Originally published in VolleyballUSA, Spring 2009 issue

As the head athletic trainer for the U.S. Men’s National Volleyball Team, it’s my job to make certain that the athletes remain healthy and limber for competition. Tight muscles can lead to poor performance and injury and increasing flexibility can help improve these conditions.

Stretching comes in many forms, but for now we’re just going to discuss static stretching. While static stretching is effective for increasing the elasticity of muscles that are tight, it should be performed after a good warm up for maximum benefit.

I encourage two bouts of static stretching during a training session: The first bout should be no more than five minutes long and take place after a dynamic warm up such as jogging, side shuffling, skipping, backwards running, plyometrics, agility drills, ladder drills, etc. This stretch should focus on your problematic areas as opposed to a full, drawn-out stretch on every possible muscle group.

However, if you feel better with a long, complete stretch prior to activity, then stick with it.

The second bout of stretching should occur immediately following your volleyball activity. The men’s national team takes about 10 minutes to stretch all pertinent muscle groups, including hip flexors, hamstrings, calves, glutes, quads, adductors/groin, abdomen, low back and shoulders, with extra focus on individual problematic areas after each practice and every match.

The following list outlines how to stretch the 10 major muscle groups needed for volleyball properly (Pictured Jenna Hagglund):

Hip flexors

In volleyball, you’re often in a defensive position – bent over at the hips with your butt stuck out – leaving you susceptible to developing short, inflexible hip flexors. Tight hip flexors can restrict your range of motion, limiting the ground you cover on the court and can eventually lead to low back pain.


Lunge forward with your left leg and feel a stretch in the front part of your right hip. Then reach your right arm straight up in the air to isolate a different area. Be sure to switch legs and stretch both sides.


The most overuse injury reported in volleyball athletes is patellar tendonitis or “jumper’s knee.” Jumping from a crouched position to block or spike a ball causes your quadriceps to contract and puts stress on your knees.


Lie on your side and pull your heel toward your glutes. You can also pull your hip back into extension in this position to incorporate the hip flexors. Another way to stretch your quads is to lie on your stomach and pull your heel to your glutes.


These muscles work in conjunction with your quads and aid in stabilization power production. Although they are usually overlooked in strength training, the hamstrings play a vital role in jumping, landing and lateral movements.


In the standing position, step forward with your right leg, keeping your knee straight (bend your left knee slightly) and move your chest closer to your thigh. Pull your toes upward and feel an isolated stretch behind the knee. To stretch the high hamstring area further, bend your left knee and move your chest even closer to the thigh. The modified “hurdler” stretch also works well. Keep your back straight and toes up to emphasize behind the knee.


These muscles can easily get tight due to the large amount of side-to-side movement and constantly being in a squat position during volleyball.


There are a few different ways to stretch your calves; choose whichever one works best for you.
  1. Push against a stable object
  2. Hang your heel off a stair or bleachers
  3. Push back with a straight knee while both hands and feet are on the ground


These muscles can easily get tight due to the large amount of side-to-side movement and constantly being in a squat position during volleyball.


In the seated position, bend your right knee and cross it over your left. Then pull your right leg to your chest. You can also bend your left leg and cross your right leg over your left leg.


The adductors help pull the legs together when they contract and also help to stabilize the hip joint, but can easily be injured if the muscles aren’t warmed up and flexible.


You can stretch the adductors by doing any one of the following.
  1. Sit with the soles of your feet together (also known as the butterfly position) and gently press your knees to the floor until you feel a stretch on the inner thighs.
  2. A side lunge in the standing position will stretch the groin muscles, as well. Be sure to perform this stretch on both sides. (This stretch is ideal, since it closely replicates a common movement in volleyball).
  3. Sit on the floor and spread your legs out wide to the sides. To increase the intensity touch your fingertips to your toes while your legs are outstretched.


The muscles of the abdominal region make up a large part of the core stability muscles that work constantly to stabilize the body, especially while performing and landing jumps. Keeping the core pliable and strong helps to control movements.


The lunge and reach position used to stretch the hip flexors will stretch the abdomen. Lying on your stomach, pressing your hips into the floor and arching backward is another option.

Low back

The incidence of back injuries among volleyball players is frequent, particularly among elite-level athletes. Volleyball players have an increased risk of back injuries because of the repetitive and excessive loading of the spine. Maintaining flexibility and strength is the key to withstanding the demands of the sport and preserving a healthy back.


It is best to perform each of these stretches to ensure maximum flexibility throughout your workout.

  1. Lie on your back and bring your left leg completely across your body. Hold your left leg down with your right hand and let your left arm rotate the opposite direction.
  2. “Cat and dog,” start on hands and knees, rotate the pelvis forward as you look down at your knees, then rotate the pelvis backwards and look up toward the ceiling.
  3. The “prayer position,” start on hands and knees, then sit back on your heels. You can also then move both arms to the right, then to the left.

Posterior shoulder

The repetitive overhead movement of your arms can stress your rotator cuff muscles and tendons, causing overuse injuries that are common in volleyball. A tight posterior capsule and rotator cuff can lead to many different shoulder injuries, including rotator cuff tendonitis, Glenoid labrum tears, and rotator cuff strains. The “sleeper stretch” is extremely important for volleyball players.


Lie on your left side and extend your left arm out in front of you. Then bend your left arm so your fingertips are pointing toward the ceiling. With your right arm, push your left arm down, keeping your palm toward the floor and your left arm at a 90-degree angle until you feel a gentle stretch. Repeat on both sides. You can also extend your arm underneath your body to feel stretching in the back of the shoulder or stand and use the net or the standard as a post.

Anterior shoulder and chest

Tight chest muscles can also lead to a variety of shoulder injuries.


While lying on your stomach, extend your left arm out to the side and rotate your upper body to the right. You should feel the stretch in the front of your left shoulder. This stretch can also be performed while standing. Place your left forearm against the net or standard as a post and turn your body away. Use both straight and bent elbow positions.

Remember always be sure not to perform any stretches that cause pain. Obviously, if you are not already flexible, aggressive stretching can be uncomfortable in the muscles you are isolating – that desirable “hurt-so-good” type of pain. However, you should not have any other type of pain associated with stretching.

You make time for working out, so remember to make time for stretching, as it can prevent injuries and enhance your performance!

Aaron Brock (MS, ATC, PES, CES) is the Director of Sports Medicine and Head Athletic Training for USA Volleyball’s Men’s National Team.