Back setting and your muscles!


As a middle, I depend on where, and how the setter jumps during a set more than any other player on the court. A few times throughout my years of playing, the setter has flown forward and taken out my legs underneath me. It is quite terrifying and painful. Ever since those incidents I would always have more caution with setters that would throw their hips forward when they neglected to set me and back set (always set your middles :-)).

Has this ever happened to you as a setter or middle? Have you seen it happen? Most of the time this happens because peoples abdominals are overpowered by their lack of shoulder mobility. How do you know if you are lacking abdominal strength or shoulder mobility?

Here’s a quick test:

  1. Sit or stand with good posture and your arms straight out in front of you.
  2. Have your palms facing up.
  3. Now, keeping your palms facing the same direction bring your hands as high overhead as possible.
Did your back arch? Did you ribs come up? If so then either your Latissimus Dorsi is too stiff/short, and/or you’re lacking abdominal stability.


This back extension happens due to lack of shoulder mobility. One of the many muscles that plays a role in this lack of mobility is the Latissimus Dorsi (Lat). Your Lat originates in your low spine and attaches on the inside of your upper arm. This muscle is stretched when your arm is at a high degree of overhead flexion and slightly externally rotated. If you increase this stretch without adequate length and mobility of the muscle, it will pull your spine along for the ride. This is one of many factors of the shoulder that create this arched back position.



Now onto why it is important…


Think about your core as the frame of a bike. When you pedal on a mountain bike with lots of suspension there are many energy leaks and thus a less powerful stroke each revolution. However if you are on a sturdy road bike, each pedal has a much greater transfer of energy to propelling you forward. When your back is arched, your core resembles the mountain bike and is effectively “off.” It now is not in a position where it can work optimally or support your extremities. Thus causing you to lose the stable foundation from which your limbs will generate force. This movement pattern deficiency increases the difficulty of an already difficult backset. Ideally, your core would be strong enough to keep your abdominal muscles properly positioned as your shoulder blades upwardly rotate and shift inferiorly (down).




This dysfunctional movement pattern causes some major issues:


  • Lack of mobility in the Lat and other shoulder muscles overpowers your core, which causes you to lose a ton of potential energy


  • Middles (that are on time) are at risk


  • The offense is much easier to read from the other side of the net


Check out Lloy Ball, possibly one of the best setters to play the sport.

(First picture is before the ball has made contact with his hands. The second picture is immediately after)

Screen Shot 2013-01-13 at 8.57.58 PMScreen Shot 2013-01-13 at 8.59.15 PM

We see very little arching of the back. His ribs are still congruent with his abdominal wall, telling me his core is “on.” This gives his arms have a sufficient foundation to generate force from. This foundation is especially important since he is in the air and there is no ground to push back against him.


Take home message: Fix your shoulder mobility/abdominal stability and improve your back set.


Train smarter to play harder

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Austin Einhorn, CSCS

-Volleyball skills and conditioning specialist

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