Sand training—wait, indoor specialists! Don’t skip ahead to the next article—is not just for athletes that play on the beach.
Sand is an amazing, organic training surface that allows one to perform extremely powerful movements with minimal joint impact. Sand also drives athletes to test the limits of their anaerobic thresholds. Running and jumping activities done on sand get results faster than the same activities on any other surface.
Sand power training is usually neglected by beach players that, for some odd reason, do most of their physical training in the gym, and by most indoor athletes who are simply confused as to why it feels as if the sand negates all of their athleticism.
Whether you play beach or indoor, integrating some level of sand training is beneficial throughout the year. The majority of trainers will agree that sand works. In fact, many Division I and NFL training programs are turning to sand for speed and power gains during portions of their training. For volleyball athletes, performing powerful jumping exercises in the deep sand will increase your leaping ability on any surface.
Any loss of the “plyometric” effect, resulting from a softer surface that absorbs your energy, is more than offset by how many additional muscles fibers one needs to recruit when performing the same exercises in the sand.
As much as I personally love working out in sand year round, I suggest that indoor volleyball athletes perform most of their sand training during the off-season and early preseason, and then switch back to training on a gym floor in the regular season.
Athletes can benefit from many types of footwork, running, jumping, and other sport specific movements in deep sand. A few of my favorites that will help enhance foot speed and jumping power, along with one quality stretching posture that’s great for cooling down, are highlighted here.
For the purpose of this article the exercises are shown demonstrated with shoes on. If you are a beach volleyball specialist, do not perform your sand training with shoes on. If you are and indoor specialist feel free to wear shoes occasionally, but don’t be afraid to go barefoot as it will strengthen the little muscles in your feet more than when wearing your volleyball shoes.
No access to sand? These exercises are also highly beneficial on grass or hard floor, as an alternate option.
Start by drawing, taping or just visualizing an X on the ground in front of you. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart at the bottom of the X. Spring forward about one foot while bringing your feet closer together landing in the middle of the X. Next spring forward one more time back into a wider stance at the top of the X. Those are the three stopping points in the X drill.
Now, when going backwards, focus on using the muscles on the front portion of your calf to bounce backward from the top of the X hitting the middle and finally the wider starting point at the bottom of the X. That’s the full X: move through it as fast as you can without getting sloppy. As you get going your core should be just floating over the middle of the X while your feet and legs move quickly up and down through the X pattern.
TIME: 20 seconds
REST: 20 seconds
Establish two base positions, one with your left leg in front around 11 o’clock and your right leg in back at about 5 o’clock. The second position is the exact opposite, right leg in front about 1 o’clock and left leg in back around 7 o’clock.
The goal is to bounce and rotate between these two positions, as quickly as possible, minimizing the time spent with your feet in one position.
These bouncy footwork drills are a phenomenal way to stimulate fast twitch muscle fibers from your feet to your core. The strength gained from these drills, mainly around the calf and ankles, will be noticed most in your increased foot speed, when moving around the court, and added finishing power to your vertical leap.
TIME: 20 seconds
REST: 20 seconds
When performing this highly effective variation of a broad jump you will be traveling 10 to 20 yards in distance taking place over approximately 5 to 10 seconds time.
Start standing with your feet hip-shoulder width apart and a slight bend in your knees. Use a big arm swing to gain momentum while loading into a deeper squat. Every time you load into a squat focus on keeping your knees in line with your hips, not allowing them to buckle in towards each other or spread out wide.
Bring your arms back behind your body, like during the closing step of your volleyball attack approach, and prepare to explode. Brace your core, throw your arms up and forward while firing your leg muscles to explode out of the squat and into the air. Always try to hit the point in your jump where your maximum distance and max height come together, basically as big as you can go.
The variation from the traditional broad jump comes in the landing. As you come into the landing of your jump, start to pre-load your arm swing back behind your body. As soon as you absorb the impact of your landing, into a moderately deep squat, go immediately into the next repetition.
This version is much faster than traditional broad jumps. You should feel the momentum provided by previous jumps and that your peak jump height is highest by the third or fourth jump. This version teaches your body to use momentum and reload your muscle fibers quickly. The goal throughout the set is to spend as little time on the ground, and as much in the air, as possible.
REST: 30-60 seconds
Start standing with your feet hip to shoulder width apart. Step your right foot forward, aligning your front knee over your heel while keeping your left leg extended behind you, strong and firm, with your quad flexed.
Inhale with an upright torso and bring your arms up overhead in line with your ears, palms facing each other. Focus on bringing your shoulder blades back and down to their correct anatomical position. Enjoy for 30 seconds before integrating the twist.
Reach your left arm slightly forward creating more length in your spine, bring your palms together in prayer position at your chest and twist to the right. Use your left elbow on the outside of your right thigh to twist deeper. Draw your right shoulder blade back and turn your chest to the right side wall. Extend through the top of your head, lengthening your upper body, and keep your back leg straight and lifting. When inhaling focus on lengthening your spine even further and twist deeper on your exhalations.
Hold for about 30 seconds then repeat on the other side.
The primary focus of this posture, for us fast twitch athletes, is to stretch your hip flexors, that get tight from all of the jumps and short sprints that take place in volleyball. The twist will also help elongate and loosen the long extensor muscles of the back that are often tight from hitting repetitions.
The key to proper volleyball training is a balanced routine. I suggest implementing sand training and a variety of power, elasticity and flexibility exercises into your annual training.
Originally published in November 2011