Disclaimer: Within this series, I will probably get on a lot of people’s nerves. It can be a touchy and controversial subject. I will do my best to label what are just plain facts, and what is my opinion based on these facts. I invite you to question what you know, and my opinions.
First, let me define two components of this post.
Ready Position: The ready position is putting your body in the most optimal position to react to the ball.
Squat: A lowering down of your center of mass with equal flexion at the knees and hips (i.e. keeping torso parallel with shins). This is a HUGE generalization, the squat deserves its own post. Be on the look out for it.
Here is a list things I have heard about the ready position from coaches:
-Be on your toes
-Get your hands low
-Have high hips and a high chest at the same time (try it, let me know how your back extensors feel afterwards)
-Move your feet
-Don’t move your feet
-Relax your arms/Let your arms hang
-Rest your hands on your knees like you just finished a marathon. Ok, now remove them, that’s your ready position.
The list can go on and on…I find that coaches often times do not know how to arrange their players’ bodies to optimize their reactivity to the ball. Just like the in-practice punishments, they may be regurgitating what their coach taught them, or trying to create a solution to a problem they do not understand.
Most of the time the ready position looks something like this…
It saddens me that this picture is found under “Volleyball Techniques” from the website listed in the picture. I will assume all my readers understand that a rounded back is bad and not address it. In this position the athlete’s hips are inhibited from working, the girl in the middle will move even less because she is on her toes. Being on her toes like this is actually decreasing the efficiency of her thighs and hips, as well as causing excess stress on her knees. In order to even see the ball, she must crane her neck into severe extension (no, you CANNOT strengthen a player’s neck to combat this dysfunction. That is like asking a Smart car to play the role of a a semi-truck).This athletic posture causes so many problems. How many times have you found yourself saying “I totally should have/could have gotten that ball”, “I just wasn’t fast enough”, “I couldn’t move me feet to react to the ball.” The standard “ready position” does nothing but prevent you from reacting to the ball and lead to injury.
The ultimate ready position will be more similar to a plain old squat.
THESE ARE SQUATS: All the muscles in your legs should be contracting either eccentrically or concentrically, ones you have not even considered (Flexor sling anyone? Topic for a future post). Torso should be parallel to shins, entire spine should be in a neutral position, and the core should be properly stabilized. The shoulder blades should be firmly affixed to the thorax via proper shoulder girdle function (paging everyone’s absent Serratus Anterior). Having a stable shoulder blade will allow for efficient and and mobile Glenohumeral Joint function (shoulder). It is all about efficiency and balanced musculature.
So what does a proper ready position look like? The pictures of Sergio Santos and Reid Priddy are great examples.
Look at that perfection. From left to right, he is reacting to the ball while maintaining flawless biomechanics. His torso is parallel with his lower leg, his feet are planted flat on the ground which allows him to access all power from his entire leg. His spine is in a neutral position, shoulder blades and core are stable, and his arms are mobile. This his how a ready position should look like.
Fact: Sergio has put himself in a position where he can constantly react to the ball in an explosive manner. You simply cannot argue with these biomechanics and his success.
Myth: Your hands are closer to the ground if you are leaning over versus squatting.
Get up out of your chair, put yourself in the incorrect ready position with your arms dangling, shoulders protracted. (Feel all that work your back, neck, and calves are doing? I am sure that is great for reacting to a ball, and injury prevention). Now sit your hips down into a squat. I guarantee you your hands did not get ANY higher.
Myth: I need to lean over to place weight on my toes so I can react. Or, I need to be on my toes to move fast.
Wake up! Leaning over like that to place weight on your toes disproportionately loads your calf and causes a sheering stress through your knees. It stretches your hamstrings and glutes, thus inhibiting them from powerful contractions. Proper jumping, sprinting, reacting biomechanics require extension at the knees and hips simultaneously before plantarflexion (extension at the ankle). You will lock your knees out first and then thrust your back up to try and jump, equalling more stress and inefficient movement. Or you will never get any hip extension. Hip extension is the driving force for all powerful movements.
If potential forward energy is desired, just hinge at the ankles to go forward while maintaining proper squat mechanics.
I have corrected many people’s ready positions, the first thing they ALWAYS say is, “I can actually move to the ball now!”
PLEASE debate with me. I love to talk about this and would enjoy explaining it further, or even being proved wrong. I only try and preach what science has already proved to be right. If you need more evidence, just look up photos/video of some of the other elite passers – Rich Lambourne and Aleksey Verbov for example. They pass and move with the same biomechanics.
If we continue to play and teach with improper mechanics, we merely perpetuate an incorrect jumping mechanics, ready position, and arm swing. This will inevitably result in failure, or even worse, cause you pain. I am here to help. Please question what you know, and learn. Experiment with yourself and seek results. Never stop getting better.
Train Smarter to Play Harder
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Volleyball Skills & Conditioning Specialist
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