12 Best Volleyball Upper Body Exercises & Workouts

A training plan for volleyball should be tailored to the demands of the sport. For the upper body, the best exercises for volleyball players build up shoulder stability, and upper body explosiveness.

 The 12 best upper body exercises for volleyball players are:

  • Wall Angels
  • Wall Slides
  • Overhead Med Ball Slam
  • ½ Kneeling Med Ball Chop Toss
  • ½ Kneeling Med Ball Single Arm Press
  • Single Arm Snatch
  • ½ Kneeling Row
  • Pull Ups
  • Bent Over Y
  • Side Plank Row
  • Incline DB Bench Press
  • Push Ups

Below I’ll cover each of these exercises in detail and provide a program to help you tailor your strength and conditioning workouts for volleyball.

Why Is Your Upper Body Important for Volleyball?

Why is your upper body important for volleyball?

Volleyball is a fast moving sport that requires your torso and arms for lots of different actions. Some actions are more for general athleticism like jumping and balance, others are very sport specific, like setting and hitting. Almost all of the actions are quick in nature though.

For this reason, stability through the torso and shoulder and explosiveness in the upper body are two key characteristics to train for.


In the context of training the body, being stable means you are able to control your joints range of motion and direction you are producing force. 

If the joint feels unstable the nervous system will reduce the total amount of force you can produce so that you are less likely to injure yourself.

For example this could limit your power for hitting, if there is not adequate shoulder stability.

A key aspect of training for volleyball is to develop strength in joint stabilizers, to reduce chances of injury and unlock the full potential of your explosive muscles.


Explosiveness is an athletic characteristic that stems from quickly producing force.

The speed of play of volleyball and the actions of the sport, for example hitting, means upper body explosiveness is an essential part of the game.

Explosiveness is built on a foundation of stability and strength.

Measures of absolute strength, for example the amount you can lift once, are important. The more you can lift at once the better the muscle is at producing force. Doing some training that builds up strength is part of becoming more explosive.

However because explosiveness is not just about force but also how quickly you produce it, it is important to do training that focuses on speed of movement, if you want to develop an explosive upper body for volleyball.

What Makes A Good Upper Body Exercise For Volleyball Players? 

Like discussed above, the characteristics you will want to train for the upper body in volleyball are stability and explosiveness. In a broad sense this means a good upper body exercise is one that develops one or both of those things.

Exercises that train core and shoulder stability and strength are great exercises for volleyball players as both of these are highly used during game play.

Body weight and calisthenics exercises do use stabilizers and multiple parts of the body at once. This makes movements like push ups good choices for volleyball players to build upper strength.

Other exercises that are purely shoulder stability focused like wall angels and wall slides, or combine core and shoulder stability and strength like side plank row, ½ kneeling row, bent over Y and dumbbell bench press would also be good choices.

Most of those exercises use free weights and cables and that requires the body to provide stability. Most exercise machines don’t require stabilizers to work because the machine only moves in one plane of motion. For this reason machine exercises are not usually the best exercises for volleyball players to build upper body strength.

A good training plan for volleyball players should also include some explosive exercises. These sorts of exercises will train reflexive stability, because of the speed you are moving at, and the ability to quickly produce force.

Because speed is the focus, these exercises are done with lighter weights, medicine balls or body weight. 

Examples of these sorts of exercises would be the medicine ball slam, single arm toss and chop and the single arm snatch.

12 Best Upper Body Exercises for Volleyball Players 

1. Wall Angels

The shoulder blades ability to rotate and move over the rib cage plays a huge roll in stabilizing the arms. Wall angels are a great exercise to work on this movement as well as opening up tight muscles in the chest. 

How To

  • Stand in front of a wall with your elbows and shoulders at 90 degrees and wrist and elbows flat on the wall
  • Make sure your back is also flat on the wall. You may need to walk the feet away from the wall to do this
  • Reach overhead as far as you can keep the back, wrist and elbows on the wall
  • Slide your elbows towards your hips bending them so your thumbs end up beside your shoulders
  • Repeat reaching up and sliding down, keeping everything in contact with the wall
  • If your range of motion feels limited, use your breath and relaxation to slowly gain range of motion 

Pro Tip

An easier alternative if you find your range of motion is limited, is do the same arm action while lying on your back on the floor.

2. Wall Slides

Wall slides are another exercise for improving the movement and stability of the shoulder blade.

How To

  • Stand in front of a wall with your wrists and elbows on the wall, thumbs pointing away from the wall and forearms on a roller
  • Press your forearms and into the roller as you reach up
  • With control, slide your arms back down until they are in front of your chest
  • Repeat in a smooth controlled motion, inhaling as you reach up and exhaling on the way down
  • Keep your spine tall and still as you move
  • The farther you are from the wall, the hard this will be

Pro Tip

Starting the roller at your wrists means you can reach overhead while keeping the roller under your forearms.

3. Med Ball Overhead Slam

This is an exercise to build explosiveness in the upper body, especially for hitting.

How To

  • Stand feet shoulder width apart with a med ball in your hands and overhead
  • Throw the ball down as hard as you can, like you were spiking the ball

Pro Tip

Make sure the ball you use is not so hard it could damage the floor and not so bouncy it rebounds and hits you. You may want to put a mat or cushion on the floor to protect the floor or reduce the bounce.

4. ½ Kneeling Single Arm Press

This is an explosive exercise to develop power in the upper body and stability in the lower body.

How To

  • Kneeling down on 1 knee. If needed place a pad under the knee, to help with comfort and to level the hips
  • Lift your front foot off the ground briefly to align yourself over the back knee. The front foot is just for balance, you want to be tall and stable loaded through back knee
  • Hold a medicine ball in both hands with your elbows up
  • Rotate so one elbow points at the wall, one behind you
  • Rotate your shoulders and push the ball like you are trying to throw it through a wall
  • If your hip bones are headlights, they should shine straight forward as you stay tall

Pro Tip

Like all explosive exercises the purpose is to move with speed. For this reason you will want light medicine ball 2-8lbs

5. ½ Kneeling Med Ball Chop Toss

The ½ Kneeling chop develops stability in the lower body, needed for moving around the court while learning to produce more power in the upper body.

How To

  • One knee down, the other foot flat on the floor in front of you
  • You may want a cushion or foam pad for under your one knee
  • Both knees should be bent at 90 degrees
  • Test if you are upright and stacked over the knee by lifting the front foot of the floor briefly.
  • Place the front foot back down for balance
  • Stay tall as you slash the ball down across you like you are chopping wood
  • Spit the air out as you release the ball

Pro Tip

You want enough resistance to challenge your core, but little enough that it does not slow you down how quickly you move. A 2-8lb ball is ideal for this. 

6. Single Arm Snatch

The single arm snatch builds reflexive stability in the upper body while also improving coordination for jumping.

How To

  • Start in a quarter squat position
  • Hold a weight in on arm
  • Push the ground away and get as tall as you can from you toes, through your ears
  • Drive your elbow as high as you can so the weight comes towards your chin
  • Pull yourself under the weight, extending your arm to catch it above your head
  • Lower the weight to your shoulder and then back to the start position 

Pro Tip

Using a dumbbell is easier for learning technique than a kettlebell. Using a kettlebell will challenge your shoulder stabilizers more.

7. ½ Kneeling Row

Rowing in this position helps build back strength, stability in the shoulder. 

And the ability to rotate the shoulders without the hips. These will help with your hitting, posture and general stability of the arms during play.

How To

  • Kneeling down on 1 knee. If needed place a pad under the knee, to help with comfort and to level the hips
  • Lift your front foot off the ground briefly to align yourself over the back knee. The front foot is just for balance, you want to be tall and stable loaded through back knee
  • Holding a band or cable, in the opposite hand to the front leg
  • Drive your elbow past your side rotating your shoulders as the elbow drives back
  • Control extending the arm back in front of you, allowing your shoulders to rotate to face the front leg
  • If your hip bones are headlights, they should shine straight forward as you stay tall, rotating the shoulders and driving the elbow back past your side

Pro Tip

Having the cable attached at shoulder height or slightly higher will encourage you to drive the elbow back and slightly down, keeping the shoulder in a stable position.

8. Pull ups 

Pull ups will improve the function and stability of the shoulder while building lat strength for serves and spikes. 

How To

  • Grab the bar wider than shoulder width with your palms facing away from you
  • Imagine you are bending the bar over your head as you drive your head up
  • Control down
  • Exhale on the way up, inhale on the way down

Pro Tip

If you need assistance to do more reps, place a barbell in the rack at chest height and use your feet for a little extra push.

9. Bent over Y 

This exercise helps build back strength and stability from a low arm position, similar to bumping the ball.

How To

  • Stand with your feet shoulder width apart
  • Push your hips back and hinge, like you are jumping or deadlift
  • Keep your spine long from your tailbone to the crown of your head
  • Lift your hands up to make a Y with your body and arms and thumbs pointing towards the roof
  • Slowly lower back to arms hanging
  • Add light weight as needed

Pro Tip

Look about at the floor about 5 feet in front of you to keep your head in neutral with the rest of your spine and avoid rounding your back.

10. Side Plank Row

The side plank row works on static stability in one shoulder and dynamic stability in the other. The set up is key to maximizing the exercise and using the right muscles. 

How To

  •  Lie on your side, stacking your hips and shoulders on top of each other and in a straight line from your ear to your ankle.
  • Place your elbow under your shoulder.
  •  Drive your hips towards the roof and hold yourself long from your feet to the top of your head.  
  •  Make sure you stay stacked hips and shoulders one over the other as you hold this position.
  • With your top hand, hold on to a cable and drive your elbow past your side
  • Slowly allow the arm to extend back to full length, keeping yourself long from your feet to your head

Pro Tip

If your shoulder is getting tired try bringing your elbow closer to your hips.

11. Dumbbell Incline Bench Press

Dumbbell bench pressing works on chest strength, used in hitting and pressing yourself off the ground after a dive. 

How To

  • Lie on an incline bench with dumbbells in your hands
  • Punch for the roof with the dumbbells
  • Control back down
  • Keep your spine long and tall as you perform each rep

Pro Tip

It is common to want to drive the shoulders forward for extra reach with the punch. For optimal shoulder stability, the shoulders will stay in the same place throughout the movement, touching the bench.

12. Push Up

Push ups train multiple muscles used for volleyball at once. Your core has to hold your spine stable, like in a block, and the shoulder stabilizers, pecs and triceps build strength for hitting, getting off the floor and other arm movements. 

How To

  • Start in a high plank position with your feet hip width apart and hands slightly wider than your shoulders
  • Keeping yourself long from your heels to your ears, lower your chest to the ground
  • At the bottom position there should be a 45 degree angle between your torso and your arm
  • Push the ground away to return to the start position  

Pro Tip

If it is difficult to press yourself up, moving your body as one unit, not breaking in the low back/ hips, start with your hands on a bench, or box and lower the height as you get stronger. 

Related Article: Reaction Time in Volleyball: 4 Specific Drills To Master                  

Sample Upper Body Program for Volleyball Players

 sample upper body program for volleyball players

Upper Body Workout For Volleyball: Warm Up Exercises

Whether warming up for a game or strength training, activating the shoulder stabilizers is a good idea if you are going to do something with your arms. 

  • Wall Angels – x10
  • Wall Slides – x10

If you are warming up for practice or game you may want to do 1-2 sets as the goal is to engage but not fatigue the muscles.

If you are warming up for strength training you will want to do 1-3 sets as the goal is to engage and also build up some strength and capacity in the muscles.

Upper Body Volleyball Workout #1

  • Med Ball Overhead Slam – 3×5-3
  • ½ Kneeling Single Arm Med Ball Single Arm Press – 3×5-3
  • Pull Ups – 3×8-10
  • Incline Dumbbell Press – 3×8-10
  • Side Plank Row – 3×8-10

Upper Body Volleyball Workout #2     

  • Single Arm Snatch – 3×5-3
  • ½ Kneeling Med Ball Chop – 3×5-3
  • ½ Kneeling Row – 3×8-10
  • Push Ups – 3×8-10
  • Bent Over Y – 3×8-10

When training you will always want to start with power or explosive exercises after you warm up. After the explosive exercises do more strength based exercises working the muscles towards fatigue. 

The explosive exercises start with more reps and as you develop better technique reduce the reps and add a little more resistance.

For strength exercises start at a weight you can do for 8 reps. Work up to 3 sets of 10 reps. Then add more weight and start at 8 reps and repeat the cycle.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Do You Build Upper Body Strength in Volleyball?

Upper body strength for volleyball is used for hitting, serving, jumping and anytime you have to push up off the floor. The repetition of this in game and practice will build upper body strength. Strength training can also help enhance your ability to apply and reduce your chances of injury.

Does Volleyball Require Upper Body Strength?

Yes it does. Volleyball players need stability in the shoulders as well as powerful back, chest and core to create powerful hits and serves. To train for this medicine ball, dumbbell, cable and body weight exercises are usually best as they require shoulder stability and can build explosiveness. 

Is Bench Press Good for Volleyball?

In volleyball you do need pressing strength but more for stability and power than absolute strength. Dumbbell press or push ups work the shoulder stabilizers more than barbell bench press and therefore would be better options for volleyball players to develop pressing strength.

Other Strength And Conditioning Articles For Volleyball

Final Thoughts

The upper body of a volleyball player is put under a lot of stress from game play and especially hitting.

Strength training for shoulder stability and upper body strength and explosiveness and help reduce the chance of injury and enhance your athleticism for the game.

The sample program outlined has a mixture of exercises to build shoulder mobility, stability, and upper body strength and explosiveness.

About The Author

Ian Colburn

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 InstagramLinkedin, or Website.