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The Biomechanics of Volleyball: The Arm Swing (Part 2.2 of many)

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6/3/14 Update:

I no longer check the comments section on this blog post. If you have any questions do not hesitate to email me at Otherwise check out our new sports performance website and dedicated sports science blog

Also, the arm swing blog has taken a bit longer than expected, but it is still on the way.


Disclaimer: Within this series, I will probably get on a lot of people’s nerves. It can be a touchy and controversial subject. I will do my best to label what are just plain facts, and what is my opinion based on these facts. I invite you to question what you know, and my opinions.


Seeing is believing right? My goal in this post is to show you as much as possible and explain why it looks as it does. Last week I showed you how all throwing/hitting sports are the same. This week I will go into more detail on the pre-swing phase with more specificity to volleyball.


First, there are pretty much only two ways to throw a baseball/hit a volleyball, beginning with a high elbow or a low elbow. While both may be successful, one is much safer than the other. Any guesses?


I’ll let you decide throughout the post, I will do my best to just show you the facts.


I introduce to you the Russian Maxim Mikhaylov. Just to name a few of his accolades: In 2012 he won an Olympic Gold Medal, and earned Olympic Best Scorer and Best Spiker (these are awards won by statistics, not popularity contests). In 2011 he won; World League MVP, Best Blocker, and Best Scorer, World Cup MVP, and Champions League Best Server. This is just a few of his awards – in short he is really, really good looking (Zoolander anyone?). Did I forget to mention he’s only 25? Now check out his arm swing.

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Welcome Gilberto Amauri de Godoy Filho, or Giba for short, to my blog. He has been named MVP for the 2004 Olympics, 2006, World Championship, 2007 World Cup, and the 2007 Pan-American Games. He is also really really good.Screen Shot 2013-08-18 at 12.38.17 PM

This is Kerri Walsh-Jennings, most notably known for winning the last 3 Olympic Beach Volleyball Gold Medals. Her and Misty May-Treanor might go down in history as the best duo to ever play beach volleyball. As a side note, the success of Kinesio Tape might owe everything to her. Surprisingly there aren’t many HD photos or videos out there of her attacking, here’s what I could find.

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Now what do all of these athletes have in common?

Success, check.

Can hit really hard, check.

High elbow, check.

Lastly, and maybe most important of all, they all have shoulder injuries.

All of the athletes here have had or currently have shoulder problems.

Mikhaylov is missing this season due to a shoulder injury, so much for all that training he has put in. Check out his picture a little more in depth: look how high his shoulders are in his jump. This immediately “disconnects” his muscular kinetic chain from shoulders to hips and greatly reduces the amount of power available to him. It is scary to think that he could hit even harder.

Giba, shoulder injury. But look at his entire posture, my neck hurts just looking at that. Also, he is not rotating through the ball as much as he is piking (this should be obvious by now, you don’t pike to hit a volleyball).


Kerri Walsh-Jennings takes the cake though – 4 shoulder surgeries. Twice has it been the rotator cuff. She has had her shoulder taped since college, and in May of 2008 she said “I [have] been playing with a bum shoulder for 9 years.” Her shoulder is fine, or at least it used to be. She was not born with a “bum shoulder,” she simply has been using it incorrectly her entire career.



I heard an analogy the other day during a TED talk that applies perfectly to her situation. It is as if she goes and kicks a coffee table, and then only treats the bruise. She sees the bruise as the cause of the tenderness and discoloring. Her next plan of action would probably be to put more Kinesio Tape on it, massage it, and ice it. Meanwhile, she continues to kick the coffee table, always wondering why this bruise continues to appear. If she would simply change her swing mechanics, her shoulder would be much safer.



Why would it be much safer? Well, glad you asked. Her (this applies to most of the other dysfunctional athletes with a few exceptions) deltoid has become so dominant from achieving a high elbow position incorrectly.  This dominance has severely weakened the antagonist to the deltoid. Any guesses of what that is? Drum roll please…the rotator cuff, the one she has had surgically repaired, twice. It is visible here in her shoulder mechanics.

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Normal upward rotation of the scapula should be at 60° with full shoulder flexion, so where are those extra 20°? They went into her shoulder joint. Her dysfunctional shoulder has created hyper-mobility in her shoulder joint, which makes her prone to dislocations and, you guessed it, rotator cuff tears. So if the rumors are true, and she tries to play in the next Olympics, she better hope her shoulder stays together, or maybe she will just go get another surgery. I wonder if she has a loyalty punch card with her surgeon, 3 rotator cuff surgeries and you get one free!


Ok, so the volleyball swing is doomed, right? I have shown you three of the best volleyball players in the world, and they all have shoulder problems. Maybe we should just suck it up and accept volleyball and healthy shoulders just don’t mix.


NO, NO, NO! I heard someone the other day saying that the volleyball arm swing is an unnatural movement and we should just accept that and continue to deal with injury. You can do nearly anything with your body and remain injury free as long as your mechanics are good enough. Here are my knights in shining armor…


Welcome back Clay Stanley, 35 years young, 10 years of more reps than Mikhaylov, and playing for the USA. His awards include; Best Server at 2010 World Championships, 2008 Olympics, 2004-05 Champions League, Best Scorer at 2008 Olympics, 2004-05 & 2005-06 Champions League, and last but definitely not least, MVP at the 2008 Olympics and the 2007-08 Indesit Champions League Final Four. Oh, he also has a Gold Medal from the 2008 Olympics. But I do not have time to list all of his awards, I want to talk about his mechanics. By the way, ZERO shoulder injuries.

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First picture: Right elbow is low, with internal rotation of the shoulder, about 45 degrees of thoracic rotation and slight back extension.

Second picture: His hips start the acceleration phase, simultaneously with his left arm beginning to come down. His right elbow is still below his shoulder and he still has about 45 degrees of thoracic rotation. He begins to go into external rotation of his right shoulder.

Third picture: His left arm has finally come down to drive his right one up, he gets more external rotation as his shoulders finally start to come around.

Fourth picture: His left arm is all the way down which drove his right one all the way up, he finally comes out of external rotation and simultaneously extends his elbow and lastly snaps his wrist on the ball.


This is Paula Pequeno of Brazil. The MVP of the 2008 Olympics, and has 9 Gold Medals, 2 of them being Olympic Gold Medals. Here are the observations I made directly on her video stills.

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Guess the ONE thing she does not have? A shoulder injury. Are you starting to notice a trend here?


Check out David Lee, not only is he an extremely nice person, his swing mechanics are a personal favorite. I had the opportunity to talk to him at a tournament once, and he has no idea of his mechanics. He believes that he is just getting his arm into a neutral position to hit in any direction (not the worst answer).

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I’m sounding like a broken record now, Lee also has no record of shoulder injury.


I will now talk about baseball because it has been around for so much longer and has a TON more money being poured into research. Volleyball is still in it’s infancy.


Here is some more evidence favoring this method of ipsilateral rotation. Greg Maddux again, this picture is just beautiful. Look at the rotation in his core, elbow below shoulder, left arm driving the right arm, centrated spine, I could go on and on.

GregMaddux_2006_001Here is a wonderful comparison of Greg Maddux again, and Steven Strausburg.




You can see the end position is still nearly the same, but how they got there is COMPLETELY different. Due to the lack of resources and objective science for volleyball, we MUST look at ipsilateral rotation in other sports for help, baseball in particular. Strasburg has yet to play a complete season, while Maddux played 22 without shoulder injury. This isn’t just good luck vs. bad luck. It’s just good mechanics vs. destructive mechanics.


I may or may not decide to go into even further detail of this next week. Meanwhile, keep rubbing that bruise, or stop kicking the coffee table, it is your choice. After all it is your body and your sport. I am not trying to persuade anyone, only trying to inform. That being said, I leave you with a favorite quote of mine from Neil DeGrasse Tyson “The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.” 


Train Smarter to Play Harder

Please comment or feel free to email me with any comments, critiques, or questions.

Austin Einhorn, CSCS

Volleyball Skills & Conditioning Specialist


Schedule your appointment today!


The Biomechanics of Volleyball: The Arm Swing (Part 2.1 of many)

PSPVB Final Blog Photo  Disclaimer: Within this series, I will probably get on a lot of people’s nerves. It can be a touchy and controversial subject. I will do my best to label what are just plain facts, and what is my opinion based on these facts. I invite you to question what you know, and my opinions.


The volleyball arm swing.


This technique probably differs the most within the volleyball world. Elbow high or low? Hit with your shoulder or by rotating your hips? Focus on internal and external rotation, or elbow extension? Should I do pull ups or push ups to improve my arm swing? When do I get my elbow up? The list can go on an on, yet there is hardly any science telling us what do to specifically in regards to volleyball. I hope to solve that within this series.


The volleyball arm swing is a lot more complicated than it seems – there is way more to it than meets the eye.


First off, a volleyball arm swing is a rotation of the body. The term is “ipsilateral rotation”, rotation of one side over a fixed point. Right handed volleyball players rotate their bodies around an axis/fixed points that is their left side. Think of your left scapula and left hip being the hinges on a door, and the rest of your body being a less rigid door. Believe it or not, a volleyball arm swing is only slightly different from a baseball throw, javelin throw, discus throw, some really big basketball dunks, or a tennis serve. They are all ipsilateral rotations. Don’t believe me? See for yourself.


Meet DeAndre Jordan, LA Clippers. One of the best dunkers and shot blockers in the NBA. url-2Meet Matt Anderson, one of the few players to leave college early for a big six figure contract in Korea. He now plays for the USA and is the future of USA volleyball.Matthew Anderson, Gyorgy Grozer Meet Clay Stanley, widely considered the best opposite in the world, also one of the best servers in the world (the serve and attack arm swings are the same).volleyball06142012 US Men Look  Improvement France

Meet David Lee, one of the best middles in the world. Was an invaluable part of the 2008 Gold medal team.

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Meet Andy Roddick, one of the best tennis servers in the world. (Psst, his mechanics also happen to be phenomenal). Check out this serve that he hit so hard, it didn’t bounce off the clay, but rather cratered itself into the ground. Honestly, I don’t know how ESPN doesn’t open with that clip every single SportsCenter. Australian Open 2007 - Day 11 U.S. Open Day 6 Meet Greg Maddux, one of the best pitchers to ever play. Not to mention he played 22 seasons without ANY serious arm injuries. Go ahead and Google “Greg Maddux Injury History.” You will undoubtedly break Google because nothing will come up.imagesMeet Ashton Eaton, recently won the 2012 Olympic decathlon by setting a new world record. After viewing a photo of him coming out of the blocks for a race, our entire office came to a stand still because he is so biomechanically perfect. This perfection is what ensured him such dominance. I mean, the guy could have qualified to compete in nearly every event on it’s own. But no, he decides to be a boss and do them all. 628x471 images-1 Have you noticed any similarities yet?


First, look at their left arm. The position is nearly the same in every photo (sorry for the backside of Matt Anderson).


Look at their left legs. All of them are in some amount of hip flexion, those who are further along in the rotation have more hip flexion.


All are slightly side bent to the left, this is not the best for their bodies, but it creates a mechanical advantage and thus improves their performance. It is one of the few deviations from a perfect ipsilateral rotation. This deviation will create more power, but it will also lead to inconsistency and injury (cue Giant’s pitcher Tim Lincecum. Fantastic mechanics except for his HUGE side bend to make up for his lack of height. This contributes to his inconsistency).


Now for the why… Fixed points and muscle slings. Don’t worry, I’ll explain. Their left arms are down by their sides because it’s just part of the rotating/rolling pattern. Believe it or not, they are actually contracting their shoulder muscles NOT to rotate their arm closer to their body, but to rotate their body closer to their arm. In theory the left arm should look more like Eaton’s in the discus throw. The left arm and hip are acting as a fixed point, like the base of a crane. The base doesn’t move and brings it’s loads closer to it. Their left leg is going into adduction and flexion because of what the right arm is doing. Here is my crummy cell phone picture displaying the muscle slings from shoulder to contralateral hip. The picture is from a PHENOMENAL book (Assessment and Treatment of Muscle Imbalance, The Janda Approach, by Phil Page, Clare C. Frank, and Robert Lardner) if you’re a movement nerd like me. What to notice in this picture is that the lines follow the grains of all the muscles. They are the lines of force that the muscles will create when working in unison.


We must train to use these muscle slings and normal human movement patterns. Why would you train any other way? You don’t buy a race car and drive it off-road expecting it to put up faster and faster lap times. I like one analogy in particular; say you have two cars of equal horsepower and torque. One is a Ford Mustang, the other is a Formula 1 car. In front of them is a track of unknown variables. They know there will be turns, hills, and straight-aways, but not what each of them look like. They will have to react. Assuming the drivers are the same, which car will win?


Right, the Formula 1 car. But why? It is because even though it has the same amount of power as the Mustang, it is efficient in putting that power down onto the ground, and controlling its body around all those variables. The Mustang will excel in the straight-aways, but that is it. Most likely it will crash, and the owner will rebuild it to go even faster in a straight-away with expectations of winning the race (sound familiar to most training methods?)


Now equate these two cars to athletes and training methods. The Mustang is the average athlete still doing pull ups and bench press for their arm swing, they run 20 minutes for their “cardio,” and they doing leg curls on whatever machine is available.


The Formula 1 car is one of my athletes who will train specifically to their sport and energy system. Whether it be correct energy system training, or resistance/weight lifting exercises with emphasis on optimal human movement patterns, we all are designed to move the EXACT same way. Yet we vary so much on training and techniques. Some of the stuff people do boggles my mind…Injury-300x292 box-squat-2bad


Now you may be thinking, “Well…how do I prepare myself to utilize these muscle slings so my arm swing looks like these guys?” Well you’re in luck because that’s what I will be talking about next week. I will also address what happens after prolonged bad shoulder mechanics. You can have completely different pre-swing mechanics and have the same outcome, that does not mean they are all right.

Out of all the rotational athletes I talked about, guess which one has the worst mechanics? I’ll give you the answer next week.


The proof is in the pudding. I have to mention that I have not given you my opinion in this blog post. I have shown you the world’s greatest athletes, pointed out how they all rotate nearly the same, and talked about how they move based upon today’s leading research. These observations, whether you chose to acknowledge them or not are why I believe what I do (I urge you to stop being willfully blind or create some cognitive dissonance to disregard these facts). I chose to believe things that have actual evidence supporting them, stuff you can see and feel. The beauty of biomechanics is you get instant results. You can feel how it is directly affecting you.


Could these athletes all really be where they are today based purely on talent and luck of not getting injured? No. They are as close as we can get to biomechanical perfections whether they know it or not, and I thank them for it because I love to watch them move.


Train Smarter to Play Harder

Please comment or feel free to email me with any comments, critiques, or questions.

Austin Einhorn, CSCS

Volleyball Skills & Conditioning Specialist


Schedule your appointment today!

The Biomechanics Of Volleyball: Ready/Defensive Position (Part 1 of Many)

PSPVB Final Blog Photo


Disclaimer: Within this series, I will probably get on a lot of people’s nerves. It can be a touchy and controversial subject. I will do my best to label what are just plain facts, and what is my opinion based on these facts. I invite you to question what you know, and my opinions.


First, let me define two components of this post.

Ready Position: The ready position is putting your body in the most optimal position to react to the ball.

Squat: A lowering down of your center of mass with equal flexion at the knees and hips (i.e. keeping torso parallel with shins). This is a HUGE generalization, the squat deserves its own post. Be on the look out for it.


Here is a list things I have heard about the ready position from coaches:

-Be on your toes

-Get your hands low

-Have high hips and a high chest at the same time (try it, let me know how your back extensors feel afterwards)

-Move your feet

-Don’t move your feet

-Relax your arms/Let your arms hang

-Rest your hands on your knees like you just finished a marathon. Ok, now remove them, that’s your ready position.

The list can go on and on…I find that coaches often times do not know how to arrange their players’ bodies to optimize their reactivity to the ball. Just like the in-practice punishments, they may be regurgitating what their coach taught them, or trying to create a solution to a problem they do not understand.


Most of the time the ready position looks something like this…



It saddens me that this picture is found under “Volleyball Techniques” from the website listed in the picture. I will assume all my readers understand that a rounded back is bad and not address it. In this position the athlete’s hips are inhibited from working, the girl in the middle will move even less because she is on her toes. Being on her toes like this is actually decreasing the efficiency of her thighs and hips, as well as causing excess stress on her knees. In order to even see the ball, she must crane her neck into severe extension (no, you CANNOT strengthen a player’s neck to combat this dysfunction. That is like asking a Smart car to play the role of a a semi-truck).This athletic posture causes so many problems. How many times have you found yourself saying “I totally should have/could have gotten that ball”, “I just wasn’t fast enough”, “I couldn’t move me feet to react to the ball.” The standard “ready position” does nothing but prevent you from reacting to the ball and lead to injury.



The ultimate ready position will be more similar to a plain old squat.


THESE ARE SQUATS:Screen Shot 2013-03-17 at 4.03.02 PM Screen Shot 2013-03-17 at 3.59.02 PMAll the muscles in your legs should be contracting either eccentrically or concentrically, ones you have not even considered (Flexor sling anyone? Topic for a future post). Torso should be parallel to shins, entire spine should be in a neutral position, and the core should be properly stabilized. The shoulder blades should be firmly affixed to the thorax via proper shoulder girdle function (paging everyone’s absent Serratus Anterior). Having a stable shoulder blade will allow for efficient and and mobile Glenohumeral Joint function (shoulder). It is all about efficiency and balanced musculature.


So what does a proper ready position look like? The pictures of Sergio Santos and Reid Priddy are great examples.

Check out Sergio Santos from the Brazilian Men’s National Team. He is nearly 40 and still one of the best in the world. He can thank his biomechanics for that, whether he knows it or not.Screen Shot 2013-08-04 at 2.03.42 PM

Look at that perfection. From left to right, he is reacting to the ball while maintaining flawless biomechanics. His torso is parallel with his lower leg, his feet are planted flat on the ground which allows him to access all power from his entire leg. His spine is in a neutral position, shoulder blades and core are stable, and his arms are mobile. This his how a ready position should look like.

Fact: Sergio has put himself in a position where he can constantly react to the ball in an explosive manner. You simply cannot argue with these biomechanics and his success.


Myth: Your hands are closer to the ground if you are leaning over versus squatting.

Get up out of your chair, put yourself in the incorrect ready position with your arms dangling, shoulders protracted. (Feel all that work your back, neck, and calves are doing? I am sure that is great for reacting to a ball, and injury prevention). Now sit your hips down into a squat. I guarantee you your hands did not get ANY higher.


Myth: I need to lean over to place weight on my toes so I can react. Or, I need to be on my toes to move fast.

Wake up! Leaning over like that to place weight on your toes disproportionately loads your calf and causes a sheering stress through your knees. It stretches your hamstrings and glutes, thus inhibiting them from powerful contractions. Proper jumping, sprinting, reacting biomechanics require extension at the knees and hips simultaneously before plantarflexion (extension at the ankle). You will lock your knees out first and then thrust your back up to try and jump, equalling more stress and inefficient movement. Or you will never get any hip extension. Hip extension is the driving force for all powerful movements.

If potential forward energy is desired, just hinge at the ankles to go forward while maintaining proper squat mechanics.


I have corrected many people’s ready positions, the first thing they ALWAYS say is, “I can actually move to the ball now!”


PLEASE debate with me. I love to talk about this and would enjoy explaining it further, or even being proved wrong. I only try and preach what science has already proved to be right. If you need more evidence, just look up photos/video of some of the other elite passers – Rich Lambourne and Aleksey Verbov for example. They pass and move with the same biomechanics.


If we continue to play and teach with improper mechanics, we merely perpetuate an incorrect jumping mechanics, ready position, and arm swing. This will inevitably result in failure, or even worse, cause you pain. I am here to help. Please question what you know, and learn. Experiment with yourself and seek results. Never stop getting better.


Train Smarter to Play Harder


Please comment or feel free to email me with any comments, critiques, or questions.

Austin Einhorn, CSCS

Volleyball Skills & Conditioning Specialist


Schedule your appointment today!



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