Speed Drills with Pepperdine Volleyball

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The Pepperdine Waves crashed onto the Pacific coast, inundating the UCLA Bruins on their home court and capturing the 2004 National Collegiate Men's Volleyball Championship. The five-setter was a perfect opportunity for the Waves to put their explosive court speed on display for the entire nation. One of the men responsible for this impressive exhibition is Pepperdine strength and conditioning coach, Jay Zemliak.

Because players rarely move in one direction for more than a few steps, speed in volleyball is defined by how quickly you can cover a short distance. Zemliak's speed development program trains the Waves accordingly. "Volleyball has lots of lateral and backward movements, which are short, explosive bursts," he explains. "Hardly ever does a player have to chase a ball so far that he has to turn around and sprint. Speed mostly comes into play with a few quick steps and then sometimes a dive."

As the game has evolved, the importance of training for explosive speed has increased. Zemliak says, "The game has become more powerful in recent years. A ball coming off a block travels farther and faster than it used to. As a result, players must be able to cover distance in a shorter period of time."

The Waves gain their explosive speed in the weight room. Zemliak believes that volleyball players need to establish a solid base by developing their hip, upper leg and lower leg muscles, which are the speed-and explosion-producing muscles of the body. Through explosive lifts, lower body movements and plyometrics, the Waves sped their way to the top.


Power Clean
Start with shins touching bar

Grip bar just outside athletic stance

Get down into deadlift position with back locked, shoulders up and abs and chest flexed

Begin initial pull by extending hips and knees

Move into second pull when bar is just above knees

Explode by forcefully shrugging and fully extending hips, knees and ankles

Pull bar up keeping it close to chest

Drop under bar and catch it along front of shoulders in an athletic stance with knees bent

Power Snatch
Start with shins touching bar

Grip bar with wide grip

Get down into a deadlift position with back locked, shoulders up and abs and chest flexed

Begin initial pull by extending hips and knees

Move into second pull when bar is just above knees

Explode by forcefully shrugging and fully extending hips, knees and ankles

Pull bar up keeping it close to chest

Drop under bar and catch it overhead in athletic stance with knees bent

Benefits: Olympic style lifts are total body movements involving the legs, hips, back and shoulders. Zemliak likens them to "jumps with weight," adding that eccentric muscle work is involved in controlling and stabilizing the weight when catching it. He says, "This is important when it transfers to the court. It trains players to land solidly and stably, then immediately move from that position."

Sets: 3-5/Reps: 5-6 (gradually working down to 1 or 2 reps over several weeks)/Rest: 90 seconds with high reps, 2-3 minutes with low reps

Coaching Point: "Start from the ground with all your Olympic lifts. When you come from the ground, you generate more work and flexion in the hips and legs. in addition, when the bar passes your knees, it is already moving and has some momentum. When you get used to coming from the ground, you will be able to handle more weight. theory says the more weight you can handle, the better training effect you will get."

STACK Says: The weight for the Power Snatch should be considerably lighter than that for the Power Clean, because you have to move the bar over a greater distance and catch it in a less stable position.


Begin in athletic stance with toes pointing out slightly

Pick focus point high on wall in front of you

Squat down with control and good posture until thighs are just below parallel

Keep weight back on heels

Drive upward out of squat into starting position, keeping eyes up and chest out

With bar across your back, step forward into lunge position, keeping front knee behind front toes

Push back into standing position when back knee almost touches ground

Benefits: These lifts develop the glutes and upper hamstringsĀ—the large, speed-producing muscles of the lower body.

Sets: 4/Reps: 10/Rest: 90 seconds

Coaching Point: "When you do squats, you have to go down until the thigh is at least parallel to the floor so it is not just the quadriceps working. You have to get deep to train the upper hamstrings and glutes, which are the most powerful hip extensors. the lower you go, the more involved they become. Hip extension is what running and jumping are all about."


Single Leg Heel Raises
Stand on one leg with front of foot on raised surface

Push down with front of foot until all the way up on toes

Benefits: Strengthens the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles, both of which are crucial in jumping, landing and overall explosive movement.

Sets: 3 each leg/Reps: 15-20/Rest: 90 seconds

Weight: Begin with body weight, then gradually increase by holding dumbbells in each hand.

Coaching Point: "It is important to do the heel raise until you are all the way up on your toes. The full range of motion gets a complete contraction of the calf muscle, which happens when you jump or push off."


Box Drops
Stand on edge of 20" box

Step off box

Perform jump for maximum height immediately upon landing

Benefits: Plyometrics help develop explosive strength and power in the hips, upper legs and lower legs.

Sets: 3/Reps: 5/Rest: 1-2 minutes/ Times Per Week: off-season, 2; during season, 1


Advanced Progression:
1) Step off box and jump up onto second box

2) Line up three 20" boxes in a row with a taller fourth box last. Step off the first box and jump onto second. Continue down the line jumping between and then onto each box. Finish by jumping up onto the higher box at the end. Focus on minimizing ground contact time between boxes.


Although talented and full of potential, Sean Rooney arrived at Pepperdine as a slender freshman. He obviously needed to get bigger and stronger to become a force on the court. Dedicating himself to Zemliak's program, the 6'9" outside hitter made consistent improvements during each of his four years on the Malibu campus, bulking up to 215 pounds.

Zemliak says, "For a guy who is almost 7 feet tall, Sean can really handle the weights. He improved his movement tremendously because of that. When a tall athlete gets stronger in the legs and strengthens his base, he gets a lot more solid in all of his movements and much faster around the court."

During the 2005 title campaign, Rooney collected 556 kills and averaged 6.39 points per game, earning recognition as AVCA Men's Division I-II National Player of the Year and the NCAA Championship Tournament's Most Outstanding Player. He has continued his volleyball career on the sand with the AVP Pro Beach Volleyball Tour.

Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock