Former SAA coach, Megan Timmins, gives us some of her insight on training for high level volleyball. Megan currently plays for the Iowa Ice which is part of the Premier Volleyball League and coaches club volleyball. She also coaches CrossFit at CrossFit Kilo and was on their competition team. Megan was a four year starter at the University of Iowa while attaining a Masters Degree in exercise science.
As a volleyball coach and high level player yourself, what do you think is the best way to train in the off season?
A mix of plyometrics, lateral and linear foot speed, lifting and conditioning for physical and mental purposes. General conditioning is not a bad thing but I feel that too many coaches rely solely on sprinting for this. Using body weight movements in addition to weightlifting is a great way to still condition the body's energy systems while gaining strength and stamina to last through long volleyball plays or matches. I personally feel (and know through experience) that getting kids stronger decreases injury rate, increases mental capacity and confidence along with the positive physical effects as well (jumping higher, hitting harder, quicker reaction steps to the ball, etc.).
As a volleyball coach what is the most common athletic deficiency you come across?
First and foremost is the mental side of the game. It seems that fewer and fewer kids have tough enough mindsets to be able to withstand the demands the game can place on the body. Examples: working through injury, confidence in abilities, court IQ, etc. Pushing people past their comfortable limits through lifting or conditioning allows for growth that directly translates to many other aspects of life.
How much in season training do you now compared to playing in college? How has your performance changed?
I don't really have an "in season" and "out of season" anymore. I play in 1 or 2 big volleyball tournaments a year and the rest of the time is indoor or sand recreation leagues (which is not much time at all). I spent far more time actually playing volleyball in college but am a much better play now then I was 7 years ago at Iowa. I contribute some of this to understanding/respecting the game more now that I am older and "wiser" but mostly contribute this to being in the best shape of my life and being much stronger than I was then. My vertical is about 3 inches higher, I hit the ball with more velocity and my reaction time on defense has drastically improved. As cliche as it sounds, I WISH I was this strong in high school and college. I would love to see what I could have been if I had the opportunities to train as hard/well as I do now.
If you were to train a high school volleyball player for 12 weeks leading up to their first collegiate season, what would the training look like?
This would depend on some factors: age, experience level with lifting, and current mental capabilities. For someone who has never lifted much before I would put them on a general strength training program for 3-4x/week (depending on what else they are doing) while incorporating Olympic lifts in for power and explosiveness. I would also have them do plyometrics 1-2 times/week in addition to foot speed work. I would make those drills as specific to volleyball as possible but either adding in a volleyball to move to or creating blocking/hitting movements that are related to how they move on the court. I would also add in 1-2x/week of general conditioning with body weight movements to increase heart rate and push them mentally.
Which exercises do you find are the best for improving jumping, speed on the court, and arm swing speed?
Jumping: resistance vertical and broad jump, depth jumps, single leg work for ankle/knee strength, bounds, olympic lifts
Footspeed: agility cone drills that include a mix of running and shuffling, treadmill/force work, reaction shuffling
Arm swing: band/scapjacked work, general overhead strength and stability, core strength
What advice would you give to your 13-14 year old self before starting high school volleyball?
Listen to those with experience! Growing up you feel like you know everything about your body. I did a poor job of listening to others who have been in my shoes because I felt like I knew it all. I wish I would have listened to my dad more about nutrition and my sister Mallory more about staying in shape to become strong.
What advice would you give to your 18 year old self before starting collegiate volleyball?
Put in the extra time to lift and get in shape. You always think you'll be fine and can be successful with what you have done on the court...and you might be able to. But there is always a way to improve and get better. I didn't realize at the time how much effect it could have on my game to get stronger...I thought more court time is what would make me a better volleyball player.
I would also teach my young self how to fuel my body properly with food and recovery. Again, I didn't understand the concept of just how much it could help me. I could eat whatever I wanted and not gain weight so I didn't think it was effecting my abilities either. Now that my diet is stricter it allows me to recover faster and always workout to the best of my ability instead of feeling like crap. Until I cleaned up my diet though, I never knew what it felt like to "not feel my best."
Lastly, your body can be pushed FAR past it's comfortable limits. They told us a lot in college that we needed to be very careful when lifting to not get hurt. Injuries could happen anywhere and I got injured far more on the volleyball court than I did the weight room. Just because my knee gets a little achy doesn't mean I can't perform. Yes, there are obviously some serious injuries that a little rest can typically heal but learning your own body and how far you can push it is what makes the most elite athletes successful.