Sam Stosur, a USANA Brand Ambassador and one of the fittest players on the WTA, talks to Mark Hodgkinson about training blocks, rest and recovery and more...
WTA Staff

Topping up is how Sam Stosur describes it. While much is made of how tennis players prime their bodies during the off-season - and Stosur has been known to box, swim, and run up hills and sand dunes to help improve her strength and conditioning - there's also a need for in-season training. There are times during the season when, rather than gripping and swinging a tennis racquet, the Australian will be wearing boxing gloves.

If a pre-season boot camp is about players giving themselves a base for the year ahead, they must also apply themselves almost every week of the calendar. "It's very important to keep your training going throughout the year," said Stosur, a former US Open champion and French Open finalist, who is universally regarded as one of the WTA's fittest players. "During the season, you're maintaining your fitness rather than trying to make big improvements. The goal during the year is obviously to play lots of matches, and the more matches you play the less training you have to do. But you need to stay fit for 11 months of the year, so you need to do work off the court during the season to keep your fitness levels high."

The speed and the power on the WTA is such that you can sometimes wonder whether you are watching a video game, and with the sport becoming ever more physical there's an even greater need for players to be in excellent shape if they want to contend for titles throughout the year.

"It's definitely a more physical game now. The girls have gotten faster, and hit the ball harder, and generally they move better, so you need to be in shape," said Stosur, an ambassador for USANA Health Sciences. "I like to play aggressively, so I need to be explosive and powerful for each point. I need to be fit enough to play like that for one or two hours or even longer, depending on the length of a match."

The greatest difference between off-season and in-season training, Stosur said, is the volume of the work you're doing. "At the start of the pre-season, for the first couple of weeks, I'm doing two fitness sessions a day, and those pre-season sessions are a bit longer than the ones I would do during the season. The work I do during the off-season is a bit more physically demanding than what I would do during tournaments or during a week between tournaments," said Stosur. "So you might have a week off during the season, but then you're practicing and getting ready for a tournament the next week. You're probably just doing one fitness session a day, and you're condensing what you might do during the off-season."

Another difference is that, during the season, "you're probably doing something specific, but during the close-season, you're building up everything and getting a base. During the season, it's about maintaining that and topping up here and there, rather than really grinding it out."

A typical in-season training day for Stosur would involve an hour or two of tennis. "And if I've got maybe three days before I play a match, I'll do a gym session to work on my strength. Or a cardio session, but otherwise a lot of rehab and prehab kind of exercises. So not so physically demanding but you're looking after your shoulders and hips and your glutes, and staying on top of things. You've also got to think about nutrition and being healthy, and having your USANA products on board always helps you to stay healthy. I try to have a massage about once a week. I'm with a physio pretty much every day, unfortunately, but a bit of soft tissue work keeps you going."

During the year, Stosur will schedule the occasional training block; she tends to do one after Wimbledon each summer, which can be as long as a fortnight, and then a week here or there over the course of the season, depending on her results.

While players have to push themselves - and no one can doubt Stosur's work ethic - rest and recovery is also required. "You have to take days off as otherwise you're going to be wrecked," said Stosur, who recently turned 30. "Rest can be overlooked a lot, especially when you're younger. You don't have a day off for weeks on end, and then you break down and you get injured. Sometimes it's just as important to be resting and recovering as to be training. So get in the pool, or if there's a beach nearby, get in the water. You've got to have your days off. During a training week, I'll always try to have at least one day off, and try not to make that a travel day, as ideally you don't want to be travelling on your day off. As you get older you get better at knowing how much training you need to do. You learn that you don't have to do hours and hours and hours on end. You need some time off as well."

Mark Hodgkinson is a tennis journalist and author based in London. He is currently working with Bloomsbury on 'The Secrets of The Locker Room', which will be published next year.