Q&A: Kerri Walsh Jennings
The volleyball pro talks about recovery, Ayurveda, and bikinis
On a chilly January day in Los Angeles, Furthermore peeked in on one of Kerri Walsh Jennings’s go-to beach workouts. A mix of bodyweight moves, Pilates, and mobility work, it’s a rigorous, yet obviously effective routine. Before she got into it (alongside her trainer and best friend; you can watch the full video here) she talked about how her training has evolved plus how she’s maintaining her star status as she approaches her 40th birthday this August.
How has your training changed in this four-year cycle leading up to Tokyo?
Every year looks very different for my training, for my whole life. One of the things I most value in my trainers and my experts is that they really prioritize diversity in training because they know how good it is for the body and the mind. If I'm doing the same thing every day, my body's going to stop responding. I leave it to my trainers, whether it's in Pilates or weight training or mobility training, to challenge me in different ways with a lot of diversity. But something that remains true with all of them is that it's always form first. Quality over quantity. Do it the right way the first time and then you're done.
How is Pilates in particular helpful for your sport?
Integrity of movement and intent and purpose are so important in Pilates and the self-awareness that I've gotten has been incredible. It's kind of been a spiritual journey. So often when you work out, you focus on the big muscles because that's what looks good on TV or whatever. But it's the little things that hold you together. And I'm all about sustained excellence.
How did getting injured over the summer and fully recovering impact you?
When you have injuries, you're forced to kind of look in the mirror and say, ‘What went wrong? What can I learn from this? And how can I proceed so I can go back up again?’ Everything is a stress on the system and I want to make sure the stresses I have, and the input, is always good. So I'm reading good books. On social media, I'm avoiding the toxicity. And in order to get the benefits of my hard work, I really need to prioritize rest and recovery. I sleep seven to eight hours a night, even though I'm a Leo, I could sleep 12. And then my muscles will love me more; my brain will love me more. Nutrition-wise, I'm trying to eat as wild and free-range as possible. The rainbow of colors is always a good thing for my body.
Can you share some of your favorite ingredients?
I'm addicted to hot tonics right now. Four Sigmatic’s mushroom elixirs are literally my favorite thing in the world. It’s adaptogenic and an immunity booster. Turmeric and golden milk is my favorite before-bed drink. It just calms down my system, it gets rid of inflammation, and it allows me to have a more restful sleep.
Postpartum, has your body changed?
Being a mommy has helped me in every single way imaginable; accepting myself and my body more for how amazing it truly is. Giving birth to my children and creating them inside of me was just something that you don't get from training in sports or winning gold medals. It's such a personal, intimate, sacred process that I feel like it got me more in touch with myself. I'm more focused. I'm more inspired and I was really focused and inspired prior to my babies so that's been an elevation. Physically speaking, I honestly do feel like I have this ability to harness this strength that I never knew I had before children. Going through the process of giving birth made me feel like Wonder Woman.
I look in the mirror sometimes, and I'm like, ‘Hey, I'll check that out later.’ I don't want to hang out and see how I look, but that being said, it's like the love and appreciation that I have for my body trumps everything. Even if I don't feel perfect in my skin.
What is like wearing a bikini as your uniform?
I think it's powerful and provocative. A lot of people tend to look at it, especially in the feminist movement, and say, ‘How could you do that? It's so degrading. What kind of example are you giving to my daughters and the young ladies out there?’ And I'm like, ‘What are you talking about? This is the picture of empowerment as far as I'm concerned. And I'm not a sex symbol. I'm an athlete chasing big, bold dreams and this is my uniform. This is my armor.’ I'm not a warrior by any means, but when I have my uniform on, I'm ready to go to war. And so I certainly have my days where I'm like, ‘Ugh. I don't want to do this.’ Usually from January to March, I'm pretty shy. Once I get my base tan, in a healthy way, I feel much more comfortable. There's nothing that an organic spray tan can't fix.
How do you balance being a mother and a professional athlete?
My life is very full but it's super simple. My priorities are my family, my faith, and my career. So within each of those three buckets, there's a lot of love and there's a lot of things I have to do. But they're all my choice. I love them all. If I ever feel out of balance and I feel just kind of sad or heavy inside, I go back to those three buckets and I'm like, ‘What am I neglecting? Am I not feeling connected to my husband or my children? Am I not able to give everything that I want to give in my career? Or my faith?’ I'm a deeply spiritual person. I believe I'm so blessed and loved and I need to honor that.
My goal in life is just to show up and be very present. I wear a necklace and it says, "1440" on it. My sports psychologist taught my husband and me there's 1440 minutes in a day and what are you going to do with those 1440 minutes? And I've come to learn that energy is everything. And even the minutes that I spend with my family might be less, they're so sacred to me. But what energy am I giving to it? 1440's a reminder of how I want to live my life with intent and purpose and total presence, which is a constant work in progress and challenge for me.
How does meditation help you as an athlete?
When I start my day, mindfully taking the time and creating this sacred space of silence and stillness, it without fail allows me to dance through my days instead of trudge through my days and work upstream. So, I'm a big believer in meditation but it's really hard for me to do it every single day. Even though I know the benefits and it's data-driven and science-based. Like you can train your brain and you can literally change how you function by focusing on mindfulness and having a deep meditation practice. It's not easy for me, but I believe in it so much and I know the world would be a better place if everyone meditated.
What’s next for you?
In this day and age where everyone's busy doing everything but nothing at the same time, we're all spinning our wheels. We're all complaining that we're overworked, over-tired, don't have time to do anything. My partners and I are coming out with a project called p1440. Playing off the 1440 minutes in a day. It's a festival series based around beach volleyball, health and wellness, development and entertainment.
Photography by Sam Kweskin