Don Patterson | AOC senior content manager
John Hyden is the most durable player in the history of American pro beach volleyball. Period.
The Ironman title once belonged to Karch Kiraly, the 3-time Olympic gold medalist who is currently head coach of the U.S. women’s national team. Kiraly won an AVP tournament in 2005 at the age of 44 years, 316 days. But Hyden broke that record in 2017, winning at 44 years, 332 days. Then he broke his own record this year, teaming with Theo Brunner on July 29 to win the AVP’s Hermosa Beach tournament. He was 45 years, 296 days.
Hard work in the area of physical training has played a major role in Hyden’s long and impressive volleyball career, which has included 13 AVP titles, an FIVB title and a roster spot on two indoor U.S. Olympic teams: Atlanta in 1996 and Sydney in 2000. One thing he pays great attention to is core strength.
“The more you develop your core, the stronger you’ll be with all volleyball movements, especially those when your arms and hands are outside of your body line,” Hyden says. “A sturdy core also helps you stay healthy, particularly in your back – an area of the body where a lot of players get injured.”
A concurring opinion comes from trainer Curtis Jackson, a former outside hitter at Long Beach State and pro beach player who is certified by the National Association of Sports Medicine. He says: “A strong core is not only a necessity to play volleyball at your highest level but of critical importance to protecting the all-important spine.” He emphasizes that core strength extends beyond the abs and includes the posterior (upper back down to hamstrings and glutes) and rotational parts of your body – like your obliques.
The Plank, an exercise we’re all familiar with, is a great starting point – assuming you do it correctly. Jackson notes that proper planks require glutes, quads and anterior abs to be “stiff and contracted.” He also says you need to keep your body level, avoiding common mistakes like piking up with “pyramid butt” or sagging so your lower back is arched downward. Head position is important too. Jackson says your head should be straight ahead (looking at the floor), not tilted either down (as if you were texting) or up (as if you were looking at the horizon).
More good core advice comes from DePaul women’s head coach Marie Zidek, a certified strength and conditioning specialist. The 3 exercises she demonstrates here – Med ball plank, Med ball walk-ups, Med ball walk-overs – add extra challenge through a series of movements that engage the shoulders as well as core muscles worked by standard planks.
As I’m sure you know, dozens of core exercises exist. Players obviously can’t do them all, so it’s good to consult an expert to find a program that complements your team’s daily training.
By all accounts, variety is key. As mentioned earlier, the word “core” is not a synonym for abs. It’s essentially everything that’s not your arms or your legs. Which means that good core workouts are about getting moving in many directions and hitting multiple muscles. (These workouts can be done without equipment but sometimes involve bands, Med balls or strength balls.)
The end goal of core work is not to develop a rippled 6-pack. That might happen, but the real mission is to become stronger, quicker, more stable, more agile and better equipped to make good volleyball plays with minimal risk of injury.
Hyden, who plans to make a run at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, wishes he had developed his core philosophy much sooner.
“I’ve had the privilege of accomplishing many things in my career,” he says. “All I can think of is the things I could’ve accomplished had I known what I know now. All true strength stems from the core: spiritually, mentally and physically. No matter how high you jump, you will jump higher if you access your core. No matter how fast you think you are, there’s faster. No matter how quick you may think you move, there’s quicker – and all at a lesser cost to you. Being powerful is not about looking powerful; it’s about the accessibility of that power. The hidden switch to that nuclear force in you is found in your core.”
Don Patterson is the editor of DiG magazine and is the senior content director for Art of Coaching. Previously, he was a sportswriter for the Los Angeles Times and an editor at CBS Sports.