Strength Training For Volleyball
Long legs, knee pain, lower back issues, and rolled ankles are all consistent themes with volleyball players. Volleyball athletes are tall. Men walking around at 6’5” and 6’7” high; women walking around at 6 feet. These athletes look like they are walking around on stilts!
Volleyball is a sport that is extremely explosive and highly reactive. It requires a lot of coordination to succeed. A lot of volleyball players might struggle with joint stability and joint integrity. Volleyball athletes tend to roll their ankles when landing and tend to have a bit of patellar tendonitis because of what happens from jumping and grounding all the time. This all feeds into how we have to strength train volleyball athletes.
We need to train volleyball athletes to create stability throughout their knee, hip, and ankle joints. They have to be mobile and they need to be extremely explosive, but they also need the joint stability to handle the high volumes of jumping and landing. We have to train volleyball players unilaterally, bilaterally and focus on every single movement that protects the key joints.
Of course, we want to get into a little bit of shoulder work, but today’s focus is on lower bodywork.
1. Bilateral: Front Squat / Zombie Squat (To Box)
We want to think of working in the plane of movement with two legs grounded. That means front squats and zombie squats. Using a front squat or zombie squat will improve dynamic trunk control. It will help the volleyball athletes keep their posture more vertical. It will also help long-limbed athletes who struggle with squatting.
Typically in a front-loaded position, it is a little easier on the knees for long-limbed athletes. That’s where front squats and zombie squats with a slower eccentric helps a lot. We may even have volleyball athletes work to a 12” to 16” box depending on how long the athlete’s tibia is.
Utilize front squats/zombie squats to improve lower back mobility, ankle mobility, and the slow eccentric will also help create the co-contraction throughout the knee joint to make it more stable. Do this once or twice a week depending on what time of the year it is and what knee issues the athletes may have.
2. Unilateral: Backwards Sled Pulls
An immediate, key factor we have to think about when training a volleyball player is the need for joint integrity all around the knee. By improving quad strength, it will lead to a ton of stability and help alleviate any issues from chronic jumping and landing in the sport of volleyball.
This movement can be utilized with a harness around the waist or walking backward while the hands hold on to something. We want to see a little bit of hip flexion. It is almost as if the hips sit back a little bit while the torso is more upright. This will lead to more top-range extension. The top range extension will be where we see the joint become much more stable. It will train more of the VMO and help absorb that force when grounding.
The other factor behind training unilaterally is we can see which side is taking more of the brunt force when jumping and landing. Most of the time volleyball players are jumpingoff of two feet, but they still will favor one side over the other. Working unilaterally exposes overuse issues to help focus on the necessary side to help prevent some of that tendinopathy.
Do this movement for distance, like five sets of thirty meters, or do it for time, like five sets of thirty seconds. Either way, it will increase the overall blood flow around the quad, around the knee joint, and improve overall joint stability.
3. Bilateral: Barbell RDL
When training for strength-specific work for volleyball players, meaning we are not talking about technical coordination or explosive movements specific to volleyball; we’re just talking about strength work. But we want to select movements that will help technical coordination or explosiveness. That’s where the barbell RDL comes into play.
The barbell RDL will help improve technical coordination in movements like a clean or snatch. This will lead to greater power output. But also, with taller individuals, athletes may have stiff backs, tight hamstrings and ankles, and find they struggle to get into deeper positions. That’s where the barbell RDL comes into play.
If we can lengthen athletes’ hamstrings, lower back, and target their posterior chain, it will improve the entire body to be more stable, especially in conjunction with the anterior muscular sequence targeting with the front squats. The barbell RDL is also a great movement to improve snatches and cleans, the big movements that increase the vertical jump and lead to a higher touchpoint.
Do barbell RDL’s once a week for higher volume, say four sets of nine with two drop sets of twelve to fifteen reps in the off-season. When in season, maybe hit it for five sets of five to seven reps unless games are coming up, hit the exercise for three sets, nice and easy, to target the hammies, glutes, and lower back region.
4. Unilateral: Overhead Walking Lunges
We know this is lower body strength-focused, but having a plate overhead forces more stability out of the shoulder girdle, creating an isometric muscular action. That means the rhomboids will be more active, the lats more supportive, and will trigger more dynamic trunk control while walking.
Also while doing walking lunges, we can have volleyball athletes walk forward or backward. We can also figure out if the athlete is more hamstring or quad dominant. We can also problem solve how to stabilize the hips and knees with the walking lunge simply by prescribing walking forward or backward. This can improve a whole bunch of different functionality. In addition, the movement does a great job of stabilizing the ankles because of the flexion taking place.
This movement can be done for five sets of seven reps on each leg or do sets over a length of thirty meters.
5. Foot/Ankle: Split Squat Heel Elevated On Slant Board
This is a very, very difficult movement. It helps a lot with overall mobility. It targets the posterior chain and the quads. Performing the movement, we want to see just the forefoot on the slant board. The whole rest of the foot, the heel, comes out with the toes grabbing while the heel stays elevated. The Achilles tendon will light up from the isometric muscular action, creating a lot more stability around the ankle joint.
We recommend doing this movement as a warm-up to wake up the ankles, lower back, and hips. In the off-season, it can be performed with dumbbells just once a week loaded with dumbbells in hand.
Remember, when training lower body strength for volleyball, we have to improve ankle stability, knee stability, and lower back mobility. That is where all of these movements come into play. The exercises above not only strengthen the muscles for heightened athletic performance, but the exercises will also improve joint integrity to heighten the chances of staying on the court due to superior joint health. Give the lifts a whirl and let us know how they go!
Dane Miller is the owner and founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance. He works with a select handful of clients on building comprehensive programs for fitness and nutrition. Several times a year he leads a workshop for coaches, trainers, and fitness enthusiasts.