Skill-Based Conditioning Games

Here is an interesting study conducted in Australia on some participants in the Australian Junior Volleyball Championships. Unfortunately I can only access the abstract…

According to the abstract, the results show that skill based conditioning games resulted in improvements in vertical jump, spike jump, speed, agility, upper body muscular power and estimated maximal aerobic power. However improvements in skills were few and far between.

This was compared to instructional training, which resulted in some improvements in spike jump and speed, but strong improvements in measures of skill.

The author’s conclusion is pretty simple. Use a combination of these methods for optimal improvements in skill level and fitness.


Just wanted to say sorry to anyone out there who checks this blog. It has been a fairly busy time for me recently and haven’t been able to put up regular content. I have just moved to Adelaide to start studying a Masters of Physiotherapy (Graduate Entry). I have also just started a new job with Tennis Australia as a part-time Strength & Conditioning coach. This has kept me pretty busy, but also gives me plenty of oppurtunities to learn, which hopefully will flow through to the blog.

I have a break from uni coming up in a few weeks, so hopefully I will be able to get some content up then.

Hang in there loyal readers, it’s coming….

Expertise: How to be an expert volleyball player

Every volleyball player that is aiming at being an elite player is aiming to become an expert. Motor learning gurus have studied all aspects of expertise, from how to obtain it to what separates experts from the rest of us. 

Regardless of the skill being performed, whether it’s a sport specific skill, a dancing move or playing an instrument, there are certain characteristics that experts have in common.


There is no secret to it, to become an expert at a skill you need to practice. The rough figures in Motor Control circles are a minimum of 10 years of intense deliberate practice, or 10,000 hours. But that doesn’t mean you automatically become an expert after 10 years of practice. Deliberate practice is referring to intense work like practice, with good feedback and instruction.


Experts know more about their skill than non experts. Experts generally use their knowledge of their skill to make decision rules. This means that expert setters will have a thorough knowledge, and knowledge structure, to decide which setting option to choose in a specific situation.


When comparing experts with non experts, experts are quicker at searching their environment, can give more conscious attention to the search, and extract more meaningful information. From a volleyball perspective an expert defender can pick up more information about an opposition attacker in less time than a non expert, allowing them to read the play. Experts achieve this skill through years of experience performing a skill, rather than having better eyesight than non experts.

What does it mean?

It means that if you want to be the very best at a particular skill, you had better keep doing it for a long time. Experts train for years, giving them a better decision making capacity, and an increased ability to read the play and pick up on cues in the playing environment.

Perhaps this is why older experienced teams are so successful? Check out some of the stats from last years world cup The Older…The Better??. A lot of the teams that had success are fairly old. Although older players may not be at their physical peak, volleyball has a high skill demand, which takes many years to develop, meaning maybe old players are quite valuable??

Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Train Movements, Not Muscles

Written by Dave

A previous post Do The Opposite dealt with a principle to adhere to when planning a strength & conditioning program for volleyball. “Train movements, not muscles” is another conditioning principle that is applicable to all sports, including volleyball.

The Principle

A key principle when trying to improve your volleyball performance is specificity of training. Your training should be specific to the demands and movement patterns of volleyball. The more similar your weight training exercises are to the movements performed in a game, the more carryover there will be from the weight room to the court. This means that your weight training movements should of a similar pattern, velocity and contraction type to those performed in volleyball.

An Example

Leg strength is an important factor in volleyball. When comparing exercises that train leg strength, squats and lunges have a similar movement pattern to many of the movements performed in volleyball. For this reason, these exercises are better choices than leg presses and leg extensions, even though the same muscles are involved.

So Why Train Muscles?

There are many exercises that isolate a particular muscle, such as bicep curls and leg extensions. Many bodybuilders use these exercises to target a particular area they are trying to work on. Bodybuilders train muscles. They aim to work particular muscles, to make them grow, so they can look bigger and better. Bodybuilders have no interest in improving moving patterns or being good at volleyball. So it makes no sense for volleyball players to train like bodybuilders.

Isolation exercises are not all bad. They certainly have a place in rehab, and for bodybuilding purposes they can provide a bit of an extra stimulus to help pump up a certain muscle a bit. Another example when isolation exercises are useful is when trying to activate a dormant muscle such as the glutes. See our previous posts on firing up your butt.

However, if your main training goal is to get better at volleyball then I would definitely advice you to focus on exercises that train movement patterns, not muscles.

Healthy Ankle Strategies

 Ankle sprains are one of the most common injuries in volleyball, and no doubt a fair proportion of the readers out there have had this injury at some stage. We know that taping or ankle braces can be a good way to prevent or reduce the severity of ankle injuries (see To Brace Or Not To Brace). But what else can be done?

Not only do we want to keep our ankles injury free, we want them in good condition to ensure optimal performance. Here are a few strategies you can employ to help keep your ankles injury free and in good working order.

Ankle Mobility– All joints need either mobility or stability to ensure optimal function. For example the structure of the hips is such that it is a stable joint, and most people need to work on improving or maintaining their hip mobility. In contrast the structure of the knee makes it a much more mobile joint, and people spend a lot of time working the muscles that help stabilise this joint.

The ankle as a general rule requires mobility. A lack of mobility in a joint cause’s compensation from other joints and can put them at risk of injury. Many low back problems are actually related to poor hip mobility. Likewise with the ankle, poor ankle mobility can cause problems in the joints of the foot or the knee.

The ankle can either move up (dorsiflex) or down (plantarflex) (the sideways movements actually occur at the joints of the foot). A good way to mobilise the ankle joint is stand in front of a wall and bend your front knee forward to touch the wall. If you touch it, move your foot back slightly and try again. This is a great way to work on your ankle range.

Go Barefoot– The feet have a large number of sensory receptiors and a good way to keep them sharp is to stimulate them every now and then by going barefoot. This can train our feet to better know where they are in relation to the rest of us.

I don’t recommend playing volleyball without shoes, and if you see anyone doing it, tell them they’re crazy! But you can certainly get some benefit from perhaps walking a few cool down laps without shoes or doing some conditioning drills such as bridges and single leg squats before training without your shoes on. Even getting down to the beach and strolling around is a good way to strengthen up the intrinsic muscles of the feet, and stimulate some of the sensory receptors.

Landing Drills– Volleyball players will typically roll an ankle when landing from jumping or changing direction quickly. To reduce your chances of ankle trouble you need to be able to control your body. You need to be able to decelerate effectively and absorb force. Including some simple plyometric drills in your program can teach proper landing technique and improve the ability to absorb force, both of which will help keep your ankles healthy in the long run.

A good drill that emphasizes landing technique is a single leg quarter squat, with a jump, and sticking the landing on one foot. Basically you perform a normal single leg squat, exploding up out of the bottom position so you actually get off the ground. You then land on the same foot, landing toe first and flexing through the ankle, knee and hip to absorb the landing. Focus on sitting back when you land, and landing quietly.

Proprioception Training– If you have previously suffered an ankle sprain, then proprioception training is a must. There are a range of proprioception exercises for the the ankle and knee; balance boards, dura disks, unstable surfaces, specific balance exercises. The list here is endless.

Some basic principles when training balance and proprioception;

  • A narrow base is less stable and therefore a greater challenge to balance, 1 leg is less stable than 2.
  • You can overload proprioception by taking away visual feedback. Close your eyes whilst balancing and it forces you to rely on feedback from the body’s receptors i.e. proprioception.

This is an important area in volleyball conditioning. Keep an eye out for more on this topic.

Unilateral Training– One of the many benefits of unilateral training is that it challenges balance and proprioception, as you only have one foot in contact with the ground. Single leg squats, lunges, step ups are all examples of unilateral exercises. There are many reasons why volleyball players should have unilateral work in their programs, and ankle health is just one of them.

Soft Tissue Work– The peroneal muscles are the ones that run down the outside of the foot and help to evert the foot (roll it outwards). They have a protective effective on the ankle. When the ankle is rolling outwards the peroneals fire to perform the opposite movement and correct the ankle back to a neutral position. You want to ensure that these muscles are in good shape. A good way to do this is through soft tissue work. You can do this by yourself by running a hard implement (metal bar or something similar) along the outside of your leg focussing on any tight points. And while your there you may as well do your calves as these are tight in most people.


Also rolling your plantar fascia (the bottom of your foot) on a tennis ball is a good way to keep this loose and functioning correctly. Combine all these together, it takes a couple of minutes and keeps everything firing well, which will help ensure a healthy ankle in the long run.

So that covers a few strategies for healthy ankles. This list is by no means comprehensive but it does give you some ideas to incorporate into your program. Ankles do impact performance. As a volleyballer you are also in a high risk group. Get proactive and keep your ankles strong and healthy for an improved performance.

Fire Up Your Butt: Part 3

Part 1 of this series looked at why the glutes are important, basically because they are a major component in jumping, and why they are often not as active as they should be. Part 2 looked at how to address this by giving some motor control exercises designed to get your glutes firing. Now that your glutes are nice and active its time to look at how to strengthen them.

There are many exercises that will strengthen the glutes. We will look at a few of them here. One of the key things to remember when training the glutes is to use a full range of motion. For example, a deep squat recruits the glutes more so than a quarter squat. So leave your ego at home, lift a lighter weight if necessary and ensure full range of motion with the following exercises.

Squat– there are many squat variations (front squat, back squat, wide stance, narrow stance etc). All variations can be of benefit. The key point with squats is the achieve a good depth to really target the glutes.

Lunges– again with lunges there are many variations. Start standing in a normal position with your chest held high, and take a long stride forward, making sure to strike with the heel first. Sink down until your back knee nearly touches the ground, and then push back to the starting position.



The deeper you go and the greater the range of motion (ROM) the more the glutes will be activated. A variation on the lunge that increases the ROM and hence really hits the glutes, is to lunge onto a 15cm step. Perform it the same as a normal lunge but stride forward onto a low step. This means you can sink down further achieving a greating ROM. Let me know how you go with this one, and if you feel it the next day!


 Step-Ups– Start by having one foot up on a bench or step. Push down through the heel, using your front leg to pull you up onto the bench. This ensures that the lead leg is doing the work, and not the back leg pushing up. Complete all your reps on the one leg for a bit of a burn before switching legs.                                                                  


These are few exercises to get your butt in gear. So now you can target your glutes with some motor control exercises and some strengthening exercises to get that big, strong, powerful bum.

The Place for Static Stretching


Pic: rjs1322

Written By Dave

There seems to be some confusion about where static stretching fits into a volleyball program. Before training? After training? Does it prevent injuries? Just exactly what is the deal with static stretching?

Studies have shown that a warm up based around static stretching can impede vertical jump performance and power outputs. In some cases this has scared people off static stretching completely, and there has been an overreaction. In other cases the original message has still not quite gotten through. Hopefully this will clarify the role of static stretching in a volleyball program.

Static Stretching in the Warm Up

A previous post, Static Stretching in the Warm Up, explained that the relaxation of muscles and the dulling of the nervous system can decrease power output and jump performance. To fire up the nervous system and prepare the body, an active warm up is a better option.

However there still could be a place for static stretching in the warm up. It is unclear how long the effects of static stretching last on jump performance. Some studies indicate that the negative impact on vertical jump has worn off after 15 minutes. Other studies suggest the effect could be as long as an hour.

Static stretching may be so ingrained as part of preparing for a game that many athletes feel they cannot play without doing it. Static stretching can be ok as part of game preparation if performed at least an hour before playing. This may mean doing individual static stretching before the team starts its active warm up for the game or training.

Static Stretching After Training or Game

After training or a game static stretching is great to promote muscle relaxation, and restore muscles to their normal resting lengths. The stretching done after training is not done to improve flexiblility, it is more for restoring the muscle to resting length, promoting more optimal performance in the next session, relaxation and recovery.

Injury Prevention

Whilst dynamic mobility and an active warm up are best for preventing injuries in the short term, poor flexibility can be a factor in overuse injuries. For long term changes in flexibility static stretching certainly has a place.

Ideally players will do specific flexibility sessions, however it is not a perfect world and players often don’t have the time for extra sessions. The trend now is to work on flexibility at the beginning of a session, and then follow it up with a dynamic warm up to prepare for the training session. It is thought that this is the time when the most long term improvements to flexibility occur.

Performance Enhancement

Having adequate flexibility is important in achieving optimal performance in volleyball. Volleyball requires a reasonable range of motion to achieve the various positions that you get into in a game.

Adequate flexibility allows you to accelerate your limbs through a full range of motion which can enhance power. If you are limited and cannot rotate the hips and shoulders through a full range of motion you won’t generate maximum power in a spike, for example.

Adequate flexibility enhances movement efficiency as there is less resistance to movement. For example, when trying to extend the hips to jump, tight hip flexors require more energy to overcome and can impact jump height and general ease of movement.

Many stretching techniques can be valuable when trying to improve flexibility. Dynamic stretching, static stretching and proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching can all be beneficial. I would recommend a variety of these techniques are employed when training for flexibility, and static stretching definitely has a role to play here.


Static stretching can also be used as a recovery method. Check out more detail on recovery for volleyball.


  • For warm up purposes dynamic warm up is the best option.
  • Static stretching is good post training or game.
  • Adequate flexibility is required for injury prevention and optimal performance. Specific flexibility sessions should involve a variety of stretching techniques including static stretching. This could be done before training as long as it is followed by a dynamic warm up to get the body going.

Hopefully this clarifies some issues with static stretching and its role within a volleyball training program. Implement some of these strategies into your program, and let me know how you go.

Fire Up Your Butt: Part 2


Pic: Photocapy

Written By Dave

Its been a while since part 1 of this series, but part 2 is finally here.
The first part of this series looked at why the glutes are important, and why they don’t fire in a lot of people. Bad motor patterns and tight hip flexors are two of the biggest culprits. Now that we know they are important its time to look at how to get them firing.

Activating the glutes

Before you worry about strengthening your glutes with traditional compound exercises such as the squat, lunge and step ups, you need to be able to activate them in isolation. There is no point squatting if your glutes are not active, as you will be training your body to compensate, which is just reinforcing bad motor patterns. Also it is likely you will be predisposing yourself to injury.

Some dynamic warm up drills are a good way to get your hips loosened up for exercise, as well get your glutes firing. Incorporating some motor control drills for the glutes into your warm up for either weights or volleyball training is a good way to ensure they are switched on and ready for the session. You are killing two birds with one stone here as you are warming up, and also correcting or preventing a common imbalance.

Motor Control Exercises for the Glutes

Glute Lifts– squeeze your glute to lift your heel straight up in the air.

Arabesque on Wobble Board– balance and hold this position. Your glute will be active to hold you steady.

Scorpions– keep your shoulders flat on the floor and initiate the movement by squeezing your glute and lifting the leg over to the opposite side. The focus here is activating the glute, not range of motion.

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Bridges– lying on your back with knees bent up at 90 degrees. Squeeze through your glutes and lift yourself up as high as they will take you. Only go as high as you can using your glutes, trying to force the range of motion will take the focus off the glutes and onto the back extensors.

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Once you have mastered the double leg bridge you can progress to the single leg bridge. The setup is the same as a double leg bridge, but you leave one leg digging into the ground and the other tuck up towards your chest. You can rest a tennis ball on your abdomen and pin it there with your flexed up leg. Perform the bridge as per normal, squeezing through your glute to lift your hips off the floor. Pinning the tennis ball to your chest ensures that you cannot use your lumbar extensor, isolating the glute further.


Birdogs– starting on all fours, brace your stomach and squeeze the glute on the leg you are going to move. Focus on pushing your heel straight back, and then returning letting your knee hover just above the ground. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.



The next progression of this is to take the opposite arm off the ground also. This adds a bit more of a balance component. Perform the reps in the same way, focusing on keeping your hips still and controlling the movement.


Incorporate some motor control exercises for the glutes into your warm up for either weights or volleyball, and you’ll be on your way to achieving a bigger and better butt. This will ensure your glutes will fired up the session to follow. These exercises will get your butt active and you will also get some carry over into strength gains. However to really get your glutes nice and strong you need some new exercises. The next part of the series will look at these strengthening exercises.

You can also check out this article on optimizing the posterior chain on the Stronglifts site. There is some doubling up of information, but some good video & pics.

Dynamic Warm Up For Volleyball

Warming up for volleyball used to be so simple. Jog a few laps, stretch for a bit, or vice versa, then get into it. This is definitely not the ideal warm up. Research has shown that static stretching can reduce the amount of power and force the stretched muscles can generate. This is discussed in the post Static Stretching in the Warm Up.

So if static stretching is not the way to go, then what is the best way to warm up for a game or training? The answer is a dynamic warm up.

What is a dynamic warm up?

A dynamic warm up is a series of movement drills and mobility drills performed in a sequence, designed to prepare athletes for training or games.

A dynamic warm up can be structured in different ways, and there is a huge variety of drills and exercises that can be used, so there is right or wrong way to do it.

It will typically start with a light cardiovascular warm up, such as jogging or skipping and various running variations like backwards jogging, sidesteps, ground touches and so forth. Some dynamic flexibility usually follows with exercises such as leg swings, arm swings, inchworms, backrolls etc. Sprint drills and agility drills are also common in a dynamic warm up and of course there is some room for some volleyball specific defensive moves, dives, and spike approaches.

Some jump work should also be done with some hopscotch drills, or line drills. These are basically small jumps building up to bigger jumps that you will do in training or games.

Defining the terms

A dynamic warm up can also go by the name of active warm up. Some coaches call it athletic movement training, or movement preparation. They all mean the same thing.

The other term you will hear in the same sentence as dynamic warm up is mobility or dynamic mobility. Mobility is the range of motion your joints can go through when your own muscles are doing the work. An example of a dynamic mobility exercise is a leg swing, where you are taking your hip through a range of motion and stretching the surrounding muscles but you are using the momentum of the leg and work from other muscles to get this stretching effect.

Benefits of a dynamic warm up

There are many benefits of a dynamic warm up.

  • Decreased risk of muscle strains and tears.
  • Increases range of motion for the upcoming training.
  • Fires up the nervous system, making it ready for rapid neural firing.
  • Increases body temperature, and it is maintained because there is no prolonged period of static stretching.
  • Enhances coordination and motor ability (some footwork drills that will get you moving more effectively once mastered).
  • Some conditioning benefits. Lots of lunges and squats and similar movement that have a conditioning effect.
  • Mentally gets players involved in training, as there is no sitting around doing static stretches for prolonged periods.

Sample exercises

The best way to understand the exercises is to see them. Check out this you tube clip. This is just one example, have a look here for some more examples.

Here is another link with a few exercises you can check out here.

Finally one more link to some video on Mike Boyle’s website.

Applying the dynamic warm up

As with a lot of the principles and concepts in strength and conditioning, the key is how you apply it. There is no particular warm up that is the best warm up for volleyball, and you should vary the warm up according to the situation, your needs, and what you want to get out of it.

In some trainings there may be a focus on getting some aerobic conditioning out of the warm up. In this instance drills could be done continuously. A warm up in 40 degree heat will be different to one in normal conditions, the warm up in a tournament situation may be different to the warm up for a single game. Manipulating exercise selection, duration and the intensity of the warm up can ensure different needs are met in each situation.

Hopefully this gives you some general information on dynamic warm ups. Keep an eye out for an actual sample of a dynamic warm up for volleyball coming at some stage. In the meantime, this post should give you an idea of some of the things you should be doing in a dynamic warm up.