Developing Strength in the Off-Season

Mike Ruiz
The hex bar squat develops lower body strength and puts less strain on the lower back than a traditional squat.

It’s the off-season for beach volleyball and therefore the perfect time to hit the weights. For USA Beach Volleyball athletes like Emily Day who train at The Yard in Hermosa Beach, developing strength in the off-season is the number one goal; especially in preparation for upcoming beach practices. Here are four exercises that can help develop strength in any volleyball player.

During the off-season, strength training that includes these exercises should be performed about three days per week. The resistance used for these exercises should be enough to challenge an athlete when performing between 3-10 repetitions. The sets performed will vary between 3-5 sets with 1-3 minute rests between depending on each individual athlete’s training history. Always emphasize safety and form before progressing to heavier weights.

Hex Bar Squat

This exercise can be used to develop lower body strength, power, and subsequently, vertical jump height. For taller athletes this exercise puts less strain on the lower back compared to a traditional squat by allowing them to maintain a more vertical torso. Additionally, this exercise helps build hand strength, which can aid blocking.

Start position
Position your feet shoulder-width apart in the center of the hex bar elevated on small boxes. Firmly grasp the handles and pull your shoulders to the back of their sockets. Keeping your shoulder blades retracted, brace your core while maintaining a neutral spine (slight concave arch in the lower back). Before lifting the hex bar, it is important that you remove any slack from your arms or shoulders by lifting your chest as high as possible. This should remove any bend in your elbows. Think of it like you are attempting to lift 70 percent of the weight: enough to remove slack, but not quite enough to lift the hex bar from the ground. (A)

Movement
Keeping the weight in your mid foot, lift the hex bar off the boxes, keeping your chest up as you bring your body to a standing position. Under control, lower the bar back down to the boxes by dropping your hips. Tap the boxes gently and then drive back up explosively to a standing position. Continue for the remainder of repetitions and when done lower the bar down with good form and under control. (B)

Notes
If at first an athlete has trouble maintaining an upright torso or neutral spine during this movement, it may be helpful to place higher boxes below the weights to reduce the depth of movement. This is often necessary for athletes with particularly long legs. If a hex bar is not available, dumbbells can be used instead by holding one dumbbell in each hand and performing the same movement.

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Dumbbell Rear Foot Elevated Split Squat

This is a great exercise to develop strength and explosiveness in each leg independently.

Start position
Face away from a bench or box that is approximately knee height or slightly shorter with a dumbbell in each hand. Place your left leg on the bench resting your ankle on the lip of the bench or box. Adjust the placement of your right foot so that your right leg and torso form a vertical line. (C)

Movement
Brace your core to stabilize your hips during this movement. Bracing your core is similar to the contraction you would initiate if someone were attempting to punch you in the stomach. Keeping your shoulders over your hips, sit back and down, allowing your hips to sit back and both knees to bend. A majority of your body weight and the additional weight from the dumbbells should be on your forward leg. Continue sitting back and down until your right leg’s upper thigh is parallel to the ground. (D)

At this point, drive down into the ground with your right leg, bringing your body back to a standing position. Continue for the desired number of repetitions and then switch legs.

Notes
If you are struggling to maintain a vertical torso while doing this exercise, play with your forward leg’s foot position before adding weight. Your foot may need to be positioned a little farther forward or back. If you have trouble staying balanced, think of your pelvis as a platter of food and moving it too far forward or back will cause the food to spill.

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Dumbbell Floor Press

The dumbbell floor press is an exercise that can help build upper-body strength and promote good shoulder-joint positioning for someone who does not have much experience pressing weight. The upper-body strength gained from this exercise can help with setting, especially in long-range situations. This exercise is especially helpful for athletes who experience shoulder discomfort when performing full range presses such as traditional dumbbell or barbell chest presses on a bench.

Start position
Lie down on the floor with knees bent. Position your shoulder blades as flat on the floor as possible. This is usually done by retracting each shoulder blade individually, by moving it closer to your spine. Next, brace your core and use your legs to stabilize your hips. For safety, have someone hand you each dumbbell individually. (E)

Movement
Keeping your shoulder blades flat against the floor and your elbows close to your rib cage, lower the weights until your elbow and upper arm make contact with the floor. Keeping your shoulder blades retracted, execute a controlled punching motion to press the dumbbells toward the ceiling, returning to the starting position. (F)

Notes
It is important that you try to keep your elbows as close to your rib cage as possible to reduce the stress on the shoulder joint. This exercise should be performed with a spotter to hand you weights.

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Prone Alternating Dumbbell Row

The row is an exercise that can help build upper-body strength while also helping improve hip stability and trunk stiffness, which are useful in blocking and changing direction.

Start position
Start by obtaining a firm grip on your dumbbells and positioning your shoulders directly above them. Foot placement should be about shoulder-width apart or wider to establish a sturdy, four-point base (two arms and two legs) as if about to execute a push up. As you brace your core and gluteal muscles, your body should achieve a rigid and stiff plank-like appearance with an imaginary line running straight from the ankles to the ears. (G)

Movement
Keeping your core and gluteal muscles contracted, lift one dumbbell from the floor by retracting your shoulder blade and pulling your elbow to the sky. Lower the dumbbell back down to the ground and repeat the same movement with the other dumbbell. The benefits of this exercise lie in preventing any movement of your hips as you alternate lifting arms. Imagine a glass of water resting on your lower back and try not to let it spill. Continue for the desired amount of repetitions. (H)

Notes
It is important that all the muscles above and below your hips are activated to create as rigid a body as possible. If your wrists and shoulders are having trouble performing this exercise, practice first without the weight using clenched fists until you feel more comfortable progressing to dumbbells.

Originally published in November 2013

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