When running for volleyball there are some important considerations that determine whether you are hurting or improving your on court performance. Sprinting and high intensity drills can be of benefit. Lower intensity running and jogging will hurt your performance in the long run.
Below I will discuss how sprinting helps, some considerations to keep in mind and some drills to improve speed, conditioning and agility.
Does Running Help With Volleyball?
Running short sprints can help with volleyball for conditioning, muscular power, and coordination. Sprint workouts for volleyball can be done as short straight accelerations or in multidirectional drills that will also improve change of direction and/or agility.
Slowly running long distances will create adaptations to the heart and circulatory system that will help with recovery between points. However, it also creates adaptations to the muscles to condition them for endurance, which will decrease jump height and explosiveness.
Key Takeaway: As volleyball requires short quick bursts of movements the power and conditioning adaptations of sprinting intervals will translate much better to improving your volleyball game than the adaptations from endurance running.
Muscles are made of 3 types of muscle fibers, Type I, Type IIa, and Type IIb.
- Type 1 also known as slow twitch muscle fibers are best for posture, stability and small repeated movements as they are difficult to fatigue but produce little force.
- Type 2b also known as type 2x or fast twitch muscle fibers produce rapid forceful contractions but fatigue relatively quickly. These are the muscle fibers used for jumping and other short powerful movements in volleyball.
- Type 2a fibers are intermediates to type 1 and 2b. Although considered fast twitch fibers have some of the characteristics of both, somewhat resistant to fatigue and with the ability to produce some force rapidly.
Research shows that these fibers can transition from one type towards another based on the type of training done. For this reason volleyball players who run, would help themselves the most through spriting, as it would help increase or maintain the percentage of the muscle figures with 2b characteristics.
Nervous System Adaptations
Gross motor skills are ones that generally use the whole body and large muscle groups, like the eye foot coordination needed for moving around the court. Repeated sprinting and multidirectional ability drills, will help create adaptations and learning to improve this coordination.
To create the power to sprint, you are required to create a lot of force in a short amount of time. Jumping and quick movements in volleyball require the same nervous system response. By doing sprint intervals the nervous system will adapt to create more forceful and rapid contractions of the muscles.
Like slower running, sprinting also creates adaptations in the heart and circulatory system. Sprint intervals can improve conditioning, even in volleyball players who have on court training.
If sprint training is being done in season, it is important to consider volume (how much is done), which is discussed below.
Another great benefit of sprint intervals is they can be performed in a work to rest ratio that mimics on court play.
Change of Direction and Agility
Change of direction drills and agility drills seem very similar but have one difference, whether the change of direction is pre planned or requires a response to a stimulus.
Change of direction drills can be very effective running drills for volleyball players for many reasons.
- First, these types of drills incorporate sprinting and short powerful movements training the desired muscle characteristics for volleyball players.
- Second volleyball requires the gross motor skills of rapidly changing direction either pre planned or in response to the ball or opponents.
- Lastly these drills like repeated sprints can be done in short intervals, and create conditioning adaptations.
Many change of direction drills can be turned into agility by changing from moving through cones in a predetermined order, having a training partner or coach create that stimulus by point and calling the next cone.
6 Factors to Consider when Sprinting for Volleyball
The 6 factors you need to consider when structuring a sprinting workout for volleyball are:
After warm up sprinting and agility drills should be done at 90-100% of max speed. If you are finding you are slowing down, it is time to end that session and recover.
The volume you will want to sprint depends on if you are in season or not.
In season 1-3 sets are enough to create some adaptation while staying fresh enough for practice and games.
Too much volume can create fatigue, detract from on court focus and training and lead to increased chance of injury.
If sprinting is being done in the off season to condition yourself, start with less sets and monitor the intensity. When intensity is moving out of the desired range, that session is done. And progressively add sets as you are able to maintain intensity for longer.
Frequency again will depend on in season, off season and the volume of each session.
Ideally sprinting is incorporated 2-3 sessions per week with 48-72h of rest in between.
However just as sprinting can create muscular and neural adaptations it also has high demands on these systems. And so when planning sprinting sessions it is important to consider the demands and needs for strength training, court training and games when planning sessions.
Between sprints for maximal speed there are often long rest periods, 5min. However, volleyball has a work rest ratio closer to 1:4 or 1:5 and plays lasting 5-7s.
If the priority is to build speed, it may make sense to take minutes of rest between sprints.
If the priority is to build conditioning for volleyball, sprints and drills of <10s with rests of 40-50s will be more applicable.
Sprinting does create significant muscular demand on the lower and upper body. It is important to consider this and how it may impact jumping and hitting.
If someone’s muscles are not used to the movement of sprinting it potentially can leave them quite sore the next 24-48h.
Quickly stopping to change direction is a movement that puts significant muscular demand on the quads. This is the same as landing from jumping.
Just like how a high volume of landing can lead to jumper’s knee/ patellar tendonitis, sudden stops and changes of direction is adding to this volume of work in that area and must be introduced slowly so there is time to adapt.
Even if the volume does not lead to injury, too much volume without time to adapt can leave the quads very sore for 24-48h.
Related Article: Muscles Used In Volleyball (Broken Down By Position)
This is a consideration for change of direction and agility drills. There are different coordination demands for sprinting, shuffling, and backpedaling.
Backpedaling for example is not a movement people often perform and so can take some time to improve coordination in.
While taking the time to develop multi directional coordination is important, it may mean there is a learning phase where that movement is not being performed at a high intensity.
If sprints and multi directional drills are being done for conditioning reasons. To create the conditioning benefits described above it is important to move at close to perform the drills at hi intensity.
Related Article: Reaction Time in Volleyball: 4 Specific Drills To Master
Volleyball Running Drills & Sprint Workouts
1. Half Court Sprints
Repeated sprints can improve acceleration to get a ball and conditioning for game play. This can be done on a court or open indoor/outdoor space with 3 cones set 9m apart to mark baseline, center and baseline.
- Start at one base line (cone 1) in a defensive ready position
- Sprint past the net (cone 2) taking at least the full court if not more space to slow down
- Take 40s rest or take turns in a group of 5
- One set is 5 sprints
- Rest 2-4 min between sets and do 1 – 4 sets
As you accelerate, push the ground away like you are trying to spin the earth
2. Shuffle to Sprint
This drill combines acceleration with change direction and lateral movement. This can be done on a court or with cones. If it is done with cones the cones will be set up in a line with 6m between cones 1 and 2 and 3m between cones 2 and 3.
- Start at the attack line (cone 2) in a defensive ready position
- Lateral shuffle to the baseline (cone 1)
- Once you touch the base line, sprint to centreline (cone 3)
- Take as much space as you need to slow down and walk back to the attack line
- Repeat facing the opposite direction
- One set is 6 sprints
- Rest 2-4 min between sets and do 1 – 4 sets
Turning to face the centreline as quickly as possible when starting the sprint from the baceline will help you change direction and accelerate faster.
3. T Drill
This is a multi directional drill that will improve change of direction and conditioning.
- Set up 4 cones with cone 2 is 10m in front of cone 1, cone 3 is 5m to the right of cone 2 and cone 4 is 5m to the left of cone 2, making a T shape
- Start at cone 1 and sprint to cone 2
- At cone 2 shuffle right to cone 3
- At cone 3 shuffle left to cone 4
- At cone 4 shuffle right to cone 2
- At cone 2 back pedal to cone 1
- Repeat shuffling left first then right.
- One set is 6 sprints
- Rest 2-4 min between sets and do 1 – 4 sets
- This can be turned into an agility drill by having a coach or training partner call which way to shuffle as you approach cone 2.
Stay low and take short quick steps as you approach a change in direction.
4. Zig Zag Shuffle
Zig Zag Shuffle or shuffle to sprint combines change of direction with sprinting and can improve conditioning as well.
- Set up 7 cones 3m apart in a zig zag pattern.
- Side shuffle from cone 1 to 2 then sprint to the next cone
- Alternate shuffling to the one cone and sprinting to the next as you work through the zig zag
- Walk back to the start making sure you get at least 20s rest before the next time through. Rotating through the drill in a group of 4-5 will also create enough rest.
- After 6 times through take 2-4 min rest and repeat the drill from the other end of the cones so that you shuffle both directions.
To effectively put the breaks on and transition from sprint to shuffle, sit down and keep the chest up taking short steps.
5. Z or N Drill
This is another multi directional drill involving sprinting and shuffling and can be done in less space than the Zig Zag drill. There are multiple ways to work through the box of cones combining sprints, shuffling and backpedaling. Below they are Z Drill Agility.
- Set up 4 cones in a box 3-5m apart.
- Start at one cone and work your way back to the starting cone in one of the ways described below
- Face the same direction the who time through the drill
- Take 20s between each time through the cones or rotate through in a group of 4-5. After 6 times through, take 2-4 min rest and change the pattern
- Shuffle – shuffle across the top of the box, across the diagonal, across the bottom, and diagonally back to the first cone
- Sprint – sprint one side of the box, shuffle the diagonal, sprint the other side and shuffle the diagonal back to the start
- Backpedal – Backpedal the side of the box, shuffle the diagonal, backpedal the other side and shuffle the diagonal back to the start
When shuffling, rather than take long steps, you will have more control to change direction if you are in the habit of taking short quick steps.
6. 5 Star Drill
The Star drill is a sprinting and change of direction drill that can improve conditioning for volleyball games.
- Set up 5 cones in an X, with 2.5m between the center cone and each outer cone.
- Start on one outer cone, and sprint to the center
- Sprint around the center cone and head to the next outer cone clockwise
- Sprint back to the center and head out to the next cone clockwise until you reach the start cone
- Work in a group of 4-5 or take 20s rest before running through again
- Repeat 3-5 times clockwise and counterclockwise before taking a 2-4min break.
- Repeat these groups of 6-10 sprints (3-5 each direction) for 1-4 sets
- This can be made into an agility drill by labeling the cones 1,2,3 and having a coach or training partner call a number as you approach the center cone.
Accelerating is done by leaning forward and taking long steps. Decelerating and changing direction is done by sitting down, with the chest up and taking short quick steps.
Other Strength & Conditioning Articles
- How To Jump Higher in Volleyball (Science-Backed)
- 7 Best Arm Workouts For Volleyball Players
- 5 Shoulder Exercises for Volleyball Players
- 12 Best Volleyball Upper Body Exercises & Workouts
- 11 Exercises To Improve Your Volleyball Spike
- 13 Best Leg Exercises For Volleyball (Sample Program)
- 5 Best Ab Exercises for Volleyball Players (Sample Workout)
There are many benefits that can come from incorporating sprint training for volleyball players.
How they are incorporated depends on in season, off season and whether the goal is conditioning or to also develop coordination and change of direction skills.
The exercises above can be used to develop all of these things and be varied in volume based on which part of the season someone is in.
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.