Do the opposite: A conditioning principle


Pic: Midiman

Written By Dave

What should you do in the weight room for volleyball? There is such a range of exercises and different training techniques out there it’s hard to know where to start. Well here is one principle that will give you a starting point as far a weight training for volleyball goes. Do the opposite of what the players do on the court. Let me explain this.

Do the Opposite

I was listening to a strength training podcast the other day. This site, StrengthCoach Podcast has some very interesting information on strength and conditioning. There was an interview with a U.S. College strength and conditioning coach, and they were asking her what sort of things she was doing with her players inseason. She said she had been going to their trainings to get a good idea of what stresses their bodies were under from volleyball, and then basically trying to do the opposite in the gym.

Applying this principle to volleyball

For example, in volleyball training and games players spend a lot of time in a quarter squat position. Think of a middle blocker starting in a quarter squat stance ready to block a quick. The countermovement jump for spike and block is often only quarter squat depth. Defense, freeball reception, and serve reception is often only quarter squat depth. This puts a lot of stress on the quads. A quarter squat is a quad dominant movement.

To counter this in the gym, players were doing full range squats, making sure they were squatting all the way down. A lot of work was done on the posterior chain. The posterior chain is the muscles linking along your undercarriage, such as glutes, hamstrings, and lower back. Basically because the quads are dominant during volleyball training, this is balanced out by trying to work the glutes and hamstrings more in the gym. This helps keep more balance between muscle groups which is key in preventing injuries.

What about the upper body?

The same is true for the upper body. In volleyball training players are spiking and serving the ball, which is working the internal rotators and anterior muscles of the shoulder (muscles at the front of the shoulder). Muscles such as the pecs and lats are two of the strongest internal rotators. To counter this in the gym players should have an emphasis on external rotation and the posterior muscles of the shoulder (the muscles behind the shoulder). These muscles work to decelerate the arm after a serve or spike and work to keep the shoulder in its socket.

But it isn’t specific to volleyball

The argument against this philosophy of doing the opposite movements to the sport, is that it doesn’t equate to great increases in power, and isn’t specific to the sport. Yes, a quarter squat may be a volleyball specific knee angle, but I see no harm in having strength through a full range of motion. Players can load up the bar and push a lot of weight, and while this has its place in a program, it is accentuating the quad dominance that already exists from playing volleyball. Same with the bench press, it plays an important role and improving your bench is likely to improve your spiking power, but you must balance this with exercises for opposing muscle groups, with lots of rowing exercises (seated row, dumbbell row etc). You can’t only perform sport specific movements in the weight room, that work to enhance the movement patterns of volleyball. You must work on the opposite movements and muscle groups in order to maintain some balance in the body and prevent injuries.


Most training methods and exercises have their place within a program. Keep in mind the stresses and imbalances that volleyball training can cause. A good starting point for equalising some of these imbalances is to do the opposite in the gym to what players to on the court.

Whilst one train of thought thinks that what you do in the gym should mimick as closely as possible what you do on the court, it is interesting to hear a strength and conditioning coach with the contrasting view, of doing the opposite. This ensures you maintain some balance between muscle groups helping you to stay injury free.

11 Replies to “Do the opposite: A conditioning principle”

  1. There are a couple of interesting thoughts here. Firstly – I LOVE the fact that you have this blog and I always read it.

    But I’d advise your readers to be VERY careful with the philosophy of ‘doing the opposite’. The point made at the end is: ‘This ensures you maintain some balance between muscle groups helping you to stay injury free.’ This is not true. It only ensures you have balance if you already have an appropriate degree of strength and power in the ‘non-opposite’ way (ie: the volleyball specific way) which few players do. Balance is absolutely critical to prevent long term injuries but you should only consider doing the ‘opposite’ after developing a solid base.

    I have no idea who does the podcast that you checked but, in my experience of College S&C Coaches they are not on the same planet in terms of understanding volleyball and beach volleyball as Australia’s top people – people like Ian Riggs, Jeremy Sheppard and Lachlan Penfold. The fact that she had been ‘going to their trainings’ to get an idea of what stresses the bodies were under is good, but the fact that she didn’t already know greatly concerns me. College S&C Coaches are employed to train football and basketball players. Be wary of anything else you read – check with our experts!

  2. Alexis,

    Thanks for your support of the blog.

    The key thing with the principle presented is in how it is applied. There is an endless list of things to consider when writing a program, and this is just one of them.

    I agree that it is important to develop a solid conditioning base, and strength base. A program with balance between opposing muscles groups not only helps not only helps prevent injury, but it also helps develop strength and power. You are only as strong as your weakest link. For example, you may be able to reach a good level developing your quads with quarter squats, but to improve strength and power to another level you must develop the weakest link, the glutes.

    In the situation of the college volleyball team, they were in-season. A lot of sport specific strength and power is developed in pre-season, with the focus in-season more on maintaining strength and power, and staying injury free. This may be why there is more of a focus on performing the opposite movements in-season.

    I would be interested to talk with some of the Australian conditioning experts that you mentioned. Perhaps they would be some good people to interview on volleyball base in the future.


  3. Dave,

    I think that you made some very interesting points in your article. Your conclusion to work on developing and/or maintaining balance between antagonistic muscle groups seems to be the key for me.

    It is very easy for any athlete to work on the areas that produce that greatest return while sacrificing those areas that are harder to develop and don’t seem to be actively involved in his/her particular sport. However, this approach can result in injury.

    Thanks for your common-sense approach.

  4. hello i am very impresssed as i am reading this. this year i am going to be a junior in high school and im playing volleyball. i have been lifting a little bit but i need a lifting workout to take to the weight room with me so i can build alot of muscle and get stronger. i was wondering if u would put together a lifting routine for me. that would be awesome! thank you

  5. Dear Dave,

    It’s ashame I’ve discovered your blog today. Great job!

    I have some idea on this post. I agree what you’ve mentioned. And I would like to use a metaphor:
    Think of muscles are like springs. Take an example on biceps and triceps. Since force=mass x acceleration and acceleration is the change in velocity, we could perform a stronger hit while triceps stretched AND biceps relaxed very fast, as if a stretched spring is relaxed while a relaxed spring which has been attached at opposite side is stretched at the same time. And I think muscle strength is important on the motion or speed of stretched/relaxed. What do you think? Sorry I am not an expert on sports sciences, just love Volleyball. Cheers.

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