The human body as a unit, made up of its bones, joints, and muscles and constituent parts, is designed to move in a specific way. We all know this. The knee, classified as a “hinge joint”, flexes and extends. This is why we all cringe together as we see a knee buckle inwards as the ACL gives way. It was not designed to move in that way. The shoulder, as a “ball-in-socket joint”, obviously moves in a different way than the knee or elbow joints. However, this idea extends further than just the injury risk during unnatural movement, and includes efficient and effective movement. For example, a player who can effectively coordinate an explosive triple extension with a well-timed arm swing will jump higher than a similar athlete that cannot coordinate these movements as effectively. Not only is the body designed to move specifically, but effective movement throughout the body produces the best performance. The ability of strength training in this context is paramount, as properly coached exercises emphasize efficient, strong, and powerful movements. In particular, there are a few movements that can be learned and reinforced in the weight room that have a direct carryover to volleyball performance.
One of the most foundational movements in the weight room and on the court is commonly referred to as the “hip hinge”. In its most basic form, the hinge takes place when the hips move backwards, with the spine staying in its neutral position. The core remains in a stable position while the hamstrings are slightly stretched. This position effectively loads the glutes and the hamstrings, prepares a player for explosive movement, and minimizes stress on the knees. On the court, a proper hinge appears in the ready position, jumping, and landing. In the weight room, various deadlift variations, kettlebell swings, Olympic lifts, and most bent-over exercises reinforce the proper execution of this movement.
Simply put, the knee is safest when it is in alignment with the foot. Deviation of the knee inwardly or outwardly puts a large amount of unwanted force on the knee and can create an array of knee issues. This can be especially problematic in females, as their naturally wider hips predispose the knee to drifting inward, contributing to the substantially higher rates of knee injuries among female athletes. Properly designed resistance training exercises emphasize proper movement of the knee, which can reinforce healthy knee position while jumping, landing, and moving on the court.
Mobility at the ankle joint is another important consideration for knee health, as an inability for the ankle to “dorsiflex”, that is, have the toes and shin move closer together, can have significant consequences. In this case, if the knee travels too far forward in landing or moving and the ankle is restricted in its flexibility, the body compensates with having the knee collapse inward. This inward collapse can have disastrous consequences, and can be prevented with proper ankle mobility training.
Core stability, while an overused and sometimes misused phrase, has a large part to play in sport performance. One great analogy is that the body’s “engine” are the muscles in the lower body, the quads, hamstrings, and glutes, which produce the power needed for movement. In conjunction to the engine, the core musculature functions as the body’s “transmission”, allowing the force produced to be transferred effectively to whatever the desired outcome is. An unstable core results in sloppy movement and wasted force. Therefore, as a player explodes upward during their jump, the core muscles stabilize the spine and torso as they propel upward. This same stability is required to move explosively in any direction, whether moving laterally at the net for a block or chasing down a loose ball. This type of stability is most effectively trained in ground-based, full-body movements, mimicking how it functions in real performance (ex. front squat), instead of relying on isolated “core” exercises.
Lastly, adequate shoulder mobility and muscular balance around the shoulder are extremely important for volleyball players. In a largely sedentary culture with many “student athletes” spending hours at a desk, posture often degrades to a hunched over, shoulder deteriorating state. The prevalent posture with shoulders slumped forward, arms internally rotated, and upper back rounded creates an extremely unhealthy environment for the shoulders, predisposing overhead athletes to rotator cuff and tendon issues, which are painful, annoying, and potentially season-ending if they progress to a tear. Including proper shoulder and upper back mobility exercises combined with exercises that strengthen muscles that stabilize the shoulder girdle are effective preventative measures to avoid running into the shoulder problems that often plague volleyball players.
In my years working with college and university athletes, that while they manage to play volleyball at a high level, surprisingly many of them still move inefficiently or lack the necessary mobility or movement abilities that will help them maximize their performance and minimize their injury risk. If you have any questions or would like to inquire having a program put together that helps to achieve these movement parameters, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit our website at www.coastalfitness.ca.
Johann Windt- CSCS, BHK, PN-1
Johann’s keen coaching eye has been a valuable asset to Coastal Fitness’ strength and conditioning program. He is the head strength and conditioning coach for CBC Bearcats Athletics as well as a strength coach for Volleyball Canada’s Centre of Excellence in Abbotsford B.C. He has his Bachelors of Human Kinetics from TWU as well as his CSCS through the NSCA, he is also Precision Nutrition certified. During his undergraduate studies Johann mentored under head strength and conditioning coach Andrew Hemming of the national title winning volleyball program at TWU.