Kerri Walsh Jennings is the Michael Jordan of beach volleyball. Like MJ, the towering 6-foot-3 California native is considered by many to be her sport's greatest player of all time. As if her back-to-back-to-back Olympic gold medals have not already confirmed this opinion, Walsh Jennings recently scored her 67th career victory on the AVP tour, setting a new record for wins by a woman—she had previously been tied with her long-time partner, Misty May-Treanor.
May-Treanor retired after the 2012 London Games, but Walsh Jennings has continued on a different track—the 400-meter one. With support from ASICS, her new sponsor, she is incorporating more running into her training to improve her game in pursuit of an Olympic four-peat with new partner and London silver medalist April Ross at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.
STACK caught up with the 35-year-old star to learn more about her gold medal plan.
STACK: Volleyball players rarely run more than a few steps in a game. What made you add running to your fitness regimen?
Kerri Walsh Jennings: The only running I'd done before had been on the beach. This year, I wanted to do something different. I want to challenge my body and remind it how to move freely on different platforms—on the grass, on the sand, in the gym and on the track.
STACK: What does your track workout look like?
Kerri Walsh Jennings: I meet my track coach at this great track near my house in Manhattan Beach for an hour once a week. We work on building my strength, agility and stride so that I can move like a gazelle in sand. Generally, I run a lap or two to warm up, practice carioca and bounding in the grass, then run up stadium stairs. Then we head to the field and do sprints for 50 yards, then 100 yards and so on.
STACK: Sounds tough. Do you actually like running?
Kerri Walsh Jennings: I don't love running, to be honest. It has always been a challenge for me. But I love the freedom and strength I get from it, so it's a real labor of love. For me, running is empowering. It helps me work on my muscles, lung capacity and cardio. My body is responding well so far. I feel more sure-footed and stable in my movements when I play. I feel more dynamic and light when I push off, too.
STACK: Cross-training is clutch, isn't it?
Kerri Walsh Jennings: Absolutely! We need to challenge our bodies. If you only do one sport all year, you're going to have major overuse problems. I want to be the best athlete in the world. In order to do that, I need to be a hybrid. I need to be strong and fast. Cross-training is huge. We need to scream this message from the rooftops.
Harness Your Power
After running a lap or two to warm up, Walsh Jennings uses this track workout from Michelle Lovitt, a trainer who helps develop strength and conditioning programs for ASICS-sponsored athletic events, such as the ASICS World Series of Beach Volleyball.
Start with Hurdle Walks, leading with the right leg for 10 hurdles, then returning on the left for 10 hurdles. From there, complete 10 Hurdle Over-Unders on each leg. Next, do 10 yards, down and back, of the following:
A-Skips. A quick basic skip, alternating legs and driving your knees to your chest. Keep your feet flexed throughout the movement.
A-Skips to Lunges. Same as A-Skips, but drop into a deep Lunge when you land. From the lunge position, drive your back leg to your chest, then land in a Lunge.
B-Skips. Same as A-Skips, except when you drive your knee to your chest, kick the same leg out as fast as possible. Lower and repeat on your opposite leg.
Lunges with Twist. Standing with your feet hip-width apart, lunge with your right leg and twist your torso to the right. Return to center, then repeat to the left.
Carioca. Cross your left foot in front of your right foot, moving to the right. Step to the right with your right foot and place your left foot behind it. Continue to cross-step in that pattern, then reverse back to the start.
Side Shuffle. Push off with your left foot and move to the right, landing on your right foot and bringing your left foot to meet it. Continue to move quickly to the right, then reverse direction back to the start.
Perform the following exercises in order:
- Harness Sprints - 10 reps x 10 yards.
- Lateral Harness Single-Leg Drive Across Body - 1 x 10 yards.
- Lateral Harness Sprints, focusing on high knees, both sides - 1 x 5 reps.
- Face-Down Sprints - 1 x 5 right leg, 1 x 5 left leg.
- Lunges – 4 x 30 around the track. Walk for 30 seconds to recover between sets.
Quick Jumps. Standing in a "blocking" position with your feet shoulder-width apart and hands held overhead, perform 10 fast jumps in a row. Use a goal post as a reference to measure the height of your jumps. Do three sets for speed.
Tuck Jumps. Standing with your feet and knees together, jump off the ground, bringing your knees a quarter of the way up to your chest. Always land softly on the balls of your feet. Do three reps, then immediately jump again, this time thrusting your knees halfway up to your chest. Do three reps. Finally, jump again, driving your knees up to your chest and jumping for height. Do three reps. Rest for 30 seconds, then repeat for a total of 4 sets.
Skaters. With your chest lifted, spring off your left foot to the right as far as you can, landing softly with your right knee bent. Then spring off your right foot to the left as far as possible. Alternate for 30 seconds. Perform 2 sets, resting one minute between sets. Then repeat the movement, focusing on height (try to get 2 to 3 feet off the ground) rather than distance. Alternate legs for 30 seconds. Do 2 sets, resting for one minute between sets.