In the world of women’s volleyball, the hardest spikes have been clocked at 45 miles per hour. With some fuzzy math, you can calculate that, given the size of the court, a top spike, near the net, can reach even the farthest corners in less than a half second. A half second!
With such power dictating the standards of reaction time, top volleyball programs are seeking athletes who are fat out quick.
But even the most gifted athlete can’t survive purely on natural quickness. Volleyball players need specialized workouts where intense speed and agility training are emphasized to help them fulfill such a unique set of requirements.
"The things volleyball players need are the ability to move laterally very fast, and the ability to transition on and off the net extremely explosively," says Daniel Jahn, the strength and conditioning coach for the University of Washington women’s volleyball team. "They also need to be explosive horizontally and vertically. So they need to be able to move side to side and then all of sudden they have to be able to jump high and as fast as possible."
Those are the great demands of the Huskies’ head coach and 2004 National Coach of the Year Jim McLaughlin. And Jahn has delivered a capable team.
U-Dubb’s women were ranked the top team in the country seven times during the 2004 season. Entering the NCAA tournament as the Pac-10 champs, the Huskies fell just one game short of the national championship match, when they fell to eventual champion Stanford.
And to get your explosiveness up to speed, Jahn says his specified drills require just two sessions a week. Jahn—who tests the volleyball team on a frequent basis for progress—says that in just eight weeks last summer, he was able to drop the entire team’s average time on a crossover step drill test, from 12.2 seconds to 10.3.
Just two seconds, right? Now try it for yourself.
Crossover Step Drill
"The crossover step drill is a basic side-to-side movement drill," Jahn says.. "I have everyone do this drill—the setters, the blockers, the hitters, everyone."
To perform the drill, set up two cones roughly 5 yards apart. Stand inside of the cones, next to the left cone, so that you can touch the cone with your left hand. Standing in an athletic position, take a crossover step with your left foot in front of your right leg. Next, step to the right with your right leg to straighten your hips back out. Lastly, take shuffle steps to the right until you can touch the other cone. Use a crossover step with your right leg first, and then step and shuffle to the left to get back to the left cone.
Move back and forth between the two cones for a total of 10 touches; five for each cone. The key is to move your feet quickly, keep your hips low, and move in between the cones as fast as possible. Start performing three sets of 10 touches and build up to as many as 10 sets as your ability improves. Make sure to get full recovery in between sets. About a 45 to 60-second rest should do.
Lateral Shuffle Step
To perform this drill, set up two cones 10 to 12 feet apart. Start at one cone and shuffle laterally from cone to cone. Complete a total of 10 touches; five for each cone. Like the Crossover Step Drill, start with three sets of 10 touches and work up to as many as 10 sets. Take up to a minute-long rest in between sets to achieve full recovery.
"The lateral shuffle step is a great drill to work on lateral movement," Jahn says. "Really focus on driving off the back leg."
"The box drill is a very important drill for volleyball players," Jahn says of the next exercise. "They need to be able to get off the ground very quick and transition very quick to go from moving horizontally to moving vertically."
To perform this drill, set up four cones in the shape of a square. Each side of the square should be 7 yards. Start at the bottom left cone and sprint up to the top left cone. Then shuffle across to the top right cone. Move around this cone and back pedal to the bottom right cone. Lastly, shuffle across to the bottom left cone where the drill began.
While you perform these movements, have a coach or partner clap or blow a whistle. On each clap or whistle blow, jump up as high and as quickly as possible. Try to make the reaction time from clap/whistle to jumping as fast as possible. Within a given repetition around the square, have your partner or coach clap or whistle two or three times. Perform four to eight repetitions of this drill with as much as a minute-long rest in between reps.
To perform dot drills, use a dot drill mat, or mark five dots on the ground. Four of the dots should be in the shape of a square with each side roughly one yard long. The fifth dot should be in the middle of the square.
A total of one to two sets of the five following 20-second patterns are performed on each training day. During the beginning of the off-season take a shorter rest time, roughly 30 to 40 seconds between patterns and sets. Later in the off-season, when the actual season is near, increase rest time to achieve full recovery, roughly 60 to 75 seconds.
Start with your left foot on dot No. 1 and right foot on dot No. 2, quickly jump to No. 3 landing on both feet. Then, quickly jump forward again, with your left foot landing on No. 4 and right foot landing on No. 5. Immediately jump backward to No. 3 landing with both feet together. Then jump backwards again, landing on No. 1 with your left foot and No. 2 with your right foot.
Jumping Jack with One Foot in Middle
This pattern is exactly the same as the Jumping Jacks pattern. But, rather than landing on both feet on No. 3, land on only one foot. For one 20-second repetition use the right foot in the middle, and for the next 20 second repetition use the left foot.
Jumping Jack Twists
Start this pattern the same way as the Jumping Jacks pattern. But, on your second jump, when your left foot is on No. 4 and your right foot is on No. 5, rather than jump backward, jump up and twist your hips so your right foot lands on No. 4 and left foot lands on No. 5. Then jump forward to No. 3, landing with both feet together. Jump forward again with your right foot landing on No. 1 and left foot on No. 2. Then perform another jump up with a twist so you land in the original starting position.
Standing on two feet, hop from corner to corner in a circle like motion. Start at No. 2, hop to No. 5, then to No. 4, back to No. 1 and finally back to No. 2. This drill can also be performed in the opposite direction as well as hopping on either the right or left foot.
This pattern can be performed by hopping on both feet, or just your left or right foot. Start at No. 2, hop to No. 3, and then to No. 4. Quickly hop laterally to No. 5, then hop backward and diagonally to No. 3, and then to No. 1. Lastly, laterally hop back to No. 2. This pattern can also be done in the opposite direction starting at No. 1.
A Final Note
Perhaps the greatest piece of advice Jahn provided may have been his ultimatum about work ethic: "Consistency is huge!" he says. "An athlete would be better off doing a crappy program every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 9 a.m., than they would doing a great program on Tuesday and Saturday of one week, Monday and Thursday the next, and then only once the following week. You have to be consistent. If you’re consistent, you’re going to see results. If you’re not, you won’t."