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Why Most Tennis Players Look Skinny? (Fit, Lean Muscle, Low Body Fat,…)

I feel like you’ll agree with me when I say that, in general, most tennis players look skinny. However, there is no doubt that most professional tennis players are also better conditioned than the average person; but why do they seem so slim and skinny? Isn’t being more muscular and strong going to benefit their performance? Let’s find out.

Tennis players focus on developing agility and speed. Too much muscle mass might hinder their performance and movement across the court. Thus, they try to find the perfect balance between being fit and strong. For tennis players, at a certain point, the benefits of muscle mass, in terms of athletic performance, can bring more drawbacks than benefits.

Tennis players don’t have to be more muscular than they need to be. At first, It sounds suspicious; I know, but there are several different reasons why they are so lean and sometimes even ‘skinny’.

Tennis Players: Skinny or Fit?

There is a big difference when you see some of the pro tennis players in person compared to what they look like on TV.

There are some optical illusions at play when you watch somebody on the TV. One of which is the so-called extra 10-pounds effect. Essentially the TV camera makes you look as you have gained ten extra pounds. Maybe tennis players are immune to it, or this means that they are even skinnier in real life?

Actually, how tennis players look can be deceiving. Watching tennis players play in person you will see that their body types are anywhere from skinny to very fit. Rarely you will see a bulky or an overweight tennis player, although there are some exceptions.

Tennis players, especially pros, do what they have to do in order to be on the top. They are toned, and even if they cannot be considered bulky, they are muscular and most of the time stay at very low body fat percentages.

Tennis players develop their muscles as it equals strength. But going past a certain point, more muscle is going to hinder their performance on the court (think about it in terms of diminishing returns). Imagine a tennis match between an elite tennis player and a professional bodybuilder. That would be awkward.

Unnecessary weight regardless of what it is (muscle or not) is going to slow their movement speed, limit their range of motion, as well as decrease their endurance.

What Matters for Pro Tennis Players

Tennis is a sport that incorporates several different abilities, and tennis players need to be able to perform optimally at each one of them to be at their best. These are:

  • Agility, stamina, and endurance.
  • Speed.
  • Flexibility.
  • Technique.
  • Eye-hand coordination.
  • Strength and power.

People often underestimate the power elite tennis players have just by looking at their body frame and weight. When in reality, they have incredible power to bodyweight ratios.

Even though they are leaner, by adequately utilizing their core, hip, and leg muscles, they can exert high amounts of power (a similar example would be that of a lightweight Olympic lifter).

Other Reasons Why Tennis Players Seem ‘Skinny’

Continuing with my research, I stumbled upon several other interesting things. Even though they might not play a significant role, I believe they are affecting how tennis players’ bodies look to a certain degree.

1. A way to avoid injuries

Tennis is a very dynamic sport that requires a lot of explosive movements, starts, and stops, and changing directions all the time. It also incorporates full-body movements and a lot of twists and turns.

Not only that but, unlike other sports, tennis matches don’t have a time limit. A tennis match can, potentially, last several hours.

All these demanding movements and the fact that they are both aerobic and anaerobic can be incredibly stressful on the body. Too much weight and the effects of the extra mass can undoubtedly lead to different ligament and joint injuries of the shoulders, elbows, hips, knees, ankles, and more.

Despite tennis being a low-risk sport, it still has its own accompanying set of injuries, that tennis players can suffer from.

As a result, tennis players need to find the best healthy balance for their bodies.

2. The effects of the weather

Maybe it is just me, but I consider tennis to be one of these sports where you have to love being outside in the sun. Otherwise, you are in for a bad time.

And professional players are exposing themselves to the sunlight a lot. With that being said, this can also lead to certain body composition changes:

  • Researchers from the University of Alberta in Canada found out that fat cells that are situated beneath your skin can shrink when exposed to the blue light from the sun.
  • Another study, by Northwestern University, came to the conclusion that exposure to sunlight can increase insulin sensitivity. This can essentially help in weight loss and lowering of the body fat percentage and risk of diabetes, too.

Of course, I am not saying that’s the main reason for tennis players to look more skinny, but it certainly can play a role (as small as it may be) in the “why” they look the way they do.

Being lean with no unnecessary body fat will probably help a lot in being able to not fade in the heat as fast, as well as to have better endurance, compare to someone who has several extra pounds.

3. The Kinetic Chain

Although it seems like tennis players used, mainly, their arms to swing and hit the ball, they, actually, create most of the power and speed from transferring energy throughout their whole body. In tennis, this is called the “kinetic chain.”

As a result, tennis players do not necessarily need to have big upper bodies and arms because they use all their bodies to produce energy and power to hit the ball. It all starts when their feet push off the ground, and it successively transferred that energy to the rest of the body – from the lower body to the upper body and into the ball.

This can be achieved by using the correct technique during each stroke. Keep in mind that tennis players spend years and years working and perfecting their technique. Therefore, ATP players are able to serve the ball at more than 150 mph because they generate all that power by applying the Kinetic chain concept, which is achieved by using great technique and timing.

Will a Tennis Player Benefit from Being Muscular and Bulky?

With all that being said, there’ve been instances where tennis players went too far and became too skinny (for not saying anorexic).

People have their individual predispositions. While we might argue that for some players it would help them to put on a little more mass, for others, it might hurt their performance.

It is a question of each tennis player finding their right individual proportions and ratios between strength, speed, and stamina. There is no one-size-fits-all solution here.

  • Tennis players want to have just enough muscle mass so that they have enough endurance and power output.
  • They don’t want to get as muscular as possible as that will restrict their movement and make them slow.

Nevertheless, some professional tennis players will argue that putting on just a couple of extra pounds can cause them to be slower on the court.

Why We Shouldn’t Use BMI with Tennis Players

BMI (or Body Mass Index) has been originally designed for the average person, but even then it had some problems and limitations.

It doesn’t really give us a good look at the whole picture.

It is not accurate for any athletes as it doesn’t take into account what is the ratio between muscle mass and body mass in the body. BMI essentially treats the same way 100 pounds of pure muscle and 100 pounds of fat, which is not the right thing to do.

BMI has been proven to grossly miscategorize people; placing obese people in the normal weight category and the other way around.

On the other hand, a lot of the weight of the pro athletes that can be found online is not frequently updated and is easily not accurate to what they currently might weigh.