By: JC Moreau, Founder/Director of Sports Performance, Strength U
With over 15 years training women’s volleyball (14 at the NCAA Division I College Level and 1 year at the HS level), I have learned certain things that continue to be overlooked by some in the industry. The most critical areas of physical development for most HS and College aged female netters are not simply more power, more explosiveness and more jumping/plyos. Rather it is the ability to handle the load of excessive jumping/landing (development of strength and specifically eccentric strength) and ensuring the use of perfect jumping/landing mechanics (plyometric progression and emphasis on structural balance) that are the most important. These may not be the most “appealing” to coaches who want to hear about bigger jumps and higher “touches”, but they will help lessen the chance that one of their athletes will spend the season on the bench recovering from a torn ACL or other leg injury, and ensure long-term athletic development over a career!
Far too often strength is overlooked, and it is the foundational variable required to develop power, and to display this power over a 5 game match! Explosive power is simply the combination of speed and strength, but a lack of strength will not only lead to sub-par performance, but also increase the risk of non-contact injury, especially the lack of eccentric strength. This is the strength used when we lower a weight, land, or decelerate. For reasons scientists do not yet fully understand women are naturally weaker eccentrically than men and this is a HUGE issue. Nearly all non-contact ACL tears occur when landing or stopping, and NOT sprinting or jumping. In light of this it is essential for the performance coach to emphasize this in their programming through the use of tempo training and slow, controlled negatives.
Finally, volleyball athletes may jump and land incorrectly 100+ times per match or practice and this is what it is. However, the weight room is a controlled environment and a place where proper landing, which will prevent “wear and tear”, and possibly a more serious injury, can be demanded. This is why a simple plyometric progression should always be implemented and the athlete should never perform plyometrics that are too difficult for them. How do we know if they are too difficult? If they cannot land properly it is too difficult. Knees falling in, landing on the heels or toes, without good knee and hip flexion, landing “loud”, with too wide a stance or one too narrow, too upright or too low are all signs of poor landing. Start with stepping off a 12″ or 18″ bench or step and just landing. Once this is mastered add vertical jumps, then box jumps (to this point all are static). Once these are mastered incorporate short hurdles with a static landing, then low level reactive plyos like 6″ hurdle hops, and finally add more advanced/challenging reactive and single leg jumps, change of direction or rotational jumps or depth jumps in a reactive fashion. It is imperative to remember that these should only be performed when the athlete can land correctly and has developed the leg strength to properly perform them. This progression may take years for a youth aged player, and at least several months for a high-schooler.
Remember Volleyball athletes jump PLENTY in practice so the last thing they need in the weight room is 100+ reactive high hurdles or single leg jumps. Always think quality before quantity and focus on developing eccentric strength, if you do then landing mechanics will improve. Once all of this comes together performance will improve and you will have a more physically resilient, injury resistant team that performs at a higher level than their opponent (in game 1 AND in game 5), and that is a fun volleyball team to watch and coach!!
Please contact Coach Moreau with questions, comments or feedback at TheStrengthU.com or @TheStrengthU or FB.com/StrengthUSports