Sam chats health and fitness
The tennis season is over and most players are getting stuck into their preparations for 2016.
Sam Stosur is one of them.
The Aussie has begun her off-season training and is currently working at Melbourne Park’s National Tennis Centre ahead of her first event next year at the Brisbane International.
Frequently lauded as one of the fittest athletes in the game, Stosur rarely fades physically in matches and has remained relatively free of injury since establishing herself among the sport’s upper echelons back in 2009.
We spoke to her about her health, fitness and training regime during the US Open, incidentally a time when players were suffering physically in the brutal summer heat of New York.
Yet while others wilted, Stosur wasn’t affected. “It was fine – I was practicing in Tampa last week and it was way worse than what it was today, so hopefully, touch wood, that won’t be an issue for me,” she said at the time.
Check out the full interview with Sam below.
Q: Physical fitness is a huge focus of your game and you’re widely credited as one of the fittest players on tour – at what point in your career did you realise that it was such an important thing to focus on?
A: Probably I guess as I got older. Compared to now what some of the younger players are doing, travelling with fitness trainers while they’re still teenagers (laughter) that was certainly not anywhere on my radar when I was that age. I’d say probably eight or nine years ago I realised it was something that I needed to get better at, really started doing proper pre-seasons and training and having certainly more of an idea of what I should be doing and getting the help of others to be able to achieve that.
Why did that become a realisation for you? What was the motivation behind getting fitter?
Basically just trying to be more professional in what I was doing. By that stage I’d been on tour for a little bit and you kind of watch and see what’s going on. I’m sure there were probably a few matches that were happening at that point in time where I was like, OK what can I do to get better and get through those matches? And I think fitness and the way I was playing, they needed to marry up together and that’s what I tried to do.
Was there someone who offered to work with you or who said ‘Sam, if you want to go to the next level you need to do this more’, or was it something that came from within?
I don’t actually remember that happening. I mean I’m sure talked to a few people, but I don’t specifically remember a conversation where it was like, the penny dropped and I realised, woah, OK, I’ve gotta do this, or anything like that.
What’s the current balance for you between working on court training for tennis, and then doing the off-court, gym, workout stuff? And how much do you devote to the two?
Definitely more on-court and tennis-specific training. Probably the last few years as I’ve gotten older you start to learn what works for you and what doesn’t work for you, and how much training is good and what you need, and how much is going to be a detriment. I generally stick to one tennis session a day, whether that’s one-and-a-half to two hours, sometimes it might go a little longer, but I’d rather get all my tennis done in one session rather than hitting one hour in the morning, one hour in the afternoon. You’re getting the same amount of volume but I’d rather have it together, then you get more rest and recovery time. The off-court stuff, it always varies. I did a strength session twice this week in the gym, but that was the first two times this month – it all depends on how many matches you’re playing and that kind of thing to (determine) how much I’m in the gym doing strength. I’m sure people think I’m in the gym doing weights every couple of days, which is just not true (smiling) – there’s no way. A lot of my cardio fitness I do on a bike. I’ve just started working with Stefano (Barsacchi) from Tennis Australia, so now I’m doing some different stuff with him; he’s been training Dasha (Daria Gavrilova) and he’s on the road a lot. So now I’m kind of doing a bit more stuff with him which is interesting. Narelle (Sibte) was always helping me but on the road she couldn’t be there so now it’s a little bit different training, and yeah, it’s good.
Is Narelle still involved?
No. Stef’s gonna be travelling with Dasha and everything else so I’m just kind of slipping in there (laughter).
You said you shouldn’t do too much training – that there’s an ideal volume and then you can over-train. So how many hours a day would you cap it at? Combined, on court and off court work?
I don’t necessarily cap it. Like last week in Tampa I was doing a minimum of three hours, and sometimes four or four-and-a-half. And then you add your physio time and a massage and all that and it’s a full time job (laughter).
Maybe we could look at that – in a day like in Tampa, where you’re not actually in a competition week but are in a training block, what would your day typically look like? What time would you get up, how would you structure the day, and how do you feel at the end of it?
Adding the fact that it was over 30 degrees and like 100 per cent humidity, so you’re just dead … So I was there five days. Two of those days I hit two hours in the morning, 9-11am, then did another session in the afternoon, around 3 or 4pm, for an hour and 15 minutes on court. One of those days I went to the gym as well. And then the other two days I hit once for two hours and then did either a strength or a cardio kind of session in there. Had massage. But again, they’re hard conditions. That’s the max I’d wanna do before it becomes stupid (laughter).
So it ends up looking like, with all that stuff taken into account, you’re starting at nine and might be finishing at 5. It’s like a day in the office.
Oh easily, yeah.
So how do you pull up after a day like that? Do you just zonk out and go straight to sleep?
I put myself to bed twice before 9.30pm. And I never go to bed at that time (laughter). So yeah, I was done. I didn’t wanna do anything.
So how does it change when you come into a competition week like the US Open? You wouldn’t obviously do that much intense stuff. How do you structure it during a tournament week?
Yesterday I hit with Dasha for an hour and 45 minutes in one go and then I did about 45 mintes of fitness work in the afternoon, and physio. And that was it. So I mean that’s a pretty light day compared to what I’ve been doing. Today I’m hitting for two hours and then just doing a 30-minute warm-up. So that’s two-and-a-half hours of physical activity but again, all in one chunk. And probably from tomorrow, it’s quite hard to get courts. That’s the other thing at tournaments – you have to fight for practice times as well, so at the moment I’ve got one hour booked, and that’s it.
So the purpose of it being lighter training is to keep you as physically fresh as you can be for when the matches come around?
Yeah, and I think if you’re trying to cram in hours and hours of practice the day before your match, you probably should’ve been doing something different beforehand (laughter) … all the really hard work should be done by now, and now it’s just kind of topping up. You just want to feel like you’re hitting the ball well and confident with what’s going on there. Not trying to improve my fitness or strength or anything right now – that should be done. So it’s maintaining what you’ve got right now.
We know that you love the fitness side of your career – what are some of your favourite exercises or activities?
I don’t know. When I was with Narelle we did boxing in the pre-season and I really enjoyed that. She was really great at mixing up all sorts of activities and things you wouldn’t think necessarily relate to tennis but you can get something out of them. Plus I like to mix things up a little bit, I get a little bit bored. I’ve gone through a whole heap of stuff but more recently I’ve probably been on the bike a bit and doing different intervals and now I’m doing all different footwork stuff with Stefano …
What do you think of all that footwork stuff?
I actually find that quite hard, because it’s the stuff I don’t really like as much (laughter). For me it’s easier to go to the gym and do your gym program, or get on the bike and do the session. No matter how hard it is I find that a lot easier, whereas the stuff with him I find more challenging so … it’s probably a good thing for me but it’s maybe why I’ve kind of steered clear of it for a little while too.
Is there an exercise you don’t like?
Footwork drills (laughter). Doing stuff on court without a racquet, or that kind of stuff. Agility stuff is probably the stuff I don’t like the most, but I know you have to do it.
You talked about the variation – how important is that? Obviously staving off boredom is one thing, but as an athlete, what does that variation offer?
When I was at school and I was younger, I played every sport there was at school. I never wanted to pay to play tennis on the tennis team or anything like that. I wanted to be involved in anything else. And I think that made me a better all-round athlete. I think it’s good for lots of things and that’s why I think that, and going down another track here, I think especially when you’re young I think it’s good to still be involved in all sorts of things to be that well-rounded athlete. And I think that can only help with tennis. So I think that’s why I enjoy doing all sorts of different things because it’s something that I’ve always done, and it’s just fun. I like it. Sports day at school was the best day of the year and I could do everything … even if I wasn’t good at it I still wanted to be in every single event.
Focusing on the nutrition side – how important is that? You do all that off-court work and you’re very healthy in that respect, but is there as much attention on eating the best you can, good nutrition, and kind of getting the most out of that side?
Yeah, I think that does play a big part. You’ve got to be healthy and get everything you need, it goes without saying …
But to the level of Djokovic? He’s so famous for being militant about his approach to nutrition …
No, I’m not like that. No. (laughter) I’m not into any of those fancy, gluten-free diets or any of that. So I don’t follow a diet or any sort of regime. I know what’s better for me, and what’s bad for me and you try and stay away from the bad stuff as much as possible. But I’ve always believed if you try and say “I’m never going to eat this again” or “I’m not going to eat it for this long” then that’s all you’re going to want to do …
You’re setting yourself up to fail that way.
Yeah. Exactly. I think you’ve got to have a good balance. I still want to enjoy it. I love going out to good restaurants and eating food. So I’m not going to deprive myself of that. But I know the night before a match I should be having something healthy. So just more common sense for me. I mean, each to their own, that’s fine. But I’d like to think that what I’m doing is not terrible for my tennis. I’ve also been taking USANA vitamins for years and find they help to boost whatever might be lacking in my diet, which can sometimes be an issue given I’m constantly travelling the world and always eating out.
So what do you really love to eat?
I get really into different things and then I just kill it for ages and I don’t want it again (laughter). At the moment my thing is avocado toast. There’s this place in Tampa that I went to every day and had at least one avocado toast, sometimes two a day, whether it was breakfast or lunch. It didn’t really matter.