Among the different types of muscles in the human body, it’s the skeletal muscles that are responsible for everyday movement and are generally focused on for fitness and conditioning. There are a number of the factors that can stimulate an increase in muscle size, but the most commonly known stimuli is exercise. Although resistance training is the primary form of exercise linked to muscle growth, tennis can also increase muscle size to a certain degree.
How Muscle Growth Happens
An increase in muscle size, girth or mass is called hypertrophy. As the University of California San Diego reports, when you exercise, hypertrophy occurs in response to neural, genetic and protein reactions within your body. The neural reaction involves a gradual increase in how your nerves stimulate muscle contraction. As your nerves experience increasing contraction demands via exercise, your genes begin to dictate how other substances involved in muscle growth -- such as protein -- will respond. Protein is the chief substance used for increasing muscle fibers, which equates to increased muscle size. However, it’s your genes that determine how and how much protein is produced and used for building muscle. According to the University of California San Diego, while an increase in muscle strength through exercise can be detected within days, it may take a couple months for hypertrophy to begin.
Effects of Tennis
Because of the physical demands required for moving around the tennis court, tennis is widely known for its cardiovascular conditioning. However, playing tennis also affects the skeletal muscles by increasing muscle strength and endurance to greater degree, but muscle size to a much lesser degree. Hypertrophy stimulated by tennis is generally limited to specific muscles as opposed to overall major muscle groups. For example, as "The New York Times" points out, playing tennis develops front shoulder muscles from serving, but has little effect on back muscles.
Resistance Training and Nutrition
Although tennis may offer a degree of hypertrophy, resistance training and nutrition are more commonly recommended to facilitate building muscle. As Harvard Health Publications reports, resistance training generally involves the use of free weights, resistance bands, weight machines or other equipment that offer targeted resistance. And according to Muscle & Strength.com, muscle building nutrition includes eating protein and complex carbohydrates with every meal; avoiding sugar, excessive fat and salt; and taking nutritional supplements geared toward bodybuilding, such as creatine, glutamin and whey protein.
Serving Up Health Benefits
In addition to general cardiovascular benefits and some muscle building benefits, the Cleveland Medical Clinic reports that playing tennis offers many other health benefits, including reduced blood pressure, reduced stress and a decrease in the number or intensity of symptoms from chronic diseases such as diabetes and arthritis. Also, according to the U.S. Professional Tennis Association, those who engage in tennis at least three hours per week at a moderately vigorous pace, reduce their risk of death from health-related issues by 50 percent.
- Inner Body.com: Muscular System
- University of California San Diego: Hypertrophy
- U.S. Professional Tennis Association: Tennis Physiology
- Paradigm Shift for Future Tennis: The Art of Tennis Physiology, Biomechanics & Phychology
- The New York Times: Phys Ed - How to Fix a Bad Tennis Shoulder
- Harvard Health Publications/Harvard Medical School: Strength Training Builds More Than Muscles
- Muscle & Strength.com: Ten Commandments of Muscle Building Nutrition
- Cleveland Medical Clinic: Tennis – Stronger Mind and Body
- U.S. Professional Tennis Association: 34 Reasons to Play Tennis
- Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images