By Amy Moritz // News Sports Reporter
OLEAN – The familiar sounds of basketball on hardwood and the squeak of sneakers filled the Reilly Center. I watched Jessica Jenkins instruct two guards in a variety of shooting drills, the emphasis on the minutia – where to place your feet, square your shoulders, point your wrist.
It’s the details that turn good players into great players.
Jenkins should know. She was the driving force on the St. Bonaventure University women’s basketball team, which set all kinds of school records on the way to the first Sweet 16 appearance in the NCAA tournament by a Western New York women’s basketball team in the Division I era.
As I watched the training session progress, I started to feel a growing sense of nausea. As soon as the guards had sunk their final free throws, Jenkins was going to put me through an hour-long workout session.
This may not end well.
Jenkins became a personal trainer while she still was a student-athlete at St. Bonaventure. Her passion for fitness, along with a confident swagger, complemented her basketball skills. She has created her own success and in the process lifted others around her. And through the magic of social media, I’ve been able to keep up with her first year as a professional athlete, noting her workouts, training and continued on-court success.
I wondered what it would be like to train with Jenkins for a day. What could I learn from an elite athlete who has a reputation of doing (and giving out) hard, punishing workouts?
It seemed like a good idea at the time, although I did preemptively stock my freezer with ice. Just in case.
Jenkins gave me the run-down before we started, looking over notes she had made for our session earlier in the day during breaks in St. Bonaventure’s girls’ basketball day camp. She knew I had done some boxing workouts in the past and, in her experience of training, these types of workouts were both effective from a physical standpoint and helped to mix up strength and interval work to keep things interesting from a mental standpoint.
The workout would be structured like this: a five-minute warm-up followed by seven rounds of boxing, which would be broken up with different strength exercises (squats, jumps, planks, pushups). We then would close out with a five-minute cool down that would focus on core work.
We started the warm-up which included 30 seconds each of a light jab, high knees, burpees (think squat thrusts with a jump) and plank (think holding a push-up position until you think you are going to die. Then hold it a bit longer.) After two rounds we mixed it up by adding wall sits and side planks. I was already breathing hard. And we were just getting started.
We moved on to the main event, the seven rounds of boxing and strength exercises. I borrowed her boxing gloves while Jenkins wore focus mitts to take my punches. We started with a simple jab-cross (left-right) combination. As she demonstrated new punches and new combinations, I was to keep moving, bouncing from my back foot to my front foot to stay in constant motion. She called out punches and I threw them, a bit weak at first but picking up steam later on.
“You want extension in your arms but power from you core,” she said. “And pivot on your toes.”
She had told me how long each round was, but to be honest, I quickly lost track. I had to completely focus on the task at hand – the punch combinations, the footwork, the pivoting.
The hitting part was fun. The strength exercises were not so much fun as they were torturous.
Again she told me how long each of these intervals would be and again I forgot what it was. It didn’t matter if I knew anyway. Time seemed to stand still as I held a split-leg squat and prayed to St. Francis that the interval was almost over. Some of the moves involved “explosive” movement, meaning that I jumped to squat or switch legs. Explosive was a relative term for what I was doing. It was not pretty. But at least I was giving my best effort.
As the rounds went on, the difficulty increased. Punch combinations were longer and involved more twisting from my core while we started to move around the gym. I was dripping with sweat. Was there no air in this gym? Was it this hot in February when the players are sprinting up and down the court for 40 minutes?
We hit the seventh and final round featuring what Jenkins called “burnout punches.” These were fast punches alternating left and right. I started with 10, followed by a squat and a power jump. Then it was nine punches and two squat-jumps. The eight punches and three squat jumps. You get the idea.
As the interval went on, the squat-jumps got harder. And as they got harder, Jenkins kept telling me to “get lower.”
Man, there really is no cheating when she’s around.
“Keep going,” she said calmly and matter-of-factly. “You’re almost there.”
Sweet St. Francis.
By the last two, I was stalling to catch my breath between the punches and the squat-jumps. I felt slightly defeated. I had visions of impressing Jessica Jenkins with my fitness. And, right now, I was a puddle on the Reilly Center floor.
“Good job,” she said. “Now for the cool down, we’re basically going to hold variations of plank for five minutes.”
“This has the potential to get really ugly,” I said. “Just to let you know.”
We started in a forearm plank and went up to a pushup plank. Besides the fact that my shoulders were shaking and my core was ready to give out, I was drenched in sweat and slipping all over the hardwood floor. I was failing at pretty much every level. Luckily for me, Jenkins modified what we were doing to continue to work my core but from a different position to keep me from sliding like a deer on a frozen pond.
And, then, we were done.
I thanked Jenkins and apologized. “I’m sorry I kinda fell apart at the end,” I said.
Jenkins let out a half smile.
“Well, to be honest,” she said, “that’s what I was hoping for.”
Not every workout is about bringing yourself to the brink of failure. But part of building strength, both physical and mental, is about pushing your limits and breaking yourself down. Improvement and growth happens when you experience failure as part of the journey, as part of the process. Amid the planks and pushups and punching combinations, what I learned most from my training session with Jessica Jenkins was that failure is not fatal. In fact, sometimes, failure is actually the goal.