The physical rigors of volleyball go beyond being able to have one great singular match, and therefore, require sophisticated physical training to keep one injury safe in order to improve court performance. College-level volleyball attackers can take up to 50 swings per competitive match, not counting warm-ups and block jumps (which, in some cases may push the total closer to 100 jumps). Back court players spend the better part of 3 hours per match in a mobile squatting position passing and defending the court. These numbers are multiplied approximately 30 times per season (i.e. competitive matches in a collegiate season) and pronounced infinitely during weekly practice sessions. Not only must a player perform well throughout an ENTIRE best of 5 set match, but that player must repeat and improve performance for those 32 matches during a season...from August to December...and then reproduce that effect over the next 4 years!
The challenges of balancing on court training with class schedules and scouting opponents can make sport performance training very difficult, and many coaches will forgo lifting in season. However, sport performance coaches (i.e. strength coaches) are vital to the survival of your team – independent of competitive level! The sports performance coach’s primary responsibility in-season is to keep the athletes on the court and available to practice quality reps every day. In- season focus must be to preserve as much of the off-season strength and power gains as possible, maintain an optimal body composition, and promote healthy shoulders, hips, knees, and backs.
Depending on the travel schedule, the team may get as little as one to two hours in the weight room each week, so in-season goals must be well designed and succinct. First, it is essential to prioritize shoulder, hip, and vertical core work during this phase of training. This “prehab” is designed to promote the health of critical areas in order to maintain the health of the kinetic chain. Second, it is essential to complete full body power movements. Due to the high number of jumps taken in practice, it seems redundant to jump in the weight room. Instead, the goal is to overload the body without further stressing the knees. This can be achieved with Olympic lifts, which allow the athlete to train with relatively high loads in order to maintain a high power output. In addition to high load power movements, it is important to train the other end of the force-velocity curve, including utilizing medicine balls for throws, slams, etc. This allows the athletes to approach velocities closer to those they achieve on the court, with a slight overload element. Medicine ball training can be particularly beneficial for volleyball players as they allow the athletes to generate maximal forces without decelerating the weight at any point, mimicking the power needed during a match, minimizing soreness, and decreasing the injury potential associated with deceleration. Finally, with whatever time that remains, light strength work using multi-planar movement will promote mobility as well as stability in various positions.
In addition to these goals, here are a few final thoughts on in-season training. One important point to make is that in-season, more than any other time, is not the time to try to fit “square pegs into round holes.” It may be necessary to modify exercises for individual athletes in order to avoid aggravating nagging aches and pains and keep the athlete’s pain at a tolerable level. Additionally, freshmen that did not have the luxury of spending the summer training with the Sports Performance Coach may not have learned all the lifts that the coach would like to employ. The coach may need to be creative in finding alternative, yet equally effective, exercises for these young athletes. Also, throughout the season, it becomes necessary to decrease volume in order to keep the team fresh and playing with the edge needed for success. Finally, communication between the coaching, sports performance, and athletic training staffs will ensure that the athletes are receiving the opportunity to become the best volleyball players possible. Happy training!
Article written by Marie Zidek - Assistant Volleyball Coach at University of San Diego & Chris Dresher - Assistant Director of Sports Performance at Depaul Unversity