While simply practicing setting goes a long way, elite setters also maintain a strength training routine aimed at developing the traits relied upon by setters.
Being strong enough to consistently set those sloppy second balls to the desired hitting window requires very specific strength.
Developing hand and finger strength as well as upper arm power is also vital, especially for younger athletes.
Setters also need to be one of the most agile players on the court, so it’s important they develop lower body speed and explosiveness to be as effective as possible.
In this article we’ll take a look at the best ways to develop strength, speed, and power as a setter and I’ll discuss the most important exercises setters ought to be doing regularly.
Use A Volleyball Setter Training Ball
Before we get into what lifts a setter should be doing, I want to briefly discuss the importance of every setter’s best friend, a weighted volleyball.
These things are identical to regular volleyballs except they’re significantly heavier (around 16oz), which forces you to develop strength particularly in your fingers, hands, and wrists.
By training using a weighted volleyball, your muscles will adapt to the increased load and when you switch back to a regulation ball, you’ll be able to set with greater efficiency.
Volleyball Setter Ball Drills
Literally any setting drill you’d do with a regular volleyball can be done with a setter ball.
High ball setting drills like the one described below as ‘exercise 5’ can be made tougher using a setter ball.
Even just doing something really simple like sitting in front of a wall with a chair and setting the ball to yourself up against the wall will work wonders.
It almost doesn’t matter what you do… The idea is simply that you do a lot of it!
If you’re serious about becoming a better setter, you absolutely must get your hands on one of these!
You might also consider getting a volleyball setting net to get some extra target practice in.
Volleyball Setter Strength Training
The objective of each of these exercises is to make you as a setter more capable and efficient when doing your job on the volleyball court.
- A faster, quicker, and more agile setter is able to chase down and set more difficult balls than a slower setter.
- A setter with stronger shoulders, arms, and hands will be able to set these difficult balls with superior distance, accuracy, and consistency.
- A setter who can jump higher will be a more successful blocker and will earn more points via setter dump.
To make things really simple, we’re going to break these exercises down into either upper or lower body and from there we’ll classify each movement as either strength focused or speed/power oriented.
Upper Body Strength For Setters
The objective of our upper body training is to develop overhead power so that the setter can produce a higher output in the setting motion.
Power, as you all know, is simply strength X speed. To develop maximum power, we’re going to do 3 types of exercises:
- Speed strength
Speed strength exercises can be thought of as a mixture of both or simply as a ‘power’ exercise.
Exercise 1: Overhead Press
My favorite strength exercise for setters is any variation of a standing overhead/military press.
This exercises is used to develop shoulder, tricep, and upper back strength.
These are easiest performed using a barbell. Start with your feet inline with your hips and go for a slightly wider than shoulder width grip. Engage the core and press the barbell overhead while maintaining a neutral spine.
One reason this is a must-have for setters is because of how biomechanically similar it is to the movement of setting a volleyball.
The overhead press trains each of the prime movers involved in the setting motion, making it the most effective upper body strength exercise for volleyball setters.
Exercise 2: Incline Bench Press
The incline bench press is another great exercise for setters for the same reason as the OHP: specificity.
Setting requires a good amount of activation from the upper chest and the incline bench is excellent for developing this area.
It also hits the anterior deltoids (front of your shoulders) which is another key muscle group as far as setting goes.
This exercise can be performed using either a barbell or with dumbbells. Make sure your bench is at roughly 45 degrees and, with a neutral grip, focus on controlling the weight through the entire movement.
Exercise 3: Med Ball Slams
We’re now shifting gears from strength training into what we’d call a speed strength movement (AKA a power movement).
The objective here is to move the load as quickly as possible.
Start with a 5-10kg medicine ball above your head and simply slam it into the ground as aggressively as possible.
Your focus is to throw the ball into the ground as hard as humanly possible.
This is an excellent exercise for developing tricep, rear delt, and upper back power.
Exercise 4: Med Ball Wall Throws
Also using a similar sized medicine ball, the objective with this exercise is to essentially ‘chest pass’ the ball as high into the air as possible.
You can use a wall for this to make it easier to catch, but you can also just throw the ball into the air.
Although you don’t have to squat down as deep as the lady in our demonstration is, make sure you are still bending at the knees and hips to generate plenty of power.
Again your mission is to throw the ball as high up against the wall/into the air as possible which, if done correctly, will be a full body explosive movement.
Taking your time to reset in between reps before going again is perfectly fine as well.
Exercise 5: Volleyball Sets For Height
So far we’ve done strength exercises, several power exercises, and finally we’re going to do a speed or plyometric exercise.
For this all we’re doing is practicing setting a volleyball as high as possible.
This is super simple to do with a partner or you can do it by yourself virtually anywhere.
Focus on maximizing height without getting too reckless – you still want to be making fairly technically clean sets that don’t stray too far from your target.
Lower Body Strength For Setters
The lower body work is primarily about increasing our vertical jump as well as quickness and acceleration. Both of these are two sides of the same coin: explosiveness.
Exercise 1: Back Squat
The godfather of all lower body strength exercises, the back squat is the most effective exercise to increase lower body strength, especially with the goal of being able to jump higher.
This is because of how closely the movement mimics the ‘triple extension’ of the vertical jump.
Start with your feet shoulder width apart and the bar racked on your lower traps. Squat down til your thighs are around parallel to the floor (or lower if you like) and explode out of the hole as quickly as possible.
Either a low bar or high bar squat is fine, whichever you prefer.
Exercise 2: Bulgarian Split Squat
The Bulgarian split squat is another one of my favorite strength exercises for volleyball players.
This is a unilateral exercise meaning one leg is trained at a time. The BSS is great for correcting muscle imbalances and developing strength using minimal weight.
With your rear foot elevated on a bench, squat down using your front leg to drive yourself through the motion. This should be one of the best quad burns you’ve ever felt!
There are many variations of Bulgarian split squats but ideally you’ll work your way up to doing them using a barbell or smith machine for maximum strength development.
Exercise 3: Barbell Jump Squat
With the barbell jump squat, we’re again shifting from strength exercises into a power movement.
The objective with this lift is, as with all power movements, to move the added load as quickly as possible.
Start with a barbell on your back and squat down slightly before exploding back upwards. You should replicate the depth to which you’d bend your legs before doing a vertical jump.
Exercise 4: 20 Yard Sprint
Sprints are a speed focused exercise otherwise known as a plyometric.
By sprinting at maximum effort, you’re teaching your body to recruit fast twitch muscle fibers as efficiently as possible.
As a setter, you’ll often find yourself chasing down stray passes, so practicing this skill is definitely worthwhile.
A 20 yard sprint is plenty since we’re primarily concerned with developing acceleration over short distances like on the volleyball court.
How Many Sets & Reps? How Much Weight? How Often?
As far as reps go, for strength exercises like squats, overhead press, and bench, we’ll want to keep rep ranges fairly low, between 5-8 reps.
Since our goal with these exercises is to develop strength, we use heavy weight for a low amount of reps.
For the medicine ball work and jump squats, anywhere between 4-7 reps before taking a rest is fine.
Ultimately how many sets you do can vary depending on a variety of factors, but stick to no more than 3-5 sets per exercise.
Setters (and all volleyballers) can perform workouts including these exercises 2-3 times a week.
How often they’re in the weight room will largely be determined by how frequently they’re playing volleyball.
For most athletes playing plenty of volleyball, strength workouts should be done no more than 3 times per week and less will often be better.
To put together a simple strength workout for a setter, aim to perform any number of the above exercises for the prescribed sets and reps while spending no longer than 60-80 minutes in the gym.
Parting Words Of Advice
If you’re a setter who’s looking to take their game to the next level, it’s imperative you’re in the weight room at least once or twice a week.
By focusing on the exercises I’ve described above, you’ll become exceptionally proficient in all movements required of an elite setter.
Remember that while strength training is important, it’s not nearly as important as getting plenty of touches on the volleyball each week.
Get yourself a setter ball and work with it every single day and you’ll have heavenly hands before you know it!