What happens to strength training as clubs get deep into competition season? How do athletes take advantage of the strength and endurance they have built up so far? Even mid-season, explosiveness and acceleration are traits that can be improved with proper training.

Quickness & Acceleration
Quickness requires strength. Without sufficient strength generating force to propel one’s body, there will not be significant quickness or speed available. Our preseason blog post focused on building a foundation of strength so more focus could be put on skills work in-season. However, it is important to maintain that level of preseason strength, rather than abandon strength training all together during the season.

When discussing strength and speed, we must cover a bit of muscle physiology. There are different muscle fiber types within any muscle. We will consider two primary types—slow twitch fibers (known as MyHC I) and fast twitch fibers (known as MyHC II…these are further divided into IIA and IIX if you are interested in researching this). These variations are characterized by their function within the muscle, namely the velocity of contraction they produce. Each athlete carries different ratios of MyHC I and II in their muscles, and this, in part, is why some people are described as more sprint-oriented with a quick first step while others appear to have slower acceleration. There is a relationship between maximal concentric strength and percentage of MyHC II fibers, meaning a person with a larger proportion of fast twitch fibers will be able to obtain higher muscle force and power output during fast movements than someone with a smaller proportion of fast twitch fibers.

Building Quickness
One of the questions coaches and athletes ask most often is about how to increase speed and power beyond baseline levels. The key is to somehow increase the proportion of MyHC II fibers, but is this possible? Researchers are in consensus that heavy resistance exercise training will increase MyHC IIA and decrease MyHC IIX, while MyHC I is essentially unaffected. Translation: really fast fibers are traded for still fast, but not quite as fast fibers, and slow fibers are unaffected by resistance training. It may seem unfavorable to trade in your fastest fibers whose contractile velocity is the greatest, but that is only the case when looking at each individual fiber. When looking at the whole muscle, this decrease is more than outweighed by gain in contractile strength and power. The enhancement in muscle force and power following 3-4 months of heavy resistance strength training mainly occurs because fast fibers exhibit a twofold greater growth overall than slow fibers. Thus, you will end up with a higher proportion of fast fibers, increasing your overall quickness and ability to accelerate.

Improving Your Power
Improving your power comes from how well you execute tasks in training. To develop your power, you must emphasize the initiation of whatever propulsive movement you are about to perform. Focus on being explosive in the thrust of a squat, off the ground of a vertical jump, or in the toss of a medicine ball. In the weight room and in your volleyball skills training, choose to execute your drills with strength and speed, instead of going through the motions steadily. Changing how you perform a power movement will change your body’s natural inclination for that motion as the neuromuscular system adapts to the training stimulus. Repeated power exercises such as squat jumps and weighted ball tosses help the engaged muscles learn to transition from extension to contraction as quickly as possible. A recent study concluded that 4 weeks of drop jump training improved jumping performance in well-trained athletes without a concomitant change in strength. The improved performance is thought to be due to neural factors that control the jump movement. By practicing a movement with power, you can train your brain to execute the movement better even without any increase in strength.

Greater quickness and power are achieved through training one’s mind and body. Both require a foundation of strength training. For more information regarding preseason strength training, please check out this blog post! While everyone may start with different muscular composition and propensity for speed, each athlete can work hard to increase the proportion of fast fibers present in muscle and teach the body to be explosive. Set your mind on improving your speed and power, and get ready to see the results in this exciting phase of your season!

Here are three exercises to get started today.

1. Altitude Drops

Level: All
Movement: Start with this exercise to work on landing form. It is key to land equally on both feet and dip into a quarter squat so your glutes and quads can absorb the landing, rather than your ankles and knees.
Bridge tip: These look simple and easy, but it’s important to get proper form on these. Have a partner film your landing and watch it with them to make sure you’re landing equally on both feet.

2. Depth Jumps
: Intermediate to Advanced
Movement: After you’ve mastered the Altitude Drops, graduate to Depth Jumps. In this movement, stand on a box about knee high. Step off the box with one foot and land on both feet equally just as you would in the Altitude Drops. As soon as you land, accelerate upward into a jump, bringing your knees to your hands. Again, land equally on both feet. Repeat.
Bridge tip: More advanced than Altitude Drops, Depth Jumps build both quickness and power. Focus on pushing off the ground as quickly as possible when you step off the box. You don’t need to jump high, just work on training your brain to react to the sensation of touching the ground.
3. Power Stepups
Level: Intermediate to Advanced
Movement: Stand in front of a box just below knee height. Step up with your right leg. Squeeze your glute and push off the box, hopping slightly above the box. Land with your left foot on the box and your right foot on the ground. Repeat this motion on the other side without pause between each rep.
Bridge tip: Focus on power for this exercise. Push hard into the box through the ball of your foot, but land softly, absorbing the compression in your glutes.
For related reading on fitness and volleyball performance training, click here.

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About the Author

BridgeAthletic builds high-performance training tools for coaches and athletes who compete at the highest levels. The integrated BridgeAthletic platform leverages the power of technology to revolutionize the way coaches create, deliver, and track athlete progress. With customized training programs delivered directly to their smart phone or tablet, athletes train smarter, power through plateaus, and perform better come game time. BridgeAthletic is the Official Performance Training Technology of the JVA. With BridgeAthletic, volleyball clubs can get customized strength training programs to help your athletes train smarter and perform better. Contact bridge@bridgeathletic.com to get started.