and Conditioning Considerations for Volleyball Players

Sarah is an exceptional young high school /club volleyball player who I worked with over the summer. Seen here performing a kneeling medicine ball chest pass-a great movement for developing explosive power in the hips. 

Some of my favorite athletes I've worked with over the last 20 years are volleyball players. Volleyball requires the development of many physical qualities including strength, power, speed, and aerobic capacity. In addition appropriate levels of mobility and flexibility are required as well. Out of all of the physical requirements required of these athletes, the biggest issue I see is lack of strength and implementing too much aerobic work. Regarding energy systems, in the book "Supertraining", Mel Siff states that volleyball has 90% short term system requirements and 10% intermediate system requirements. Aerobic capacity is required for recovery but this is not marathon running.
I worked with Jennifer throughout her high school and club career where she played for A5, the top club in Georgia. Due to the huge progress she made working with me at my training center, I ended up working with her high school team to help them develop a program they could implement for their school season. She went on to play at Harvard.
Unfortunately it has been my experience that most middle school and high school volleyball programs are just an afterthought when it comes to strength and conditioning, usually taking a backseat to the school's football team. This is a shame because I've seen some of these young girls deal with unnecessary injuries.
Kennedy was a club teammate of Jennifer's at A5 who I worked with her senior year. She had experienced many non-contact injuries that could have easily been avoided through proper strength and conditioning at a young age. She went on to a great career at Virginia Tech and has been playing professionally since 2016.
Strength and power training is crucial as it will allow the athlete to produce greater force, to hit harder, to jump higher, to move more explosively, to become more resilient and reduce the likelihood of injuries.

While every athlete is different in their individual strengths and weaknesses, a good training program should include maximal effort exercises to develop absolute strength; dynamic effort exercises to develop power, explosive strength and a fast rate of force production; repeated effort exercises to build muscle mass and strengthen weak points; light weight high repetition exercises to strengthen the connective tissues and build joint integrity; aerobic and anaerobic energy systems development to build specific conditioning and help with restoration and recovery; and flexibility and mobility exercises to allow the attainment of the proper positions required of the sport, to help with recovery and restoration as well as injury prevention.

Maximal effort training should be done with compound, multi-joint lifts that allow for the greatest possible loads to be used. Exercises like squats, deadlifts, presses and variations of these exercises should be used with loads at 90% or greater of a 1 rep max.

Dynamic effort training can be done by performing a wide variety of jumps and throws with medicine balls or other weighted implements. In addition, barbell exercises with submaximal loads performed explosively can be used as well. It is recommended the athletes use accommodating resistance methods (attaching chains and/or high tension bands to the barbells) as well. Accommodating resistance allows for a contrast in the load being lifted (generally speaking the load is lighter in the weaker position and greater in the stronger position of the lift due to the unloading / reloading of the chain and the bands shrinking and stretching) and eliminates bar deceleration when the lifter achieves a more mechanically advantageous position in the lift. Louie Simmons of the world-famous Westside Barbell Club in Columbus, Ohio deserves the recognition as being the person who popularized the use of accommodating resistance methods in strength training as we know it today, as well as coming up with the idea on how to combine the various training methods into an organized weekly, monthly, annual and multi-year training plan.

Audrey, an NCAA volleyball player I've been working with since her high school and club career, performing box jumps as part of her strength and conditioning program. In addition to a 43" box jump, she squats over 2x her body-weight and bench presses over 1x her body-weight. Both strength and power training methods are essential for optimal physical development.

Repeated effort training should be done with smaller, single joint exercises. This allows you to isolate weak muscles to strengthen weak points and build muscle mass where needed. Most young athletes I train need to build muscle everywhere due to the lack of focus in strength training through their school and club programs. Particular attention should be paid on the muscles of the torso, shoulders, lower back, glutes, hamstrings and calves.

In addition to repeated effort exercises we use for building muscle, exercises done for very high reps with very light weights or bands that focus on promoting blood flow to the joints should be used for joint health and strengthening connective tissues. These exercises should be done with a quick, controlled pace with little emphasis on the eccentric, or lowering phase, of the movement. Pay particular attention to the knees, ankles, shoulders and elbows with these movements.

Both anaerobic and aerobic conditioning methods need to be implemented. While volleyball is a sport requiring short, powerful bursts, the aerobic energy system should not be neglected. An aerobic base allows the athlete to recover between training sessions and during matches and tournaments. Most aerobic training for volleyball could be accomplished in a more beneficial manner. A heart rate monitor is essential to ensure the athlete stays in the appropriate heart rate zone during exercise, which for most will be around 130-150 beats per minute. Any activity that allows the athlete to achieve, and maintain, the proper zone for the correct duration will provide benefit. This is where the athlete could get the benefit of practicing sport drills or pulling / pushing weighted sleds to strengthen muscles while developing the aerobic energy system. Just going out and running is a good option, but is usually the only method I see being used. Anaerobic conditioning can be accomplished through the sport practice itself, along with implementing various sprinting drills and other exercises done for short bursts.

Adopting a series of mobility exercises to develop active range of motion and contribute to joint health is important as well. Shoulders, knees and ankles can take a beating in this sport and joint health should not be overlooked. In addition a solid flexibility program is great to help with recovery, to keep muscle tissue healthy, and to help prevent injuries. Stretching should be implemented to ensure the athlete can attain the correct positions required of the sport as well.

Unfortunately there is no cookie cutter training program that is beneficial for every volleyball player out there. A good coach or trainer needs to be able to assess their athletes individually to determine what to prioritize and how to implement the various physical development methods into the athlete's physical training.

I have worked with many volleyball players in the 20 years I've been in the industry and many of played at the highest levels of club volleyball and gone on to great NCAA and professional careers. These athletes are some of my favorite to work with as they are usually highly motivated and want to learn and get better. With proper programming and a little bit of time in the gym I usually see fast progress and the newfound strength, power and conditioning translates on the court immediately.

If you are a volleyball player, coach or parent of a player, please don't hesitate to contact me if you, your team or your athlete is ready to take things to the next level. I offer both private and semi-private training options at my facility, consulting services, and will be starting a hands on series of clinics to bridge the gap between school and club seasons.

Stay Strong!

(770) 403-1363


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