May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, May 1996


To get solid down to your core, says Karch Kiraly, go many-and-light and large-and-small
By Mark Jannot

In the fall of 1994, Karch Kiraly was on his way to a fourth-straight Association of Volleyball Professionals MVP award, closing out a season in which he won an astounding 17 tournaments. That's when he decided to get serious about strength training. "I was lifting on my own, and it was getting stale," Kiraly recalls. "I wasn't making any gains." Kiraly turned to W. G. Johnson, owner of Ubermensch Sports Consultancy in San Diego, who transformed Kiraly's training with a regimen that may be the most thorough way for an athlete--professional or recreational--to develop full-body strength. Though it is just the first step on the path to power--Kiraly has since moved on to a regimen of explosive, Olympic-style lifts (see "Next, It's Time to Power Up")--this program's the same one Johnson prescribes for all his new clients, no matter how long they've been at it on their own. "You've got to start with a proper foundation," he explains.

For maximum benefit, run through the following regimen in its entirety three days a week. In all but the first exercise, choose a weight that's light enough that you can comfortably perform four sets of 12 repetitions. Lift the weight over a span of two seconds and then lower it in four. Finally, follow the order of the exercises as given here--the workout is designed to tax the largest muscles first so that the support muscles don't tire as quickly.

Walking Lunges
These work the entire lower body, developing both the hip strength and the range of motion crucial to virtually every sport. Start with your feet shoulder-width apart, your torso erect, and your hands on your hips. Step far enough forward that your front knee is bent at a 90-degree angle and your back knee nearly grazes the floor (photo 1, right). Start with ten steps for each leg, and then add repetitions until you can comfortably do 20. When that becomes too easy, do ten reps with a five- to ten-pound dumbbell in each hand.

This exercise, says Johnson, is the number-one overall strength developer, working the entire lower body and, because it has to support the barbell, the upper body as well. Stand erect with the weight resting on your shoulders and descend slowly until your thighs are parallel to the floor (photo 2). Explode up into a standing position, keeping your back straight and your head level, making sure not to lock your knees. "In the past I was doing a lot of jump training and felt like that was sufficient for my lower body," says Kiraly. "Now I feel a lot more explosive on the court."

Push Press
Also known as the cheating press, this exercise develops trunk and shoulder strength. Starting from the finishing position of the squat, quickly dip your knees and then raise up, using your momentum to lift the bar high over your head and above the back of your shoulders. "It's a good idea to have someone spotting you," Kiraly warns. "Using your legs to get started, it's amazing how much weight you can get up there."

Dumbbell Incline Press
"I prefer doing most upper-body training with dumbbells," Johnson says of this exercise (photo 3), which works the triceps, upper pectorals, and shoulder muscles. "If you train with a barbell, you can compensate for the weaker arm, so it never gains parity with the stronger one." Lie on a bench tilted up at a 45-degree angle, holding a dumbbell in each hand with your palms forward at a bit more than shoulder-width apart. Raise the weight directly toward the ceiling, and then slowly lower it to your shoulders.

Calf Raises
Sitting in a leg-press sled, position your feet on the bottom of the platform so that your heels are dangling. Push up with your toes as far as possible and then lower the weight slowly, through the ankles' entire range of motion. "These really help with your spring," says Kiraly. "I'm jumping higher, and I'm able to maintain my intensity better through an entire tournament."

Dumbbell Curls
To work the biceps, Johnson prescribes the old standby. Grip a dumbbell in each hand with your palm facing forward, and then, alternating arms, raise each hand until your fist almost touches your shoulder. Lower slowly.

"These are the squats of the upper body," Johnson says, "the best overall power developers for the chest, triceps, deltoids, and biceps." Support your body on parallel bars (photo 4) with your arms straight, lower yourself slowly to the point where your upper arms are parallel with the floor, and then explode upward to the starting position without locking your elbows.

Seated Cable Rows
Johnson favors this exercise because it works the muscles around the rotator cuff, particularly the lats and rhomboids. "This tends to be a neglected area," he explains. "But these are quite literally the muscles that keep your arms from coming out of their sockets." Sit on the floor in front of the machine with your legs straight, holding the cable handle firmly and keeping your back erect. Quickly pull your hands back to touch your stomach, arching forward but keeping your back straight. Avoid the temptation to lean back, which lets your body weight do the work for you.

Sometimes called reverse sit-ups, these work the muscles of the lower back. Lie face down, hooking your heels under a support, and bend all the way over at the waist. Clasp your hands behind your head and raise your upper body until it's parallel to the floor. "This is good for maintaining posture," Johnson says. "Though most people ignore it, you really should work your lower back just as much as your abs."

Speaking of the abdominals, Johnson prefers this hardware-free exercise for working what he terms "the most important area to train." Lie on your back with your knees up, arms folded across your chest, and chin tucked in. Tighten your stomach and lift your torso so that your shoulders are off the ground, pushing the small of your back into the floor; slowly lower until your shoulders reach the ground. "Remember, it won't matter how strong your chest and arms and legs are," Kiraly says, emphasizing the importance of a region that gets a lot of attention from top volleyballers, "if the core of your body is weak."

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