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Volleyball training is fairly simple and uncomplicated in terms of the physiological requirements. The skill components are another thing altogether, however the physical aspect is a raw and primal set of skills.
Volleyball requires the following physical attributes:
--- Strength - Like just about every sport, strength is a foundational requirement that forms the basis of all other skills required of a volleyball player. The strength required in volleyball is rather general. The strength needs of a volleyball player can be satisfied by engaging in a progressive program incorporating major compound movements such as squat, deadlift, bench press etc. As a cross-over to power, Olympic lifting is also good practice in the latter stages of the foundational phase of training.
--- Power - Power is the primary physical need of a volleyball player. Power is involved in almost all volleyball movements. Movements can be broken down into three primary ones; a) starting speed, which is the ability to move quickly over very short distances from one metre to 10 metres, b) jumping, which is the primary physical requirement involving power and c) upper body striking power, such as demonstrated in the spike. Power in volleyball must be approached from a foundational to specific progression. This starts with the development of raw, non-specific power as developed through squat jumps, standing long jumps and depth jumps. From there skills are more specifically applied, incorporating running bounds and hurdle training.
--- Speed - Speed is a primary requirement that is born largely out of the development of both strength and power. Speed can be refined with specific speed drills over very short distances in multiple directions from multiple starting postures. Speed is required to get to the ball first and command the body to react as fast as the mind registers a required action.
--- Agility - Agility is closely related to speed and can be defined as the ability to change direction rapidly. An expression of agility would be movement at high speed to the left in anticipation of a shot and then rapidly changing direction as the ball goes to the right at a high velocity. Agility is a specific skill that is developed through specific agility and reaction drills. Drills such as the Illinois agility test are good for base development of agility, however in order to gain agility specific to the sport the athlete will benefit most from unpredictable and varied patterns of rapid movement.
--- Anaerobic Capacity - Anaerobic capacity it a secondary skill in volleyball training. For the most part volleyball is not largely taxing on the cardiovascular system. Movements are short, powerful and explosive. Having said that, the ability to repeat maximal movements multiple times throughout a game requires at least a base level of anaerobic capacity, which translates to the ability to buffer lactate at a faster rate. This helps by ensuring each maximal effort does not diminish every time movements are repeated throughout a game. This component is a secondary training objective in a volleyball training program. Anaerobic capacity can be developed most effectively through short sprint drills with minimal recovery between each sprint.
By now we can see a picture starting to form that provides an understanding of the physical needs of volleyball. It is a primal sport with physical needs that can be contained mostly within the anaerobic domain, specifically with regard to speed and power.
As with all sport specific training, phases are incorporated in order to adequately condition each layer of skill and physical capacity. Due to the uncomplicated and primal physical needs of the volleyball player, each training phase is rather straight forward. Hard work and careful consideration needs to be applied in order to ensure that the correct adaptations are taking place and potential is realised.
The foundational phase of training is the initial phase that occurs at the start of all sport conditioning programs. The foundational phase is where non-specific, yet related and relevant physical attributes are developed. The foundation is just that, a foundation from which to further develop more specific physical components.
The foundational phase is where a base level of strength is developed, which is the primary priority of the phase. Volleyball training is quite demanding on the joints and the central nervous system due to its primarily anaerobic characteristics. For this reason strength is required as a means to allow maximal force generation and to fortify the body against injury and wear and tear.
In addition to strength, the foundational phase sees the athlete develop raw power through non-specific plyometrics training, speed through basic short sprint drills and agility through standardised agility drills such as the three-cone drill and the Illinois agility test.
The developmental phase forms the bulk of any athletic training program. Volleyball training, in terms of the physiological attributes is fairly simple, yet requires hard work and a concentrated effort. The developmental phase is where the athlete develops physical components of conditioning specific to the sport. This is where random and variable agility development takes place and power that is specific to that experienced in a game of volleyball is developed.
The preparation phase of volleyball training is where the athlete puts the final 5% of skill on top of their now well-developed physical skill set. The preparation phase is highly specific to the sport and requires refinement of skills.
Consolidation of phases and how they fit together
Each phase of volleyball training, and any athletic conditioning program for that matter, builds upon the last. Each phase is a simplified umbrella term that can often incorporate mini-phases and individual training cycles. It must be noted that the three primary phases of training are not a one time through arrangement. Each phase of training, right from the foundational phase, is to be repeated in a cyclical fashion, with each time through each phase seeing an improvement of capacity.
Putting it all together and constructing a volleyball training program
Each of these primary phases of training apply to all athletic programs, regardless of the sport. The skill of programming lies in recognising and developing a plan that specifically develops the skills and attributes required of the sport. The following is a very broad and brief outline of how a program can be structured to best develop the physical components required of a volleyball player.
The foundational phase should begin with a primary focus on strength development. This is best approached with major compound movements, such as those used in power lifting, with a few auxiliary movements included. A progressive strength program should include exercises such as squats, deadlifts, bench press, standing military press, pull-ups, rows and kettlebell movements such as swings. Repetitions are kept below five and volume is relatively low. This is where maximal strength is developed while maintaining a low overall bodyweight.
In addition to strength the volleyball player will develop speed, power and agility. This is achieved through progressively incorporating high velocity strength movements such as Olympic lifts and raw power plyometrics such as depth jumps, squat jumps and standing long jumps. The goal being to increase starting speed and jumping power. Speed is developed here with basic sprints drills of short distance, thus increasing 0-5m speed. Agility is developed through regular drilling of agility such as the Illinois agility test, three cone drill etc.
The developmental phase picks up where the foundational leaves off. Here the goal is to turn generic and broad physical attributes into specific attributes that match, as closely as possible, the movement and energy demands of the sport of volleyball.
During this phase strength training will be quite well underway and will begin to incorporate more specific and complex movements such as single leg deadlifts for single leg jumping ability and a greater predominance of Olympic lifts. Speed drills remain consistent with those from the foundational phase. Power becomes more specific with plyometrics and jumping drills matching the sorts of jumps applied in a game situation. Agility training begins to incorporate more variable and randomised drills and reaction drills.
The preparation phase is the final phase of development for the athlete. Volleyball training in the preparation phase does not differ greatly from the developmental phase. The main differences being a greater predominance of simulation of game play components. This includes putting skills together in a format they would be used in a game. This is where individual speed and agility drills become incorporated into drills that develop both components in a game-like situation. Strength training remains constant with the developmental phase, with correct periodisation principles applied. Power should be highly developed by this phase. From here power is maintained and improved through actual game practice, such as sprinting to the net and practicing spike after spike with maximal velocity.
Structural and Anatomical Considerations
The structural and anatomical needs of the volleyball player are similar to that of track and field athletes in the jumps and sprints. Maximal strength is required with a fast and light frame. Volleyball players must be relatively light in order to move around the court with speed and agility and maintain a high vertical jump.
Volleyball training is unique in nature, however is fairly simple and uncomplicated in terms of physiological requirements. The sport is dominated by strength, speed, power and agility, making it a fast-paced activity with little requirement for a great level of endurance. Training should be structured to reflect this. If volume is too high then fast twitch muscle fibres become too efficient and begin to develop oxidative characteristics, which tends to reduce their explosive characteristics.
A volleyball player is more like a high performance V8 that uses fuel inefficiently but performs to a high standard over short bursts, as opposed to a small, fuel efficient vehicle designed for efficiency and not performance.
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YOUR COACH – Chris Lyons
Chris Lyons is an experienced strength and conditioning coach, having trained athletes of all ages and levels since 2002. Chris specialises in coaching athletes for speed and power specific to fast-moving sports such as rugby league, rugby union, soccer, Aussie rules football etc. Since 2002 Chris has conducted close to 15,000 hours of training and coaching directly with athletes and members of the general population. From this experience comes Sprint Ninja, based on tried and tested training methods combined with up to date research. Chris continues to challenge himself not only as a coach, but also as an athlete, competing in sprinting events, strongman and Olympic-style weightlifting.