For this, our 50th episode of the NeuFit Undercurrent Podcast, I’m proud to welcome our biggest guest yet. Not just big physically, standing 6 foot 10 inches tall, but also big in the world of tennis. John Isner is the highest-ranked American tennis player in the world, has won dozens of professional tournaments, and holds the record for the longest tennis match of all time at over eleven hours long. It takes a special kind of resilience and determination to perform at that high of a level every season — and to continue doing it at age 36. Listen in as John describes how prioritizing his fitness and enhancing his recovery with the Neubie has enabled him to perform at the top level of his sport at an age where many of his competitors are declining or considering retirement.
John: It was great, I was able to just get the sensation back in my foot, especially the first few weeks. I mean, I really, really had to stay off my foot. But I could come into the gym and get my foot moving as much as I could without putting weight on it. With the neubie, was critical I think. So I definitely think, I was told 12 to 14 weeks. I felt like I could have gone back out and played in nine weeks, but I wanted to be extra sure. So I knew after 10 weeks that I was ready to go. And I think the Neubie was a huge part of that.
Intro: I’m Garrett Salpeter, and I believe that the most powerful and transformative way to help people recover from pain and injury, heal from trauma, and reach their highest levels of fitness and performance is to focus on the nervous system. In this podcast, we’ll share knowledge from the frontiers of neuroscience and inspirational stories of how applying that knowledge has empowered people from all walks of life to heal, adapt, and grow.
Garrett: Welcome to the 50th episode of the NeuFit Under Current podcast. We are celebrating this milestone with a very big guest. I mean that in every sense of the word, because John Isner, a professional tennis player is physically very big, 6 foot, 10 inches tall, and also very big in terms of his accomplishments and what he’s done during his tennis career. He’s won dozens of tournaments, both in singles and doubles. He’s made it to the semi-finals of Wimbledon, made it deep into other grand slam tournaments, and just had a wonderful career.
And in this episode, he’s going to share some of his story and how he got into tennis. A little bit of the behind-the-scenes look at professional tennis and what it’s like for him, taking care of his body and the things that he does to maintain himself, working at a very high level, during a grueling tennis season and the different tournament schedules that he plays. And he also is going to talk about how he’s used the Neubie to overcome injury and as part of his regular routine for training, for warming up and movement prep and muscle activation, and also for recovery and cooling down and helping himself recover. So I’m really excited for you to listen to this conversation with John Isner. And we’ll start with him sharing a little bit about his story and he got into tennis back in the beginning.
John: Well, of course, I played tennis pretty much my whole life. It probably started when I was six or seven. And of course, I played a lot of sports, mainly basketball and tennis. With me being so tall and growing up in North Carolina, I could not escape basketball and I was really good at it too. And so I was having success in both sports.
Then it became a situation where I had to choose one or the other. Something told me to go with tennis. I did not know I was going to be this tall because I grew a lot when I was 17 and 18. So I sort of dropped basketball at probably around 14. It was definitely healthy for me to play both sports at a young age. I think specializing [03:05 inaudible]. Specializing in one sport at a super young age, I don’t think is a good thing.
So I’m glad I did play basketball. It helped me out a lot. My goal was to get a college scholarship. I did not have pro aspirations at all, but I knew I was good enough to get a college scholarship. And I did get that at the University of Georgia. And even after my freshman year at Georgia, I still did not have pro aspirations. I went back home, just hung out with my friends, so forth. But in my junior year in college, I became the number one ranked player in the nation. All of college tennis, which is a pretty big deal. It means I’m doing well, the best player in college. And generally, if you are the number one player in college you can play professional tennis. Now college tennis is not like college basketball or college football.
Only a couple of players from each year in college Tennis might make it to the pros. The pro game is dominated on the men’s side at least by Europeans that do not go to college. So my route was very different. And especially going all four years to college, but I knew I wanted to finish school and I knew I wanted to play professionally afterward. And it’s right around my junior year when I became number one, that’s when I really just dedicated myself and at that point became a true professional. I knew that with how big I am and my size, it was going to take a lot for me to stay healthy. And I just needed to be really diligent in doing so. And I wanted to play pro tennis. I did not want to work a normal job just yet. And here I am 15, 16 years later still playing professional tennis. So I developed a great work ethic at Georgia and it served me well when I first started playing professionally, I did a lot of good things right out of the gate and it set me up well, and I’ve been doing great ever since then.
Garrett: That’s awesome. Thank you for sharing that. And when you became a professional or at least started training like a professional, even junior year, even before officially turning pro, what did you really start to focus on? What did you think like, okay, if I want to be a professional, I need to get to the next level in my speed or my ground strokes or my something, was there a certain area of focus that you had along the way?
John: Yeah, for me it was my strength. I mean, for my size, especially in my younger years, I actually felt like I moved pretty well for my size, being almost seven feet tall. As big as I am I thought I moved very well. But for me it was that strength, I knew I needed to get stronger. And one thing I really, really enjoy doing is I love being in the gym because it’s not on the tennis court. I practiced all my life. I do like practice, but I really enjoy the process in the gym of getting stronger, and at this stage, and really the last five, six years, I know exactly what it takes to get myself feeling pretty good on the court. I know what I want to do, and how I want to train and I have the right people to do it with too.
So I’ve surrounded myself with great people. And I’ve been very lucky to do so. I know what I need to do to get myself feeling the best on the court. And most of that comes from doing the right stuff in the gym, which I’m very, very dedicated to. So to answer your question, it was building up that strength because I was a late bloomer. Being a big guy it took me a while to I guess, grow into my frame. And now I’m at a weight, at 236 pounds roughly. One of the heavier guys on tour, but for my frame, this is the weight I need to be at to support myself and just maintain that, and all throughout the year and tennis, it’s a long season, but you have built-in breaks. So I might be on the road for three weeks, but then I’ll be back home for two weeks. And what I do during those two weeks is vital and get myself ready to go back out on the road.
Garrett: So it’s a lot different in professional basketball or football. It’s a much longer off-season, whereas in tennis, your off-season might be a month. And then these little pockets, like you said.
John: Exactly. The off-season is a month, a month and a half. And it’s really short. I mean, it is and a lot of players complain about the schedule. I mean, it probably is too long, but you do need to be smart with how you schedule, you can’t play week in, week out, it just wears you down. And at my age now I’m not as concerned about playing 25, 26 tournaments. I know that priorities are different with family and whatnot, but it just wouldn’t be healthy for me to play that much. So I’m playing a lighter schedule. I’m focusing on just a lot of rest and recovery when I’m at home and trying to build strength when I can when I do have those pockets. But a lot of the time it’s just trying to maintain what I can and keeping my body feeling right.
Garrett: That’s awesome. And I want to acknowledge you, I mean, one, the diligence that you’ve shown to maintain your health during your career and two, to be playing as well as you are at a time when a lot of people think at 36 you’re & “old for a tennis player.” But here on the American stretch, you just made it to the finals, the ATP event in Houston and then won doubles in Miami and Indian Wells. Did we get that?
John: Yeah, doubles is something that naturally, I guess I’m pretty good at. I don’t focus too much time on it, but I did choose two tournaments to do well in. Indian Wells in Miami or outside of the grand slams, two of our biggest tournaments. And to play well in doubles there was very cool. But then to back that up with playing great in Houston, almost winning the tournament, on clay, which I only play four or five tournaments a year on clay, so it’s a short season for me. A lot of guys kind of live over in Europe and play on the clay, but I’m not going to do that. I cherish my time at home and keeping my body healthy and being at home with my family and have a great thing going in Dallas. Coming here every day to the gym or four or five days a week to the gym and just as we talked about, that whole process I really, really enjoy.
Garrett: And in terms of that process and taking your care of your body, there’s another interesting dynamic that I think a lot of our listeners may not understand, if you’re playing for an NFL team, if you’re here in Dallas playing for the Cowboys, they have physical therapists, athletic trainers, people are taking care of you, but on the pro tennis tour, while the tour will have some therapists who are good, a lot of guys actually have their own therapist who they’ll hire to travel with them. Right. And take care of them. Can you tell us about that dynamic?
John: Yeah. Well the ATB tour does have great physiotherapists, but you see a lot of the high-ranked players, they all have a team with them and it was in 2012 that I decided to make that investment as well, to have someone travel with me full-time, knowing that my frame is much different than a lot of other players out there. It takes more to keep me healthy, to keep me upright. It takes a lot of work and a lot of time, so I work with a chiropractor who you have gotten to know a bit, Dr. Corgal. We’ve been working for more than 10 years now. So we have a great, I guess, partnership and he’s done a great job in keeping me healthy, and throughout my whole career I’ve only had one significant injury and it wasn’t really too bad. So I’ve been able to stay healthy. A lot of that is maybe some good luck, but a lot of that is me doing the right stuff off the court for sure.
Garrett: Yeah. So Dr. Corgal will give him a shout-out here. He’s a great guy. And I think we got connected to him, or I got connected with him through Jason Waz, he had worked with back in Tampa area. I remember that. Another good, good shout out there. Tell us about, when you say you’ve only had one really serious injury. Was that your foot?
John: Yes. In 2019, I was in the finals of the Miami of singles and I was playing Roger Feder. So it’s like the coolest match you could ever have is playing Roger Feder in the finals of a tournament, that does not get cooler than that. And when you walk out, it’s a beautiful day and there’s, I don’t know, 12,000 people, 15,000 people. The stadium is huge, it was packed, watching the match. And I came down on a serve just a routine thing. And that didn’t feel right. My foot doesn’t. This was early in the second set. He wiped me off the court in the first set, but we’re nip and tuck in the second set and all of a sudden I have this really significant foot pain going on. And right then and there, I knew I was done for, but probably stupidly finished the match. But again, you’re playing Roger and there are all these people out there.
Garrett: Adrenaline like crazy, right?
John: A lot of adrenaline, but adrenaline could mask a lot of pain. It couldn’t mask this. But I finished the match, I lost. And after that, I broke my foot. It was just something over the course of time.
Garrett: Did you win a set in that?
John: No. It was 6 1, 6 4, but it was one of those things. I was hobbing around and he started missing a little bit. He saw that I couldn’t move whatsoever, but I knew I was done. I just wanted to shake his hand, him beating me and not walking off the court with injury, especially in the finals of a tournament, but after that, I was sidelined for exactly like 11 weeks. But after that, I came back and I came back fine and strong. And again, that was the only injury I’ve ever really been through, throughout my career.
Garrett: And recovering from that? Was that the first time you used the Neubie or you had used the Neubie a little bit?
John: No, I used the Neubie prior to that a lot.
Garrett: What was your experience like using it for that foot rehab?
John: It was great. I was able to just get the sensation back in my foot, especially the first few weeks. I mean, I really, really had to stay off my foot. But I could come into the gym and get my foot moving as much as I could without putting weight on it. With the Neubie was, was critical I think. So I definitely think, I was told 12 to 14 weeks. I felt like I could have gone back out and played in nine weeks, but I wanted to be extra sure. So I knew after 10 weeks that I was ready to go. And I think the Neubie, was a huge part of that. I mean, I hurt my foot. All right, that’s the focus, let’s get this healthy, and let’s get back on the court. And that’s what I focus on and that’s what we did.
Garrett: Awesome. And you mentioned that you had been using it here. So when you’re home in Dallas for these few blocks, you’ve been training with our mutual friend Boe at his facility here in Dallas. So can you talk about your experience using it when you’re here for those more intensive bouts?
John: Well, yeah. So as you mentioned, I worked with Jason Waz in Tampa and just really enjoyed working on the Neubie. I know how it makes me feel because I know my body so well. So part of the reason for me coming to Dallas, I had to get a new system, a new schedule here in Dallas. I had a great thing going in Tampa, but I moved here to Dallas with my wife and we started our family here. So the first thing I did was try to find someone around town and through my contacts and through Clint, who I work with, he had got in touch with you. Then you got in touch with Boe and that was it. And I wanted to find someone that I could train with. We don’t train on the Neubie every single day, but more times than not we’re on the Neubie training, which is what's so great about it. And that was critical.
So I got to meet Boe and his team here at Adapt. And I’ve been here ever since, I come in four or five days a week when I'm in town. And working on that is great because it definitely gives me the confidence knowing that my body’s in the right place before I go out on the road before I practice here in Dallas. It’s something that’s, it’s just a huge, huge part of my routine now.
Garrett: And you’re doing full body, you’re doing strength and mobility.
John: Strength and mobility, exactly. Sometimes it might be just mobility. Oftentimes it’s mobility and strength. I love doing the strength portion of it. You have it on and it’s kind of hurting and you’re wincing and you don’t feel like you can go anymore, but you can and especially when you’re trying to build strength with it, whether it’s like a barbell RDL, I think is a good example of it. I mean, I’m able to, maybe the weight of the bar can distract a little bit from what’s going on with the Neubie, but I’ve been able to crank that thing up and also work through it and just build a lot of strength up with it. It’s awesome. Oftentimes you might be a little sore the next day, but that’s what you want. I mean, that means that’s the sign of working hard. Knowing that you’re putting in good work. So those days when I wake up and I’m a little sore, that’s exactly what I want to feel because it will subside and I will feel excellent afterward.
Garrett: That’s awesome. And can you share with us a little more bit about your experience now? So, for those couple years it was, you’d come home, use it while you’re here. Now that you’ve been traveling with it, can you talk about how you’ve used it, in your routine when you’re doing tournaments, and just share a little insight on that?
John: Well, yeah, I mean, using it on the road now I think is critical, especially. I mean, let’s face it as I get older, it doesn’t get easier to do what I do. I mean, 10 years ago, I might have, before I worked on the Neubie, before I knew anything about it, I maybe was on cruise control a little bit. My body was doing just fine, but now it’s different. I need to really take care of myself and hone in on what I need to work on with my body and the Neubie, having it with me all the time is crucial to that, for warmups before a practice, for warmups before a match, using it all the time. It’s easy to travel with, which is great and for cool down as well. I like to do it, cool down with it, and just work on my mobility, whether it’s before or after a match knowing that recovery is everything. I’ve played some long matches as some people know.
Garrett: You set the record for the longest match of all time.
John: Yeah, I did.
Garrett: And you tried to break it again.
John: That thing wasn’t around, I could have used it 10 years ago or whatever, 12 years ago.
Garrett: That was 2010.
John: 2010. Exactly. Because I felt so bad the next day.
Garrett: How many games was that match, hundred?
John: I don’t know how many games total. I know the last set was 130 something. It was like a basketball score. So yeah, that was insane. But to go back to answer your question, I mean, having it on the road is great. I feel awesome waking up every single day, whether I’ve had a tough practice or a tough match or tough two matches, oftentimes you play two matches in a day, it can be singles and doubles and I do feel like I have a nice little advantage having it on the road with me.
Garrett: Awesome. When you’re doing it for warmups are you putting it on like your shoulder for serving, doing more hips for lateral work. What are some of the areas where you feel like it has the biggest impact?
John: I think definitely on my shoulder, would do put it on the shoulder and kind of just go through that range of motion. It’s pretty light. Which is what I want. But I’m able to just really get the range of motion in my shoulder. Because in this space, this is everything to me, my shoulder. I got to keep that healthy. But apart from that, most of it is lower body, especially when I play on clay, I use it on my adductors quite a bit to keep that activated. You don’t want that shutting off on clay. That can present some issues that I’ve had in the past. Maybe like my hip flex being a bit sore from sliding around on the clay. Always keeping my core activated with it as well. I feel like if I’m locked in there before a match, I’m most likely going to play pretty well out there. So this just helps me, at my age and my height and my weight, it helps me feel very, very good on the court and don’t have any worries out there as an athlete. You don’t want to be on the court or the field or whatever it is and have any doubts about whether or not something is going to hold up or not. And I don’t have that at my age, which I think is very, very lucky.
Garrett: That’s awesome. Well, we’re excited to be working with you and want to support you in doing it for as long as you wish. You are one of the best best of our generation here. And it’s just so cool to see you continue to play at such a high level and really it’s a tremendous honor to be working with you. So thank you.
John: I appreciate that, buddy. Thanks a lot.
Garrett: And thanks for sharing this with our audience and the NeuFit nation here.
John: Yeah, this is fantastic. I mean like, I want to spread the word about this thing. I mean, I don’t want to give away too many of my secrets on tour, but I won’t be playing forever.
Garrett: We can hold the release of this interview for a few years.
John: It’s hugely beneficial to me and I know it could be beneficial to so many out there.
Garrett: Awesome. Well, thanks so much for sharing that. Thanks everyone for tuning in to this episode of the NeuFit Under Current podcast.