Strength Training for High School Volleyball

I have had the opportunity to strength train my two daughters for the last few years. Savannah is sixteen years old, 5’10”, a junior in high school, and a volleyball athlete. Madison is fourteen years old, 5’4”, 92lbs, a freshman in high school, and a volleyball and basketball athlete. Savannah now strength trains on her own while Madison still does her training sessions with me.

We have been able to spend some quality time together and have had some pretty good conversations about whatever was going on in their lives at the time. Some sessions were strictly about strength while others were about the girls bumping the volleyball back and forth and then getting in a few sessions of swings.

Training My Daughter for High School Volleyball

I recently followed up an earlier discussion with Pavel, which ended with advice on how I should incorporate strength training into Madison’s practice, with a specific goal of improving her overhand serve.

I had first contacted Pavel in May 2012 seeking advice on how to get Madison strong enough over the next few months so she could overhand serve. Pavel recommended she focus primarily on pull-ups.

She did, and reached the point where she could do multiple sets of two to five with a max of eight. She did pull-ups and practiced her overhand serve. By the beginning of her seventh grade volleyball season, she was around 4’8” and maybe 75lbs. She was little, but quick and strong and had an effective overhand serve. Since that time, she has strength trained consistently. She worked with Senior SFG Jason Marshall a couple of times and added in swings, get-ups, goblet squats, deadlifts, and hard style planks.

Be Ready for Conversation and Questions

Strength training with my daughters has been rewarding but at times frustrating. There have been a few times when my daughters have questioned why they are doing a certain exercise versus another one. They also are not shy about voicing any and all doubts and complaints. That’s okay, and to be expected (there haven’t been many complaints). but it makes it somewhat challenging.

I think it’s good for them to ask questions so they can form their own opinions. If you’re training your own kids, just try to make sure you have an answer. Saying “because I told you to” has not worked well for me.

Teach Them To Exercise Their Show-Up Muscle

Also, if you as a parent elect to go down the path of strength training your kids, you need to realize there may come a time when they want to do something else or do it differently. My oldest daughter, Savannah, trained with me and her younger sister last summer. She decided she wanted to strength train on her own this year. She is primarily doing multiple sets of goblet squats and overhead presses. She picked two good exercises to focus on. She is also doing a variety of lunges and some push-ups. The important thing is that she recognizes the importance of strength training, has a few good exercises in her arsenal, and as Dan John says: “is showing up.”

One of our goals as parents should be to instill self-reliance in our children. Her showing up on her own is a big deal. While I admit I miss our training or practice sessions together, I’m proud of her. If your kids enjoy training with you it can be a good experience for both of you. If not, I would urge you to find something else to do together.

Training for High School VolleyballKeep the Programming Simple, But Effective

With my daughters I’ve learned I have to simplify and keep the entire workout short. The primary focus is on strength. I suggest you take an Easy Strength approach. Have a limited number of high return exercises, keep the reps low, let the weights go up naturally, and stop the session if they are having a bad day.

Both my girls had sand volleyball three afternoons a week and indoor volleyball two or three mornings a week for most of the summer. The training sessions that Madison started with this past summer included a handful of different warm-up and stretching exercises that took about ten minutes to complete. The actual practice included swings, deadlifts, presses, power cleans, and loaded carries. That took another twenty to thirty minutes. By the midway point of the break, we had figured out there were a few exercises that Madison wasn’t receiving benefit from so we simplified again and tried to get rid of any and all fluff.

The first part of the summer Madison was doing half-get-ups for 8-12 reps each side with a light kettlebell. SFG Al Ciampa suggested that we change that to full get-ups, 2-3 reps per side, at a weight right at the edge of her ability. She has seen a good return on that.

We ditched the Spiderman crawls, the stretching is being taken care of in her volleyball warm-up, no more presses at this time because she’s getting enough overhead work at practice, and we dropped the deadlift and power clean for a couple of months. We have recently added the full contact twist and one-arm bench press. We are going to try the full contact twist for three to four weeks to see if there is an increase in power on her serves.

Example Sessions for In-Season and Off-Season Volleyball

Summer Workout — 2-4 times per week

  • Rocks, Nods, Spider-Man Crawl, Standing Cross Crawl Overhead Squats w/PVC 2X8
  • Hip Flexor Stretch 1X5 each side
  • Goblet Squats 1X8
  • Half-Get-Ups 8-12 each side w/light kettlebell
  • Jumprope 25-50 reps forward and backward
  • Single leg box squat 1X5 each leg
  • Deadlift: around 10 reps 2X5, 3X3, 6X1
  • Single or Double Kettlebell Overhead Press: around 10 reps
  • Swings: 30-50 reps 16kg kettlebell (sets of 10)
  • Loaded Carry
  • Lateral walk w/band
  • Power Wheel 1X5
  • Hard Style Plank: 1

Note: We alternated between deadlift and power clean every other workout. Same reps.

In-Season Workout — 2-3 times per week

  • Rocks, Nods 1X10
  • Overhead Squat w/pvc 1-2X8
  • Goblet Squat 1X8
  • Get-ups 2-3 each side with a challenging weight
  • Full Contact Twists 2X5
  • 1-arm bench press: around 10 reps each side
  • Various Style Swings with 16kg bell: 4X10 Hard Style, Ballistic, 1 Hand
  • Farmers Walk: 200+/- yards with 16 kg bells. We vary the total distance and number of stops every workout. We are about to increase the weight.
  • Lateral walk w/band
  • Power Wheel 1-3 sets of 7

Every third workout or so, we add every loaded carry we can think of. She does a few reps of pull-ups throughout the week. If we are short on time, she only does the rocks, nods, and farmers walk.

We just replaced the goblet squat with double kettlebell front squats, 3X8. Madison wants to add a little size to her legs. She is going rock bottom and using a challenging weight.

The Proof Is in the Performance

Madison is one of two freshmen who’ve been asked to play both junior varsity and varsity this season at her high school. She is by far the smallest girl on the varsity team. At the first game of the season, the coach told the girls that Madison was the only player he wanted to jump serve. Between three junior varsity games and four varsity games that night, Madison made thirty-plus jump serves without missing a single one. On the court, her strength and quickness were very visible.

Intensity and an adequate amount of time spent practicing your sport are two important parts of success on the field of play. Being stronger than your competition is a very important third.

New to some of these drills? There’s a DVD for that.

Kash Morrow

14 thoughts on “Strength Training for High School Volleyball

  • Thank you for sharing your experience with training your children Kash! Well written article. I came across your article because I am trying to find evidence that supports what age a boy should start strength training and the types of exercises they should begin with.

    Based on your knowledge or the community here, do you have any insight for my son who will be entering 5th grade next year. He has wanted to lift for two years and have always pushed back on his request. Thoughts? He has made two AAU basketball teams this year and have chosen to hold off on him playing until the Fall but would like to support his interest in improving his game and interest in weight training. Thoughts?

  • Hey Kash,
    What a great article!! It was a very inspiring read!!

    I’ve been doing Simple and Sinister with my two girls since July. (We “discovered” kettlebells in October ’13.) We’ve been having so much fun training together.

    My 7th grader is a cheerleader who has set the goal of making her high school squad.
    My 5th grader is a soccer player who has set the goal of making the premier travel team of her soccer team.

    I really identified with your statement: “Strength training with my daughters has been very rewarding but at times frustrating. There have been a few times when my daughters have questioned why they are doing a certain exercise versus another one. They also are not shy about voicing any and all doubts and complaints. That’s ok and to be expected (there haven’t been many complaints) but it makes it somewhat challenging. I think it’s good for them to ask questions so they can form their own opinions. Try to make sure you have an answer. Saying “because I told you to”, has not worked well for me.”

    We are working with SFG Paul Lyngso and I am doing my best to educate myself so I can have an “educated” answer when my girls ask me a question.

    Thanks for sharing!!

    • Blad51,

      Thanks for the kind words! Glad you enjoyed the article.
      Great job on the training to you and your girls!
      Also, that’s good that you are working with SFG Paul Lyngso. Every SFG I have dealt with has been extremely knowledgeable. They’ve helped me increase strength, improve my form, and learn how to deal with and even fix old injuries by using certain exercises and correctives. I’d suggest getting with him regularly. Strongfirst is just a first rate organization.

  • Love it, Kash! Taking “strong” to the next level – the family that trains together… Physical culture needs to start at home, and our training philosophy can ensure that our youth grow up strong AND healthy.

    • Al: Thanks! I really appreciate it. You’ve been a big part of Madison’s strength development. Thanks for the advice and friendship.

  • Kash, Great post! My daughter is a senior and plays volleyball, basketball and lacrosse. She has just recently committed to play basketball in college. I have 5 children 4 boys and one girl, all multi sport athletes and I have trained all of them at varying points in their athletic careers. It can be very different training your own kids vs others but others don’t always have the knowledge and or expertise that you may have. Abby’s workout is very similar to Madison’s. I really try to use the easy strength template. It is highly effective and produces results and is perfectly suited to someone who is almost always in season! Get ups and gat up variations in my opinion are the most important piece of the puzzle. In fact when short on time some rocking and get ups are very very effective. It was also great to read someone else’s experience with training their kids and identify with what you think and feel! Best of luck for you and your girls!!

    • Steve, Thank you. It’s nice to hear from other parents out there who have done this like you and Ward have. It validates what I’m hoping to accomplish with the girls. Best of luck to your daughter Abby. What a neat opportunity for her! Bet you can’t wait for that first game!

  • Kash, it’s true that training your kids – and ultimately training with them – is a rewarding (if occasionally frustrating) experience. I would add that if you kids happen to be boys, prepare to be left behind at some point. Both of my sons sport deadlifts north of 400, squat well over 300, and bench in the mid-200s. I have none of those numbers and I confess to having envied them as they got bigger, stronger, faster while I just got older.

    • I bet you’re really proud of them and guessing you wouldn’t change the experience of time spent with them for anything. I wondered what the difference would be if I had boys instead of girls. Thanks for sharing that! My girls can’t out lift me but with just a look they can make me truly feel my age. Just plain intimidating. Ha. I’m still wondering who benefits the most, us or them?

  • There is a lot of quality information in this for any private coach or curious parent. I appreciate your thorough reporting, both of where your girls started and how you’ve adjusted their programa over time.

    • Dunte: Thanks. At their stage of training I really think that just showing up is as or more important than exercise selection and they will get stronger on almost any type of program. I truly enjoy training and increasing my strength. I need to constantly remind myself that they don’t necessarily feel that way. Forcing them to get in one last set when they are having a bad day isn’t worth screwing up a relationship over or hurting their feelings. The latest and greatest since volleyball is now over and basketball has started is a set of swings for every missed shot during a few games of HORSE or PIG. Madison is out-shooting me so I’m doing quite a few more sets than she is. The workout itself is just TGU’s and Zercher Squats.


      • At some level, I think for every athlete just showing up can be enough. More powerful than the training program, I think, is your humility – being willing to let your older daughter train on her own, to trust that she will stick to what is smart, and to trust you gave her a correct foundation.

        • Dunte, I have to admit I had a hard time with that. I wish I could say it was easy to let go and let her train on her own but it just wasn’t. I’d like to say that it was because I wasn’t sure she was competent enough to make good exercise selections or figure out the right number of days to train or calculate optimum sets and reps… She was good to go. I wasn’t ready to recognize that she really has a good head on her shoulders and makes good decisions. All of a sudden, this little girl who wanted my opinion on almost everything…grew up.

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