Strength training without question is a very important part of any athletes life and is known to have significant influence on injury prevention and improving health and performance. In professional volleyball proper athletic training* should be a normal part of the overall training capacity to keep the athletes healthy, avoid muscle overuse and prevent injuries. In non-professional volleyball, athletic training very often is not included in trainings due to lack of time (which you will see is not an excuse) or knowledge. In this article I want to show which exercises should be inserted in any training to keep your athletes healthy and prevent injuries.
Of course injuries can happen when a hitter jumps on a blocker’s feet under the net and twists his ankle. But there are efficient ways to prevent your players from getting injured severely and prepare muscles and tendons for the impacts of volleyball.
Volleyball season starts with preparation in August or September and only 1 or 2 months later the first injuries or signs of overuse occur. Muscle straps (often abs, hamstrings or hip flexors), shoulder, back and knee pain or even more serious injuries like ankle sprains or ACL-rips force players to pause training for a couple of days, weeks or even months. After minor injuries players start training again when the pain is gone and very likely fight with the same problems a couple of weeks later. „That just happens in sports“ – I heard some coaches say. Well it actually is does not. Of course injuries can happen when a hitter jumps on a blocker’s feet under the net and twists his ankle. But there are efficient ways to prevent your players from getting injured severely and prepare muscles and tendons for the impacts of volleyball.
Stretching and joint mobilization
Tight muscles impair performance and often lead to injuries. So the first step of injury prevention is the insertion of stretching and joint mobilization in every training session. Especially in non-professional volleyball players likely go to school, university or work, which means they spend their day mostly sedentary. Hours of sitting and not moving makes their joints stiff and muscles short (hip flexors!) so the best start for a successful, pain and injury free training is mobilization and stretching.
No time for that? Well deal with half your players not being in training or performing poorly because their muscles and joints are not ready.
A coach has to take responsibility for their player’s wellbeing and performance, not only for the moment but also for the athlete’s future development, especially when it comes to young players.
Stretching should be performed after a proper warm up consistent of skipping, light jogging, side shuffling, backwards running or any other agility drill or game (i.e. for young players). At the beginning of the training static stretching doesn’t need to take more than 5 minutes to already have a positive effect on the overall health of the player and should be combined with joint mobilization techniques (rotation of ankles, knees, hips, shoulders). There are many different forms of stretching but don’t complicate your life too much. At the beginning of a volleyball training focus on dynamic stretching and brief static sequences. 10 minutes of static stretching after practice is the icing on the cake. This form of active regeneration can help your athletes to recover faster and minimize muscle soreness and pain due to tight muscles (like lower back pain as a result of tight hip flexors and glutes). To save time maybe you can stay on the side of the hall while the next team is already warming up. A small amount of time for your training, a big step towards your players’ wellbeing.
Which are the most important muscles to stretch?
It depends on the training you did before and also on the role your player plays. A hitter needs to focus on shoulders more than a libero. Also everybody is different and athletes should develop some kind of body awareness about which parts of their bodies need more stretching than others. Anyway the most important muscles to stretch for volleyball players are:
Must-stretch muscles before and after training for volleyball:
Anterior Shoulder/ Chest
Athletic strengthening exercises
For professional athletes weight training is a crucial part of their athletic preparation. In specific workout sessions outside of the volleyball court they work on improving maximal power, explosive power and specific power. Squats, power cleans, leg press, leg extension, benchpress and many more exercises are important parts of their athletic preparation. Amateur volleyball players or players of minor leagues most likely don’t have the time or the resources to hire a professional athletic coach for their team and prepare the athletes like in a professional team. However they need to do basic athletic training for injury prevention and increasing performance. The following section shows the most important exercises every coach should include in their warm-up or training routine.
The core is a very important part of a volleyball players performance and studies have shown significant connections between core deficiencies and lower extremity injuries. There are tons of core exercises some of which are quite challenging, especially for beginners. Focus on proper execution rather than difficulty and start with basic exercises like
Planks in all kinds of variations
Core twists with medicine ball standing or sitting
Volleyball consists of a lot of jumping and fast changes of direction. Knee stabilization exercises are crucial to prevent injuries from jumps or more specific, from landing. Exercises that every coach can include in training for example are:
One legged sit squats (on box or bench)
Wall-sit static or dynamic (with ball behind the back)
Hip raises on fitball
Single leg squats
Skater-jumps (one-legged lateral jumps) with stabilized landing
Squat Side Steps with elastic (glutes)
Lunges (front, side, back)
Exercices with elastics: external, internal rotations
Rowing with elastic or TRX
Many coaches skip the strengthening exercises because they don’t want to lose precious time of their volleyball practice. Tip: Make a warm up circle with two exercises out of each section (after stretching!). Your players will be more than ready to start with the ball.
Overtraining is a phenomenon that can occur in volleyball due to a tight game schedule and not enough breaks. In their need of training and preparing athletes for upcoming events, coaches sometimes cut on recovery times. This can result in injuries due to overtraining, like muscle tears or overall fatigue. The athlete’s body doesn’t have enough time to restore his strength and energy. Especially younger players who play in more than one league are prone to train too much. Their young bodies can keep up a high pace for quite some time so they may not even complain about it. But the day will come when they reach their limit and their body gives in. The coach has the job to anticipate overtraining and insert recovery times in his training schedule. Professional teams have whole days of active regeneration after games with massages, sauna and stretching. And their schedule is about quality not quantity.
Let’s take for example first league volleyball team Azimut Modena (Italy). There training schedule according to their homepage (12/16) and internal infos looks like this:
Tuesday: Morning: Weights – 17:30-19:00 Training
Wednesday: 14:00 – 15:30 Training
Thursday: Morning: Weights – 16:00-17:30 Training
Friday: 16:30 – 18:00 Training
Saturday: 16:00 – 17:30 Training
Sunday: Game day
The best recovery after a tough game day:
Hydration and nutrition
No matter what league your team is in, if it’s amateurs, adults or adolescents, stretching and basic body weight exercises are crucial for volleyball players no matter what level they play. It should be included in every training routine and be a normal part of the volleyball life.
*I refer to athletic training as weight and oder stretching exercises to enhance the athleticism for the relative sport. Athletic training improves the overall fitness of the athlete for his sport and can differ a lot from sport to sport. A volleyball players’ athletic training is very different from a marathon runner’s physical preparation.
1 Leetun, Darin T., et al. “Core stability measures as risk factors for lower extremity injury in athletes.” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 36.6 (2004): 926-934.
Peate, W. F., et al. “Core strength: a new model for injury prediction and prevention.” Journal of Occupational Medicine and Toxicology 2.1 (2007): 1.