Skill-Based Conditioning Games

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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.

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.

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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.

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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!

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 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.                                                                  

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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

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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.

Recovery

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

Recommendations

  • 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.

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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.

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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.

Max Squat and Vertical Jump

Following on from the post on Increasing Vertical Jump, this post supports the fact that strong legs are required for a good vertical jump.

Vertical jump and sprint times correlate well with max squat strength. This means that if you have a strong max squat you are likely to have a good vertical jump and short distance sprint speed (both of which are important for volleyball).

Leg strength is a big factor in the first few steps of a sprint. As the distance increases there becomes less reliance on leg strength and other factors such as rate of force development, efficiency and technique become more important. The guy with a 200kg squat does not necessarily win a 100m sprint, but he will certainly be one of the quickest over the first 5-10 metres. The first few steps are the key in volleyball, and maximal squat strength plays a big part in this.

Likewise with a vertical jump, there is a strong correlation between max squat strength and vertical jump performance. Interestingly the correlation between max leg press strength and vertical jump is not as strong. This is because the squat is a more similar movement pattern to jumping than a leg press and hence there is more carryover. The correlation between leg extension strength and vertical jump is even weaker.

The squat plays a large role in improving movement around the court and vertical jump. There are other factors which affect performance in these tasks (see post on Increasing Vertical Jump for some factors affecting vertical jump).The key is to find the one that is the weakest link, and work to improve on that, in order to get the fastest gains.

I am willing to bet that in a large proportion of volleyball athletes the limiting factor is brute strength. Laying a good base of strength is crucial, now go and do some squats.

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.

Balance 

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.

Increasing Vertical Jump

 

Pic: SuperFantastic

Written By Dave

What is one thing besides the skills of volleyball that athletes invest a great amount of time trying to improve? You guess it, vertical jump. It was only a matter of time before a volleyball conditioning site tackled the vertical jump. This is a large topic and one very relevant to volleyball. For these reasons a number of posts will be presented on all aspects of jumping and jump training.

This particular post will look at some of the physics behind jumping and some key factors involved in jumping high.

Power
Two of the main factors are the amount of power you transfer into the ground and the efficiency of your movement.

There are a few factors that can effect how much power you can put into the ground. In physics terms power is defined as;

Power = force * acceleration

Many strength coaches have redefined this in practical terms to;

Power = strength * speed.

This means that to be powerful, and jump high you must have a good base of strength (some raw horsepower). This basically means strong legs will jump high.

The other side of the equation is you must also have speed. This is not referring to your

100m time, but rather how quickly you can transfer your strength to the ground. Ground contact times when jumping are short and you need to be able to display your strength as quickly as possible.

Body Structure

Another factor that influences the amount of force being transmitted to the ground is your body structure. You have to have good relative strength, which is strength per unit of body weight. This is also referred to as your power to weight ratio. This means if you are carrying a 20kg beer gut you are not likely to jump very high. But if you lost the gut whilst maintaining your power, your power to weight ratio would improve dramatically and you would jump higher.

Some people naturally have a build that is designed to jump high. Long Achilles tendons, long thigh bones and high muscle attachments allow them to transmit force to the ground very efficiently. These people are lucky and can often jump high without any training.

Movement Efficiency

Movement efficiency is related to co-ordination and being light on your feet. You may be a powerful guy, but if you trip over your feet while approaching for a spike you are not going to jump very high.

Summary

To summarize some of the key factors involved in jumping high:

  • Be powerful- which is a mixture of strength and speed
  • Have a good power to weight ratio- be lean and have functional (useful) muscle mass
  • Be lucky enough to have a natural spring- e.g. long Achilles tendon and other anatomical benefits
  • Be co-ordinated and move efficiently.

So this gives you an idea of what it takes to jump high. Keep and eye out for further information on how to train and improve each of these parameters.