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Vertical Jump Performance of Professional Male and Female Volleyball Players

Effects of Playing Position and Competition Level

Sattler, Tine1; Hadžić, Vedran2; Dervišević, Edvin2; Markovic, Goran3

The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: June 2015 - Volume 29 - Issue 6 - p 1486–1493
doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000781
Original Research
Free

Sattler, T, Hadžić, V, Dervišević, E, and Markovic, G. Vertical jump performance of professional male and female volleyball players: effects of playing position and competition level. J Strength Cond Res 29(6): 1486–1493, 2015—Vertical jump (VJ) performance is an important element for successful volleyball practice. The aims of the study were (a) to explore the overall VJ performance of elite volleyball players of both sexes, (b) to explore the differences in VJ performance among different competition levels and different playing positions, and (c) to evaluate the sex-related differences in the role of the arm swing and 3-step approach with arm swing on the jump height. We assessed the VJ capacity in 253 volleyball players (113 males and 140 females) from Slovenian first and second Volleyball Division. The height of squat jump (SJ), countermovement jump, block jump, and attack jump was tested using an Optojump system. We observed significant differences (p ≤ 0.05) in VJ height between different levels of play that were most pronounced in the SJ. Position-related differences in VJ performance were observed in male players between receivers and setters (p ≤ 0.05), whereas in females, VJ performance across different playing positions seems equal. Finally, we found that male players significantly better use the arm swing during VJ than females (p ≤ 0.05), whereas the use of eccentric part of the jump and approach before the spike to improve VJ performance seem to be equally mastered activity in both sexes. These results could assist coaches in the development of jumping performance in volleyball players. Furthermore, presented normative data for jump heights of elite male and female volleyball players could be useful in selection and profiling of young volleyball players.

Departments of 1Volleyball;

2Sports Medicine, Faculty of Sport, University in Ljubljana, Ljubljana, Slovenia; and

3Motor Control and Human Performance Laboratory Zagreb, School of Kinesiology, University of Zagreb, Croatia

Address correspondence to Goran Markovic, gmarkov@kif.hr.

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Introduction

Volleyball, one of the most popular team sports in the world, is characterized by short and explosive movement patterns, agile and quick positioning, jumps, and blocks. Apart from technical and tactical knowledge, appropriate morphological features (e.g., lean body mass with advanced body height) (13), and speed/agility (8), the jumping abilities are one of the key elements in successful volleyball practice of both sexes (2,6,25). The vertical jumps (VJs) in volleyball are related to serving, spiking, or blocking. The height of VJ during a block jump (BJ) represents the potential for a reduction in effectiveness of the attacking opponent. Vertical jump height during serving or spiking (e.g., attack jump, AJ) enables the player to achieve the contact with the ball above the net, allowing better spiking or serving angles. Apart from sports success, VJ height is also correlated with the increased susceptibility to patellar tendinopathy (12), which is the most common overuse injury in volleyball players. These findings highlight the importance of testing and developing jumping abilities in volleyball.

Ziv and Lidor (27) have reviewed VJ performance in male and female volleyball players. They have analyzed 32 studies and have reported differences between players of different skill levels, changes in VJ performance over a season, factors affecting VJ performance, different jumping techniques, and relationship between success and VJ performance. The common denominators of the studies presented in their review were relatively low number of participants (range, 6–88 in females, and range, 5–74 in males), low participation of high ranking volleyball players according to the FIVB world ranking list (e.g., teams from countries within the first 30/138 for males), as well as the fact that mostly reported were the values of countermovement jump (CMJ) or squat jump (SJ), whereas reports of more volleyball-specific jumps such as BJ and AJ were much less common.

The main aim of this study was to explore the overall VJ capacity of a large sample of male and female elite volleyball players investigating both general (CMJ and SJ) and sport-specific type of jumps (BJ and AJ). We were particularly interested to study the differences in VJ performance among different levels of play and playing positions, as this issue was not addressed in previous studies (27). Finally, we explored the absolute and percentage differences in jump height among selected VJ types to estimate the effect of prestretch, the arm swing, and 3-step approach with arm swing, and to compare those differences between sexes. Based on the results of previous research (11,24,26), we hypothesized that (a) the level of play and playing position have a significant effect of on general and sport-specific VJ performance in both sexes and (b) male players significantly better use the arm swing during VJ than females, whereas the opposite is the case for utilization of the eccentric part of the jump (i.e., countermovement).

We believe that our study will give important information on jumping capacity in volleyball players of both sexes that will be of interest for coaches and physical conditioning specialists as reference values for VJ height for training and selection purposes.

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Methods

Experimental Approach to the Problem

This was a cross-sectional study performed on a large sample of male and female professional volleyball players at the end of the competitive season. To evaluate the overall jumping performance of the tested volleyball players, we selected 4 types of VJs as dependent variables, whereas sex, competition level, and playing position were regarded as independent variables. The selected types of VJ (i.e., SJ, CMJ, BJ, or CMJ with the arm swing, and AJ or BJ with a 3-step approach) proved to be valid and reliable (22) and reflect both the general and specific aspect of VJ ability in volleyball.

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Subjects

After the end of competitive season, we have evaluated VJ ability in 253 volleyball players (113 males and 140 females) aged 18–38 years from Slovenian first and second Volleyball Division. Players' characteristics are presented in Table 1. According to the FIVB world ranking list, Slovenia has the following ranking: 36/123 for males and 43/111 for females. All tested players used heavy resistance, ballistic resistance, and plyometric training as part of their overall strength and conditioning program during the last 2 seasons. Before the testing, all participants signed a consent form for participation in research and were informed about the purpose and risks of the research. The study was approved by the Board of Ethics of the Faculty of Sport.

Table 1

Table 1

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Testing Procedure

Testing was performed at the Faculty of Sport in Ljubljana between 10 AM and 16 PM over the period of 4 weeks. Laboratory was air conditioned, and room temperature held between 22 and 24° C. Players from the same club were tested on the same day. A day before testing, no practice was allowed. Body height and body mass were assessed using a Seca stadiometer and weighting scales (Seca Instruments Ltd., Hamburg, Germany). Before testing, all subjects performed a 6-minute warm-up on a room bicycle at moderate pace (75–100 W), followed by dynamic stretching of lower extremity muscles. The players were familiar with all VJs as they were routinely used during the competitive season for performance monitoring in the clubs. Nutrition and hydration status of players was not monitored during the study.

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Vertical Jump Testing

The height of the following 4 different types of VJs was tested using an Optojump system (Microgate, Bolzano, Italy): SJ, CMJ, BJ, and AJ. Each participant performed 3 repetitions for each type of VJ, and the best result in centimeters was recorded as the main outcome measure. The order of different types of VJ was assigned randomly for each participant. The Optojump is a dual-beam optical device that measures contact and flight times during a series of jumps (or single jump). Flight time (tair) was used to calculate height of the rise of the body's center of gravity

. The validity and reproducibility of VJ testing using Optojump device proved to be excellent (9,22). Also, our recent study showed excellent reliability (intraclass correlation coefficients ≥0.97; coefficients of variation ≤2.8%) of all 4 VJs in professional volleyball players (22).

For SJ, subjects started a jump after a 3-second pause from a stationary semisquatted position (90° knee flexion) without using a preliminary countermovement (i.e., no prestretching of muscles; Figure 1A). In case that countermovement was visually observed, the test results were not recorded. For CMJ, the subjects started from an upright standing position (Figure 1B), making a preliminary downward movement by flexing at the knees and hips, then immediately extending knees and hips again to jump vertically up off the ground. In BJ, subjects have performed CMJ but were allowed to use arms from an initial position in front of the chest (Figure 1, panels C1 and C2) as they perform during the volleyball game/practice. For AJ, subjects had a 3-step approach (Figure 1, panels D1–D4), and they were allowed to use an arm swing as they perform for the spiking activities during the game/practice.

Figure 1

Figure 1

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Statistical Analyses

The main outcome measure was the height of the 4 types of VJ expressed in centimeters. Mean values with SD were presented according to the level of play (first and second division) for each sex separately. Multivariate analysis of variance (2 × 5 MANOVA) with Bonferroni adjustment for multiple comparisons was used to evaluate the differences in jump height among different competition levels (first and second division) and playing positions (libero, correction, setter, receiver, and blocker), separately for each sex. Absolute and percentage differences in jump height were also calculated for the following 4 conditions: CMJ vs. SJ, BJ vs. CMJ, AJ vs. CMJ, and AJ vs. BJ. Our aim was to estimate the role of prestretch, arm swing, and 3-step approach with arm swing on the jump height and to compare those differences among sexes using 4 × 2 MANOVA (4 conditions × sex) with Bonferroni adjustment for multiple comparisons. A significance level of 0.05 was used for each test.

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Results

Table 2 and Figure 2 depict mean (SD) jump heights for male and female volleyball players according to the level of play with comparison to previous studies. The MANOVAs revealed a significant multivariate main effect for competition level in males (F = 2.23; p < 0.001; partial eta-squared = 0.09; power to detect the effect = 0.92) and females (F = 3.4; p < 0.01; partial eta-squared = 0.05; power to detect the effect = 0.90). The subsequent univariate analysis of variances have revealed that players from first Division had higher jump heights than players from second Division for all 4 VJ types in both sexes. However, these differences were significant only for SJ in males (F = 8.20; p = 0.005), and for SJ (F = 10.76; p = 0.001) and CMJ (F = 4.40; p = 0.038) in females.

Table 2

Table 2

Figure 2

Figure 2

The MANOVAs also revealed significant differences in VJ performance according to the playing position in males (F = 2.18; p = 0.005) but not in females. Significant position-related differences observed in males were related to differences in CMJ heights between receivers and setters (p ≤ 0.05). The mean difference in CMJ between receivers and setters in favor of receivers was 4.38 cm (p = 0.028).

Significant multivariate sex-related differences (F = 8.59, p < 0.001) were observed in percentage differences in VJ height between different jump types (Table 3). On univariate level, the differences were significant for CMJ vs. BJ (F = 20.6; p < 0.001) and CMJ vs. AJ (F = 25.7; p < 0.001), whereas there were no significant sex-related differences in CMJ vs. SJ and AJ vs. BJ. These results indicate that both sexes use an eccentric part of the jump equally good to improve the jump height; however, males seem to have a better capacity to use the arm swing to further increase VJ height.

Table 3

Table 3

Finally, Table 4 reports sex-specific normative centile values for performance in all 4 VJ tests.

Table 4

Table 4

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Discussion

To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study that comprehensively evaluated VJ performance of male and female professional volleyball players with respect to the competition level and playing position for 4 different VJ types. The main results of our study are as follows: (a) there exist significant differences in VJ height between different competition levels, and those differences are particularly accentuated in SJ, (b) significant position-related differences exist only in male players between receivers and setters, whereas in females, the jumping capacity across different playing positions seems equal, (c) the better use of arm swing in males seems to be their main advantage over females, whereas the use of eccentric part of the jump (i.e., countermovement) and approach before the spike to improve VJ performance seems to be equally mastered ability in both sexes.

To compare our results with previously reported data (Table 2), we have analyzed only those studies (3,6,12,14,17,19,21) where the same methodology (27), namely the flight time, was used to calculate the jump height (e.g., using contact mat or OptoJump device). Note that our results compare well with previously reported data for both sexes. Specifically, CMJ height in previous research ranged from 40.3 to 49.7 cm and from 28.9 to 34.6 cm for male and female volleyball players, respectively. In this study, these values ranged from 42.5 to 45.3 cm in male players, and from 29.9 to 31.7 cm in female players, respectively. Table 2 also depicts that only Borras et al. (3) reported jumping performance of male volleyball players for all jump types, whereas in female volleyball players, only data for SJ and CMJ were reported so far.

As hypothesized, players from the first Division demonstrated better VJ performance than the second Division players, regardless of VJ type or sex. These rather robust findings are in concordance with findings of other authors. In particular, Barnes (1) also reported that female NCAA Division I athletes had significantly greater CMJ heights than Division III, and the effect size comparisons showed large-magnitude differences between Division I and both Divisions II and III for jump height. Furthermore, Fry et al. (7) reported significant differences in physical characteristics between female starters and nonstarters even within the same level of play (NCAA Division I). Interestingly, in this study, the most pronounced and statistically significant differences in VJ performance according to the level of play were found in SJ (Table 2). The SJ is an unnatural concentric-only ballistic movement that requires an extensive practice before it can be performed correctly (10). We believe that this may explain the sensitivity of SJ to discriminate among players playing at different quality levels. These results, together with previous research, highlight VJ ability as a very important motor quality in professional volleyball. In that regard, training modalities that enhance jumping performance like heavy-resistance strength training (5), ballistic power training (20), and plyometric training (15,16) could be recommended for volleyball players.

Regarding the position-related differences, the results only partly support our hypothesis. Specifically, we found significant position-related differences only in male volleyball players, with setters having significantly lower CMJ height than receivers. These differences could have important implications for effective defensive activities during a game. The contribution of setters in the defensive blocking activities is more or less same in comparison with receivers and corrections. Depending on the court situation, setters are active in supportive jumps to block the first tempo, but they also participate in regular block while moving laterally to block the attack on their side, or they are running across to form a triple block when the opponent attack is on the side opposite to their position on the court. During a game, setters are rarely jumping to attack, and even then they try to simulate the setting (rather than spiking) activity, to avoid blocking by opponent central blockers. In those cases, setters usually just suddenly pass the ball over the net into the undefended part of the opponent's field. Marques et al. (18) found significant anthropometric and strength differences among playing positions in elite male volleyball players, with setters having significantly poorer parallel squat performance than the outside and opposite hitters. This finding compares well with our results and suggests that additional strength and plyometric training may warrant a better jump performance (23) for setters to improve their efficacy in blocking and attack activities during a game.

Our second hypothesis was also only partly supported. Specifically, we found no sex-related differences in the use of countermovement to facilitate VJ height, and on average (regardless of the sex), the countermovement accounted for approximately 13.6% increase in jump height in CMJ compared with SJ. Similar results were reported in previous volleyball studies (Table 2) where the average augmentation of jump height with countermovement amounted to ∼12%. Earlier study (11) on this topic reported different results (i.e., greater capacity to use countermovement in females compared with males). However, the subjects in this study were not professional athletes with high proficiency in VJ. Thus, additional studies performed on male and female athletes specialized in jumping-type activities are needed to verify this finding. Contrary to prestretch, the use of arm swing for VJ height augmentation proved to be significantly better in male vs. female volleyball players, thereby supporting our hypothesis. Specifically, male players increased their CMJ height by 9 and 42.2% in BJ (arm swing) and AJ (combination of arm swing and approach), whereas the corresponding increase in CMJ height in female players was 6.3 and 35.5%, respectively. These findings are also in line with the results of previous studies (Table 2). Notably, we found no sex-related differences in jump height augmentation with 3-step approach (BJ vs. AJ difference), which is unique characteristic of the AJ. Thus, we may conclude that the major difference between men and women jump heights lies in the arm swing. This finding is supported by Walsh et al. who concluded that greater increase in jump height for the men when using the arm swing could be because of greater upper-body strength of men compared with women (26). It is likely that the upper-body strength in female volleyball players represents an important reserve for the improvement of their jumping capacity and that additional strength training with the emphasis on shoulder musculature would warrant such an improvement. Indeed, biomechanical models suggest that shoulder musculature is directly responsible for approximately one-third of the performance enhancement associated with arm swing (4).

In summary, this is the first study that comprehensively evaluated VJ ability of male and female volleyball players, with particular emphasis on competition level, playing position, and sex. We observed significant differences in VJ height between different levels of play that were most pronounced in SJ. Furthermore, significant position-related differences in VJ height were observed in male players between receivers and setters, but not in female. Finally, our results indicate that male players significantly better use the arm swing during VJ than females, whereas the use of eccentric part of the jump and approach before the spike to improve VJ height seem to be equally mastered ability in both sexes. These findings also emphasize the importance of using both the general and sport-specific VJs in the evaluation of jumping capacity in volleyball.

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Practical Applications

Vertical jump performance represents an important fitness component in many individual and game sports, including volleyball. From practical point of view, our results suggest that male and female professional volleyball players playing at a higher level have a better VJ performance, thereby emphasizing the importance of developing lower extremity strength and power qualities in volleyball players. Although position-related differences in VJ performance were less pronounced in this study, it seems that male setters could benefit from additional strength and plyometric training to improve this motor quality and participate more efficiently in blocking and attack activities during the game. When it comes to sport-specific aspects of VJ, male and female volleyball players have the same capacity to use countermovement and approach for VJ height augmentation; however, the use of arm swing in VJ height increase is less efficient in female volleyball players, possibly due to less developed upper-body mass and strength (26). Thus, additional upper-body strength in female volleyball players could be of benefit for augmenting VJ performance through a more effective use of arm swing. Finally, given that our study was performed on a large sample of high-standard professional volleyball players of both sexes, presented normative data for jump heights (Table 4) could be used in selection and profiling of young volleyball players.

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Keywords:

muscle power; movement performance; sport-specific jump; functional testing

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