How to add conditioning to your volleyball practice

I came across the following question from a volleyball coach having to do with conditioning in practice.

Anyone have any conditioning drills? I don’t want to just condition my girls without adding some volleyball into it, as they have a whole other practice specifically for conditioning. But we are slow and need to build up speed and stamina. Drills that require constant movement, reps, etc.

Speed vs Stamina

Speed and stamina are two separate issues. Raw speed is a function of power production. That comes mainly from specific speed/power training. That’s not something you will develop while playing/practicing volleyball. It’s more about things like weight training and plyometric work.

That said, there are elements of a player’s overall speed and quickness which are a function of game training. They are technique and readiness. The more efficient and automatic one’s technique (see The Talent Code), the faster or quicker they will be able to execute that skill. Similar, if a player is able to anticipate something happening – thanks to good reading skills – they will be quicker to play the ball.

Developing Stamina

Building player stamina in practice is a much easier thing to accomplish. In fact, it’s really simple. You either have to increase intensity or make things last longer. The latter is straightforward as you just have to increase the time between breaks. Nothing complicated about that!

As for increasing intensity, what I’m talking about is increasing the number of repetitions in a given period of time. For example, in normal game play where each rally begins with a serve it might be 20 seconds per rally. If you play 22 v 22 where you immediately put in a second ball after the initial rally, though, you could perhaps get two rallies in 30 seconds (15 seconds per rally, on average). And if you want to really ramp it up you could play something like Scramble where you might have four rallies in 30 seconds (averaging 7-8 seconds each).

The Second Chance idea is along those same lines. With it you could almost create what is a non-stop rally. It’s not exactly like that, but there’s very little time between the time when play breaks down and you get it going again. And if the same player makes repeated mistakes, they get lots of conditioning!

Even pepper can be a form of conditioning.

No need to lose practice time to conditioning

Because you can control intensity and/or duration in your practice, there’s no need to waste volleyball time on conditioning work (e.g. sprints). Why do something without the ball you can easily accomplish the same with it?

Now, if you only practice a couple times a week, that might not be enough total work. In that case, you’ll want the athletes doing something to keep/get their fitness level up. Cardio is not the answer here, though, especially during season. Volleyball has about a 1:3 work to rest ratio. That means a player is active for say 10 seconds, then rest for 30 – on average. This is very different from running or biking for 30 minutes straight. In fact, those sorts of longer duration exercises are counterproductive for volleyball as they train slow, repetitive movements rather than quick, explosive bursts.

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John Forman
About the Author: John Forman
John currently coaches for an NCAA Division II women's team. This follows a stint as head coach for a women's professional team in Sweden. Prior to that he was the head coach for the University of Exeter Volleyball Club BUCS teams (roughly the UK version of the NCAA) while working toward a PhD. He previously coached in Division I of NCAA Women's Volleyball in the US, with additional experience at the Juniors club level, both coaching and managing, among numerous other volleyball adventures. Learn more on his bio page.

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