With volleyball season getting into full swing, it is important to step back and take a minute to evaluate what are some important areas to focus on for keeping players healthy and on the court. Volleyball is a dynamic sport requiring explosive jumping ability, lateral quickness, excellent overhead arm control, and great heads-up awareness if you want to be successful. However, in order to have a great season, maintaining optimal health should also be a primary focus for players and coaches. Here are some strategies to help keep your volleyball athletes in the game and performing at their very best:
1. Start From the Ground Up
Ankle sprains are the most common acute injury suffered by volleyball players, accounting for up to half of all volleyball related injuries.1 One strategy to help prevent ankle sprains is to work on balance training.2 Players can begin with single-leg balance activities on the ground, and then start making it more difficult by going onto an unstable surface, closing their eyes, or having to pass a volleyball while balancing. If there is any concern of structural instability in the ankle being present, you should seek professional medical advice about considering the use of an ankle brace.
2. Get a Great Warm-Up
Another key to a healthy season is how well you prepare to practice and play every single day. A great warm-up should always begin with some general aerobic activity such as jogging or cycling, to get you primed to start. Add in some glute activation exercises such as monster walks and lateral walks to get some of the strongest muscles in our body ready to go. Dynamic stretching is a key component to address during your warm-up, while avoiding the potential performance limiting effects of static stretching. Things like walking lunges and inchworms are good options for dynamic stretching. By this point, our athletes are ready to do some more moving, and it is time to add some movement integration with things like marches, skips, or carioca. Finally, we want to get the nervous system geared up and ready to go, so some sort of quick movements such as fast feet drills in place or lateral ski jumps over a line for speed are great. We do not want this to be fatiguing, but simply a way to get our motor going. Every time before you have a practice or game, it is essential to start with an adequate warm-up.3
3. Work the Right Muscle Groups First
While people are often focused on having a faster serve or a harder spike, they sometimes neglect other essential components. In order to create a fast swing, our arm needs to have a stable base to connect to. Strong stability in our trunk allows the arm to swing through like a whip. The second part of this equation is the importance of being able to control and slow down the arm. If you drove a Ferrari, you would want to make sure it was built on the best frame with the best brakes, before you would worry about how fast the engine could go. Neglecting these areas can be a recipe for disaster. Incorporating core stabilization exercises such as deadbugs, side plank windmills, and bird dogs will help to train that stable base.4 Band stability exercises such as rows, diagonal patterns, and reverse field goals are essential to incorporate in order to really develop control of your shoulder, making sure it is ready when you start to ramp up those swing speeds.5
4. Recover Appropriately
With all the practices, games, and training sessions, volleyball can take a lot out of you. That is why it is important to get your body the correct rest and recovery that it needs. Two different approaches include active recovery and passive recovery. Active recovery includes things like light aerobic exercise such as cycling, brisk walking, or swimming in addition to strategies such as foam rolling specific sore or problem areas. Passive recovery would include things like icing, whether directly applied or in an ice bath, along with the use of compression therapy, be it tights/compressive clothing, or potentially mechanical devices that can provide compression and help with lymphatic drainage. Having a variety of ways you can help your body recover will keep you at peak performance as the season moves along.6 (Additional information can be found at Kickstarting Recovery.)
5. Play a Variety of Sports
The final tip is a little bigger than just the game of volleyball. This tip is that kids should try to avoid sport-specialization, and instead play a variety of sports, or even just be outside playing games with their friends! High school athletes who specialize in a single sport, with continued participation in that area year-round, were found to have an increased risk of sustaining a lower extremity injury compared to athletes who did not specialize.7 Athletes who specialize at a young age are at risk of repetitive overuse injuries due to lack of variety from tasks required of them, along with the very real risk of burnout and psychological fatigue. 8 Remember, while we all want to be able to perform our best, having an appropriate balance in life is important and will benefit our young athletes for years to come.
Monster walks - Place a miniband around your knees and ankles. Squat down to an athletic stance, then walk forward, keeping your knees stacked over your toes. Keep pressure out against the bands. Repeat walking backwards.
Lateral walks - Place a miniband around your knees and ankles. Squat down to an athletic stance, then push out walking sideways, keeping your knees stacked over your toes. Keep pressure out against the bands. Repeat going the opposite direction.
Inchworms - Stand with your feet close together. Keeping your legs straight, stretch down and put your hands on the floor directly in front of you. This will be your starting position. Begin by walking your hands forward slowly, alternating your left and your right. As you do so, bend only at the hip, keeping your legs straight. Keep going until your body is parallel to the ground in a pushup position. Now, keep your hands in place and slowly take short steps with your feet, moving only a few inches at a time. Continue walking until your feet are by your hands, keeping your legs straight as you do so.
Fast feet in place - Start in an athletic position, with your feet shoulder-width apart, and your hips low. Lifting only about 2 inches in the air, run your feet in place as fast as you can, with a slow swing of both arms at the same time.
Lateral ski jumps over line - Start with both feet together, and squat your hips down a little. Keeping your feet together, jump sideways as quickly as you can back and forth, over a 2 inch line.
Deadbugs - Lie on your back, with arms reaching straight up to the ceiling, and hips/knees bent to 90 degrees. While keeping your low back flat to the floor, reach one arm up overhead while the opposite leg straightens flat to the floor, and then return to starting position. Repeat with the opposite arm/leg.
Side plank windmills - Lying on your side, place one hand directly under your shoulder and lift up to a side-plank position where your spine is in a straight line from your head to your tailbone. With your opposite hand, reach forward and underneath your body as far as you can, and then with that same arm reach straight up to the sky, having your eyes following the moving hand through the whole motion. Repeat on the opposite side.
Bird dogs - Begin on your hands and knees, with each knee directly under your hips, and each hand directly under your shoulders. While keeping your low back flat and not allowing it to arch or rotate, reach one arm up overhead while the opposite legs straightens out behind you, and then slowly lower to starting position. Repeat with the opposite arm/leg.
1. Reeser JC, Verhagen E, Briner WW, Askeland TI, Bahr R. Strategies for the prevention of volleyball related injuries. Br J Sports Med. 2006;40(7):594-600; discussion 599-600.
2. Verhagen E, van der Beek A, Twisk J, Bouter L, Bahr R, van Mechelen W. The effect of a proprioceptive balance board training program for the prevention of ankle sprains: a prospective controlled trial. Am J Sports Med. 2004;32(6):1385-1393.
3. EXOS Performance Specialist Certification Course. Available at https://exoslearn.ideafit.com/exoslearn/exos-performance-specialist-certification. Completed May 2017.
4. Kibler WB, Press J, Sciascia A. The role of core stability in athletic function. Sports Med. 2006;36(3):189-198.
5. James LP, Kelly VG, Beckman EM. Injury risk management plan for volleyball athletes. Sports Med. 2014;44(9):1185-1195.
6. Cookinham B. Kickstarting Recovery; 2017. Available at http://www.theathletesparent.com/single-post/2017/07/01/Kickstarting-Recovery. Accessed Sept. 3, 2017.
7. McGuine TA, Post EG, Hetzel SJ, Brooks MA, Trigsted S, Bell DR. A Prospective Study on the Effect of Sport Specialization on Lower Extremity Injury Rates in High School Athletes. Am J Sports Med. 2017:363546517710213.
Brittani Cookinham, PT, DPT, ATC, LAT
Is the Physical Therapy Manager at EXOS, a sports training facility in Frisco, Texas, and a United States Olympic team sports medicine volunteer. She attended Sacred Heart University where she obtained her Bachelors of Science in Athletic Training and her Doctorate in Physical Therapy.