What It's Like To Work Out With Venus Williams


The lowdown on what Williams eats, drinks, and thinks about while training. (PHOTO: MIKE FREY / BPI / REX SHUTTERSTOCK)

I made a point of downing a large iced coffee before heading to TITLE Boxing Club early this morning, because when you’re invited to sweat alongside a four-time Olympic medalist and three-time World No. 1 singles tennis player, you show up with some energy. Although I was still waking up, I mustered moves resembling squats, push-ups, and punches among a group of fellow Venus fans while the super-athlete looked predictably poised through the class, which was organized by ClassPass and Jamba Juice. Afterwards, Williams answered questions on everything from her favorite pre-match snacks to her most hated exercise and what it’s like to compete against her sister Serena, the current World No. 1 player in singles.

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What do you eat before competing?
“Before a match, I try to do a combination of carbs and protein so I have sustaining energy. It depends on how I feel — [sometimes] I eat beans and rice…this past weekend at Wimbledon, I just wanted to have potatoes. It was weird. I had potatoes [with] salt and pepper before a match, and maybe a banana. Hydration is important. It’s so embarrassing to get cramps on the court. You just feel unprofessional, y'know?”

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What’s the one exercise you know you need to do for your sport but that you hate?
“I would say running. I used to love to run but now, no — I wish!”

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You’ve talked about how you adopted a kind of flexible veganism to feel better after you were diagnosed with the autoimmune disorder Sjögren’s syndrome — where are you at with that?
“I definitely believe in [veganism]. I’m actually taking this nutrition class, so I’ve been learning about what to eat to feel more normal…I make a lot of mistakes, but we all do!

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"You have to do whatever you can to be at your best and I want to be at my best all the time. I think [veganism] is a great lifestyle, but really you have to choose the life that’s best for you and your body type. There’s so many different theories out there so I think that once you try a bunch of things you start settling on, "Oh, this is the one that’s best for me.’”

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What’s your favorite non-tennis workout?
“I tried dancing recently and I love it. I love it and I stay on beat, so my style is to the beat. It’s the one thing I care about [other than tennis]. Because I care so much about tennis — of course I care about other things, too — but when I’m, like, bowling , it’s almost like I roll [the ball] and look the other way. I don’t want to have to put in that much effort to be good. Dancing’s the only thing that I screw up and get mad.”

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You’ve done so much to fight for equal pay for women in tennis and so many now reap the benefits of that fight. What are your hopes for the future of women in sports?
“My vision for the future: Tennis has done so well for women and to see some of the emerging sports do well [for women] — sports like basketball or soccer. So many different sports that are young — to see them grow into a sport like women’s tennis, it’s absolutely possible. We just need time and people involved who care. In tennis, we had Billie Jean King, she really fought a fight for us."

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Are there ever days when you don’t want to play? And if so, how do you motivate yourself?
“It’s not so much that I don’t want to play, it’s that I want to stay in bed [laughs]! Everybody wants to just watch Court TV in the morning, you know? [My motivation is that] I just get anxiety, because if I don’t do the work, I feel it [later].”

Who is your favorite person to play?
“Whichever person I’m beating at that moment! It’s hard to go ‘I love playing so-and-so’ — you never know because one time you could be beating somebody and they go off and they get mad, and the next match you’re like 'Where did this Incredible Hulk come from? I don’t know you, I’ve never seen you play like this!’”

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Is it hard to maintain a good relationship with your sister when you’re pitted against her so often on the court?
“No. Not at all! I mean, I get along with everyone, everyone…It’s just kind of like you go to work, it’s a sport. Sometimes you have a tough match — sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. You come back to fight another day.”

You’ve accomplished so much — how do you keep your fire stoked?
“For me, I feel like I have a lot to give. So if it was every day [that] I felt like I had nothing left, then it would be easy to walk away. But now, I still have a lot.”

By Hayley Macmillen

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