Volleyball Agility Drills With the University of Wisconsin


Lateral hops and lifts helped the Wisconsin volleyball team improve agility, reduce post-match muscle soreness and vault back into the nation's top 10 for the first time since 2001.

What if someone said you could eliminate post-match soreness while simultaneously improving your agility through a program based on lateral hops? You would probably look at him like he was a few fries short of a Happy Meal, right? Bryan Miller, strength and conditioning coach of the University of Wisconsin volleyball team, received exactly that kind of reaction when he first started agility training the Badgers in July 2004.

"My athletes looked at me like I had two heads," Miller says. "They were like, 'OK, we're just hopping left and right?' I explained that it's important to have a forceful push on each jump, and stick the landing and absorb the impact, because that's what you have to do during a game.

"This really sank in when I told them to think about how many times they jump and change direction in a game. Then I asked them if their legs were really sore the next day. Practically all of them said yes. So I explained that this training teaches them to be stronger and absorb that force better, which limits soreness in their low back, hips, legs and knees."

By performing variations of lateral hop agility drills in combination with lifts that work lateral movement, Miller's athletes improved their change of direction skills, acceleration and deceleration and reduced post-match muscle soreness.

The force application and force absorption trained through these movements produced the desired results. Incorporating lateral hops one day a week into their total agility program and one lateral lift during lower body training in the off-season helped the Badgers climb the ranks of collegiate volleyball. Cracking the top 10 for the first time since 2001, Wisconsin experienced the profound effects of Miller's unconventional hopping.

Volleyball Agility Drills

THE HOPS

LATERAL HOP AND HOLD

The Badgers' number one drill, according to Miller, is the Lateral Hop and Hold. At first, hop only two to three feet, so you can work on the landing. "The landing is the most important part in the first stage," Miller says. "Fighting and learning to regain balance on the landing is the big benefit of the exercise, because you're absorbing the force of the jump and working on hip, knee and ankle stability, which is obviously crucial for volleyball. Once you can stick the landing, then progress to hopping for distance and height."

Perform 2 sets of 10 reps and rest 25 seconds between sets. Over time, progress to 3-4 sets of 10 reps with the 25-second rest.

• Stand on right leg in athletic position

• Bound laterally to left

• Land on left leg, hold position 2 seconds

• Bound laterally to right

• Land on right leg, hold position 2 seconds

• Repeat

Coaching Point: Hold the landing for two seconds. Make sure, first, that you're in an athletic position, and, second, that you are able to move seamlessly into your next movement. If you are too hunched over or extended too far to one side, you will have to regroup before making another movement.

45-DEGREE LATERAL HOP AND HOLD

This drill is identical to the Lateral Hop and Hold, except that it is performed at a 45-degree angle. Follow the same rep, set and rest pattern, beginning with 2 sets of 10 reps and building to 3-4 sets of 10 reps. Always use 25 seconds rest between sets.

• Stand on left leg in athletic position

• Bound laterally to right at 45-degree angle

• Land on right leg, hold position 2 seconds

• Bound laterally to left at 45-degree angle

• Land on left leg, hold position 2 seconds

• Repeat

REACTIVE HOP AND HOLD

This movement starts with a quick jab step to one side, then a bound off that leg in the opposite direction, holding on the landing. "It teaches you to be quick off the ground in the first movement," Miller says. "You generate a bigger jump because of that counter-movement with the jab step."

Perform 2 sets of 5-8 reps with a 25-second rest. Increase to 3-4 sets of 5-8 reps, still using a 25-second rest.

• Stand on left leg in athletic position

• Bound laterally right with quick jab step of right leg

• Immediately bound to left off right leg

• Land on left leg, hold position 2 seconds

• Repeat in opposite direction

THE LIFTS

Perform 3 sets of 5 reps of one lift on lower body training days. Rest for 90 seconds to 2 minutes between sets.

LATERAL LUNGE

"The Lateral Lunge stresses the quad muscles and glutes, which are used when you apply force to the ground to change direction," Miller says. "Your lateral step into the lunge improves force absorption, because you have to control the weight of the bar and your body weight."

• Stand with bar on back

• Step laterally into lunge position

• Weight bearing leg should be bent

• Opposite leg should be straight

• Push hips back and keep knee of bent leg above toes

• Make sure toes of both feet point forward

• Drive back to starting position

LATERAL SQUAT

This exercise works the same muscles as the Lateral Lunge, but is more of a stationary movement. Miller says, "The Lateral Squat is a way of doing a Lateral Lunge without as much impact, because the feet don't leave the ground. Girls who have knee problems should do the Lateral Squat instead of the Lunge, because it feels better on the knees." This lift can help athletes with injuries or pain in their lower bodies.

• Stand with bar on back in wide stance

• Shift weight to one side and squat into lunge position

• Weight bearing leg should be bent

• Opposite leg should be straight

• Push hips back and keep knee of bent leg above toes

• Make sure toes of both feet point forward

• Straighten bent leg, return to starting position

LATERAL STEP-UP

"Start the Lateral Step-up like a regular Step-up, but instead of stepping straight down, cross the leg that's going down behind your body and to the side until it touches the ground. You will look almost like you do when you bring your back leg behind you after rolling a bowling ball," Miller explains.

"This puts a lot more emphasis on the outside part of your quads, the IT bands and your hips. It also puts you in a different position to exert force to come back up. Make sure you resist the temptation to rotate during the lift."

• Stand on bench or 18-24" box with bar on back

• Step down with one foot, bringing foot behind and across opposite leg

• Touch down-foot to ground

• Drive through up foot, return to starting position

The Miller Difference

Bryan Miller's outlook on agility: "I see a lot of schools who work agility with very basic speed ladder drills, dot drills and line drills. I believe that does not really work on agility because there's no changing of direction, deceleration or acceleration within the movement. It's all done in place, so it doesn't mimic the movements of volleyball. To truly improve agility, an athlete has to move close to full speed, decelerate and then change direction—things that will work on force absorption and force application.

"Every movement made in a game, whether offensive or defensive, is quick. The pace of the game is so fast, you have to be able to move left to right, front to back, and up and down the court without thinking about it."

"We do a lot of single-leg movements and lateral movements to help compliment the agility work we do on the court, which is something that I don't see in a lot of in other programs. They harp on being good at agility but then look what they do in the weight room—the two-leg squat or straight-ahead lunge—nothing that works on the muscles you have to use when you go left to right."