Q: I was wondering what kind of upper body plyo moves you would suggest for increasing hitting power in volleyball?

A: The simplest answer I can give would be none. Get strong at pullups and practice hitting the volleyball. Until you can do 8 pullups I'd say your biggest improvements will come through that. With all things being equal, the strength of the lats tends to be about the biggest determining factor when it comes to hitting the volleyball. I'd also add in some rotational core work such as high cable woodchoppers and full contact twists.

Q: I am 44, play a lot of volleyball and I am trying to improve my vertical. I have tried many of your ideas as well as others and wonder if you have any helpful tips to improve an old guys vertical. I have improved slightly...I can standing jump about 24 or 25". My approach jump is sometimes as high as 30" and sometimes not much more than my standing jump. My knees feel fine but I dont seem to have the smoothness that I see other players have when they jump. I wonder if I try to put too much muscle into it? I am 5'11" tall and weigh 195lbs with about 13% body fat. I wear a 20lb belt for my approach jump training sessions. I usually do squats, romanion one legged squats, romanion deads and revese hypers as well as depth jumps, jumpsquats and weighted approach jumps. My goal is to make 35" and I am hoping you can help me.

There's no difference in improving a 44 year olds vertical vs improving a 16 yr olds vertical :) Yeah there's a difference in the ability to tolerate stress, those bones and muscles will let you know when you push them too far, but as far as what needs to be accomplished with training is simple and there is no secret to improving performance. It's all a matter of optimizing a given motor pattern (increasing movement efficiency) and then improving the force and power behind that movement pattern (horsepower). In this case the movement pattern is the vertical jump and it's a "gross" movement pattern learned early on - thus theres usually relatively little room for gaining improvements via technique and those gains will occur very quickly.

A couple of things that can impact movement efficiency in an older person and could be responsible for the lack of smoothness you speak of are adhesions, restrictions and scar tissue. A massage therapist and/or trained soft tissue provider can be a godsend for that. Provided your joints and soft tissues are in good working order and you have spent enough time learning how to jump, most of your improvements are gonna come via the horsepower end.

At 195 lbs bodyweight your legs better be able to produce enough tension to extend fully and shorten (squat) against 300 lbs of resistance or you simply don't have the raw horsepower needed to blast your 195 lb body into the air. No amount of weighted jumps, springs, gimmicks or anything else can turn a 5 horsepower engine into a 300 horsepower monster and when it comes to improving athletic performance it's the same thing. If you're not able to produce enough baseline tension at slow speeds how are you expected to do it at high speed? Now, if you are able to do that (produce enough tension), look at modifying your motor (learn to get better performance out of your existing level of horsepower). You do that with the correct dose of power and plyometric training.

If in doubt keep things simple and use less volume then you think you need. If you were to go out and practice jumping as high as possible for 15-20 reps or so twice per week that could actually serve as a "power" workout. If you need more baseline horsepower put a bigger engine in your car. (get stronger). Strengthening the legs is easy for anyone other then competitive powerlifters who function near the peak of their strength limits. In fact, I've yet to hear of anyone other then competitive lifters who gave a true effort in the weight room to get the legs stronger and failed. Thus, any generic program will probably get the job done provided you work at it. That's really all there is to it.

Q: In your article on "Getting Stronger", you stated that technique related gains from the weight room won't carryover, but only an increase in the general strength of the muscle will carryover to improved sports performance. When you say general strength, I realize that you are talking about muscle fiber size gains from the weight room as one aspect, but are you also saying that improving a weight room lift without an increase in muscle size or bodyweight can carryover directly to an increased neural efficiency in the sports skill as well?

A: It's actually the general increase in neurological efficiency that carries over as well. Say you have two 150 lb twins standing right in front of you. You have agreed to let one of them hit you in the face. All you know is one of them bench presses 300 lbs and one of them bench presses 150 lbs. Which one would you rather get hit by and why?

Q: In your article on quickness vs. explosiveness you stated that one doesn't necessarily have to be quick to be explosive. Isn't quickness one half of the explosiveness equation since it determines how fast you can turn on your motor units which is a requirement during short duration sports movements like jumping and sprinting? You have to be quick and strong right?

A: That's more or less correct but "explosive" actions are inherently not as fast so absolute speed of movement and quickness are not such limiting factors. Quickness is more a result of how quickly and efficiently your nervous system sends and receives signals at a low intensity or low level of recruitment in absence of much muscle involvement. There isn't a whole lot of muscle involved. Examples I like to give of quickness are tapping the hands and feet in place, running through an agility ladder, cycling your legs in a sprint like action while lying on your back, or something like the ability to catch flyes with your bare hands. These tasks are under quite a bit of genetic control and are more difficult to improve then tasks requiring explosiveness.

Explosiveness is quickness with a lot more muscle involvement and recruitment. Because of the amount of muscle recruited in an explosive task is so much greater, the speed of movement does not approach that of a task requiring quickness. For example, elite sprinters cycle 5 strides per second at top speed when sprinting and sprinting is an explosive action. Anyone can lie on their back and cycle 5 times per second so quickness and absolute movement speed are not really limiting factors in the sprint.

In explosive actions, the magnitude and sensitivity to the neural signaling (amount of muscle that can be recruited), and what happens when that muscle turns on (muscle size, fiber type, body strcuture etc.), are just as important as the efficency of the signals. Because we can manipulate those factors a ton through training they are under much less genetic control. Examples of explosiveness are running down the track, the power of a kick, jumping, or the power of a punch etc. One can be very fast cycling their legs in a sprint like action while lying on their back but throw them on the track and they may not move that fast. The reverse is also true. Thus, I like to think of quickness and explosiveness as 2 separate qualities. Having said that, an individual who is quick does have an easier time becoming explosive as well.