How Do Single Leg Exercises Improve Volleyball Vertical Jump
In this article we will discuss why single leg exercises are so important in improving your vertical jump performance and how they reduce your risk of ankle, knee and spine injuries at the same time.
Single leg exercises
Single leg exercises are exercises that are performed with a great proportion of the body weight on one leg or another.
In sports, so many sports skills are performed with a great proportion of the body weight pushing into the ground on one leg so the athlete can accelerate, decelerate, jump, land, change direction and perform many other sports movements.
World class examples
Let’s look at some world class hitters and blockers performing single movements in an Olympic match to illustrate the importance of single leg training.
In sports, to accelerate means to increase speed, typically from a position in which the athlete is not moving at all, or certainly is not moving very fast.
In volleyball, let’s look at a middle blocker who starts to move from the middle of the net towards the left antenna, in an effort to get there fast enough to block the opponents hit.
Footwork Patterns - The Speed Step
There are different footwork patterns which are taught and used by middle blockers to move or accelerate to their left (or right). For this example, we will discuss the use of a drop step or what we prefer to refer to as a "speed step".
The speed step is a single leg movement with a great proportion of the athlete's body weight pushing into the ground to move the blocker to their left, quickly.
While this is often confusing to the novice's eye and understanding, the fast movement of the body to the athlete's left, is performed starting with the right foot, stepping to the athlete's right, as their body leans and quickly moves to the athlete's left.
The key here is that the athlete's right foot quickly and explosively moves slightly to the athlete's right, in the opposite direction of the intended movement.
As the right foot quickly pushes into the ground, to their right, a great proportion of the athlete's body weight shifts momentarily to their right foot.
As shown in the picture above,when performed correctly the right foot pushes down into the ground fast (green arrow), basically the ground pushes back up into the athlete's right foot in the oppostie direction (blue arrow). This action moves the athlete's body in the opposite direction to their left, fast!
A Deeper Dive
This movement of the right leg to the athlete's right, bends the right ankle, knee and hip, which stretches and loads the muscles on the bottom of the right foot as well as the big muscles of the right leg & hips.
When this action occurs fast, muscles in the right foot, leg & hip respond automatically to this fast muscle stretch, quickly shortening, contracting and then explosively extending or straightening the right ankle, knee and hip. The result of all this explosive muscle work is the fast movement of the athlete's body to their left.
In the picture directly above, as the blocker drives his right foot into the ground to his right, he leans his body to his left at the same time, which helps his body move quickly to his left.
It's a Lateral Jump
Basically the right leg is performing a single leg jumping movement to the athlete's left.
In the picture above, the blocker's right foot moves out in front of his body to start to decelerate or slow his body movement to his left (in preparation for his upwards jumping movement to block the ball).
In the picture above, now the blocker has both feet under his hips in preparation for the upwards movement of the body towards the ball.
In the picture above, the blocker has jumped up both laterally and vertically to block the ball.
In the picture above, the blocker has landed on one leg after blocking the ball.
Now lets look at a World Class Hitter and how they use a single leg to perform part of their approach & hitting motion.
In this picture above, the hitter is starting their 4-step approach on one leg, with the right foot preparing to push into the ground.
In this picture, the hitter's right foot is pushing into the ground (green arrow) and the ground pushes back up in the opposite direction (blue arrow) to move the athlete forwards.
In this picture, the hitter is leaning forwards to help the feet move the body forwards faster.
In this picture, the hitter's second step is performed on one leg as her left foot contacts the ground.
In this picture, the hitter's third step is performed on one leg, with the right leg now out in front of the body which starts to decelerate or slow the forward movement of the body (in preparation for the vertical jump movement).
In this picture, the hitter's left foot contacts the ground to both stop the forwards motion of the body (so they don't run into the net) as the right foot pushes down into the ground to initiate the upward jumping movement of the body.
In this picture, the hitter has jumped up vertically preparing to turn their body and hit the ball.
In this picture, the hitter is landing after their hit on two feet.
Blocking & Hitting Movement Summary
In the blocking & hitting movements above, you should have noticed that so many of the movements were performed on one leg. This should help you understand the importance of training on one leg to strengthen the muscles responsible for performing this movement, both the jumping and landing.
Training Single Leg Motions
Now that you understand the importance of moving on one leg in both blocking & hitting, let's highlight some single leg training exercises we use to train blockers and hitters (to jump and land on one foot).
Single Leg Exercises
Blockers "Activation" Exercise
We have created some highly specific exercises that we use in our athlete's vertical jump programs to activate or engage both small stabilizer muscles and the big powerful jumping muscles of the calves, hamstrings, quads & glutes.
This exercise trains both legs (pushing down laterally into the slider and ground) and the support leg (which works to support the body weight). The athlete is instructed to push into the structure with the arms & hands to engage the core and many other stabilizer muscles of the body.
This exercise does a great job of building strength, endurance, stability & mobility in the muscles of the hips, all at the same time, as the athlete moves the leg laterally.
Hitters "Activation" Exercise
This exercise trains both the back leg (pushing down into the slider and ground) and the front leg (which supports the body weight). The athlete is instructed to push into the structure with the arms & hands to engage the core and many other stabilizer muscles of the body.
This exercise does a great job of building strength, endurance, stability & mobility in the muscles of the hips, all at the same time, as the athlete moves the leg forwards and backwards.
Strength, Power & Speed Exercises
We use many other types of single leg exercises in our vertical jump program for our athletes to quickly & safely jump higher.
The exercise we use depends on the athletes age, training level as well as other variables, but we definitely see the huge benefits of using various single leg exercises.