For the last decade, Phil Dalhausser has towered over the sport of beach volleyball.
He’s won at least one FIVB (international volleyball federation) title in each of the last 11 years. He’s been named USA Volleyball’s Male Athlete of the Year four times. He won a gold medal at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
The 6-foot-9 Dalhausser is a major presence on the court in more ways than one. His elite blocking skills combined with his slender physique helped him earn the nickname “The Thin Beast.” Now 37 years old, Dalhausser is showing no signs of slowing down. With the 2017 Swatch Beach Volleyball Major Series set to kick off this week in Fort Lauderdale, STACK caught up with Dalhausser to find out what it’s really like to be a professional beach volleyball player.
STACK: How was your offseason training? Would you describe yourself as a gym rat?
Phil Dalhausser: There wasn’t much working out early on in my career, really. Just kind of playing volleyball a lot and that’s about it. But there wasn’t much working out. It wasn’t until I met Todd Rogers who I started playing with that kind of showed me how to be a professional athlete. Along the lines of, you know, working out, stretching, and kind of taking care of your body.
I knew I should be doing Olympic lifts [at the time], but I was so weak and inflexible then that my strength coach was like, “I just can’t throw you into Olympic lifts.’’ It was like a slow progress. It took probably about six months or so before he was like, “All right, I think you’re ready.” So, just like Cleans and Snatches and Squats and stuff like that.
Did you focus on anything in particular this offseason?
This offseason I really focused on my posture. It’s been something I’ve been battling with for a long time. And really, just getting my back stronger helps me stand up straight; and if you have better posture when you swing at a ball, your shoulder is actually in a better position. Over time, your shoulders will start to tear up a little bit if you’re hitting tall with bad posture. There’s actually a lot of stretching and soft tissue work involved, like opening up your chest, stretching your chest and your back. There’s a lot involved—stretching, rolling out. It’s kind of a slow progression. It’s a slow process, but it’s coming along.
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How important is flexibility for a player of your size in your sport?
Along with the posture stuff, I really focused on my glutes this year. Just so I can move around and stand a little lower, and be a little more effective because it could be if you’re just a split second faster to the ball, that could be a difference, you know. And the world tour is so deep right now that every single point counts, so if you get the ball a split second quicker, you can make a better play on the ball. I try to stretch after every time we practice, and after every time I’m in the gym. Basically, I have a routine that takes about 10 or 15 minutes or so, and I try to do that every day.
I see you’re a fan of dry needling. How’d that come about?
Yeah, I love it. It’s kind of a hybrid between acupuncture and dry needling. They just find a tight spot in your muscle and drill a needle in through it, and it loosens that knot up right away. You can even stim it and get a little electric flow going through there, and it really loosens up your muscles. I love it. I used to do it once a week when I had patellar tendonitis in my left knee, and it really kind of cleared that up. I’ve been doing it regularly for about three or four years now.
How has your nutrition evolved over your career?
My nutrition early on wasn’t ideal—I mean, I ate a lot of burritos, cereal for breakfast, that sort of thing. You know that’s actually a perfect question, because I just met with a nutritionist in December, and she told me I need 185 grams of protein a day. Which is a lot. So, now I’m taking three protein shakes a day. But even with three protein shakes a day that’s only like, I think it’s 70 grams of protein. So, I still have over 100 grams left to include. That’s why I eat a lot of chicken and fish and stuff like that. And I really like beans, so I eat a lot of beans. For lunch, for example, I’ll just make some bean burritos. A whole can of beans with some protein and cheese and I’ll also put mixed greens in there.
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You’ve always been slim. Has that been a conscious choice or do you just feel like that’s your most athletic body type?
For the longest time I haven’t been able to hold on weight. Like, I’ll go into the season weighing about 200, and after the season I’ll weigh about 190. In 2010, I went all the way down to 182, which is not healthy at all. I was just skin and bones and 6-foot-9, 182 pounds. But after meeting with this nutritionist, I guess I just haven’t consumed enough protein in the past and that’s why I lose a lot of the muscle mass. So, hopefully I can stay on top of the protein shakes and all that, and I can hold on to a little bit of weight. But with that said, in my opinion, the best beach volleyball body is strong legs and a lean upper body. You don’t want to keep too much meat on you. You don’t want to have huge biceps because that’s just holding you down. They do nothing for you on the court, you know? So, you’re jumping over a tournament weekend a lot—I don’t know, 1,000 times or something. So, add a couple extra pounds here and there, on your chest or whatever, and all of a sudden after jump number 500, the extra weight starts to wear on you a little bit.
What’s the biggest misconception about professional beach volleyball players?
I think people see the lifestyle—we’re on the beach all the time. And when you go to a tournament, everyone’s dressed in their bathing suits. But you know, we take it pretty seriously. I can’t remember the last time I was out partying. Part of that’s because I’m 37 with a wife and two kids. But still, I think that’s the biggest misconception. We’re out there trying to take it seriously, you know. On an average week, I’m probably putting about 35 hours of work into it—practicing, working out and stretching and all that good stuff.
You’re currently partnered up with Nick Lucena, but you’ve had success with a number of partners over your career. What makes a good partnership?
The biggest thing for me is chemistry. Like, you can have two really good players and for whatever reason they just don’t play well together. When I first played with Todd Rogers in 2005, his partner had broken a finger so he asked me if I’d play with him. I was like, “yeah, this is a no-brainer.” And I flew the next day to Germany, and I think two days later, the tournament started. So, we got like one practice, and we ended up getting seventh overall. The next year we started playing full-time and we were just naturally good together. I think that goes a long way.
What’s the competition looking like for this season?
The competition is the deepest it’s ever been since I started playing. My first real tournament was in 2004, so I’ve been around a while. In 2006, I was the tallest guy on the tour. Now, I’m not even in the top 10. Players just keep getting bigger, and they’re not just tall goofballs. They’re skilled and they can play some ball. There’s a lot of good players from around the world—Russia, Italy, Spain, Germany, the Dutch are really tall and talented. It’s tough these days on the world tour, but it just makes me better and motivates me to trust my muscles. I’m still a big man out here, you know?
What are your expectations for this season?
The biggest goal would be winning the World Championships. World Championships in our sport is every odd year so 2015, 2017, 2019. So, that’s the biggest goal. Then just win as many tournaments as we can.