Think of all of the biggest hitters in beach volleyball you know. Take a minute. No hurry here. Your list and ours likely look the same. If you're a guy, the list likely includes, if not all, at least a few of these names: Taylor Crabb, Anders Mol, Phil Dalhausser, Casey Patterson, Chase Budinger, Steven van de Velde, Robert Meeuwsen, Alex Brouwer. If you're a gal, name such as April Ross, Alix Klineman, Sarah Pavan, Kelly Claes, Sarah Sponcil, Kelley Kolinske, likely came to mind.
All of these players mentioned have phenomenal swings, and it's no wonder why almost every single one of them will be competing in the Tokyo Olympic Games next month. But thinking of those names is the easy part. Most anyone who watches beach volleyball knows that those players can spike a volleyball as well as anyone on the planet.
The key question here is why.
What separates Taylor Crabb from, say, his brother, Trevor? How come Casey Patterson, who loves to make fun of his vertical leap, can spike a volleyball exponentially harder than someone who jumps 40 inches out of the sand? Kelley Kolinske isn't built like a weight lifter -- yet she's one of the best side out players in the world.
How is this so?
In the video below, AVP professional beach volleyball player Mark Burik breaks down a few key elements of high-level arm swing mechanics for spiking a volleyball.
There are two words that you'll hear in that video more than any other: Rotation, and looseness. One of the most common compliments and observations you'll hear about Taylor Crabb's armswing -- and Casey Patterson's and indoor wunderkind TJ Defalco's -- is that his swing is "whippy." Watch Crabb swing, and his arm does, indeed, have a whiplike effect, so loose and snappy it seems as if he's just sort of dangling it along -- until BOOM, he's burying a ball quicker than you realized he was even swinging.
That's the beauty of rotation and looseness.
Some volleyball players attempt to muscle through swings. They're tight. Tense. They have these rippling muscles that appear powerful -- but just aren't built to spike a volleyball. Despite looking like they could spike a volleyball as hard as anyone, they simply can't, because spiking a volleyball isn't about how much weight you can lift or how big and lovely your muscles are. It's about generating torque.
It's about rotation, and looseness.
When you rotate, opening up your chest -- which requires, yes, bench pressing less, both in weight and frequency -- you're creating the space to generate maximum power. Think of a boxer: If a boxer doesn't rotate, pulling his elbow back back back, he's really just jabbing. Nobody, not even Mike Tyson, knocked out someone cold with a jab.
We're not going for a jab right now. We're delivering a nasty right hook, right to the jaw of our friend Wilson The Volleyball.
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If boxing isn't the metaphor you'd like, perhaps a golf club. Golf clubs are light. The shafts are flexible. If you watch a golf swing in slow motion, what you'll see is, at the apex of the swing, the shaft bends, allowing the club head to continue moving downward. When the golfer begins his downswing, the shaft begins snapping back, whipping the clubhead along with tremendous speed.
In the case of spiking a volleyball, your arm is the shaft, and your hand is the clubhead.
So we're rotating, opening up our chest, pulling our elbow back, creating the space for us to generate all the power we can to spike a volleyball harder than we ever have. However, like the golf club, we're also staying loose, flexible. Our hand, our arm, is relaxed, whippy, prepared to snap through.
And as we rotate back through, that looseness creates the whiplike effect we want. That whiplike effect creates the power we want. That power creates the bounce we love, the spike that is almost impossible to dig.
That rotation and looseness is the simple equation to spiking a volleyball.
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