AT 44, Karch Kiraly is the oldest player on the pro volleyball tour. At 6'2" (he weighs 200 pounds), he's also one of the shortest. But he has a record 147 professional wins as well as three Olympic gold medals, and, with Mike Lambert, formed the tour's top team last year--all thanks to superb conditioning. He trains using a unique plyometrics program designed by former Long Beach State volleyballer Mike Rangel, who learned about plyometrics--in which muscles are stretched and contracted in rapid succession--watching Russia's volleyball teams train in the 1970s. In January 2003 Rangel approached Kiraly at a charity event and asked if he could train him. "I was wary," says Kiraly. "I thought of plyometrics as high-impact workouts like hopping over metal chairs. But Mike's program was low-impact. I'm in the best shape of my life." Here are key components of Kiraly's workout, which he does twice weekly from January to October, and once a week the rest of the year.
Start in the middle of the court. Holding a medicine ball (Kiraly uses a 25-pounder), sprint to the right edge of the court, then to the left edge and back to the center, then squat for two seconds (court width is 26'3"). Two sets of six with a 10-second break between sets. Says Rangel, "The plyometrics aspect is that it builds both strength and speed. It especially improves lateral speed and is a great conditioning exercise for the whole body."
Around the Worlds
With hips locked, knees slightly bent and arms as straight as possible, rotate the medicine ball in a clockwise motion, without bending at the waist. Do 12 complete circles. Rest for 10 seconds, then rotate 12 times counterclockwise. Says Rangel, "This works the shoulders, chest, arms and core. In other words, it builds those muscles that help with the fundamentals of volleyball: hitting, serving and blocking."
Twist With legs bent, twist to your right side and touch the ball to the ground behind your tailbone. Then, going around to your left, bring the ball to the same spot. A set is 10 twists in each direction. Two sets with a 10-second rest in between. Says Rangel, "For abs, lower back, obliques. The key to blocking in volleyball is the stomach. In mid-jump you really need to contract your abs in order to move your arms and legs forward."
Stand with legs slightly wider than hip width and knees bent, holding the ball at your waist. Keeping head and chest up, bring the ball down between your legs in a squat position. Bring arms forward and toss ball to a partner six feet in front of you. Says Rangel, "Works the arms and lower back, which helps for arching your back--the key to a powerful serve and to attacking the ball. Also works the hamstrings."
WHAT I EAT: A DAY IN THE LIFE
"A glass of half orange juice, half club soda. It has a lot less sugar than a full glass of orange juice and it still tastes good. I'll also have any kind of whole-grain cereal. My two sons, Kristian, 14, and Kory, 13, had milk allergies when they were young, so we use rice milk."
"A bowl of fat-free cottage cheese with a handful of red grapes mixed into it. Water to drink. If I'm going to work out, I'll also have a cinnamon-raisin energy bar."
"I usually have a green salad, then a pasta dish like fettuccine with vodka sauce. We subscribe to Cook's Illustrated, and I make a good corn chowder from a recipe I found in there, so sometimes we have that. We're not wine connoisseurs, but we'll have a glass of Chianti with dinner. For dessert I'll have chocolate-chip cookies. I don't think you should deny yourself. We need to indulge the moderate vices in life or else our mind will build them up and we'll crave them too much."
HOLLY STEIN/ICON SMI (KIRALY ACTION)
FOUR COLOR PHOTOS
NICK CARDILLICCHIO (EXERCISES, 4)
SCOTT PETERSON/FOODPIX/GETTY IMAGES (GRAPES)
JUDD PILOSSOF/FOODPIX/GETTY IMAGES (PASTA)