Using Strength Training To Improve Your Volleyball Serve

July 25, 2012

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In the Summer Olympics, you'll see the most elite volleyball athletes outmatch their defenders by powerfully serving aces and seam balls. Wouldn't you like to improve your game to their level?

Whether your serve of choice is a floater, jump serve, jump float or just a basic overhand serve, the biomechanical principles are simple. To hit the ball through the defender or to place the ball where they are not, you must have both strength and power. A strength training program specifically designed to improve a volleyball serve must focus on strengthening the smaller muscles of the shoulder while simultaneously developing strength and power in the lower body.

But before reviewing the program, let's look at the mechanics principles of a volleyball serve. Like normal weight-bearing activity, a serve involves the transmission of forces among the foot, ankle, lower leg, knee, thigh and hip. For a serve, the hand acts as a weight bearing surface, transmitting force to the wrist, forearm, elbow, upper arm and shoulder girdle. Although most of the movements used in tennis and baseball are also used in volleyball, there is a slight difference in that volleyball players use a forward moving approach immediately followed by a vertical jump. This approach enables the server to gain horizontal momentum, which then must be converted to vertical momentum through subsequent flight.

The goal of this program is to create a well-rounded, full body workout to help improve your overall athleticism and enhance your ability to serve a volleyball. The program below should be completed twice a week with at least twenty-four hours of rest between training sessions.

Volleyball Prehab Workout

Volleyball Prehab Workout

If you are not familiar with the exercises listed above
, please consult the videos below.

Also, if you follow this template for in-season training, I recommend using the Clean instead of 
the Snatch to limit wear and tear on the shoulder joint.

You'll notice at the top of the workout there is a pre-habilitation section featuring simple exercises. Some are 
mobility-based movements, while others help improve joint stability through activation and strengthening of smaller muscles. Consider these
 exercises not as strength training but as a program
 specifically designed to prevent injuries.

A large component of serving in volleyball is a strong core, which is why most of the exercises incorporate bracing the core in the frontal, sagittal or transverse plane. This approach will allow you to strengthen your core muscles, which are essential for playing any sport, including volleyball.

On both Day 1 and Day 2, the first exercise you'll complete is the Snatch, which is great for developing lower body power. When performing the Snatch, make sure to perfect your form before piling on
 the weight. If you don't know how to snatch, reference the Single Arm
 Dumbbell Snatch in the Day 1 video. It will allow you
 to develop lower body power while you learn the Snatch techinque.

The "slam" movement of throwing the medicine ball forcefully into the floor is great for building power and strength in the upper body and core. The exercise helps teach volleyball players how to activate their core while performing a motion similar to spiking. On Day 2, use a lighter medicine ball to help build muscles involved in serving and spiking.

After you have trained for power development, shift to strengthening your posterior chain with the next set of exercises on each day. On Day 1, use the X-Pull-Down with Triceps Extension to promote strong lats and lower traps. On Day 2, use Pull-Ups to build more strength in the lats and lower traps. If you're unable to perform a Pull-Up, start off using Lat Pull-Downs until you've reached your bodyweight.

The fourth exercise focuses on strengthening everyone's favorite muscle group: the mirror muscles (chest, shoulders, triceps). Push-Ups and Kettlebell Single Arm Overhead Presses are among the best exercises for developing this muscle group. In our video, we show more difficult variations of the Push-Up, but there are easier variations. Beginners should start using a raised barbell and gradually lower the barbell each week until they reach the floor.

Snow devils, the fifth exercise on Day 1, strengthen the rotator cuff muscles of the shoulder through a series of movements. Do not use dumbbells over five pounds, because heavier weight tends to force the larger shoulder muscles to take over. If the exercise seems too easy, simply increase time rather than weight. On Day 2, focus on strengthening your core with the Paloff series.

The last exercise on each day uses ropes to strengthen the upper body and get the heart rate up to provide cardiovascular benefits.

If you follow this template along with dedicated serving practice, you'll gain more control and develop a more powerful jump serve to split defenders.

photo credit: thanet.gov.uk

Kevin Hollabaugh
- Kevin Hollabaugh has trained both high school and professional athletes. A multi-sport athlete, he has a passion for baseball and volleyball. As a trainer, he...
Kevin Hollabaugh
- Kevin Hollabaugh has trained both high school and professional athletes. A multi-sport athlete, he has a passion for baseball and volleyball. As a trainer, he...
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