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Sports Specific Training

So for the last few weeks I’ve been training the Vanguard Women’s Volleyball Team.

Before I developed a program for them, I did my research. I looked up common injuries. I studied how volleyball players move. I attended their games to watch their SPECIFIC movement patterns. And I looked at many traditional volleyball training programs.

What I found was a lot of jump training. Olympic lifts. Box jumps. Sprinting. All the usual suspects were being used.

And don’t get me wrong…I love Olympic lifts.  I love box jumps. I even love sprinting (actually it is really the only form of cardio I do enjoy).

But the more research I did, the more things just didn’t add up.

If many volleyball players suffer from shoulder injuries, why do snatches and jerks which would only serve to put more strain on their shoulders? And on top of the fact that many suffer from shoulder injuries, being college students, most of them are hunched over computers and books for a good portion of the day. This constant daily forward flexion and rounding of their shoulders increases their risk for injury when moving heavy loads overhead because they don’t have the range of motion to really get their shoulders up overhead without compensating.

And then on top of that even, Olympic lifts are really freaking complicated to get right. First off, they take a great amount of flexibility to really do correctly. Second, they take great stability. Third, they are complex motions with lots of moving parts which can easily be messed up! And fourth, to get people to move the loads that will actually benefit them takes a long time to build up to…Time that frankly I just didn’t want to waste at this point.

Ok so Olympic lifts were out…at least to start with. So…what about box jumps?

Eh…I would use them but they wouldn’t be the basis of my program. Box jumps could be great, but aren’t the BEST explosive power move. I would use them to work on landing mechanics but they wouldn’t be part of the daily routine.

Plus I wanted something that would get them stronger without being too redundant. They do a lot of jumping already.

Anyway, as I started analyzing programs, I started to realize that we needed to work on upper body strength and upper body flexibility more than I saw in many other programs. Elbow and wrist injuries were also common yet none of the programs really included any grip and forearm/hand strengthening.

Also, while watching the girls play, I was amazed at how much diving, rolling and mulitplanar movements there were. Rarely were they lunging forward or backward. Rarely were the squatting straight down. So…I figured we really need to work on stability in ALL planes of motion.

I had my work cut out for me. I wanted to build up their strength, but I had to do it slowly since their tendons needed time to catch up to their muscles AND they were also doing outside conditioning and practicing with their coach. I needed to work on the basics.

So I included the traditional squat and a traditional hip hinge, which I knew they would have already mastered or be able to master quickly so we could increase load. These would help them gain strength so that they could be explosive and powerful on the court. Strength always precedes power!

I then included speed, agility and quickness drills to improve their coordination and reaction time. If they wanted to react quickly on the court, they needed to work on their mind-body connection!

AND finally I addressed their areas of injury and their need to move in all planes of motion. I didn’t load them down with weight for these exercises. Actually all of them were simply body weight variations. I did lunges in different planes of motion. I used the sliders when necessary to make things more difficult. I did handstand holds and other isometric holds to work on scapular retraction to help their shoulder stability and strength. I did a ton of pulling motions, such as rows and pull up holds to work on their upper back and help improve their posture to improve their range of motion.

I even made sure to include plenty of grip work, which was definitely harder than most of them expected!

Of course there was also a lot of core work to help them stabilize when diving and rolling and a conditioning piece at the end to help them outlast and out-perform their opponents (none of which by the way was sprinting but will most definitely help them…and even improve their sprinting!).

So to sum up this long rambling post, the point is that you can’t just look up a workout program and figure it will work. I understand why so many athletic trainers use Olympic lifts because they are great and do really have many power and strength benefits for sports. But you can’t just look and train for one aspect of the sport. You need to consider injuries. Movement patterns. What athletes are doing when they aren’t playing or training. And even all of the new and INNOVATIVE training methods that are now out there. You want to help a player move better on the court, but that doesn’t mean that you should do the exact movements they do on the playing field! That also doesn’t mean you can’t use those movements.

The point is there is a lot to consider.

And that doesn’t just go for college volleyball players. It holds true for everyone!

When you design a program for yourself, you have to consider many of these same variables. What are you looking to improve? What repetitive movements or odd positions do you find yourself in during the day that may create bad postural alignment and compensations that lead to injuries? How do you want to be able to move during the day? Are you looking to get better at running or chasing after a kid because chasing after a kid is a lot more than simply having energy and running straight ahead. It means quick cuts and potentially lots of random twisting and turning!

Anyway, just think about some of these things the next time you write up a workout. Consider your specific “sport’s” variables!

P.S. Probably even the most important part of all of this is the mental aspect I’ve included in their training. Right from the warm up everyone is together and motivated, which is huge if you really want a team to be strong and work well together!

Coordination – The drills most people skip

Ever feel like there is a huge disconnect between your limbs and your brain when you are doing an activity?

Then you probably need to start doing more speed, agility and quickness drills like the ladder – which are honestly drills for the mind as much as they are for the body.


Coordination is all about how fast your mind and body can communicate.

Balance drills and most speed, agility and quickness drills work on neuromuscular control, which means they work on your mind’s ability to communicate quickly and efficiently with the body to produce a specific movement.

Besides being a great workout, these drills will help you master form in other workout moves and help you realize your true strength. These more efficient movement patterns will lead to fewer injuries AND you will probably see strength increases in your lifts because you are recruiting the right muscles in the right order quickly!

Ok so what drills should you add to your workout to improve your mind-body connection?

Balance drills are a great place to start.

Have you ever tried balancing on one foot? Maybe one foot up on your toe (it’s actually very difficult and you may want to start on both toes)? Maybe one foot on a foam pad?

Balance work will help you start improving that mind-body connection and it will strengthen your feet and ankles.

You can then move onto some plyometric training.

Most people define plyometric training as jump training, but that isn’t correct. Plyometric training is training that improves your ability to move quickly between an eccentric and concentric contraction – it improves your body’s ability to decelerate and then accelerate then decelerate quickly without much pause.

Jumping can be a great way to train this. Think about the squat jump. Start by loading or squatting down a bit. Then jump up and squat back down to jump up again. A beginner should pause after each jump before jumping again. Someone more advanced will try not to pause between jumps because their body can quickly decelerate and accelerate. The goal of this training is to go as fast as possible while maintaining control.

A HUGE part though of jump training is the landing. You should land softly….like a ninja. This requires that you bend your knees and don’t land flat-footed. It may mean squatting down enough that you swing your arms as if you are grabbing gravel off the ground. The landing is key…it is when most people get hurt. So if you are new to jump training, you may want to even start by jump UP to a very very low box. As you master this, go a bit higher or even work on the jumping OFF of the box part.

Using the ladder or cones can be another great way to improve your neuromuscular control. Shuffle quickly around cones. You can do this in a straight line or in a circle. You can sprint then shuffle then back pedal then sprint. You can mix it up. The key is quick movements and quick changes in direction.

The ladder is one of my favorite tools because it is super easy to see improvement in. You can do running forward with one foot in each box or make it harder by doing both feet in each box. You can do ins and outs or the Ali shuffle. Or one of my favorites the “icky shuffle.” The goal is to do any of these movements perfectly as quickly as possible. Start as slow as you need just do it PERFECTLY. Add speed as you learn the move and perfect it. Remember it isn’t about just going quickly. It is about doing it PERFECTLY.

Anyway, here is a little SAQ portion to do before you do your strength training.

3-5 rounds: Rest between each round. Move quickly through all three exercises.

5 Squat Jumps (or up to a box or barely off the ground depending on level)
Icky Shuffle down ladder
4 Soccer Throws each side (So overhead throw against a wall stepping forward with the same foot for 4 before switching)

All these should be done as QUICKLY as possible with good form. Try to increase your speed each time you do everything with great form.

Remember this doesn’t have to kill you. It can actually just be the end of your workout after you’ve rolled out and gotten the muscles a bit warm.

Try it. Watch how much your coordination will improve after a few weeks of just a few drills before your workout!

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