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Although volleyball is an enjoyable sport prominent in the Rio olympics, it’s important to examine common overuse injuries as well as effective exercise considerations to properly train volleyball athletes. Impingement syndrome is probably the most prominent overuse injury affecting volleyball players. This article will examine impingement syndrome and its causes, effects and potential remedies. Exercise considerations specific to training volleyball athletes will also be discussed.

Impingement Syndrome

Impingement syndrome is the repetitive pinching of the rotator cuff tendons and subacromial bursa between the head of the humerus and acromioclavicular joint. This repetitive pinching often leads to inflammation in and around the shoulder joint. Repetitive overhead movements, such as when an athlete hits the ball over the net during a volleyball game, can lead to impingement syndrome. Nevertheless, impingement syndrome is usually developed if the athletes’ humerus moves outside of the scapular plane. The scapular plane is the position or range of motion in which the humerus moves in alignment with the scapula. In essence the humerus should move in sync with the scapula. If one lifts their arms to a point where the scapula runs out of range of motion, the humerus will move out of the scapular plane and pinch the rotator cuff tendons. People who anatomically have a smaller space between their humeral head and acromioclavicular joint are predisposed to impingement syndrome. Engaging in a posture which anteriorly rounds at the shoulder will decrease the amount of space between the humeral head and acromioclavicular joint further predisposing an athlete to impingement syndrome.

So how do you manage impingement syndrome? First of all, limit repetitive overhead movements when you can. Work on strengthening the rotator cuff muscles.The four rotator cuff muscles are responsible for keeping the humeral head centered in the glenoid fossa. If these muscles are weak then the humeral head will have a tendency to move out of its socket and pinch the rotator cuff tendons. Correct forward rounding posture by stretching the latissimus dorsi, pectoralis major and minor. Strengthen the scapular stabilizers including, the rhomboids, mid and lower trapezius and the serratus anterior.

Exercise Considerations for the Volleyball Athlete

Before discussing exercise considerations for volleyball athletes it’s important to define and distinguish some key terms. Strength is a person’s maximum voluntary muscular contraction. This is also known as a 1 rep max. Power on the other hand, is a product of force times velocity. In other words, power is the ability for an athlete to generate force quickly and explosively. However, one must understand that strength is the foundation for power. In order to lift a load explosively one must first have more than enough strength to lift the load.

Since jumping, such as when jumping to strike the ball, is a pure power movement, it’s essential to develop power in the lower body and posterior chain. This can be accomplished by incorporating squat jumps and kettlebell swings into an athlete’s training program. Various lower body plyometric exercises, such as box jumps should also be considered. Isolation exercises for the calf muscles, such as the gastrocnemius and soleus are also important for jumping power. Calf raises are usually ideal for strengthening the calf. However, it’s also important for the ankle to be able to absorb eccentric impact when landing from a jump. As a result, it’s important to strengthen the ankle dorsi flexors while stretching the calf muscles. Power exercises for the upper chest and shoulders, such as explosive decline pushups and the push press are also exercises to consider.

The Significance of the Latissimus Dorsi & Rotator Cuff Muscles

Apart from strengthening the rotator cuff muscles to help prevent impingement syndrome, it’s also important to strengthen the rotator cuffs and latissimus dorsi to keep the shoulder safe when striking the ball. The posterior rotator cuffs, (infraspinatus and teres minor), and the latissimus dorsi need to be strong in order to control the deceleration of the arm after striking the ball. When striking the ball the posterior rotator cuff muscles and latissimus dorsi contract eccentrically, lengthening under tension to control and decelerate the movement. A good analogy to illustrate this point is that when running head first at a wall one can only run as fast as they can slow down and control. If one runs faster than they can control then they will end up running into the wall and hurting themselves with a bloody face. If one strikes the ball harder and faster than they can slow down or control then the shoulder will be prone to injury. As a result, it’s important that volleyball athletes don’t neglect strengthening their posterior rotator cuff muscles and latissimus dorsi.

By: Thomas Stuglik

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