Many fans enjoy seeing their favorite athletes under the bright lights and performing on the big stages. It’s easy to be inspired by their greatness, but almost all of them will tell you that the greatness is achieved through the work that is done when no one is watching. Venus Williams is a great example of that statement.
Venus Williams has won seven tennis majors, Olympic gold medals, 49 pro tournaments in her career, and has been the number one ranked tennis player in the world. So, the eyes of the fans and cameras have been on her since her days as a teenager. However, she credits something that takes place away from the court — resting.
“Sleep is the first defense for the immune system,” she said. “If you’re not sleeping, your immune system can be compromised, and that can lead to all sorts of other health issues. So, taking your sleep seriously is extremely important.”
When she and her sister Serena would travel, they wouldn’t choose between sleep and training. They did both, but there was an order that they were ranked.
“When I travel overseas, usually I land in the morning, let’s say in Europe. We’ll land in the morning, and I give myself two hours to sleep,” said Williams. “I set my alarm, then after I wake up, we go onto the court for an hour or so.”
Williams said that they may not be the most energetic sessions, but they’re still productive. She would then go to a gym to get a light workout in. This isn’t just something that she picked up recently, either. This has been a routine that she had followed throughout her entire career.
“I remember the first time we traveled overseas, when we were kids. We missed practices because we couldn’t wake up. That was when we were rookies,” she said. “Ever since that time, we established our own routine that works for us so we can prepare to the best of our ability.”
Williams said that she made naps a regular part of her routine before matches regardless of where the tournament was. She advocates all athletes practice this regardless of whether they’re amateurs or on the world stage.
“It helps me build up my energy storages for the tournament. So, I actually feel more rested, if you can believe that, than if I were home. Maybe I should just play every week so my life is easier,” Williams joked.
Being rested was vital for the Williams sisters’ success during their rise in tennis because they were training and practicing four to five hours a day. Venus said that at the apex it could be as much as eight hours. That time was reduced significantly as Venus entered her 20s. While putting in two to three hours a day was still quite a bit, she felt that reduction helped her in the long run.
“I think that was a key to my longevity,” she explained. She was also honest with faults, such as being too ambitious at times. While she was a big fan of naps, she wasn’t as enamored with complete days off.
Even though she focused on sleeping well, taking rest days was a foreign concept to her until much later on.
“I think I was around 35 when I learned about the concept of rest days. I’m just not the kind of person that can just rest. But I started taking Saturday and Sunday off, and practicing Monday through Friday, or some variation like that, and I found how much stronger I was coming back. It was a powerful lesson, and now I don’t feel bad about taking rest days.”
While Venus Williams appreciates structure, the real world doesn’t always cooperate. With traveling for her sport, business, and other commitments such as promotion of the film based on her family, she does her best to take that time when given the opportunity,
“It may be a random Wednesday or on a Sunday,” she shared. She suggests that other athletes and fitness minded people find a way to take that time off as well because that grace could be beneficial in the long run.
“You should absolutely prioritize the rest, not just for fitness, but life in general. It’s definitely important.”
Williams doesn’t just consider time when it comes to recovery and rest, but she based her nutrition around it as well. Intermittent fasting has become a hot button topic of discussion in recent years. Williams found that following such a plan has helped her maximize recovery so she performs at optimal levels on and off the court.
“I fast every day from 12 to 16 hours, occasionally a little longer, but not often,” she revealed. “I like to end the day with a protein shake, a bread I like, and a gut drink that I have to heal my gut. It keeps it in optimum form. I mix it with cranberries and a pomegranate, and I enjoy it. I end all that with a probiotic.”
This actually serves two purposes for the five-time Wimbledon champion. Not only does it help her sleep and recover, it helps her preserve her hard-earned muscle as well. She trains at least five times a day to maintain her shape and strength.
“I can’t lose my muscle,” she stated emphatically. “I’m an ectomorph, thin and tall, lanky, and my body wants to be that way. I can’t let that muscle go.”
Like her training, Venus Williams also has a nighttime routine that involves listening to music so she can sleep better. While her routine may not be for everyone, she feels that having one of your own can be a factor in maximizing rest and recovery.
“After a few nights of consistency, I feel it can build up your energy,” explained Williams. “That can help to get up earlier and perform better.”
She also feels that what you’re sleeping on matters as well. That’s why she has partnered with GhostBed to create the Legend mattress. The medium firmness mattress has a mineral infused gel and has three levels of cooling. Williams said this bed was designed for the purpose of maximizing recovery so the person sleeping on it can operate to their fullest potential the next day.
“This mattress is all about recovery, which is vital for me. Whether it’s life or activities, we all still need to recover. This is a great way to recover from a long and strenuous day. I would’ve loved to have had this kind of technology ten years ago.”
At the end of the day, Williams preaches that recovery is a direct correlation to overall health, and she hopes that more people will use a methodical strategy both now and into the future.
“If they’re not taking recovery seriously, they’re not taking their overall health seriously.”