The difference between playing indoor volleyball and beach volleyball is an accelerated heart rate of 175 beats per minute (a normal, resting heart rate is 60-100 beats per minute), Alix Klineman, who earned a coveted spot on the U.S. beach volleyball team, tells me over the phone. The 31-year-old knows this because when she made the switch to playing the sport outdoors professionally more than four years ago, her body subsequently panicked.
“I totally underestimated just how much exertion it takes to play beach volleyball,” Klineman, who’s competing in Tokyo at her first Summer Olympics, tells Bustle. “I came from playing indoor volleyball, and on paper it seems pretty similar, but I think the sports are more different than people realize.”
Klineman says she was out of breath for a majority of the games she played for her first two years. It wasn’t until she started listening to her body and working with the right coaches that they figured out a training plan that suited her specifically. “I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all approach to fitness,” says Klineman. “My body is just not an average body, and I don’t think anybody’s body is completely standard. I’ve constantly tried to work out how everyone else works out and I’m very tall and long and lean and it was putting a lot of stress on me.”
Now that Klineman finally has her training schedule down, she’s gearing up for Tokyo with her volleyball partner April Ross. If Klineman and Ross win this year, they’ll become only the second U.S. women’s duo in history to win an Olympic beach volleyball title. (No pressure.)
Below, the Olympics rookie shares her self-care habits, how she recovers, and the meal she’d love to get her hands on once the games are over.
What does a typical training day look like for you?
Most days include a two-hour practice. I’ll lift for an hour and a half and then I’ll go to this one place for physical therapy, but it’s more like mobility, range-of-motion, chiropractor stuff. We have a video session where we watch a video of our practice, dissect what’s going on, what’s good, what’s bad. Then I’ll have a planning meeting with the team and [international volleyball] federation.
Is there a workout that you do daily or weekly that never feels easier, no matter how often you do it?
One trainer I go to makes me do CARs (controlled articular rotations). It’s [a series of] mobility exercises, and I am never good at them. It’s never like, Oh I’ve done this so much, now it’s easy. It’s just one of those exercises that is so annoying.
Wow, that sounds tough. Tell me about recovery — do you have a routine?
When we finish a game and we go back to our hotel room, we get on our beds and place our feet up on the wall. It lets everything drain out of your legs and gives you a really good head start on letting your legs recover.
We wear Normatec recovery pants that basically fill up with air to the point where the pressure is really tight and cycles through the bottom part of your leg up to the top, flushing your legs with oxygen. We started traveling with them a few months ago, and it’s such a game-changer.
On the flip side, how do you get pumped up before a game?
I do some visualization, which has been really powerful. I visualize myself in my body, so instead of looking at myself from another perspective, I see myself on the court, going through different skills and doing them really well. It’s like this positive reinforcement of knowing what it feels like, looks like, and how to execute it at a really high level. Some studies show even if you don’t practice and you just visualize every day, your body is able to do that thing even better. There’s a really powerful connection between body and mind, which I think a lot of people don’t realize.
What about beauty? Do you have any favorite skin care or beauty products for when you compete?
Shiseido Suncare is one of our go-tos. Off the court, I love Marie Veronique for skin care. I’ve battled hormonal acne on and off in my adult life, and the founder of that company is a former chemist and wrote a book on acne that really changed my approach to skin care. After using her products for three months, my skin was clear — and this was a summer after having some of the worst skin I’ve had in years.
Plus, adults are usually left out of the acne conversation entirely, right?
Totally. There’s normal acne as a teenager, but there’s this whole other acne that’s from inflammation and hormonal imbalances, and information on that’s not quite as readily available.
I know how it feels to have bad skin, and that feeling sucks. You feel like everyone is staring at you and you don’t feel good about yourself. I really empathize with people who have skin conditions.
It must be hot out there. How do you stay hydrated before you compete?
I’m not someone who naturally guzzles water, and once I switched to beach volleyball I realized I wasn’t drinking nearly enough. I sweat a lot too, so not only was I not drinking enough water, but I was losing all it when I was playing. I felt so awful the first few months I started playing beach volleyball — it was taxing on the body. I finally learned that when we go to tournaments, two to three days before, we have to start going crazy with hydration, which means having electrolytes twice a day and drinking a ton of water. I’d say it’s about 10 bottles of water per day.
Now that the games are here, what will be your first post-Olympics meal?
I always crave In-N-Out — it feels like the most yummy meal. That, and a full-on Italian meal with pasta, wine, and all the different courses. My weakness is really good Italian food.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
To learn more about Team USA, visit TeamUSA.org. The Tokyo Olympics begin July 23rd on NBC.