Competing at the next level

Here at Shaffer Strength & Conditioning, our goal is to help athletes become as complete and as strong as possible in every way, in order to prepare them for the demands of their sport and the next level.

Our training is designed to strengthen the athlete to help them perform at their highest level, while minimizing their chance for injury.  Our approach is simple. Build a complete athlete from head to toe, front to back and side to side. With 20 years of coaching, playing and training experience, our staff understands the demands that high level athletics place on the body.


Hear what Christian Hartford, assistant strength and conditioning coach at the University of Maryland has to say about this.


  1. What is the typical volleyball athlete like coming in as a freshman?

My freshman athletes are usually coming in with good frames and a lot of Volleyball experience. However, they usually have a low training age; meaning they have not spent a lot of time in the weight room doing general strength training and conditioning. Therefore, most of them suffer from some sort of overuse injury.

I have seen labrum issues in both shoulders and hips, bad lower backs, unstable knees, and immobile ankles. These issues are almost always caused by too much time on the court. As the strength coach, my job is to alleviate these issues while still focusing on increasing strength, power, and performance.


  1. What are some important tips you would give a volleyball athlete who wants to play in college?

My general piece of advice would be to prepare your body to compete at the highest level. This goes far past the small arena of on-court performance. There is one thing that is guaranteed at the collegiate level; every high level athlete trains hard in the weight room, during conditioning, AND on the court. Therefore, a young athlete must be experienced in all those areas. I have had freshman come in with 0 training experience and some others with 4-5 years of training experience. The ones with more experience always get off to a better and healthier start at the collegiate level.

The second tip I would give is do not be afraid to play another sport. For some reason, people now a days think they have to specialize in one sport in order to be great at it. Research shows that this is what often leads to overuse injuries, especially in female athletes. I always look to Abby Wambach when I talk about this. She played basketball along with soccer, and she credits rebounding in basketball for her great ability to jump above everyone else and head the ball in the net. Playing other sports allows an athlete to learn athletic skills that are transferable across all sports.


  1. How can an incoming freshman be more prepared for strength and conditioning training at the college level?

Simple; do it. I am not someone that believes that young athletes necessarily NEED to be doing a ton of barbell work. However, they need to be doing something to get stronger. They need to focus on building foundational strength through proper movement patterns in all different planes. They also need to focus on injury prevention by working on mobility, flexibility, and balance.

Lastly, they need to work on their conditioning. A lot of Volleyball athletes just play volleyball to stay in shape. All athletes need to have some sort of aerobic base. This will allow you to better maintain power levels throughout an all-day tournament. A great conditioning choice for Volleyball athletes is spin class. Spinning is low-impact, but still very challenging on the legs and cardiovascular system.


  1. A lot of kids come to us with knee or shoulder injuries that we view as overuse injuries. Do you see this at the college level and how do you deal with it?

We see this all the time at the college level. This is where, as strength and conditioning coaches, we must make adjustments. I try to program all my exercises on a progression/regression continuum. Therefore, if the main group is doing a barbell front squat, I can easily have the one athlete with chronic knee issues do a goblet squat. Our strength and conditioning programs must be adaptable and we need to put the athletes in a position to succeed. Also, anytime I modify an exercise because of an injury, I also implement a corrective exercise to help the issue. Lastly, an overuse issue can be relieved by decreasing the amount of time spent playing Volleyball. A lower body issue can calm down when a player jumps less, and an upper body issue can calm down when a player swings less. 

  1. What kind of exercises do you put your athletes through for volleyball?

I implement a very holistic strength and conditioning program that focuses on mobility, balance/body control, strength, conditioning, and power. We start every session with a 10-15 minute warm-up that involves total body mobility and muscle activation. Before practices, we do a lot of work with mini-bands as well as practice double leg and single leg landings.

In the weight room we work the lower body through a Squat progression, Trapbar Deadlift progression, and RDL progression into Clean Pulls.  We do goblet squats, front squats, Zercher squats, and back squats. We always do single leg work such as forward, backward, and lateral lunges, single leg squat variations, and single leg hinge variations. We also work our calves in order to increase elastic strength and jump higher.

For the upper body, we make sure to do a lot more pulling than pushing in order to maintain shoulder health. We go through a thorough pull-up progression that focuses on eccentric strength, then positional strength, and then full range of motion pull-ups. Any sort of vertical pressing is done with kneeling and standing landmine presses, kneeling and standing kettlebell presses, single arm Dumbbell push presses, and lastly barbell push press with very light weight. We also implement a lot of upper back & rotator cuff exercises like band pull-apart variations and banded external/internal rotation variations.

In order to work on touch height, we do various forms of Box Jumps and Hurdle Jumps. When starting off with box jumps, we keep the height low (around 20-24 inches) in order to focus on technique and landing mechanics. We progress our hurdle jumps from pause reps to reactive bounce reps and then to dynamic jumps. We will never progress a jumping exercise if the technique is not perfect.


Maryland Volleyball Strength & Conditioning implements a balanced program that aims to make our athletes strong, powerful, and well-conditioned while minimizing the risk of injury by also focusing on mobility, flexibility, and balance. All of these characteristics are necessary for a young Volleyball athlete to take their game to the next level.


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