Because many injuries come from overuse of the shoulder stabilizers, when choosing shoulder exercises for volleyball it’s important to build stability in multiple planes of motion, to keep the shoulders healthy.
The 5 best shoulder exercises for volleyball players are:
- Quadruped T-Spine Rotation
- Band Pull Aparts
- Row to Overhead Reach
- Shoulder Taps
Below I’ll cover each of these exercises in detail and provide a program to help you integrate them into your volleyball strength and conditioning workouts.
These exercises focus on the mobility and stability of the shoulder for injury reduction and general stability during play.
For exercises that improve your ability to spike and upper body explosiveness check out my other articles: 11 Exercises to Improve your Spike and 12 Best Upper Body Exercises for Volleyball Players.
Volleyball requires a lot of overhead movement of the arm and if you play regularly or for years, the shoulder goes through thousands of ballistic swings.
This means the function and health of your shoulder can mean the difference between you being able to play and not. Therefore taking care of your shoulders is a critical part of setting yourself up to play well and be healthy when you are done playing.
Because of the high use, especially of the muscles at the front of the shoulder, many of the shoulder problems that can come from playing volleyball are because of lack of range of motion or lack of space in the joint, causing irritation and compensation.
As long as you are playing, maintaining these two things is an ongoing process.
The muscles that stabilize the shoulder play two roles in volleyball, one is more reactive, the other is deceleration.
Reactively, your shoulder needs to stay stable during any time you make contact with the ball. Although the ball is light, it is traveling with enough speed to move your arms when you dig, set or block.
This means your stabilizing muscles need to engage reflexively to make sure your arms are not just pushed out of the way, and you direct the ball where you want it to go.
The deceleration function happens most when hitting. As you follow through with the hit, your arm is on a trajectory away from the body. It then becomes the responsibility of muscles in your upper back to pull the shoulder blade and arm back towards the spine.
A common analogy for these muscles are the breaks of your swing. Strengthening these muscles improves the chances that these brakes do not wear out over thousands of swings.
Scapular mobility, movement of the shoulder blade and thoracic mobility, movement of the upper back, are also large parts of shoulder health.
Scapular mobility means the shoulder blade is able to move up and down, side to side and rotate over the rib cage.
If it is unable to perform all these functions the shoulder, it can limit the space in the shoulder joint and block the arm from reaching certain positions.
Thoracic mobility has a few functions in volleyball. The ready position and poor general posture can encourage a hunched over position. To get the arms overhead, normal flexion and extension and movement of the upper back is necessary.
If that movement is not there, the shoulder joint can try to “make up” for this through compensation.
Another function of the thoracic spine is to rotate prior to hitting. Again lack of range of motion can be tried to “made up” in the shoulder.
Any compensation for lack of range of motion can possibly lead to irritations and overuse in the shoulder.
Thoracic mobility also plays a role in the deceleration phase of hitting. As mentioned in the stability section, it’s important to have strong “braking” muscles. If the torso is able to continue to rotate and flex through the declaration after a hit, these braking muscles have more “runway” and time to slow the arm down.
The shorter the “runway” and the weaker the “brakes” the sooner the stability muscles will get overused and irritated.
What Makes A Good Shoulder Exercise For Volleyball Players?
While doing exercises can reduce the chance of shoulder injuries, it is impossible to eliminate the possibility of injury from sports.
If you are feeling any pain during play or exercise, it is important to see someone who can diagnose the source of it and create a treatment plan specific to your situation.
Another thing to consider in picking exercises is the function you want the shoulder to perform. Volleyball does use the shoulders a lot but mostly for ballistic movements or stability.
For this reason, volleyball doesn’t tend to develop big shoulders as players need endurance for swinging and stability of the arm overhead. This contrasts more contact sports like basketball or football where function is needed but so is muscle mass so you are harder to push and move.
This means there could be some benefits to exercises like shoulder press and raises. But, those are often done to build muscle mass and strength and don’t necessarily create enough emphasis on some of the important stabilizers used in volleyball.
When picking good shoulder exercises for a pain free shoulders the focus should be on building up mobility in the thoracic spine and scapula, and stability in the muscles that stabilize the shoulder for injury reduction.
When it comes to thoracic mobility, it was mentioned that flexion and extension as well as rotation are needed. In order to have rotation you must already be able to flex and extend. That is why only the T-Spine rotation exercise was picked in the exercises below as it will improve both.
Scapular mobility comes from moving the shoulder, these kinds of exercises are usually done with little resistance.
The scapula needs to be free to move up and down, side to side and rotate both directions. Exercises like band pull aparts, YTWs, and row to overhead reach, are great exercises to help with this. They allow someone to practice all the functions of the shoulder blade.
If exercises are done with heavy weights, the brain will try to limit your range of motion to where it feels safe/stable. Because these exercises are done with little resistance they allow stability to be developed through the whole range of motion.
The other aspect of stability to develop is reflexive stability. It is important to develop the reflexive aspect of the stabilizers, through an unpredictable environment.
This helps stabilize the arm when there is a sudden change in the forces on it, for example when it contacts the ball.
Exercises like the shoulder taps will develop this more reflexive stability as you shift your weight from one arm to the other and change your center of gravity as your arm moves to tap the shoulder.
5 Best Shoulder Exercises for Volleyball Players
1. Quadruped T-Spine Rotation
T-Spine rotations help keep mobility through your thoracic spine, or upper back. When you lose mobility in your thoracic, the shoulder can try to compensate for this. Keeping your T-Spine mobility is an important part of maintaining a health shoulder in volleyball.
- Start on all fours with your knees under your hips and hands under your shoulders
- Place one hand on the back of your head, with the elbow out to the side at shoulder height
- Breath in, and open up and pointing your shoulder and elbow for the sky
- Let your breath flow out as you close, rotating your torso so the shoulder and elbow point towards the ground
- Keep your hips still as your rotate with your breathing cycle
To make sure you are not shifting the hips side to side as you rotate, try placing a roller upright beside your legs, making sure you stay in contact with it, but also don’t push it over.
2. Band Pull Apart
Band pull aparts help engage some of the stabilizer muscles in your upper back and work on your shoulder blades ability to move over your rib cage.
- Stand with feet shoulder width apart holding a band between your hands
- Raise your hands to shoulder height with the palms down
- Pull the band apart, pinching your shoulder blades together
- Stay in control as the band pulls your hands back together
- Stay tall and planted over your feet as you do this exercise
- Resist any temptation to arch your back as you pull apart. The movement happens only in the shoulder and shoulder blades.
Keep the shoulders relaxed as you do these. If you find your shoulders want to creep up towards your ears, lower your hands a little.
This is another exercise to work on the stabilizing muscles in the shoulder blade. Here the shoulder blade is asked to stabilize while moving down, moving towards the spine and then rotating down and towards the spine at the same time.
- Lie on your stomach and your hands out to the side. You can rest your head on a towel for comfort.
- Y – With thumbs pointing to the sky, lift the hands up and out at 45 degrees so your body and arms make a Y. Control back to the start position.
- T – Hands straight out to the sides, lift the hands as high as you can squeezing the shoulder blades together. Control back to the start position
- W – Bend your elbows, your hands are beside your shoulders and thumbs still point to the sky. Lift the arms as high as you can. Control back to the start position
- Continue to cycle through each position.
Once body weight reps are easy. Perform the same movements standing pulling a band or cable for resistance.
4. Row to Overhead Reach
Row to overhead reach is different from the previous exercises as it incorporates some shoulder rotation under resistance and asks the shoulder blade to elevate, move upward and rotate away from the spine.
- Hold a band or cable in each hand and lift hands in front of you to shoulder
- Drive the elbows behind you and bring them to shoulder height
- Keeping the elbows in the same position, rotate the arm so the hands are above the elbow
- Reach as high as you can overhead
- Bring the elbows back to shoulder height and hands above the elbows
- Rotate the arm keeping the 90 degree angle at the elbow and bringing the elbows and hands to shoulder height
- Stand in control as you return to the start position
When reaching overhead, especially if you are doing both arms at the same time, make sure not to poke your head forward but to keep your spine tall.
5. Shoulder Taps
Shoulder taps require more reactive stability in your shoulder stabilizers. As you lift your hand, your core and shoulder stabilizers have to react to a changing center of gravity and keep you stable in a less predictable environment.
- Start in a high plank position with your hands under your shoulders and feet hip width apart.
- Keeping your torso as still as possible, touch the opposite shoulder with one hand.
- Place the hand back on the floor and repeat with the other hand.
- The goal is to be stable and in control the whole time
If you have difficulty keeping the hips still, move to your hands on a bench or box. Once you build up more strength and stability in the shoulders return to the floor.
Related Article: Reaction Time in Volleyball: 4 Specific Drills To Master
Sample Shoulder Program for Volleyball Players
As your shoulder stabilizers are not big muscles these exercises will never be done with heavy weights or need days of recovery.
These exercises are intended to be done for 10-20 reps multiple times a week. Ideally they would be done almost daily. If they were incorporated into on court warm ups and done before strength training that should maintain a minimum of a few times a week.
Because of the demands on the shoulder in volleyball, these exercises should be continued for maintenance as long as someone is playing.
Shoulder Stability Exercises
- Quadruped T-Spine Rotation – 1 set of 15
- Band Pull Aparts – 1 set of 15
- YTWs – 1 set of 15
- Row to Overhead Reach – 1 set of 15
- Shoulder Taps – 1 set of 15
Through working on mobility and stability of the upper back and shoulder you can decrease your chances of injury.
By making these exercises a part of your training and body maintenance plan, you increase your chances of playing volleyball with minimal shoulder injuries for as long as you want.
Other Strength & Conditioning Resources
- 9 Power Exercises For Volleyball Players (Sample Program)
- 7 Best Arm Workouts For Volleyball Players
- Sprint Workouts For Volleyball (6 Examples)
About The Author
Ian started his strength and conditioning career working with elite youth volleyball athletes. Before coaching, he completed a BSc in Biomechanics at the University of Calgary. He has over a decade of experience working as a kinesiologist and strength and conditioning coach, with teens to octogenarians in positions with community gyms to elite sport. Outside of coaching, you can find Ian learning new sports, skiing, river surfing, hiking, and traveling. If you have questions or are interested in opportunities to work with Ian, connect with him via Instagram, Linkedin, or Website.