Strong legs are key for improving your vertical jump and maintaining healthy knees. Every athlete has different needs, but there are some basics that all explosive athletes should be doing. This is one lower body routine that works well for me.
This circuit can be performed on hard floors, grass or sand. No matter which surface you utilize you will get a good workout and results to go along with it. However, if you can, try it in the sand even if you’re not a beach player. Yes, the sand takes away some of the true “plyometric effect” but the enhanced muscle fiber recruitment and low impact environment trump all other factors. These five exercises cover important aspects of volleyball jump training—gaining stability, elasticity and power.
Start with this hip adduction exercise, or lateral leg raise. This exercise isolates the small muscles in your hips. It will strengthen your outer hip and provide more stability to your knee and hip. It is also a great way to wake up your glutes and hips for the explosive movements to follow.
Stand upright with your hands on your hips and prepare to move one leg. Raise your leg laterally (abduction) using your outer hip and glute muscle. Hold for a second at a maximal height without tilting your upper body, then lower down in a controlled manner.
Reps 6 – 10, then switch sides
Sets Two per side
Now let’s get the knees and hips lubricated while also strengthening your quads and glutes. Working on these muscles will provide more stability to your knees and hips so they can handle all of the repetitions associated with volleyball jumping.
With your bodyweight primarily over your heels, and upright posture, lower down to about a 60 to 90 degree knee bend, then return to standing. The primary focus for this exercise is to keep your upper legs in a straight line when squatting, not allowing the knees to dip inside or outside. For the purpose of this squat, perform at a slower to moderate tempo.
Reps 8 – 20, depending on resistance level
Sets 2 – 4
Extra For the more advanced exerciser, once warm, try a single leg version and/or add resistance for a greater strength challenge.
Single Leg Vertical Bounces
This exercise and the Split Squat Jumps are both are both designed to create more elasticity in the lower and upper legs. The goal of this move is to train these muscles and surrounding fascia, especially the powerful tendons, to act more like super strong rubber bands.
Standing with your weight on the front of one foot and no weight on the nonworking foot, flex your calf, elevate and pop up and off the ground. For an additional challenge, perform this movement side to side. This will help you develop more strength and stability in your knees, hips and ankles. Be aware of how much force you apply when bouncing side to side—eventually the more you can handle the better, but make sure your knee is strong and ready before pushing too hard.
Sets 2 – 4
Split squat jumps
Set up in a traditional lunge position, leg out front bent at 90 degrees with your knee lined up behind your toes. Your back leg has a slight bend with the knee resting just above the ground. Brace your core and create momentum with your shoulders, preparing to explode off the ground. Once at peak elevation, “scissor” your legs, switching the front and the back. Now, the primary focus is on the landing, so focus on landing softly in order to smoothly transition right into your next rep.
Reps 16 total, 8 per side
Broad jumps (For 1 or 2 legs)
Finally it’s time for straight power development. This movement will require more than just leg muscles, but also strong shoulders and a stable core.
Stand facing forward with your feet shoulder width apart. Start the movement by swinging your arms back and up as far as possible. Generate momentum with the forward portion of the arm swing, fire your leg muscles and jump as big as you can. Find a nice medium of distance and height, and focus on a soft and stable landing. Unlike a “plyometric” movement, after you land, take a second to stabilize and reload before the next repetition.
Sets 2 – 4
Extra Perform on one leg for a much higher degree of difficulty. This variation will also challenge the stabilizer muscles in the hip, knee and ankle to a greater degree.
Finish this workout with some quality leg and hip stretches. Wait a few days to recover and enjoy feeling more inches added to your vertical.
Mike Morrison is a professional volleyball player and personal trainer in Encinitas, Calif. For more information visit mikemorrison.us.
Originally published in June 2011