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The Fitness and Food Behind Serena Williams’ Success

By Jennifer Hassan in Tennis
| September 28, 2020 5:26 am PDT
Serena Williams' Fitness & Nutrition Habits

If there’s one word you can use to describe Serena Williams’ tennis career, it’s “longevity.” Over the past two decades, Serena has taken the Wimbledon title seven times in ladies’ singles. She’s won the U.S. Open six times, the Australian Open seven times, and taken many other titles as well.

Consistent wins, year after year, are not the product of chance. Wins are the product of habits and determination, putting in the time, and never letting excuses dictate your present and your future.

Here are the building blocks of Serena’s success. They are available to everyone. At least, they are available to everyone who has a goal, laser-sharp focus, and an intense curiosity to see just how good at something they can become.

Let’s dive into Serena Williams’ fitness and nutrition habits.

Serena Williams’ Physical Fitness

Cardio is the platform upon which Williams builds her daily workouts. She may start with swimming or Zumba…anything to get her heart rate up, her blood pumping, and her muscles warmed up.

Then it’s on to muscle training. Serena uses a Swiss ball to engage her core with rolling knee tucks. She also does planks for arm strength, ab strength, and core stability. In addition, she uses a resistance band to strengthen her knees.

If all this sounds a little too lax for a top performer, just wait. There’s more. Serena moves on to squats…but not just ordinary squats, the kind that has most people huffing and puffing. She ups the game by doing her squats with a barbell.

Williams, considered the best women’s player of all time, has confessed that she doesn’t love the gym but does what’s needed to avoid injury.

Serena’s Nutrition Choices

As we know, some foods can boost us to have our best day, and other foods (ironically, the ones known as “comfort foods”) leave us feeling sluggish and uncomfortable. Non-athletes can make their food choices casually, eating whatever is in the fridge or splurging on pizza and ice cream on a Friday night.

Elite athletes don’t have this freedom. Football player Tom Brady’s diet is mostly vegan, as are those of a number of other NFL stars. Soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo’s fitness habits include avoiding oil and salt in his food, and he drinks only juice and water. The juice he drinks very sparingly, one glass per day.

Like Brady, Serena Williams has gone mostly vegan. She starts her day with fruit and oats and eats plenty of brown rice and vegetables later in the day. There are occasional treats, of course, in the form of a victory pizza or fried chicken, but she tries to keep her “everyday” diet pure and healthy.

Keep It Clean, Lady

Her clean diet may explain why she was able to bounce right back into the top of the tennis ranks after having a baby and dealing with some of the postpartum issues that new mothers can struggle with.

So that’s food. Now, as far as liquids go, Serena has announced that she drinks a gallon of water every day, in season and out. This habit reportedly boosts her energy, as does her uncompromising eight hours of nightly slumber.

The commitment to a solid night’s sleep is something that Serena shares with Cristiano Ronaldo, who not only insists on eight hours a night but also naps during the day. There must be something to it because these two athletes are at the pinnacle of success in their respective sports.

Mental Fitness

Tennis is one of the sports that is toughest on the psyche. Unlike football, where players play half their games in their home stadium and enjoy plenty of time at home with their families, tennis players are almost exclusively on the road.

Hotel rooms, restaurant chains, and airport lobbies become more familiar than one’s own bedroom. If you don’t have a built-in way to deal with these ever-changing variables and still remember who you are and why you play and why you are determined to win, then the lifestyle can eat you up from the outside in.

It’s Her Greatest Strength

Williams has said that her number one tennis strength is her mental toughness, or, as she calls it, what’s going on “upstairs.” This isn’t a stat that you can look up on your way to the tennis sportsbook, but it might carry more weight than mere numbers.

She “tunes out” as much as she can, given her hectic schedule. In addition to tennis, she runs two other companies. “Tuning out” can mean meditation or just vegging on the couch—whatever distracts her from her usually intense focus.

Now that she’s a mom, tuning out can simply mean in-the-moment playtime with her daughter. Whatever it takes to get a mental refresh can qualify.

Visualize for the Win

You’ve heard it before: the top athletes use visualization to perfect their game, deal with problems before they occur in the real world, and to stay focused and strong.

Serena states in her master class that her dad convinced her at a young age that tennis is 70% mental. Thus, she’s always had reason to focus on her brain game.

Serena has told Tennis World that in her visualization practice, she sees a type of “fantasy world.” She simply continues to visualize a situation how she wants it until it works out that way in the physical world.

If you think this is “woo woo,” then you should know that winning NFL quarterback Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks doesn’t just visualize, but he goes a step farther and sees a mind coach once weekly. The mind game is no joke, and it seems to be the delineating factor between “very good” and “superstar.”

But Behind the Food and Fitness…

No one wakes up early and goes through grueling physical workouts while following a strict diet unless one is motivated. I take that back. This is precisely what people do from about January 1st to January 11th.

But to keep it up full time is required to become an elite athlete. It’s also required to maintain “world’s best” status, year after year, decade after decade. This means a strong and unwavering motivation needs to be the work behind the work.

First, Family

For Williams, the motivation comes from a number of sources. First, she plays her best to thank her family for their continued guidance and support. They were the first ones to believe in her, and they continue to do so. The Williams are a close family and one that keeps her desire to be on the leaderboard strong.

Next, Joy

Williams has admitted that it was only after taking time off due to illness that she began to play with joy, rather than remaining focused on the competition. She said that she doesn’t need to play, because she has everything—the titles and the money and the fame—that tennis triumphs can offer. Instead, now she plays for sheer love of the game.

Loving a sport is what gets overweight golfers out of bed at five a.m. It gets Olympic equestrians to the stables before sunrise. And we all know what lengths fishermen will go to in order to get out on the water bright and early. Surfers are up before dawn.

Thus, Serena’s sheer enjoyment of the sport of tennis may keep her at the top of the world rankings for years to come. Only time will tell, but I suspect she has a lot of fight left in her.

And Finally, the “Oh Yeah?” Factor

Serena has acknowledged that she’s felt tired before, and less than motivated. Until, that is, someone says she can’t do it. Then it’s “all systems go.”

It seems that all it takes is a bit of “She’s through” to get Serena right into another international round of wins, prize money, endorsements, etc. She really should get into an endorsement deal with Energizer batteries because the Energizer bunny has nothing on Serena.

A Final Word…

There is no one “secret” to success. It’s just making the most out of a number of factors: balancing movement and rest, aggression and peace, friends and a training schedule, tightening one’s grip and letting go.

Serena seems to have honed her outlook, body, mind, and life into something that’s balanced, joyous, and (most importantly) workable on a daily basis, even when she’s on the road.

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