Tennis players are not known for being muscular athletes. Though tennis players compete in a sport where the goal is to smash a ball with lots of power, many people might not think of tennis players as athletes if they randomly see them on the street.
However, there are several good reasons tennis players do not put on significant muscle mass.
Here are 7 reasons why tennis players aren’t muscular:
1. Big Muscles Do Not Give Players More Power
Contrary to what many people might believe, having bigger muscles or being more muscular in tennis does not give your shots more power.
Professional tennis players know this very well, which is one of the reasons they do not bother building significant upper-body muscle mass.
Though it does look like a tennis player’s power stems from their arms as they swing and hit the ball, there is more to it. The majority of the power generated into the ball comes from transferring energy throughout the entire body. This is known as the ‘kinetic chain’ in sports.
Thanks to the ability to generate speed and power using their whole body, professional tennis players do not need big biceps, triceps, and shoulders to hit hard shots. The feet first generate energy as they push off the ground, which transfers from the lower to the upper body and into the ball.
Professional tennis players spend years training their technique to properly transfer energy into the ball. Players at the highest level who have perfected this technique can hit serves and power shots at impressive speeds without looking like muscular athletes.
Jannik Sinner is a perfect example of a player who can transfer energy throughout his body efficiently. By all accounts, the young Italian player looks skinny, but his power shots can leave his opponents in disarray. You can learn more about why tennis players are skinny in this post.
2. Flexibility Is More Important Than Muscularity
Tennis players must remain flexible throughout their careers, which is difficult to do if they build significant muscle mass. Professional tennis players will always choose flexibility over the muscle mass, as the former is more beneficial.
Tennis players must be capable of covering as much ground as they possibly can during long rallies. Nowadays, tennis exchanges last longer than they did in the past when players would serve and volley constantly. Flexibility is especially important on clay, where players reach for balls by sliding.
Being able to do the splits while sliding to reach for a drop shot is far more important for a player than looking muscular. Having excess muscle mass will limit a player’s flexibility and overall movement.
Areas of the body vital to a player’s flexibility (knees, ankles, and hips) will suffer from excess weight gained from building muscle mass.
3. Endurance Is More Important Than Muscularity
Tennis has become more of an endurance sport. In the John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg era, exchanges would be over quickly as the main strategy in tennis was to serve and volley. Some players today still adopt this approach, but they struggle to climb up the rankings.
Because tennis rallies generally last longer nowadays, players must maintain high levels of endurance to avoid tiring out in the middle of a point. If players adopt a training program focusing on muscle building, their endurance will be negatively affected.
Athletes with muscle mass tend to tire more quickly than leaner athletes. Tennis matches can last several hours at the highest level of competition, so players do everything they can to avoid doing things that might impact their endurance.
4. Tennis Players Follow Specific Training Workouts
A tennis player’s workout regime on and off the tennis court is not dedicated to building muscle mass that makes them look muscular. Instead, tennis players work on their overall fitness, footwork speed, agility, balance, and endurance.
You can see videos of tennis players performing gym exercises with weights which may make you think that they are trying to build muscle to look ‘muscular’.
However, if you pay close enough attention, you will see that tennis players use medium instead of heavy weights during these workouts. Doing more repetitions using medium weights is better for endurance which tennis players highly value.
In addition, players rarely perform weighted exercises targeting their upper body. Most weighted exercises are targeted at the lower body. Typically, exercises done by professional tennis players include hip thrusts, lunges, and squat variations.
5. Lower Body Strength Is More Important In Tennis
While people point out that tennis players’ upper bodies are not very muscular, they fail to see that tennis players have extremely well-built legs.
This should not be surprising as players need to have a good swing to win a match, but they spend their time running on the court and using their lower body to generate power shots.
Lower body strength is crucial in sports like golf, baseball, and tennis. Good positioning of the legs, a solid base, and good timing enable players to hit clean and powerful shots. So tennis players do not necessarily need big arms to generate power, but they need strong legs.
However, tennis players can’t afford to bulk up their legs too much as they need to remain light on their feet to quickly move around the court and change direction. Thus, they must find a good balance between speed and strength.
Tennis players exercise their legs so much that they eventually get cramps after long matches, whereas their arms are usually fine after several hours of play.
6. Being Muscular Increases The Risk Of Injuries In Tennis
Tennis is a dynamic and high-impact sport. Players are constantly explosive on the court, meaning they suddenly start and stop movements, change directions, and twist and turn.
These dynamic and physically demanding movements are best performed when players do not have excess muscle mass.
Unfortunately for players who want to look muscular, excess weight due to muscle mass can increase the strain on joints (hips, knees, ankles, elbows, etc.) and ligaments.
Thus, for longevity, tennis players avoid putting on excess muscle mass.
7. Lean Tennis Players Are Faster Than Muscular Players
Generally, professional athletes in endurance sports are leaner than athletes who require powerful but short bursts of energy. One of the advantages of being leaner is increased speed. The fastest tennis players are usually all pretty slim.
At the highest level, tennis players must return serves up to one hundred and forty miles per hour. They must have incredibly fast reflexes and hand-eye coordination to successfully return such serves.
Players have to avoid anything that may compromise their speed and agility. Thus they should refrain from gaining too much muscle mass, which will slow them down.