Volleyball is a sport that involves a number of distinct strength training and conditioning considerations. As with sports such as cricket, running, and slow pitch softball, any healthy person can participate in a game of volleyball. It is generally safe, being a sport played in a regimented fashion with a limited number of contacts permitted with the ball when delivered across the net, with no physical contact permitted between the participants. It is not necessarily physically demanding in terms of exertion, as there are significant rest intervals between each point scored in a game.
Volleyball shares similarities with softball and cricket on another level. To succeed as a volleyball player in elite competition, the athlete must develop a wide range of physical skills. The ideal volleyball player is often tall and very physically limber. All players, irrespective of their height, will be agile, possessed of explosive leaping ability, a superior vertical jump, and balance. Volleyball players invariably possess outstanding reaction time and hand-eye coordination.
The techniques involved in successful volleyball play are built on repetitive drills and the simulation of various game situations to hone a combination of physical and mental skills. The distinct skills of bumping, blocking, setting, spiking, digging, and receiving the ball are those practiced at every volleyball training session.
Effective volleyball strength training is premised on building the best musculoskeletal structure possible to perfect these game skills. Volleyball training, as with any sport, will be designed through the application of the periodization of training principle. This principle is founded on the broader concept that no athlete can train at the same high level for indefinite periods, as the body requires both physical and mental down time (rest) to recover from periods of intense exertion or competition.
The training year for the volleyball player will be divided into three general segments, with further subdivisions within each segment to accommodate a particular training or competitive objective. Typical periodization would include a preseason, a competitive season, and an off-season. The physical training performed by the player will be tailored to the respective seasons.
For adolescent athletes, periodization and the specific exercises performed must also be modified to properly account for the differences in the adolescent musculoskeletal structure. When a young athlete has not yet reached physical maturity, excessive repetitions of particular exercises or excessive resistance training may cause significant damage to the epiphysis regions of the long bones of the body, which contain the growth plates. Such training may also place unhealthy stress on the growing connective tissues.
The training program, once properly segmented into training periods, will focus on four general types of physical development essential to the successful execution of the various volleyball techniques: increased jumping ability through plyometrics exercises; the core strength of the player; stretching and flexibility training; and general aerobic fitness.
Leaping ability and volleyball are inextricably linked. The ability of a player to rise above the floor, either to deliver a spike or to block an opponent's attack, is an essential of the game. At an elite level, much of the game is played well above the net, which is approximately 8 ft (2.4 m) high. Plyometrics is a collection of leaping and bounding exercises designed to stimulate the fast-twitch muscle fibers of the legs to produce a correspondingly greater and more dynamic vertical jump. The stresses placed on the leg structure through plyometrics training are significant, especially when regular volleyball training involves a significant number of jumps by a player in any given training session. Plyometrics is a common feature of both off-season and preseason training for this reason, with less focus on plyometrics drills in the competitive season.
Core strength is the generic term used to describe the functions of the abdominal, gluteal, lumbar (lower back), and groin muscles. Well-developed core strength will provide any athlete with greater balance in movement, especially in actions requiring the athlete to move quickly from a crouched position, a common feature in volleyball. Volleyball players will train aggressively in the development of core strength during both off-season and preseason training periods, with reduced intensity in the competitive period for the purpose of strength maintenance. Focused weight training, such as squats and lunges (both of which develop the upper thighs and hamstrings), and various types of abdominal crunches, including forms of Swiss ball training, are effective in the enhancement of core strength.
Stretching and flexibility exercises, both through traditional calisthenics and using devices such as a Swiss ball, are essential to performance and to the reduction of the risk of injury. Stretching is an integral part of the entire volleyball training regimen, in all three general training periods. It provides protection to the musculoskeletal structure against imbalances that often lead to muscle strains and pulls, as well as maximizing the range of motion in all joints, encouraging greater flexibility and correspondingly more effective movement. A stiff player will not be responsive on the volleyball court. Exercises that assist the player with recovery from the potential repetitive strains on the shoulder from the practice of serves and spikes are emphasized.
Aerobic fitness is a less emphasized but important aspect of volleyball training. Endurance acts as a platform on which the more spectacular leaping and athletic movements in the sport may occur. A five-game volleyball match, played in a warm gymnasium, may take two hours to complete. In the same fashion that running provides a boxer with the stamina to recover from the exertions of each round with an opponent, aerobic fitness permits the volleyball player a speedy recovery after a particularly intense series of points.