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Does Playing Tennis Help Build Muscle? (The Truth)

Tennis definitely has some great health benefits like improving cardiovascular health, reducing the body fat percentage while toning and strengthening the muscles, as well as significantly improving flexibility, and more. But, can it help you build muscle? Let’s find out!

To a certain degree, regularly playing tennis at a high intensity can lead to some muscle hypertrophy (or muscle building), as well as muscle toning. Also, it can help get a leaner and more athletic-looking body type. However, for the average person, playing tennis will lead to minimal muscle increase.

Let’s take a look at what is the principle behind muscle growth first.

How Do Muscles Grow?

There are three types of muscle tissue:

  1. Cardiac muscle fibers can be found in the walls of the heart. They are involuntary, which means that we do not consciously control them.
  2. Smooth muscle fibers are found in the walls of the hollow organs in our body (except the heart). They, too, are involuntary and out of our conscious control.
  3. Skeletal muscle fibers are found in our muscles. These are the muscles that we can flex, and we can control. These are the ones we are going to be talking about in this article.

The Basics of Muscle Growth

While working out, you are essentially damaging the muscle fibers. After that, while resting, the body goes through a recovery process much like when you cut your finger, it’ll take a few days before the wound heals.

During this recovery, the body is healing the micro-traumas done to the muscle fibers and is creating new muscle fibers in the process. As a result, the fibers increase in size, as well as in numbers, essentially making the muscles grow in size (this is called hypertrophy).

In a way, during training, you are initiating a muscle breakdown which, then sends a signal to the body to initiate a muscle protein synthesis (rebuilding the muscles). So, muscles actually grow when they are resting and not while being used in the gym.

The Necessities for Muscle Growth

Now, that we understand the basics of muscle growth, it is important to know that the whole muscle growth process depends on several other factors; otherwise, it will not be happening.

The degree to which these factors are met will dictate the levels of recovery, performance, strength, and more. If they are entirely overlooked, people can hit plateaus, overtrain, and even suffer from injuries due to overuse.

In order to have muscles grow, you need to:

  • Incorporate appropriate resistance training.
  • Rest enough for the muscles to recover.
  • Have proper nutrition and adequate amounts of protein while consuming enough calories.
  • Patients. Muscle growth takes time; it will never happen instantly.

Will Playing Tennis Increase Muscle Mass?

Tennis will, definitely, put your muscles to the ultimate test as it is a highly dynamic sport that requires a lot of force and lightning-fast reflexes. This sport incorporates a lot of fast movements and sprints. Therefore, it’s a great way to improve your cardiovascular conditioning – consider tennis more of cardio exercise than regular gym training.

On the other hand, tennis is going to stress your skeletal muscles, too. However, that will be in a much different way than what you can expect from a gym training session. Tennis will mainly improve your strength and endurance.

Hypertrophy is not going to be the main outcome of playing tennis, although it will induce some levels of hypertrophy.

Overall, tennis will indeed lead to some muscle changes. Since it can be considered cardio rather than resistance training, tennis will improve your cardiovascular health in the first place, then it will definitely tone your body, and lastly, it will help develop some of your muscles, as well.

However, due to the nature of the sport, greater importance is placed on mobility, stability, speed, and flexibility and not much on muscle size.

Should Tennis Players Build Muscle?

If you take a look at professional tennis players, you will notice that a lot of them are really lean. It is very rare to see somebody more on the chubby side, but also it is rare to see a really bulky and muscular tennis player (although there are some).

We have to keep in mind that tennis has changed in specific ways throughout the years. The tennis racquets that we have now are a lot better at generating power, even the tennis courts have changed. All of these can change where the emphasis on tennis is placed.

Tennis players need to be strong, but not too bulky as this will slow them down, reduce flexibility, and as a result, decrease their performance.

Although they are benefiting from resistance training, tennis players are doing it with specific goals in mind.

Resistance training for tennis has a different goal. It is not about building muscle size. The main goal when pro tennis players work out is to improve the conditioning of the muscles, as well as their endurance. As supplementary training, they are trying to improve the joint conditioning too as they are placed under a lot of stress during the matches.

Overall, a strong player will definitely be able to hit the ball harder than a weak one. In addition to that, stronger muscles will lead to better stability and joint health.

Will Playing Tennis Lead to Losing Muscle Mass?

Tennis is an excellent form of cardio. Excessive amounts of cardio can lead to inadequate recovery and less muscle gain if both strength training and tennis are being incorporated into one’s regime.

There needs to be balanced.

Whether or not there will be a negative effect on muscle size, and if there is, how severe it will be, will depend on several factors like:

  • Amount of rest – the less time you have to rest, the less time your muscles are going to have to recover from all the stress.
  • Proper nutrition – the quality of the food you eat, and its nutritional density will determine whether or not your recovery times will be optimal. The amount of protein is also essential, as protein is the building blocks of your muscles.
  • Calories – To build muscle, you need to be in a caloric surplus (consuming more calories than you are burning out during the day) that way the body will have enough energy throughout the day and not use its stores.

What Muscle Groups Are Used When Playing Tennis?

When you first get into playing tennis, you will find out that tennis can leave you with some severe muscle soreness the next day.

Tennis requires some complex movements and strength. You will find yourself always running around, changing directions, hitting serves, as well as groundstrokes; and all that involves a lot of muscle groups.

Lower-Body Muscles Used in Tennis

Considering all the running, changing of pace, the need for quick short sprints and stops, and the side-to-side movements, tennis is going to impact the muscles of the lower body profoundly.

  • The Calves.
  • Quads.
  • Hamstrings.
  • Gluteus maximus muscles.

All of them are going to play different roles in the movements that every tennis player needs to perform regularly.

Upper-Body Muscles Used in Tennis

Again, you might be surprised, but the upper body muscles are not going to be spared by this sport. All the swings, serves, reaching for different shots, and the power that needs to be generated when performing these, will come from different parts of the midsection (or the core), hips, and the upper body.

Starting with the midsection of the body:

  • Abs.
  • Obliques, which are on the side of your body.
  • Latissimus Dorsi (back muscles).
  • Erector Spinae which run alongside the spine.

And continuing with the upper-body:

  • Chest muscles.
  • Deltoids or shoulder muscles, which are very important in tennis.
  • Rhomboid and trapezius muscles.
  • Biceps and Triceps.

Other smaller muscle groups that are quite important are the flexor and extensor of the forearm, often overlooked, which will make holding and exerting the necessary force to hit the ball a difficult task to accomplish.