Watching the pros play beach volleyball is quite a spectacle. Their form is perfect, ball placement is spot-on and their ability to recover from a long rally is uncanny. They make the sport look easy, yet if you have ever tried playing beach volleyball, you should know it is not. At the top level of beach volleyball, physical conditioning is often a factor that differentiates the super-elite from the elite.
Professional beach players have an intense training regimen to develop the strength, power, speed, aerobic fitness and agility needed to play the game. Most spend several hours working out two times a day. Even if you play indoor volleyball, different workout techniques are necessary to develop the skills to play on the beach. With the proper training, you too can learn to run, dig and jump in the sand of a beach volleyball court like a pro.
Train in the Sand
The best way to learn to play in the sand is to train in the sand. Science shows that beach volleyball training in the sand will improve your vertical jump on all surfaces. In fact, many indoor pros switch to beach ball in their off season to improve their vertical and reaction time.
When you complete your workouts in the sand, your body becomes accustomed to engaging more muscle fibers every action. Once off the sand, the extra muscle fibers continue to activate. That means more jump in the sand, grass, concrete, and any other surface upon which you may play.
While you may never run the length of a football field, sporadic bursts of rapid movement in the sand are necessary to dive, dig and retrieve a beach volleyball back into play. Sprinting in the sand is softer on the joints than on concrete. Additionally, you will receive more physical benefits from the extra energy and muscle motion required than doing the same exercise on firm ground.
Pros like April Ross, two-time Olympic medalist, recommend sprints in the sand for speed, endurance and agility. She incorporates sprints into a ten-round circuit of three to four exercises including one or two sprints, burpees and mountain climbers. Some sprints she includes are triangle, star drill, sled pull and suicide sprints. This combo gives her the total body strengthening necessary to meet the physical demands of beach volleyball.
One of the biggest difficulties in beach volleyball is jumping. When you jump in the sand, the softness absorbs your downward force, making your muscles work even harder to bounce back up again. Plyometrics, or “plyos,” are jump training exercises that exert maximum force for short intervals, intended to increase power.
For a sand workout that incorporates plyos, three-time Olympic beach player Louise Bawden recommends a circuit that she calls “repeat power.” Using four different exercises, mixing plyos like countermovement jumps or lateral bounds with weights for upper body, Bawden moves three times through a circuit, completing twelve reps of each exercise before switching to the next. In addition to sprints for speed and agility in the sand, a good plyometric sand workout can add impressive height to your vertical jump.
The physical demands of beach volleyball require the players to have total body conditioning. Working with weights helps build the endurance necessary for safe body positioning and explosiveness needed throughout the game. Many pros incorporate two-hour sessions of weight lifting into their training in addition to hours of cardio-intensive activity in the sand. For instance, adding a medicine ball or weighted vest to your sand workout will help engage more muscle groups, such as your core, which is also an important part of your beach volleyball game.
Ross, Bawden and three-time Olympic gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings all add two or three sessions of lifting per week. Walsh varies between Olympic lifting and a weighted circuit training. Ross’ favorites are power cleans and sling-leg Romanian deadlifts with dumbbells. Both include workouts with higher weights and fewer reps for “explosiveness.” Gain more of power in the sand through weight lifting as part of your beach volleyball training.
Many professional athletes believe that cross training is important in overall performance since it forces muscles to get accustomed to both fast and slow-twitch movements. Incorporating other exercise activities into your training can improve the effectiveness of your beach performance.
Sprint training on a track or running up stairs is great for muscles, lung capacity and cardio. Swimming is soft on the joints and enhances aerobic and anaerobic capacity by varying between long swims and interval training. Any of the racket sports (e.g. tennis, squash and racquetball) will improve hand-eye coordination, shoulder strength and range of motion. Basketball will improve the explosiveness in your reaction time, lateral movements, and vertical jumps. Pilates or yoga can improve total body movements and increase flexibility. Incorporating cross training into a workout regimen will vary athletic activity and, in turn, prevent overuse of isolated muscles groups and avoid injury.
Diet and Mental Health
As with any professional training program, the way that you eat is going to have a major effect on your ability to play beach volleyball. Meals should focus on high proteins accompanied with fruits, vegetables and complex carbohydrates for energy. Avoid low-protein fats and consume limited sugars through only fruits and veggies. Recently, German Olympians touted the benefits of drinking alcohol-free beer during training as a recovery method. This trend seems to be catching on, with sales growth of non-alcoholic beer outpacing alcoholic beer from 2011 to 2016, according to Euromonitor.
In addition to keeping a healthy diet, important rest and recuperation is necessary to withstand the rigorous training required in beach volleyball. Stretching, massages and muscle care after workouts are important elements to training as well. Also try to sleep for a minimum of eight to nine hours a night to rest those muscles and your mind from the strenuous days.
The intense strength and conditioning required to play your best in beach volleyball will come with practice. Your body will adjust to meet the requirements over time. You may feel very sore in the first few weeks of your training as your feet, calves and ankles adjust to the extra effort in the sand.
Check out upcoming Sunset Rec Sports training events here. At our trainings and beach camps, we will have a professional instructor guide you on various topics, ranging from conditioning, offensive and defensive beach volleyball tactics.