Every volleyball player would like to hit the ball harder! Many are training to increase hitting velocity and of course Powercore 360 specializes in training athletes, including volleyball players, to hit harder. But what goes up must come down and not seeing and correcting jumping and landing mechanics can abruptly end a season or a career if the athlete seriously injures a knee. Before you get too engaged in what happens in the air, make sure they have the appropriate strength and can control their movements on the ground as they also learn to jump & land correctly! This blog post will show:
- common jumping and landing issues related to volleyball
- identify initial corrective exercises to begin to strengthen the hip muscles to reduce injury risk for knee injuries
Watch the video below of a training session with a 14 year old player working on attack footwork. As she works on approach footwork, take-off and landing, she does what the majority of young developing female players do…she prepares to jump and then lands with very poor control of knees which increases her related risk of knee injuries, especially to the anterior cruciate ligament or ACL.
Knee & Foot Alignment
As she works on her approach footwork and prepares to jump up, notice in Figure 1 how her knees point in one direction and her toes point in another direction. This places the knee joint in a poorly aligned position and increases the risk for knee injuries.
It’s important to note that most young athletes probably have little or no awareness that there knees and their toes should point in the same direction or how this relates to knee injury risk. As a coach or trainer it’s our responsibility to see the errant jumping & landing movement pattern, make the athlete aware of it and provide corrective exercise and movement drills to improve jumping technique while decreasing related injury risk.
Ideally, the athlete should train to have the knee (the knee cap) and the toes pointing in the same direction as she jumps and lands.
Knees Buckling In
Figure 2 shows her knees bucking in towards each other as she prepares to jump up. This is commonly believed to be a sign of weakness of hip muscles which are responsible for controlling the movement of the thighs and in this case the knee joint laterally (side-to-side) as well.
There are not muscles on the sides of knees to control the movements of the knees from side-to-side, so muscles above and below the knees have to provide the stability or control of the knees. Select hip and ankle muscles actually control the side-to-side movements of the knees, but as often the case with young female volleyball players, their hip muscles are weak, setting their knees up for injuries as they jump and land.
Hip Movement & Loading
Figure 3 shows a common landing position for many female volleyball players. In this position, the knees have moved forwards (which increases the load on the knee joint) and unfortunately the hip joints really haven’t bent much nor has the pelvis moved backwards (which would reduce the load on the knees by spreading the forces out over the butt muscles, hamstrings and calves).
One of the common movement-related injury prevention strategies to help reduce the load on the ACL is by engaging the hamstring muscles (eccentrically). By teaching the athlete to move her pelvis and butt backwards as they land helps to engage the hamstrings in this way.
Bending Ankles, Knees and Hips
Without getting too deep into the anatomy & physiology, if an athlete will simply bend their ankles, knees and hips as they land good things happen!
Bending these joints engages many of the leg muscles which will work to essentially reduce the forces on the knee joint and better control the forward movement of the lower leg which will dramatically decrease the risk for ACL injuries.
Engaging & Strengthening Hip Muscles
Placing a resistance band around the thighs (just above the knees) will help to activate/engage and strengthen select hip muscles to provide lateral or side-to-side stability of the knees when jumping and landing.
The athlete is shown performing this movement while sitting on a bench to show one way to activate and strengthen these muscles.
The ideal functional way to activate & strengthen these muscles to maximize carry-over into actual jumping and landing movements is to make these muscles work while actually jumping and landing.
The band pulls the knees together, in the exact opposite movement that we want to have the athlete perform while jumping and landing. To keep the knees from moving together, the athlete will have to engage the correct hip muscles to keep the knees apart. (Note in the video how as the athlete starts the upward movement of the body how the knees will move together. The same thing occurs as they land and drop down lower into their landing position.)
Doing frequent sets and repetitions of this exercise will strengthen the correct muscles but the athlete will have to be aware of the knees trying to move together and to work to keep the knees apart until they have build enough strength and movement control to prevent this from happening.