Vertical Jump

Volleyball Performance Training: The Other Skillz

Following the loose theme we've had this month of volleyball training (but really, let's be honest, all of this can apply to most sports), I thought it would be beneficial to highlight a few other athletic skills/movements that are woefully under-trained in volleyball players. It's all about the vertical!

But not really.

It drives me nutso that coaches and parents and the players focus singularly on improving the vertical jump. Yes, it's important, but how does one get to the net to jump? How does one move fast enough to get behind the ball to pass it well?

I've worked with dozens and dozens of volleyball players and I've seen terrible movement quality all the other planes of motion. Great volleyball players are more than their vertical jump heights! (tweet that) I've listed a handful of movements that would behoove any volleyball player, and coaches, to implement in a regular training rotation.

Side Shuffle

I can, without exaggeration, tell you that I've seen volleyball players side shuffle with the grace of a new-born giraffe. How in the world can a volleyball player move around the court while keeping their eyes on the game, without side shuffling? Answer: Not possible. Side shuffling is the most efficient and most strategic way to move around the court.

Transitional Movements

Above are just a few examples of transitional movement drills. Along with side shuffling, there are times when players need to sprint forward or backpedal quickly and then run in a completely different direction. The ability to change directions rapidly is essential in volleyball, especially if there's a wild pass or tip off the net.


Yes, I know volleyball consists of jumping up and down, and not side-to-side, but reinforcing lateral movements is a boon for volleyball. Heidens also teach force absorption and production in the frontal (lateral) plane. Most of volleyball consists of lateral movements, so if a player is strong side-to-side, not only will it reduce injury risk but she will be more confident moving sideways and will thus do it more.


There are a lot of opportunities to dive, roll, and fall on the ground in volleyball. Learning how to do so safely is imperative. Learning how to pop back up again after a quick "hello" to the floor is vital for scoring points. Because rolling and tumbling is not a part of our everyday lives (at least, most of us) the vestibular system might be a bit slow in re-orienting. However, if you train rolls, you're also training the vestibular system and strengthening its ability to readjust quickly.

Add these into your training arsenal and there will be a guaranteed bump in performance.

5 Tips for the Vertical Jump

As mentioned a bunch of times by now, our theme for this month on the blog is Training for Overhead Athletes. The holy grail of performance indicators for volleyball players is, without doubt, the VERTICAL JUMP and with good reason, the sport is won or lost in the air, so an athlete will clearly have the advantage the longer they can stay in the air to execute their portion of the play. Stevo did a great job talking about the pros and cons of the vertical jump as a test itself back in January 2012. You should check it out.

Now, if you read that post, you will clearly understand the limits of the test, but you may still be wondering "Okay, okay, Stevo... I get it. But can you PLEASE give me some tips on how to jump higher. I promise I won't vert test every day, nor will I ever allow my knees to cave!" Okay, since you've promised not to break the golden rules, I'll go ahead and give you my top 5 for improving your vertical jump. Please note, they are in order of basic to advanced:

  1. Get Stronger - you're entire body needs to be stronger to jump higher, but obviously some heavy emphasis on the lower body is required. And, NO, it's NOT your calf training routine that will make the difference. Think hips and hamstrings. You can pretty much read any other post on this site to learn how to do that.
  2. Try - yes, I'm throwing this out there: to jump higher, you must commit to doing so and that involves actually trying to achieve #1. Focus on it, embrace it, and it will happen.
  3. Practice Jumping Variations - Not just vertical jumping, but jumping in all planes of motion with as many variances as you can think of. And, for the love of your joints, please don't execute these with poor form and at 100% intensity/effort. You must be smart and your body will get much more from refining and perfecting technique than from being a hard-headed fool.
  4. Short Sprints - running is a plyometric activity, so add in some very short, high-intensity sprints.
  5. Consider Re-Working your Genetics - this is the "advanced" tip... what do I mean? At some point, you may need to acknowledge that your vertical jump dreams may not be achieved in 12-weeks and sadly (believe me, I know from personal experience) there's no amount of training that will fix the genes you were dealt. Once you realize it will be a tough road, go ahead and start back at #1.


Intro: Overhead Athlete Basics

Note: Any time I use the phrase "overhead athlete" I'm referring to an athlete who's sport requires him or her to bring their arm(s) repeatedly overhead. The most common sports falling under this umbrella are baseball, volleyball, softball, swimming, tennis, and, perhaps the most awesome of the bunch, javelin. 

In the wake of SAPT's inception, back in Summer of 2007, arrived the immediate realization that overhead athletes would be the predominant population we'd be coaching and training within the walls of our facility. In fact, you could have nearly fooled me if you told me that the only competitive sports in the Fairfax, Mclean, Tyson's Corner, Vienna, and Arlington regions were baseball and volleyball!

Sure, we had, and still have, the pleasure of working with a host of people from countless other athletic "categories" - field athletes, track, powerlifting, endurance sports, water polo, fencing (yes, fencing), and military personnel - overhead athletes were and still remain roughly 80% of the folks we get to work with at SAPT.

As such, given such a large and varied sample size, and years to work with these individuals, we've had ample time to manipulate X, Y, and Z training variables to accurately delineate which constituents of a sound training program are going to most efficiently and effectively help the overhead athlete feel and perform at their best.

Throughout the month of August, we at SAPT are going to dedicate our time to providing you with solid and applicable information that you can immediately employ, be you a strength coach, physical therapist, sport coach, or athlete. And hey, even if you don't do anything related to overhead sports, you can still pick up some quality gems related to vertical jumping, shoulder-friendly pressing variations, Olympic lifting, sprinting, and a plethora of other topics that will undoubtedly pique your interest.

The primary reason we are devoting an entire month to the topics of training and management of overhead athletes is that it remains abundantly clear that there still exists a unfortunate paucity of coaches - sport and strength coaches working with youth, amateur, Division I, or Professional athletes - who truly understand the unique demands overhead athletes face, and how to account for these demands both on the practice field and in the weight room.

Due to the awful tragedy of early sports specialization, and the lack of coaches and parents (despite being well-intentioned) who understand how to implement a sound, yearly training model (that includes time OFF the court or field), we are seeing injuries occur in players at the young age of 13 that didn't used to happen until the age of 25 (or ever). Baseball players are realizing too late that's actually not a good idea to throw year-round, and youth volleyball players are experiencing an unprecedented volume of upper and lower extremity issues that could have been prevented simply by taking a season to play a different sport, and/or immersing themselves in a solid strength & conditioning program.

The overhead athlete's arm and shoulder continually undergo insane stressors that need to be accounted for; and not only by the strength coach but the sport coach as well, as they control how many times in a practice an athlete throws, hits, or jumps.

Let's take just a quick look at what a baseball pitcher's arm is assaulted with every time he throws a baseball:

- His humerus (upper arm bone) undergoes internal rotation at roughly 7,200° per second. In case you're wondering, and would like a more scientific way of describing things: that is a crap ton of revolutions in a very short period of time. - His elbow has to deal with approximately 2,500° of elbow extension per second.His glenohumeral (ball-and-socket) joint experiences about 1.5x bodyweight in distraction forces.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg, as we haven't even dived into the other demands the wirst, elbows, and shoulders face, let alone what occurs at all the joints below the shoulder.

These demands simply won't be attenuated by doing a few hundred reps of band work before and after practice, let alone throwing the athlete into the proverbial squat-bench-deadlift program overseen by the high school football coach.

Over the next four weeks, you can expect to find us discussing:

  • Practical warm-ups for the overhead athlete
  • Why power development for baseball, softball, and volleyball players needs to be approached differently compared to many other sports
  • Olympic lifting for overhead athletes
  • The truth about vertical jump training for volleyball players
  • The myriad myths and fallacies surrounding "shoulder health" and "arm care" programs
  • Biomechanical asymmetries - both undesired and desired - that accrue in an overhead athlete's body due to the inherent nature of the sport, and what to do about them
  • Energy system training
  • Nutrition for fuel during tournaments and game day
  • And, of course, as many Star Wars and Harry Potter references that we can find room for
  • And much, much, more

All of us at SAPT are looking forward to the next month together!

Some SAPT Video Highlights: Post-Rehab Deadlifts, 1,000lb Prowler Drags, Pistol Shenanigans, and More

I have a number of topics I'd like to write about, but they'll have to remain on the back burner for a little while due a few pressing deadlines occupying my time. I know a few of you are waiting for me to do a Q & A based on a few email questions that have been sent my way; I'll be getting to those soon, I promise. In the meantime, hope you enjoy!

1. The other evening, I was shootin' the breeze with a couple of our interns, when the topic of pistol squats became infused into our dialogue.

I made a sarcastic comment to Chavez, along the lines of "Hey, why don't you try a pistol squat to a box jump, I think that'd be really easy." (Translation: I can think of a thousand activities that would be safer than attempting a pistol squat to box jump, one of which being throwing yourself into a lion's den with a T-bone strapped to your face, and another being hopping into a live volcano.)

Well, next time I'll learn to hold my tongue, as apparently Chavez doesn't back down from a challenge, no matter how outrageous it may be:

2. Many of you know Conrad from this story that Coach Tadashi wrote up on Conrad entering his first powerlifting meet just a couple months out of his second total knee replacement surgery. (Mind you, the two operations took place within a year of each other.)

Well, we have been continuing to help him along with his post-rehab training, and needless to say he has been doing spectacular, along with recently celebrating his 65th birthday to boot.

Just this past week he hit a 2-rep deadlift at 225lbs + 60lbs chains, so, using our arithmetic skills, that gives him 285lbs at the top of his pull. As you can see, he still had PLENTY of room in the tank to spare. Good stuff!!!

He's come a long way with his deadlift technique over the past few months. Sure, he could extend his T-spine slightly more, and pack the neck, but I give him three green lights for the time being.

3. One of our prior high school athletes, Carson, has been enrolled in our Distance Coaching Program since he left for college last Fall. Throughout his first 12-week distance training cycle with SAPT, he added an impressive 35lbs to his prior deadlift max (410lbs).

Here he is ripping a solid 445 pounds off the ground. I'm saying he'll have 500lbs in his grasp well before he graduates college!

Way to go, Carson.

4. Big Joe - even though he's an "endurance athlete" - finds anything involving heavy weights, or a challenging task, unconditionally palatable. Mix the two together and you get a 1,000lb Prowler Forward Drag by Big Joe from last Saturday morning:


5. Here is Sheik, a cat who resides in the same dwelling as Kelsey and I. The other day, she insisted on refusing to allow any Hershey's kiss to remain alive while she still walked the Earth. She inexorably hunted down and destroyed them all, no matter how many continued to slide across the table in their efforts to pass her by.

That's all for now. Hope everyone has a great weekend!

How to Improve the Vertical Jump and Agility of a High School Volleyball Player: Initial Assessment+Screening

Given that volleyball players make up a striking percentage of our student-athletes, I'm inevitably faced (and rightfully so) with questions from parents and coaches regarding our approach to "assessing" them when they first walk in our doors. They are often surprised - sometimes skeptical or even borderline enraged - that we don't have them perform a vertical jump test, speed-agility test, and/or arm swing test on Day 1.

Furthermore, it appears that, for the most part, we're simply running them through a normal session during their first day, as opposed to putting them on a table for forty-five minutes, breaking out the goniometer, and measuring every single joint ROM.

What gives?

The Assessment

While, to the outside eye, it may look like we're just running the players through a normal strength session, here is what we're actually assessing as we take them through their "Day One" workout.

- Jumping Mechanics (both the technicalities of the movement along with strength+neural control) - Closed-chain Ankle Dorsiflexion - Gross hip stability, including upper gluteus maximus and gluteus medius function - Extensibility of the posterior aspect of the lower extremity, along with hip flexor strength - Valgus collapse (or lack thereof) in the knees when jumping and squatting, and bounding - Thoracic Spine range of motion (specifically, in extension and rotation) - Glenohumeral (shoulder) range of motion - Squat pattern (gives a lot of feedback regarding flexor length, latissimus length, core strength, along with ankle and hip range of motion) - Hip hinge patterning (the foundation for all athletic movement) - Lunge pattern (brings potential asymmetries to light, along with providing us another "angle" for assessing their glute strength/function) - Global movements and strength levels (gives us a much more *realistic* picture of how they'll move in a game-like scenario)

Will we do more "table assessments" as needed, too? Yes. But as you can see, there's a deep well of information one can draw up, simply from analyzing the athlete in the context of movement, and I didn't even list everything we look at!

This is a win-win for both the athlete and the coach. The athlete gets to have fun moving around on their first day (rather than spending the majority of their time on a table), while we as coaches are able to assess the athlete at the same time.

One final note on this front: every session is an assessment. I constantly find myself discussing our clients and their programs with my fellow coaches at SAPT, fine-tuning and tweaking what we do with them. This makes sense as the human body can be very amoeba-like; what was true on Day 1 may not be true on Day 30.

The Vertical Jump and Speed-Agility Test

Regarding these two sacred cows, here are the reasons we don't test them on Day 1 with the majority of our high school volleyball players.

1) We don't feel they are appropriate tests for initial assessment.

To put it simply, 99.99% of people who enter our facility can not jump or change direction correctly. As such, we do not feel it is an accurate -  or, more importantly, safe - action to take with them on their first day. Nearly all of them possess the motor control of a ham sandwich, as they allow their ankles, knees, and hips to collapse like crazy upon jumping, bounding, and/or changing directions. Naturally, this will:

A) Negatively affect their jump height/running mechanics, and, more importantly B) Place their lower extremity (knees and passive restraints) at risk. To have them perform a maximal jump, multiple times in a row, or an agility test for that matter, is downright foolish in our eyes. While many of the girls that walk through our doors are certainly great athletes and possess many strong qualities, very few of them are unable to leap, bound, and change direction without their ankles and knees collapsing in.

This being the case, we find it irresponsible, on our end, to force them into change-of-direction tests or standing vertical tests. While we certainly can't "bulletproof" our training sessions to make them completely 100% incident free, we do our absolute best to make it at least as close to this as possible. We haven't had any athletes seriously hurt themselves under our watch, or have them undergo a non-contact injury to date (knock on wood!), and we'd like to keep this track record going.

The safety of the athletes under our watch is, without question, our top priority when we design and implement our training sessions. While we do understand that these girls may be asked, on numerous occasions, by their club/high school coaches to perform agility drills and various vertical tests, we don't wish to play ANY role in putting their health at risk until they're taught (with our aid) how to perform these drills safely. It may not be common to take (what some would call) a "conservative" approach like this, but then again the injury rates of adolescent and high school athletes have never been we're doing our best to lower that statistic.

We take a very progressive and methodical approach to teaching sound jumping mechanics; all the way from showing them how to swing their arms/move their hips to strengthening them via resistance training. Once the girls make headway in these areas (the time frame is different for each individual), then we can administer these tests.

2) To help our athletes mentally.

Given that the Vertec tends to be the "bane of existence" for volleyball athletes, we don't want to throw them under the thing on Day 1 at SAPT. Our aim is that it will help promote a more positive environment for them, and a haven if you will, from the usual demands of volleyball.

Does this mean we don't push them, and refuse to help them strive to perform better? Absolutely not. However, we've found that having them learn to conquer challenging drills other than the ones they typically perform outside the SAPT walls, gives them a break mentally, and, ultimately, improves their performance on the court.

We will certainly have them test their vertical as they get further along in training (and after we've helped them with sound+safe jumping mechanics), but it's not something we'd like them to experience the first day they are in with us. We've found it crazy how the simple removal of the Vertec, yet still having them jump and leap appropriately, makes a HUGE difference with the experience they personally receive from SAPT - and ultimately, their skills on the court improving.

3) Performing an closed-loop (predictable) test is an extremely inaccurate indicator of how the athlete will perform during their actual event (an unpredictable, "open-loop" environment).

Our end and ultimate goal is to improve their performance on the Volleyball court. Not to obsess over a particular test. Sometimes I feel we forget to keep the goal, well....the goal.

For example, currently, in High School Football, there is a player who is ranked Top 10 on the East Coast for the high school football combine testing battery (obviously a HUGE accomplishment). However, you know what's surprising? He doesn't even start for his own team! He can slam dunk the tests and knock thousands of other players out of the park when it comes to the combine tests, yet his on-the-field performance is lacking.

The sad truth is that many people place superfluous emphasis on the testing protocols, yet often fail to acknowledge the "intangible" skills the athlete possesses (spatial awareness, court/field awareness, adaptability, quick decision making, etc.) that, in the end are what will help an athlete make a college (or high school, or professional) team and actually get to play during the games.

4) Their "strength numbers" (quantifiable), along with their biomechanics/motor control (less hard to quantify in numbers/metrics) are the primary scale we use to monitor improvement.

Why? Rather than reinvent the wheel, here's a quote from strength coach Tony Gentilcore that I hope will elucidate this concept:

Maximal strength is the foundation for every other quality imaginable.

In terms of any plyometric and/or jump training – it comes down to strength.  Simply put: you can’t have things like agility, power, endurance, strength endurance, and the like without first having a base of strength to pull those other qualities from.  Strength is the basis of everything.  Without it, you can perform all the ladder drills, sprinting drills, jumping drills, and agility training you want, but it’s not really going to mount to much until there is a strength foundation.

It would be akin to giving your 1994 Honda Civic (as an example) a sweet paint job, some spoilers, Mag tires, and a sound system that causes your ears to bleed in the hopes that, by doing so, it will win the Daytona 500.   Unless you actually do something about increasing the horsepower of the car, you can add all the bells and whistles you want, but winning that Daytona 500 won't happen until the horsepower/engine of the car is improved.

And this is especially true with the high school athlete population.

'Nuff said there.

Arm Speed Tests

I'll be blunt: this is something that we don't measure, and it would pretty idiotic to do so.

Coach Sarah is also the strength coach for the Division I women's volleyball teams over at George Mason, and she doesn't even have them do an arm swing speed test. Frankly, it would be insanely dangerous to the shoulder joint (to put it mildly) to have them perform a maximal swing like that, without having anything (ex. a ball) to slow their arm down. The girls swing speed will improve as they strengthen the structural integrity of the shoulder girdle, maintain mobility in that region, and continue to practice sport-specific skill.

And that's a wrap.