This Is Exactly What Serena Williams Does to Get So Damn Fast
She may not have won the U.S. Open (that honor goes to Angelique Kerber this year), but Serena Williams is still the Queen of the Court-and she's smashing records day in and day out. Including the one when she became the player with the most Grand Slam victories, and the time she had a record-tying run of 186 consecutive weeks in the top spot of the World Tennis Association (WTA) rankings (German icon Steffi Graf also holds the record).
And while we watch her move across that court, of course, we notice her killer outfits (girl has got style) and powerful backhand. But what really catches our eye? Her speed. She's one of the fastest-moving tennis players, but that doesn't mean those of us who don't play tennis can't take a cue from her training. So we caught up with her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, at a recent event for Maui Jim sunglasses to find out just what she does so we can steal her speedy secrets. Here's what we learned.
Focus less on distance
If you want to go fast, you want to focus on that-not on how far you're going fast for. Otherwise, you won't be able to ramp up the speed quite as high. Since Serena doesn't have to go very far on the courts-15 meters max, says Mouratoglou-he has her sprint 50 meters (or about the width of a football field) at a time. That way she'll definitely be prepared for the lesser distance, but she's not going so far that she has to keep some gas in the tank.
There's one clear downside to sprinting-you only move in one direction. That's why Mouratoglou is adamant about Serena mixing up her moves. "This sport is all about speed and changing direction because you have to do both all the time," he says. And since you never know where exactly your opponent is going to deliver the ball, Mouratoglou often disguises where Serena will have to run during sprints. "I'll have her do technical runs side to side, and randomly determine where she's going to run," he explains. "We can make an exercise where she has to run right, right, left, right, left, left, right, left. Something like that, but she'll go when I signal and they're not in the same time intervals so she doesn't know when it's going to happen." If he wants to focus solely on speed, then Mouratoglou will have her run through a drill like this without the ball. If it's more about technique, add the ball in for added difficulty.
Get your lift on
If you want to move faster, then you need to add strength training to your regimen, says Mouratoglou. And science backs him up: Research shows that those who lift are able to run faster for longer. Since tennis requires a lot of lateral movements, it's imperative that Serena protects her knees. Her play in the semifinals of the U.S. Open is proof-it's the match she ended up losing in, and it was clear she was suffering from a left knee injury, which resulted in Mouratoglou telling reporters he couldn't remember ever seeing her move so slow.
To help keep her knees healthy, Mouratoglou says they focus on simple exercises that strengthen all the muscles surrounding the knee joint (quads, hamstrings, hips, and calves). He also likes to hone in on the patella, or the kneecap, "because obviously it moves and you don't want it to move too much-you want to keep it under control." Serena's top strengthener? Leg extensions. Mouratoglou says she'll do them either on a machine with weight or alone pushing against some form of resistance (like a resistance band). "It's very simple, but it's very effective and it really works," he says.
Another reason to focus on knee strength? Knee injuries are one of the top-ranked athletic injuries for females, and researchers have found that women are more susceptible to them than men (blame hormones and the way our bodies are built). Here's how to keep yours in tip-top shape.
Balance, balance, balance
It may not seem obvious, but a major factor behind Serena's speed is her balance. "When you need to hit your shot you need to be as balanced as possible while still moving incredibly fast," he explains. In other words, by the time you plant your feet, you don't want to feel wobbly or unstable, as that decreases the amount of force you'll be able to deliver to the ball. The same applies to other sports. In running, for example, you need to be balanced in order to propel yourself forward quickly and nab that 5K PR. It's why many women struggle with running while pregnant-your balance and center of gravity is thrown off.
To keep her balance on par, Mouratoglou says they often incorporate tennis-playing drills into her speedwork, as that forces her to engage the muscles that allow her to balance while still focusing on her sport of choice. Drills like drop shots-where you sprint to the front of the net, get low, and make your return-are a key part of Serena's routine.