by Josh 

April 14, 2021

Imagine yourself at your next volleyball match. The served volleyball is coming at you — only it’s coming at you 30 percent faster than usual. You sprint to meet it, but now you’ve got 30 percent less time to move and prepare to pass. Even if you get into position in time, you’re faced with a ball that has significantly more power behind it.

Now imagine that you are the one behind that powerful serve. Whatever your serve preferences — a basic overhand serve, a jump serve, a jump float, etc. — increasing your serve speed and power improves your game and outmatches your defenders. A faster serve lets you:

  • Hit the ball through the defender’s position.
  • Place the ball specifically where the defender is not placed. 
  • Keep the opposing team on edge and in a constantly defensive state of mind.

Technique and strategy play an important role in increasing volleyball serve speed. But for maximum velocity, two of the most important factors are your strength and power: 1) specifically strengthening the stabilizing muscles in your shoulder, and 2) building your lower body strength where the full force of your serve actually gets generated. 

In the following article, we will highlight the five specific exercises designed to increase volleyball serve speed.

How to Increase Your Volleyball Serve Speed

There are some aspects of your volleyball serve speed that you can’t control. Take genetics, for example. A kinetics analysis report from the University of Manitoba’s Sports Biomechanics Lab notes that Cuba has historically ranked as one of the top men’s volleyball teams in the world, in part because their players tend to be very tall. The extra height allows them to excel at high vertical jumps, which naturally increases their spike’s topspin and downward speed.

You can’t change your genetics or your height. But there are other aspects of your volleyball serve speed that you can control, including:

  • Your volleyball technique (for instance, a study published in The Sport Journal found that jump serves have nearly double the speed of a standing serve)
  • Your volleyball technology (i.e., your court shoes, etc.)
  • Your upper body and lower body strength, and your cardiovascular endurance to sustain high-performance throughout an entire match

In the sections below, we will:

  • Break down the fundamentals of the volleyball serve
  • Discuss each phase of the basic serve, which applies to everything from an overhand serve to a floater
  • Explain the importance of building your shoulder strength and your lower body strength

Volleyball Serve Fundamentals 

According to the University of Manitoba’s biomechanical analysis, there are a few specific stages to a volleyball serve regardless of your serve style:

  • Your ready position
  • Your ball toss
  • The point of contact between you and the ball (i.e., the run-up)
  • Your forward momentum and completion of the serve (i.e., the take-off)

In the ready position, you may either take a standing position with your feet next to each other or a staggered stance with one foot in front of the other (typically, your left foot behind you if you’re right-handed).

You then begin to move into the ball toss, taking a step forward with your right foot and tossing the ball up in the air with your striking hand (in this case, we’ll continue to use your right hand as an example since most players are right-handed). 

This tossing motion recruits your core, shoulders, and arms muscles, and involves significant flexion of your shoulder and elbow joints. Shoulder flexion is necessary for a strong arm upswing, and elbow stability maintains tossing accuracy and stabilizes the ball’s movement, which leads to improved force generation when you hit the ball.

While some players might toss the ball with their non-serving hand, researchers have found that using the same hand as your serve creates more leverage and leads to a maximum velocity of the hand, thus improving your serve speed. 

As the ball comes back down, you make contact with your serve hand. This stage is technically known as the run-up. 

While you might think that a lot of your serve speed comes from your upper body strength, most of the power behind your strike actually generates from your lower body. The run-up involves the rapid transmission of power up from your feet and legs, through your hips and trunk, and finally up and out of your shoulder girdle, arms and wrist.

The run-up’s four stages involve:

  • Loading your legs: You lower your body weight, creating flexion in the knees and hips and lowering your center of gravity. 
  • You take a step (known as the foot plant), exploding upwards and creating momentum and force as your lower body muscles contract.
  • Your arms, which are now behind you due to your forward momentum, now exhibit significant shoulder hyperextension. You swing your arm forward using the ground reaction forces from the previous stages of the run-up.
  • Your trunk transitions from flexion to extension, transmitting that lower-body energy upward into your shoulder and arms, putting optimal power behind your serve.

Finally, you hit the volleyball. All the energy and strength from your lower body is transmitted to the ball, increasing its velocity. It’s not unlike the swinging motion noted in tennis or baseball, with one notable difference: There is much more of an emphasis on forward and upward momentum, versus the more horizontal plane, emphasized in other sports.

Building Strength, Flexibility, and Explosiveness

Athletic studies note that shoulder kinetics is one of the primary drivers of volleyball serve speed. Because a volleyball serve involves so much flexion and hyperextension, a weak, unstable or inflexible shoulder girdle — including the many small stabilizing muscles within the shoulder — can compromise your serve speed. 

Increasing your shoulder strength, flexibility and explosiveness lead to direct improvements in volleyball serve strength and power. 

Likewise, building your lower body strength lays the foundation for generating maximal force during the ball toss and run-up. And it is even more important if you move into more advanced serve styles, such as high jump serves which require explosive movement off the ground. 

Finally, while not technically a part of the serve, improving your overall endurance is fundamental. Analyses of years’ worth of volleyball matches show that serve speeds tend to falter as matches progress, simply due to fatigue. By enhancing your cardiovascular endurance, you can maintain optimal serve performance throughout the entire game. 

The following five volleyball serve exercises can help you to build your shoulder girdle strength and flexibility, bolster your lower body strength, and hone your aerobic endurance.

5 Exercises to Increase Volleyball Serve Speed 

1. Bounding Sprints

High-intensity sprints of any sort have major impacts on your volleyball serving speed. First, sprinting obviously improves your athleticism and your endurance, so you can maintain strength throughout your entire volleyball game. 

Second, sprinting improves your mind-body connection, your nervous system synchronization, and the firing rate of neural impulses to your muscles. Volleyball is a highly coordinated sport, and a volleyball serve requires multiple advanced movements occurring in sync. Enhancing your nervous system is fundamental for an explosive, powerful, and coordinated serve.

Bounding takes it to another level. Not only are you sprinting, but you’re also working to strengthen your lower body, and train for maximal acceleration off of the ground (and thus maximum velocity in your jumps and serves). 


  • From a starting position, sprint forward with exaggerated running movements.
  • Start with your left leg, leaning forward at the waist and extending your left foot as far in front of you as possible. 
  • As your left leg makes contact with the ground, lift your back right foot and drive your right knee forward to waist level (or higher) while maintaining a straight line in your back left leg.
  • Pause for a split second, then bring your right foot down as far in front of you as possible. 
  • Repeat, sprinting forward while keeping this exaggerated, fully extended running style. 
  • Run for 30 meters. Rest for two minutes, then do two to three more sets of 30 meters.

2. High-to-Low Cable Fly 

Most shoulder and chest exercises are done on a horizontal plane. However, one study of elite volleyball athletes found that building shoulder strength in a diagonal pattern (high to low, or low to high) created some of the most significant improvements in volleyball serve speed. 

“There was a significant correlation between the peak torque values of shoulder flexion/abduction/external rotation and extension/adduction/internal rotation,” reports the researchers. In layman’s terms, training your shoulder on a diagonal pattern gives you the stability, flexibility, and strength for optimal performance in an upward ball toss or a downward spike.

As its name suggests, a decline cable fly works that crucial shoulder girdle from high to low, with secondary strength benefits to your chest, trunk and arms. Pair it with an incline cable fly (described next in this exercise guide), and you’ll hit all of the key stabilizing muscles in your shoulder that you need to win your next volleyball match.


  • Stand between the two weight stacks in a cable pulley machine.
  • Set the pulley height on each weight stack to the highest setting possible (at least above your head).
  • Grab the handle on each cable.
  • Step forward with your right foot and bend slightly forward at the waist to get into a split stance. 
  • Push and press the pulley handles forward to meet together in front of your chest, going until your arms are fully extended (but don’t lock your elbows).
  • Pause, then return to the starting position.
  • Aim for three to four sets of eight to 12 reps.

3. Low-to-High Cable Fly 

This variation of the cable fly works in conjunction with a high-to-low cable fly, and ensures your chest and shoulders are well balanced. Because it also involves a lot of trunk stability, it can build core strength and endurance that will also benefit you when serving, twisting and turning in your next match.

When doing these flys, aim to keep most of the movement in your shoulder.


  • Stand between the two weight stacks in a cable pulley machine.
  • Set the pulley height on each weight stack to the lowest setting possible (ideally at ground level if the cable machine allows).
  • Grab the handle on each cable.
  • Step forward with your right foot and bend slightly forward at the waist to get into a split stance. 
  • Push and press the pulley handles forward and upward to meet together in front of your chest, going until your arms are fully extended (but don’t lock your elbows).
  • Pause, then return to the starting position.
  • Aim for three to four sets of eight to 12 reps.

4. Medicine Ball Slams 

Medicine ball slams incorporate numerous muscle groups that you’ll need for a fast volleyball serve. 

The squatting movement’s muscle contractions train your lower body to explode upwards from the ground. The slamming motion is ideal for building strength and power in your core and upper body, and especially in your shoulders and arms. And the entire exercise requires a high level of aerobic and anaerobic endurance.


  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. 
  • Hold a weighted medicine ball between your hands, keeping it at chest level. 
  • Squat as low as possible to the ground. 
  • Explode upward while simultaneously raising the weighted ball above your head. 
  • Tighten your core and use your shoulder and arm strength to throw the ball down as hard as possible between your feet.
  • As the ball goes down, squat back down at the same time.
  • Grab the ball and return to the starting position.
  • Repeat for three sets of eight to 10 reps.

5. Dumbbell Snatch 

Dumbbell snatches enhance shoulder girdle strength, flexibility, and stability. They also train your coordination and balance and help with nervous system synchronization. 

The snatch movement isn’t just for your upper body. The squatting movement, along with the waist flexion and recruitment of your core muscles, benefits your explosiveness. It’s also very valuable for enhancing your posterior chain. Your posterior chain refers to the groups of muscles that run up the back of your body, including your calves, hamstrings, glutes, and back.

Since the posterior chain is a key link in the transmission of power and strength from your lower body up through your upper body and into your volleyball serve, the dumbbell snatch is one of the best exercises for volleyball performance. 


  • Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width. 
  • Place a dumbbell between your feet so that you’re standing right over the weight. 
  • Squat down as low as possible, while keeping your chest and head up. From the side, your back should look flat and your shins should be almost vertical. 
  • Grab the dumbbell with one hand. 
  • Explode up into a standing position. 
  • Use the explosive momentum to raise your elbow to shoulder height, then press the dumbbell up and over your head. 
  • Keep your arm straight and your knees slightly bent at the top position. 
  • Bend your knees and hips and lower yourself back down into the starting position.
  • Repeat for three sets of eight to 12 reps.


Strength training works in tandem with volleyball drills and serve techniques to put a lot of power, strength, and speed behind your serves. 

For the fastest and most effective results, focus on exercises that incorporate explosive power, anaerobic endurance, and recruitment of your shoulder muscles. 

Weave these exercises into your overall fitness regimen and you’ll see improvements in all four stages of your volleyball serve.

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