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Optimal beach performance – For women

December 17, 2012

I was reminded by a female subscriber this morning that not everyone who reads Jason Cholewa Physical Performance wants to clean and jerk 150 kilos, bench press 400 pounds, or run a sub-11 second 100m.  She also did not appreciate my response, when I suggested that actresses should be judged on their back squat and not their runway dress. Ah, but I do digress – more people are concerned with the visual manifestation of their fitness than the physical and physiological.

With that in mind, summer is approximately 4 months away for those of us south of the Mason-Dixie line, and we can pose a question: How do you wish to look this coming beach season?


On the left is a malnourished and undertrained Kristen Steward, whereas the photo to the right is the well fed and highly trained Alejandro Simon of the Spanish Olympic team. The purpose of this article is to discuss how to attain the physique on the latter; if your wish is to look like the prior, then you may want to start here.

Before any exercise prescription can occur, we must first define our goal: a search of the literature was performed in order to describe the anthropometric and fitness characteristics of collegiate and professional female volleyball players.


While physical characteristics inherent to the game of volleyball generally include taller stature, anthropometrics can be described based upon BMI and body fat percentage. On average, female volleyball players’ BMI is 23-25 and body fat percentage is 20-22% (Lidor & Ziv, 2010). In comparison, the NIH defines a healthy BMI as between 18.5-24.9 and the average body fat percentage for women under the age of 30 is approximately 23%.

For performance variables our literature review revealed that the average back squat 1 repetition maximum (RM) for collegiate and professional female volleyball players was 170 and 200 pounds, respectively (Fry et al., 1991; Marquez et al. 2008). This equates to the ability to squat 110-120% body weight.  The average vertical jump for professionals is 24 inches (Lidor & Ziv) and the average hang clean 1 RM for collegiate athletes is 90-100 pounds (Fry et al.). Finally, female volleyball players display high levels of cardiovascular endurance (average VO2MAX 45-50 ml/min-kg), similar to those of female basketball players (Lidor & Ziv).


What do these numbers mean? They tell us that female volleyball players are not significantly leaner than the general healthy population, but are actually heavier and carry more muscle mass. In other words, Alejandro looks amazing not because she is incredibly skinny, but because of her well-developed musculature. Furthermore, she possesses the strength, power, and endurance to back it up.


What does this mean for those of you reading? It’s time to start lifting heavier!

Unfortunately, if you Google image search “women lifting weights” this is the typical result:


This type of training accomplishes absolutely nothing besides a large waste of time and a minimal waste of energy (kcals). The image also serves to promote the stereotype that it is not “feminine” to lift heavy or exercise hard. To achieve your goals you will have to ignore and forget nearly 99% of what’s been published in popular fitness magazines such as Shape. To attain your perfect beach body, you will have to train hard, lift heavy, and eat well. Gone are the days of 15 pound dumbbells and salads, sculpting classes and reduced calorie snacks, and 6 hours a week on the elliptical machine. And gone with that are the underdeveloped glutei (pancake butt) and abdominal ptosis (belly pouch) that plaque the ordinary woman. You are not ordinary, you possess the will and ability to be extraordinary. Now is the time for squatting, pulling, cleaning, sprinting, and eating red meat. Now is the time for the transformation to dominate the bikini.


If we revisit the anthropometric and performance qualities described earlier, as well as closely observe the provided images, the physical needs of the female volleyball player become quite clear. These training outcomes include robust posterior kinetic chain hypertrophy (hamstrings, glutei, erector spinae), superior core development, powerful limbs, and outstanding conditioning. The Jason Cholewa Volleyball Physique program has been designed to achieve those specific goals, and to produce these results within a 4 month time table (January to May). The program is actually quite simple, and can be followed by anyone without cardiovascular symptoms or recent musculoskeletal injuries.

As always, workouts should be preceded with an individual specific mobility warm up and concluded with a warm down and static stretching. Below is a sample from the first block for a relatively fit, injury free female. Please contact us if you are interested in the full workout.

Block 1: General Preparation Phase – January 7th to February 2nd

January 7 – 20


Hang Clean High Pull 3 x 6, 2 min rest
Dead lift 3 x 10, 1.5 min rest
RFE Split Squat 3 x 10, 1 min rest
Prone Bridge 3 x 30 sec, 30 sec rest
Seated Pulley Row 3 x 12, 1 min rest
Prone Scaptions 3 x 15, 30 sec rest
External Shoulder Rotations 2 x 15, 30 sec rest


Concentric Box Jumps 3 x 5, 2 min rest
Linear Response 3 x 20 sec, 45 sec rest
Knee Tucks 3 x 6, 2 min rest
Hill Sprints 3 x 20 yards, 2 min rest
300 Yard shuttle 1 (timed)


Dumbbell Split Jerk 3 x 6, 2 min rest
Kettle Bell Swings 3 x 8, 1.5 min rest
Swiss Ball Leg Curls 3 x 12, 1 min rest
Wall psoas march 3 x 6, 30 sec rest
Flat Dumbbell Press 3 x 10, 1.5 min rest
Pull Ups 3 x man, 1 min rest
Cable anti-rotation 2 x 10, 30 sec rest
Ab roll outs 2 x 10, 1 min rest
Face pulls 2 x 12, 30 sec rest


Lateral Box Jumps 3 x 5, 2 min rest
Lateral Response 3 x 20 sec, 45 sec rest
Lateral Knee Tucks 3 x 6, 2 min rest
Lateral Shuffle 6 x 10 yards, 1.5 min rest
120 Yard shuttle 2, 1 min rest


Squat Cleans 3 x 6, 2 min rest
Rumanian Dead Lifts 3 x 10, 1.5 min rest
Bent Over Barbell Row 3 x 10, 1.5 min rest
Over Head Press 3 x 10, 1.5 min rest
Twisting Medicine Ball Throws (trunk) 3 x 15, 1 min rest
Side Bridge 3 x 20 sec, 30 sec rest
Barbell Glute-hip Bridge 3 x 15, 1 min rest

January 21st to February 2nd


Clean Pulls 3 x 4, 2 min rest
Back Squat 4 x 8, 2 min rest
Kettle Bell Swing 3 x 10, 1.5 min rest
Dumbbell Rows 3 x 10, 1 min rest
Medicine Ball Slams 3 x 12, 1 min rest
Depressed Scapula Pull Down 3 x 15, 45 sec rest
External Shoulder Rotation 2 x 15, 30 sec rest


Step to box jump 3 x 7, 2 min rest
Drop jump to stick position 3 x 5, 2 min rest
Backward shuffle to Vertical Jump 3 x 5 yard, 2 min rest
Single Leg Ankle Hops 3 x 10, 1 min rest
Resisted (Sled, parachute, etc.) Sprints 4 x 20 yards, 2 min rest
300 Yard shuttle 2, 4 min rest


Split Jerk 3 x 4, 2 min rest
Single Leg Rumanian Deadlift 4 x 6, 1.5 min rest
Split Squat 3 x 8, 1.5 min rest
Pull Ups 3 x max, 1 min rest
Cable trunk rotations 3 x 15, 45 sec rest
Supine psoas march 2 x 15, 30 sec rest
Prone Bridge March 3 x 6, 45 sec rest


Side to lateral box jump 3 x 7, 2 min rest
Lateral Drop jump to stick 3 x 5, 2 min rest
Shuffle, crossover step, vertical jump 3 x 8 yard, 2 min rest
Lateral Single Leg Ankle Hops 3 x 10 yard, 1 min rest
Resisted Lateral Shuffle 3 x 10 yard
120 yard shuttle 4, 2 min rest


Power Snatch 3 x 4, 2 min rest
Bench Press 4 x 8, 1.5 min rest
Pendlay Rows 3 x 10, 1 min rest
Glute Ham Raise 3 x 10, 1 min rest
Single Leg Swissball Leg Curl 2 x 12, 45 sec rest
Band pull aparts 3 x 15, 45 sec rest

Jason Cholewa, Ph.D., CSCS



Linked In

Fry, A., & Kraemer, W. (1991). The effects of an offseason strength and conditioning program on starters and non-starters in womens intercollegiate volleyball. Journal of Applied Sport Science Research, 5(4), 174–181. Retrieved from Specific Research/JASSR 5_174_181_1991 The effects of … women’s intercollegiate volleyball.pdf

Lidor, R., & Ziv, G. (2010). Physical and physiological attributes of female volleyball players-a review. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 24(7), 1963–1973. Retrieved from

Marques, M. C., Tillaar, R. van den, Vescovi, J. D., & González-Badillo, J. J. (2008). Changes in strength and power performance in elite senior female professional volleyball players during the in-season: a case study. Journal of strength and conditioning research / National Strength & Conditioning Association, 22(4), 1147–55. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e31816a42d0

From → Training

  1. Spot on with this write-up, I absolutely believe that this amazing site needs much more attention. I’ll probably be returning to read
    more, thanks for the info!

  2. I am a board-certified weight loss physician, and I completely agree with what you have said, and find those athletes you’ve shown to have the most attractive physiques. My daughters play high school volleyball, and unfortunately what I see on the court is NOT the toned physiques you show, but “thick” girls with belly fat and not that muscular overall. I am very concerned that their body weight and body composition are not healthy, are actually overweight or obese based on composition and weight (not BMI), due to a typical American diet of carbs, carbs and more carbs….concession stands that will not allow people to bring food in, but only serve pizza, hot dogs and pretzels as snacks and meals.
    What are your thoughts on this and what can I do to help?

    • Hi Dr. Watson, thanks for reading. The women in the article are some of the best beach volley ball players in the world, and so expectantly are more fit looking that high school athletes. I am not sure how I would approach talking to your daughters about their weight and nutrition. Have they expressed any desire to change their body compositions or be more healthy? If it is just a question of concession foods then you might consider discussing with the coach the importance of sport nutrition on athlete performance. I would suggest seeking out the advice of sport psychologist prior if you are not sure how to speak with your daughters about their bodies.


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