Work from the bottom up. That's how Devan McConnell, sports performance coach at Stanford University, trains his athletes in the off-season. Not that Stanford has been anywhere near the bottom lately [see STACK's Elite 50 College rankings].
It's business as usual on the Farm for the Cardinal women's volleyball team, winner of four consecutive Pac-10 Conference championships, the most recent in 2009. For this squad, it's all about teamwork and progress. These themes appear at the bottom of each of the nine pages of their off-season workout chart, in the form of a quote from Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motor Company and inventor of the assembly line used for industrial mass production. It reads:
"If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself."
Stanford's workouts are built Cardinal-tough; so before you fly headfirst into them, read on to learn more about the program and how to gain maximum benefits from it this summer.
Not So Sport-Specific
This program will have you jumping, squatting and shuffling—all movements you must master to kill it on the court. But the overall approach to training for volleyball is to improve the attributes that make ALL athletes more efficient. Of the different teams he works with at Stanford, McConnell says, "When it comes to training, I would say that 90 to 95 percent of the workouts will be the same. A good athlete is a good athlete, no matter what sport he or she is playing—at least for team sports. A volleyball player needs to be just as explosive as a basketball or hockeyplayer."
This idea also applies to training regardless of position. Liberos, you may wear different-colored jerseys, but you will do what everybody else does during off-season training.
For college volleyball programs like Stanford's, the off-season starts less than a month after the season ends. So while you were busy competing for your school's basketball team in January, the journey to Kansas City for the 2010 NCAA Women's Volleyball Championship was just getting underway in Palo Alto. And when spring sprang in March and you were gearing up for the softball season—or perhaps a tournament run with your AAU team—Cardinal v-ballers were wrapping up the eighth and final week of their off-season program, just a few weeks away from their first spring match.
Stanford's volleyball team makes its off-season nest in the brand new, state-of-the-art Arrillaga Center for Sports & Recreation, where they train four days a week. For training days, McConnell recommends going Monday-Tuesday-Thursday-Friday. He says, "I like having that rest and recovery day in the middle of the week and on the weekends."
If you don't have four days a week to dedicate to training, cut it to three, since Days 2 and 4 have many of the same lifts and movements in common. Adjust the days you train to fit your schedule. But try to include off-days between your active days, because rest and recovery are especially important during the summer months.
McConnell says, "The whole idea of this program is starting with the simplest exercises—the most stable exercises—and then progressing toward complexity and more dynamic motions, more speed and more instability." His advice? "Make sure you follow the progressions and master each movement before you move on to the next, more complicated progression. You've got to perfect Exercise A before moving on to Exercise B."
Not all gyms are created equal. The world-class equipment at Stanford is probably not available in your high school weight room or community recreation center. Thus, with respect to this workout plan, we kept things simple, replacing lifts that require more advanced equipment with more basic variations that can be performed in any gym. However, if you do have access to a Keiser Functional Trainer, Vertimax, Slideboard or TRX straps, here's how Stanford athletes perform the following exercises on these sophisticated training devices.
TRX Inverted Row [Day 1]
• Wrap suspension anchor around solid overhead anchor point. A Power or Squat Rack is ideal.
• Hold onto straps with palms facing in
• Pull body up until chest is even with hands
Vertimax Squat Jumps [Day 2]
• Stand on Vertimax with bungee cords attached
• Lower into squat; explode into jump
Coaching Points: Focus on landing softly // Do not bend at waist // Drop hips into squat position during reload
X-Pulldown on Keiser Functional Trainer [Day 3]
• Kneel below machine with independent cables
• Grasp left handle with right hand and right handle with left hand; fully extend arms overhead
• Using shoulder blades to initiate movement, pull handles diagonally down so that elbows come to sides
• Straighten elbows and rotate palms forward
Slideboard Hamstring Curl [Day 3]
• Lie on back on Slideboard; bridge hips off ground while keeping legs straight
• Bend at knees and slide feet toward butt until legs form 90-degree angle
• Slide feet back toward start position
Coaching Points: Keep toes up and glutes engaged throughout exercise // Work to create straight line from knees to shoulders
TRX YTL [Day 4]
• Wrap suspension anchor around solid overhead anchor point [e.g., Power Rack]
• For Y and T positions, lean back 45 degrees until arms are fully extended and elbows locked
• Pull body up while forming appropriate letter with arms
• For L position, keep elbows bent 90 degrees and lean back 45 degrees
Coaching Points: Maintain 90-degree bend in elbows for L // Pull body up and through at top of each movement
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