This is an extended version of a story that appears in ESPN The Magazine's May 26 Transactions Issue. Subscribe today!
WITHIN THE WORLD of women's tennis, Australian Sam Stosur, 30, is known for her killer serves as well as her killer biceps. A former world No. 1 in doubles, Stosur transitioned to singles in 2009. She reached the French Open final the following year, then became the US Open champion in 2011. Now 16 years into her pro career, Stosur is ranked 19th in the world as she prepares for the French Open, which begins May 25 at Roland-Garros. But before she takes to the clay, she spoke about her daily total-body workouts, the downside of having sculpted shoulders and, oh, those arms.
Amy Brachmann: What was your body like growing up?
Sam Stosur: As a kid, I was a more on the skinny side. At 19 or 20, my muscles started to develop. I think it was just all part of growing up. The puppy fat kind of goes away. I increased the amount I was training, but a lot of it just came from doing what I was already doing every day. I started working with a fitness trainer properly for the first time, and I became a lot more involved in my daily routine. But it was all designed to make me a better tennis player, not to be anything else. In the last seven or eight years, I've been really into my off-court stuff, and now I'm as fit as I've ever been.
Brachmann: Why is a strong upper body essential to playing tennis?
Stosur: My upper body has to be strong to hit my twist serve. It helps me get good rotation. That strength is probably why a few other players and I can do it well, and why some of the guys serve better than many of the women do. But I don't spend that much time lifting weights. I never do biceps curls, and I very rarely do bench presses.
Brachmann: What is your workout regimen like?
Stosur: If I'm not in a tournament, I get into the gym for a weight session every other day, for a maximum of three times a week. I don't do any heavy gym stuff the day or two before a tournament, or during the event. Each session is head to toe. And I change my program every couple of months or so. One of the hardest parts for someone who's been training for a long time like I have is coming up with new exercises so I don't get bored.
Brachmann: What are some of the exercises you do?
Stosur: Push press, dumbbell fly, seated row, exercises like rotations and raises for the rotator cuff and for the little muscles inside your shoulders. I also do boxing sessions and swimming. I'm not a great swimmer, but I'm getting better. I can swim laps and it's a good workout for me. I only take one day off a week. I do at least one session a day, sometimes two if I'm not practicing on the court.
Brachmann: How has your training regimen evolved over your career?
Stosur: I don't think it has changed that much, but I'm a lot more in tune with what works for me, what exercises are good and bad. I've worked with a couple of different trainers, and you pick up good things from everyone you work with and start to realize what really matters and what's a bit fluffy. I don't like the kettlebell phase that everyone's going through. I don't really get it. I don't mind all the balancing stuff -- those exercises are quite good. But kettlebells? Not into that.
Brachmann: How strict are you about your diet?
Stosur: I pretty much eat anything. As a tennis player who travels the world, you have to be OK with eating lots of different types of food. When I was younger, I wasn't into Japanese food or sushi, or even tomatoes. I was a bit fussy, but since I've grown up I'll pretty much eat anything. At tournaments, you're kind of at the mercy of what they put out for you, but they usually have pasta, chicken or some sort of meat and salad as prematch food. For me, it's more about well-rounded eating than saying "I'm not going to eat this at all" or "I'm going to eat more of that." You want to eat as healthy as you can, but that's not always possible when you're out at restaurants. I'm sensible with what I eat -- I don't eat french fries every day, but I'm not too strict. I don't only eat chicken or fish or anything like that. I really like milk chocolate and white chocolate, and I do like the ol' french fries. But I try to pick and choose.
Brachmann: What do people say to you about your arms?
Stosur: Ladies in the gym will be like, "Sheesh! How do you get those arms?" It's always about my arms and how I got them. But there's really no secret. I work out in the gym, and I've hit millions and millions of tennis balls in my lifetime, so I guess I'm lucky that they've gone that way. Honestly, I think just playing the amount of tennis I've played in my life is the biggest contributor. So I just say, Keep working hard and doing all your exercises.
Brachmann: What do you like and dislike about your body?
Stosur: I like that it works for me, it's functional and it allows me to play the way I play. The negative about having arms and shoulders like I do is you don't always look nice in a formal dress. If I go to an awards thing or black tie, I have to be careful I don't look massive. That's probably the thing I find hardest -- to be dressed up nicely and not look like I have big shoulders and arms. Other than that, I don't have any complaints or worries.
Brachmann: What is your favorite thing about your body?
Stosur: Probably my arms and my stomach. I've strained my stomach a few times, so I'm always trying to make sure I'm strong in that area, mostly for my serve. The way I hit it, I arch my back, and that puts a fair bit of strain on my back and stomach, so I try to do a lot of exercises to really stretch and strengthen the muscles, a lot of things off the bench or Swiss ball.
Brachmann: What do you want readers to know about your body?
Stosur: That I don't do biceps curls -- I don't think anybody would know that. I don't focus on any particular part more than others. For me, it's got to be all proportionate. For tennis, I have to have strong legs to be able to move and hit the ball, so I don't focus just on my upper body. Whenever I go to the gym, it's an all-around workout, but typically my gym workouts don't go more than 45 minutes to an hour, and I get everything done. So you don't have to be there all day if you don't want to be. You can be in and out in an hour.