Expert Advice

A Q&A with Strength and Conditioning Coaches who work with Top Collegiate Volleyball Programs

Chip Fanelli
The Pallof Press is Stanford strength and conditioning coach Taylor Lynn's favorite core exercise for volleyball players.

Whether you just finished your season in the spring or it’s looming ahead in the fall, the time to work on your overall fitness has arrived. What better time than summer to put the work in to increase your vertical, improve your speed, and develop your core strength? We polled strength and conditioning coaches who work with some of the best college volleyball teams in the country about their favorite exercises and training strategies, and with their advice, you’ll be on your way to the starting lineup in no time.

What is your favorite exercise for volleyball players?

Andy Britton, Ohio State Men’s Volleyball: My favorite exercise for volleyball players is the power clean because it is an explosive movement that comprehensively works the whole body and builds hip power that translates to a more explosive volleyball player.

To do a power clean, stand with your feet under the barbell about hip-width apart. Without rounding your back, bend your knees to grasp the bar outside your knees. Your arms should be straight and your abs contracted. By exploding through your legs and hips, not pulling with you back or arms, lift the bar off the ground and use the momentum generated by your legs to guide the bar up along your body, finally pulling your body under the bar and flipping your wrists with elbows pointing forward so the bar is resting on the front of your shoulders and on your fingertips. Your knees will be bent when you catch the bar, but you should immediately stand after completing the catch.

What is the best way to increase lateral quickness?

Lauren Harris, Nebraska Women’s Volleyball: The best way to increase lateral quickness is to put on muscle. That is a really general answer but increasing power will increase take-off speed in any direction (provided range of motion issues have been addressed) and give the athlete a better ability to handle deceleration/landing forces. This is assuming that basic landing and planting techniques are taught.

What is the most important thing to focus on during a summer workout?

Mike Linn, UCLA Women’s and Men’s Volleyball: In the world of college athletics, we deal with two different sub groups of volleyball players during the summer: veterans and incoming freshmen.

Our female veterans are preparing for their fall season. That being said, we incorporate power-based drills in the weight room. Plyometrics and Olympic lifts are integrated with emphasis on maximal effort over volume. As for movement and conditioning, we try to mimic volleyball-specific drills with match-like rest intervals.

Our male veterans are coming off their season. With them, we are trying to build basic strength and improve on their functional mobility with multi-joint and muscle exercises performed through various phases of movement.

As for incoming freshmen, regardless whether they’re male or female, we design workouts to enhance their physical work capacity. High training volume with limited rest is the key to preparing for the next level. The biggest adjustment for any athlete from high school to college is the amount of physical demand placed on their body.

What is the best way for volleyball players to increase their vertical jump?

Jeremy Pick, Towson University, formerly with the University of Oregon Women’s Volleyball: Improving strength and speed with training methods that promote efficient movement skills and progressive workloads will result in more powerful volleyball players and greater jump heights. The training programs that have the greatest amount of research and practical data on the improvement of these qualities include explosive lifts, plyometric training, and the use of contrasting training also known as complex training.

Explosive lifts such as the snatch, clean, and jerk enhance dynamic strength under the condition of speed. These lifts involve the entire body, require explosiveness throughout the legs and hips, are performed from a standing position, require great timing and coordination, and have a high potential for power production – all of which makes them very valuable exercises for athletes.

Plyometric training can also be used to develop explosive power in the legs and hips, and plays an essential role in the physical development of the volleyball athlete. Powerful legs and hips will affect not only jumping ability during the match, but will also manifest themselves in all explosive technical/tactical actions where the volleyball player must project her body weight. Plyometric drills such as jumps, skips, bounds, and hops, as well as a variety of passes, tosses, and throws can be used in training to increase this power.

Complex training brings together the qualities of strength, speed, and coordination, as well as overall training efficiency by incorporating exercises paired together and performed as a set. Performing a plyometric exercise after a dynamic strength or absolute strength exercise takes advantage of the nervous system response to heavier loads.

What is your favorite core exercise for volleyball players?

Taylor Lynn, Stanford Women’s Volleyball: Core strength and stability are extremely important for volleyball players. They allow for better quality and efficiency of movement with the upper and lower extremities, also known as proximal stability with distal mobility [keeping the core stable while moving the arms and legs]. Proper core stability also allows for greater force transfer during jumping and hitting, ultimately resulting in a more powerful volleyball player.

My favorite core exercise is the Pallof press, which is an anti-rotation core stability exercise.

To execute the Pallof press, stand in front of a cable machine, with one shoulder pointing toward the machine and grab the handle with both hands, holding it at your sternum. Keeping shoulders and hips square, push the handle straight out in front of you. You’ll feel the pull of the cable increasing as you get further away from your body. Hold at the furthest point for a few seconds, and then slowly return the handle to your chest for one rep. Complete your reps for that side, and then turn around, pointing the other shoulder toward the machine, to do the other side.

How do you use training to protect and strengthen the shoulders?

James Frazier, Harvard Men’s and Women’s Volleyball: With our volleyball players, overuse shoulder injuries are extremely common. So strengthening and protecting that area of the body is important. We look at it as two parts to consider: scapular stability and rotator cuff strength. If the scaps can do a good job of stabilizing the shoulder, there will be less chance of injury in the shoulder. So, we will use full range upper-body pulls, both horizontal and vertical, and exercises like pull ups, dumbbell rows, rack rows, cable face pulls, etc. These movements will strengthen the muscles around the scaps and help with the stability of the shoulder. We will then use our scaps to stabilize our shoulders while doing different upper-body walking drills, such as upper-body ladders or push-up walks.

For the rotator cuff, we will do more external rotation strengthening, as hitting a volleyball requires a large amount of internal rotation, so we want to make sure we are strengthening the countermovement to hitting. We will still do internal rotation as well, just not as much. We will also do different shoulder series that include shoulder abduction and adduction. The process of strengthening the shoulder, in our opinion, also helps with protecting the shoulder. A strong shoulder will be more resilient to injuries.

Is there a difference in how male and female volleyball players should train?

Mike Nagler, UC Irvine Men’s and Women’s Volleyball: There’s not a difference in male and female athletes, but there are always differences from one athlete to another as far as mobility, symmetry, balance, coordination, and so on. When we start working with a new athlete, we want to test them first and find out what those limitations are and design a program around those results. From there as the athlete improves in these areas, the program advances with them.

David Vitel, Loyola Chicago Men’s and Women’s Volleyball: I think there are some gender considerations that must be taken into account structurally and hormonally. I believe women have less muscle mass and have the ability to decondition faster than their male counterparts, which makes strength training important all year long. But at the end of the day, training should be about moving efficiently, getting stronger, and developing the ability to produce force. At Loyola, with both men and women, we like to use multi-joint movements instead of isolation movements. We push, hinge, squat or single-leg squat, and develop the core.

Originally published in August 2013

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