Dig For It

Dec 12 / Build Muscle

Phil Dalhausser began his drive for Olympic gold at 4 a. m., on the beach in Ocean City, Maryland. He was inflating an air mattress; it was his only hope for a good night's sleep. He and a friend had spent their last few bucks flying cross-country and then taking a cab to this beach. The next morning, they'd compete in yet another volleyball tournament. They'd played many that summer, in 2003. They killed at some, were slaughtered at others. But they needed this one. A win was paid in cash -- and without that, they might have to quit traveling and give up on their dreams of making it big. ...

Phil Dalhausser began his drive for Olympic gold at 4 a. m., on the beach in Ocean City, Maryland. He was inflating an air mattress; it was his only hope for a good night's sleep.

He and a friend had spent their last few bucks flying cross-country and then taking a cab to this beach. The next morning, they'd compete in yet another volleyball tournament. They'd played many that summer, in 2003. They killed at some, were slaughtered at others. But they needed this one. A win was paid in cash -- and without that, they might have to quit traveling and give up on their dreams of making it big.

Rare is the man who knows -- just damn knows, early on -- what he wants out of life. The rest of us find our passion later. It snaps into focus only after we've paid dues elsewhere. Dalhausser was like that: In 2003, he was a 23- year-old middle-school substitute teacher who couldn't discipline his kids. Boys with pubescent mustaches were picking on him. And all the while, Dalhausser dreamed of volleyball. He played a lot of it in college. He was pretty good. What if there was more to it?

"You have to give your passion a shot," Dalhausser says. "Otherwise, you'll always wonder." And if you do it responsibly, without sacrificing what you already have, one of two things will happen: You'll make a big change, or you'll flush the what-ifs from your system and embrace your first path. Either way, you can't lose.

That's why Dalhausser didn't quit teaching. He tried volleyball during the summer, when it wouldn't interfere with his job. He gave himself 2 years: Succeed, or give it up.

Changing paths is equal parts exhilaration and fear. You're at the back of a new line. But just because those guys ahead of you decided on a path before you did doesn't mean they're better than you. They're just better trained. Put in more effort than they have, and you can pass them.

But you'll need patience.

When Dalhausser woke up on that air mattress, players were standing around laughing at him. But he and his friend just packed up their stuff, signed in for the tournament, and used the embarrassment to their advantage. When people don't know what to expect from you, surprise them with your strength. That's just as true on the court as it is with a new job: Opponents are defeated, bosses are impressed. Victory is in the blitz.

"And we got the last laugh," Dalhausser says, "because we won the tournament."

Five years later, Dalhausser, 29, received a gold medal in Beijing for beach volleyball. He's this summer's star in the volleyball league AVP. And although his success may have begun in places like Ocean City, it went worldwide because Dalhausser knew he had much to work on.

Roam aimlessly, choose an exercise, go at it for a while, repeat. It's a familiar but ineffective gym routine, and it's how Dalhausser worked out for years. That's why, as he met with a professional trainer for the first time in 2006, he couldn't perform a deadlift. The trainer had to raise the barbell a few feet so Dalhausser didn't throw out his back.

"He could have laughed at me," Dalhausser says. "I was pathetic."

This was the problem: You can build muscles at random, but you'll plateau without a program to tie it all together. That's because your muscles respond best to specific kinds of work. Dalhausser didn't have the core strength to perform deadlifts because his workouts hadn't built his abs, glutes, or hamstrings, among other muscles.

Plus, he'd been using weight machines, which are attractive because they're easy. But they're also limiting. Think of the difference between a leg-press machine and a squat. The first builds your legs, while the second builds your body -- including all those small, unglamorous back muscles you tend to ignore. But try to lift a weight from the ground, and you'll find out how much they matter.

Go on to the next page for more tips from Phil Dalhausser...

You need motivation in order to become serious about training, and Dalhausser's came in the form of Todd Rogers. In 2006, Rogers, a veteran nicknamed "the Professor," asked Dalhausser to join him in a unique pairing: The two would be teammates, but Rogers would also be Dalhausser's coach. Dalhausser would have to learn when to lead and when to follow.

Who wants to work closely with the boss? You're never sure when to trust your instincts, and you're always being told what to do. You do it at work all the time, and it's nerve-racking. But Dalhausser saw it differently: "We're a team, so I had to be good," he says. "He helps himself by making me the best player I can be. We have to have a successful partnership."

Look at your work that way, and those moments won't seem so complicated after all. Your boss may call the shots, but he's as dependent on you as you are on him. Your score is his score. He wants to move forward. So if you innovate and strive, you'll be rewarded as he is.

Dalhausser listened and learned, and changed his game. As he improved, the team improved. And soon enough, the new guy could even perform those deadlifts.

Any passion is subject to being spoiled. It's like an overplayed song: The more it tosses around in your head, the more it becomes a chore. Same goes for last night's date, or a meeting at work: There's healthy reflection, and then there's obsession. And that's why Dalhausser bought himself a 125- gallon salt water fish tank. It's his big, beautiful distraction.

"You can sit and stress, or you can occupy your mind with something you enjoy," Dalhausser says. So when he's at home, an hour outside Los Angeles, Dalhausser plays video games, admires the clown fish in his tank, and gives his mind a break from volleyball.

He does think about what'll happen when he retires from the game, though. It's inevitable; most players quit by their mid-30s. And now that he has pursued his passion, he's feeling free. The what-ifs that dogged him as a substitute teacher are gone.

So Dalhausser is surprising himself with this thought: He liked teaching. He was just too distracted to do it well. So next off-season, he says, he might study for his teaching certificate. One day he could embrace another passion, go back to the classroom, and teach those kids a thing or two.

Go on to the next page for tips on how to nail your jump serve...

Nail the Jump Serve
Phil Dalhausser teaches volleyball's opening salvo

1. Time your jump "You need to hit it at a high angle so the other team has less time to react," he says. Practice jumping so you connect with the ball at the highest point possible, with your arm fully extended.

2. Toss in front If you toss the ball directly above or behind you, you'll look up and see nothing but ball. But if you aim it a few inches in front of you, you can watch the ball and keep your opponents -- and more important, an open space on their side of the court -- in your field of vision.

3. Place your fingers Don't whap the ball with your palm the way most novices do. You'll have no control. Instead, connect with your fingers and the top of your palm. Your fingers will give the ball topspin and help guide it across the net.