One of the most recurring and sought after questions that show up on volleyball forums has to do with training and conditioning for volleyball season. In this age of information, it is common to encounter seemingly conflicting opinions that can leave and athlete scratching their head about what they can do to maximize their performance. Last year I intensified my quest for the "ultimate" program that would bring about the realization of my volleyball goals and dreams. This article is about some of what I discovered along the way.
First: Some background. I started playing volleyball as a high school freshman around sixteen years ago. Since the age of sixteen, that has meant playing at top competitive levels of local and regional tournaments on the beach. At the age of 22, I stopped playing all together, and moved from the beaches of the east coast to the desert of the south west. Six years later, I came back to the game and returned to a high level of competition. The process, involved rebuilding my physical conditioning from years of relative inactivity to being able to meet the intense demands of this sport at a high level. While competing in local and regional tournaments in the last year, I've realized a good level of success. I also realized my limitations in a very direct manner at the end of last season which inspired this quest.
It was while competing at the big Motherlode event in Aspen, Colorado that my partner and I had our best tournament in our short time playing as a team. After numerous victories in the 67 team event, we faced a very strong team to put us in position for a minimal 5th place finish. After winning the first game and dropping the second, we had a 14-11 lead in the third (game to 15) and I could not side out. It was horrible. They made some great plays, but I just didn't have enough in me to close it out. We wound up losing that game and the match 16-18. That compounded with a similar third game loss at another tournament in Arizona later in the season, and I was furiously determined not to allow the same situation to repeat itself.
After fifteen years of playing, I knew enough to know what wasn't working: my physical and mental conditioning. So began the quest. It started, of course, with the books and all the online articles. Holy contradictoriness, batman. While I certainly was able to obtain some good information and a deeper understanding of the physiology behind different approaches, developing a comprehensive and integrated approach for my personal needs seemed out of reach. Fortunately my friend, who has been training professional athletes for about a decade was willing to help me put a plan together. While it seemed counter-intuitive in some ways early on, I've been able to witness tremendous results this summer. While there is just too much to include in a simple article, I will outline some of the key points that may help other athletes out there to achieve their athletic potential.
1) Know your goals and starting point. This is where I don't think any of the pre-packaged programs are sufficient for "competitive" level athletics. They certainly are helpful in introducing fitness concepts and providing some structure, but there is no such thing as one size fits all. You get out what you put in. Ask yourself what you are willing to commit to realize your goals, and assess if it is enough. If not, you will need to change either your goals or your commitments. For me, I needed to build a better strength foundation. I've always been a natural jumper and quick, but hadn't evolved into a "power" athlete. There is a vertical test you can use to determine if you should be developing strength or response (you can read about it here: http://avp.hosttown.com/index.php?sh...c=13970&st;=20)
2) Have a plan. I used to show up to the gym and go through some exercises I knew, split back and front days, etc, guess the weight I should lift. Forget it. The benefits to having a structured plan when you walk into a gym is immense. Multiply that by an effective plan and you will be well on your way. It is also critical to track the weight you lift and STICK TO THE PLAN.
3) Periodize the plan. OK, the concept sounded good, but I can see it clearly now. There is a time and a place for variations in your workout. Winter was the toughest time because it was all progressively heavy lifting. No cardio, no plyos. Spring saw the intro of plyos and cardios and more functional training, based on the foundation of strength built up over the winter. As the season got underway, reduced time in the gym with an emphasis on maintaining strength has yielded major results. Within this period there are smaller cycles, based on timing of major events.
(Note: true plyometric 'shock' training should not be done until an athlete has an adequate strength foundation, the ability to squat at least 1.5 - 2 x their body weight.)
4) Warm up. I have an active stretching routine that I go through for about ten minutes when I walk into the gym. Much of it comes from the Core Performance program, which stems from a center in Arizona that trains professional athletes. Active stretching means no posture is held for an extended time, so the muscles stay active instead of relaxing as in static stretching. I also use this time to do some visualization, going through my workout for the day, imagining my game on the court, etc.
5) When building strength, just build strength. "Volleyball is about explosive movements, I should train explosively all the time." That's what I thought. Not so. Strength building phases consisted of traditional isometric exercises with progressively heavy weights. No cardio, no plyometrics, no compound exercises. I felt slow and tired. I thought there was no way I would be able to explode in the sand again. No way. All of the cardio, quickness, explosiveness came back within weeks after hitting the pre-season phase.
6) Build a strong core. This is the key to all athletic movement. A little extra attention to this area, and you will reap huge rewards during the season.
7) Rest is as important as time in the gym. Last fall, when I started, I was in the gym five days a week. I would, however, work a body part no more frequently than once every five to seven days. Muscle is built by tearing it apart, then allowing it to build back up. Working a body part too intensely and too often can not only limit results, but can result in injury that will mess up your whole training program.
8) Pay attention to your diet. My goals included adding ten to fifteen pounds of muscle. I've always been a bit on the lean side (I was 6'2" 175lbs) and this was impeding my reserves towards the end of tournaments. Eating a clean diet, high in protein, with a large caloric intake and more frequent meals made a huge difference. I added ten pounds of solid muscle, and it has been a big help during the season. Not matching your dietary needs to your efforts in the gym can become quite damaging to your body.
9) Technique is a top priority. When you are in the gym, throwing weights around, don't try and figure things out on your own. Get a personal trainer that is qualified and knowledgeable to teach and evaluate your form. This is crucial before moving to heavier weights. Establishing proper form early is essential for preventing injury and getting the results you desire.
10) Recovery at the end of a workout is important. This ties in to maintaining a full range of motion, essential for all the weird contortions the sport forces you into as well as preventing injuries and maximizing performance. I used foam rollers to help separate the fascia primarily in my legs as well as release lactic acid that has built up. I also do some static stretching, including using a rope to increase the range of my stretches.
11) Focus on the weakest links. Too often, we want to focus on our strengths. If we're big hitters, we want to practice hitting all the time. If we can bench press huge amounts, we want to keep racking up more weight. The real secret to improving is to develop our weaknesses and turn them into strengths. This is just as important in the gym as it is on the court. Going beyond our comfort zone in terms of exercises we are willing to perform and areas we are willing to emphasize. Personally, I had dislocated both of my shoulders a little over ten years ago. Developing and strengthening these points has been critical, involving working with weights and therabands. Other areas to pay general attention to are strengthening and stabilizing the ankles and knees, stretching the hip flexors (generally overdeveloped in males) and maintaining a strong core. As a final note, one ailment many volleyball players is over development of the quadriceps in relation to the hamstrings. In reality, developing the hamstring area with exercises such as squats and dead lifts will typically yield the biggest gains in jumping ability.
All along, pay attention to strengthening your mind as well as your body. Neglect one or the other and it will show clearly on the court. Developing mental toughness seems so abstract, its meaning may be hard to grasp. Yet, if you've found yourself on the court inexplicably making mistakes, giving up points or getting frustrated you've experienced the downside of the mental game. Establishing a mental edge (which happens to be the title of a great book written by Ken Baum on the subject) will make a big difference during the season.
For me, it was a matter of writing out my goals - both general and specific. I wanted us to develop into a top regional team and be competitive at the national level. I wanted to be able to side out 80+ percent of the time, and not yield more than one point at a time. I did not want to yield a lead late in a match again. There were other sub goals, but these were the majors. I visualized, everything I worked at in the gym and on the court was to achieve these goals. This single pointed focus helped me to not only reach these goals, but exceed them. My team mate and I traveled to California and placed adequately well in an open tournament. We've had a near perfect season in our home state of New Mexico. We recently won the AVP Next Rocky Mountain Regional Championships, the first time a team from outside of Colorado has won such an event. I am confident in siding out and have maintained a percentage right around my goal. I feel like we have closed out almost every game that we had a late lead in and have been able to come back from some deficits because we stayed calm focused and did what we know how to do.
Perhaps the most important achievement of the season has been the ability to go out and compete at a high level and have more fun than ever playing this game. I don't have to worry about my body holding up or think about "I hope I don't...". Jumping higher and moving faster helps, but once I'm out on the court I know I've done all the work preparing to get to that point, and all that is left to do is go out and play the game.
Remember, set goals for yourself that are high but realistic. Be sure you can commit to doing what it takes to achieve those goals in a specified amount of time. With hard, and more importantly, smart work, you will be well on your way to accomplishing your volleyball dreams!
Adam Rubel is a long time beach volleyball player at the semi-professional level, meaning he competes in tournaments that have cash prizes but maintains a day job. He is presently working on receiving his personal trainer certification. You can learn more about his wacky volley adventures by visiting his team's blog at: http://desertsandvb.blogspot.com .
Published by nmsvbteam on VBLI.COM