When Is a Man’s Arm Considered Big?

Over the years I’ve often wondered how do my overall measurements compare to the average guy – specifically my arms (I know how my weight compares). As I probably  stated before, I’ve always wanted to get my arms to 18″ (flexed, cold) and always seem to fall just short of my goal. Yeah, sometimes life just works out that way.

Now 18″ sure seems a reasonable size when you read about pro bodybuilders with 20, 21, or even 22″ arms. Granted, the pros are more than likely exaggerating their size to maintain a certain mystique, maintain their ego, and even to “psyche” out the competition.  Also, their size is very likely beyond the normal, non-chemically enhanced person. There are also experts, such as Ellington Darden – one of my favorite workout “gurus” of the eighties, who say that because of improper measuring almost all arm sizes are exaggerated (especially with a cloth tape which can add a quarter of an inch to the circumference because of the width of the tape itself).

Anyway,  finding out the stats on the average male arm was tougher than I thought! There are several articles and discussions on the web and they mostly point back to the same one or two sources – Men’s Health magazine among them – and the answer seems to be that an American man of 5’9.5″ at a body weight of 175 has arms which are 13″ in circumference. What I can’t find is if that’s a flexed or unflexed measurement. My guess is unflexed since 13″ seems a bit on the small side to me for a flexed arm of a fully grown man, but I could be wrong.

Now granted I’m a little taller and a lot heavier than the so-called “average” man I’ve referred to above, but in any case my arms are significantly larger than 13″ even unflexed (about 14.75″ unflexed – 16 flexed as of this morning). I, of course, don’t think my arms look that big, but I imagine that’s common among those of us who workout to get both bigger and stronger, and hanging around gyms and guys who workout does mean that I tend to be around people who are, on average, larger than average. Heck, my former training partner’s arms taped at around 18″ and I’ve compared myself to him for years – even when his arms where “only” about 16″ and mine where in that average neighborhood of 13″ (was I really that “small” once?).

My own personal obsession with big arms, and bodybuilding in general,  was probably strengthened when I was first diagnosed with Crohn’s and my weight dropped to below 140 lbs and my arms shrank to 11″ (flexed! – I was literally skin and bones at that point).

However, all the above are just statistics. I think ultimately, a man’s arm is considered big simply when it looks big. I know men who are relatively short (below 5’10”) and have arms that appear massive (Google any male gymnastic team). But in reality, they don’t tape over 16″. Likewise, there are tall men (6′ or more) who appear thin, but their arms tape at over 17″ (think basketball players). Perspective plays a big role in appearance. That along with bodyfat percentage and muscle shape (see examples below). 

Keep lifting, watch your diet so that your bodyfat stays low and ignore the tape. You’ll be surprised at how big your arms look. If you want to find out how big you are compared to other lifters and “recreational” bodybuilders check out my blog post here and participate in my survey to add to the data I’ve collected on this topic.

Oh, and wear shirts one size too small. That’s the fastest way to get big arms. But for the secret to building big arms (which isn’t a secret) look here.

I’m curious as to what other people think. When do you think an arm is “big?” And I, of course, mean in a solid, muscular way.

Onward!

NOTE: In September 2018 I researched average arm size again and found that 13″ still appears to be the standard for a 20 – 29 year old man. However, this number moves closer to 14″ in middle age (50+) presumably due to an increase in body fat however, not an increase in muscle mass. The 13″ arm is also based on a man of average height (in the USA about 5’9″. No doubt taller men may have naturally larger arms and there’s always that one guy out there who never trains but has the arms of a Mountain Gorilla anyway).

Olympic gymnast Jake Dalton. Noted for the size of his biceps – but at a height of 5’5″ his arms likely do not tape over 16″ (couldn’t find anything on Google). However, proportionately to his physique his build is impressive. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
The impressive arm of Peter K. Vaughn (@peter.kv on Instagram – check out his website ). On it’s own it appears big, but check the tape. At 16″ it’s not big by most traditional bodybuilding standards. However, excellent definition and muscle shape – particularly the peak of the bicep – contribute to the appearance of appearing larger than it is.
Here’s my arm at about the same size as Peter’s. It doesn’t appear as big due to my much higher bodyfat percentage at the and the relatively flat shape of my biceps. My forearm looks good though. For reference Peter and I are just about the same height (5’10” and 5’11” respectively).
Here’s my friend Ty Clifton, who is 6’3″ with a long, lean overall physique. On the left his arm measures 18″ and on the right 17.5″. Notice that the smaller arm looks larger due to the increased definition. Because of his height his arm needs to be larger than any of the others I’ve used as an example to appear to be big – which they are! (Photo courtesy of Ty Clifton on Instagram @bigcherryfit).

23 thoughts on “When Is a Man’s Arm Considered Big?

  • I am 73 years old, height 5’ 8” weight 191. Did some powerlifting in the past (late 50’s early 60’s) but was never very competitive
    Bench 280 Deadlift 405 Squat 280 @185 body weight. Had to give up the gym when my wife fell ill and I became a full time caregiver. Lost her July 2019 after 50 years. To help me physically and mentally I got back to the gym. Was making good progress then Covid hit. Decided to stay away from the gym as most young gym goers don’t sanitize very well. Finding weights and equipment was very hard at first but I have managed to build a nice gym in the basement cable set up and all. Kettlebells dumbbells. A variety of bars, etc.
    like many of us older guys we are just trying to hold on to what muscle we have and stay healthy.
    Have decent size arms 15” but most size comes from triceps which respond nicely. I am a much happier person when I can work out.

    Like

    • I’m sorry about your wife. I’m sure that it’s still difficult. But I’m glad you’re back exercising. So many guys think that getting older means getting weaker and fatter. Sure, maybe we can’t make gains like we used too but we can still play with the iron. Keeps our bones and joints healthier too. I’m not sure how I’d make it through all of this without acces to a home gym myself. BTW, my triceps respond well, too. Thanks for reading and happy lifting!

      Like

  • I came here looking for answers and I found them. Although I am still googling famous people’s hight and arm size, such as YouTubers, fitness YouTubers, actors etc to draw comparison to myself but with visuals too. I am currently 38, 183lbs which is about close to 14 stone I believe. 16″ arms after a good pump at home. Very natural, vegan food healthy living now. But I consider myself to look unmuscular in a large T shirt. Workout for 1 hour per day minimum. Thanks for the article.

    Like

  • I came here looking for answers and I found them. Although I am still googling famous people’s hight and arm size, such as YouTubers, fitness YouTubers, actors etc to draw comparison to myself but with visuals too. I am currently 38, 183lbs which is about close to 14 stone I believe. 16″ arms after a good pump at home. Very natural, vegan food healthy living now. But I consider to look unmuscular in a large T shirt. Workout for 1 hour per day minimum. Thanks for the article.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Yes, I found the same myself while interrogating the web; average male bicep size flexed is around 13″. Same for me, wasn’t easy to find. The one which is far harder to find, and I didn’t find it, is the average male forearm circumference. This I was querying because I have hardly trained my forearms directly, but they are relatively, quite large all the way down to my 8″ wrists. Some guys have huge forearm thickness close to the elbow, but very slender shortly beyond that point. I’m 5ft7″ 220lb, forearms cold, relaxed and out straight are 13.5″ and I can squeeze 15″ out of them cold. Biceps for comparison, 16.5″ flexed, also cold. At 56 in a couple of months, I indeed, have my share of body-fat. However, I can feel my ribs and my arms are quite solid, though not quite as solid as they were 20, 30 years ago.

    I have a few old injuries, so cannot train like I used to. However, last year, working on a friend’s garden feature, I lifted off the ground, ‘one end’ of a pack of 11ft concrete lintels with one hand while placing under them, a more suitable bearer with the other. That’s 3 lintels totalling 420kg, 926lb, the portion of which I lifted I don’t know, but much of my younger strength appears to remain. While young, I trained more for strength than size, training with several sets of 6 reps with more weight with each set until I couldn’t do any more. Now, I just train to preserve what I have.

    For someone almost 60, you have great guns. Yes, 16″ biceps is a big size, especially if natural. Though I agree, being tall, 16″ arms would appear closer to average, albeit, athletic.

    Thanks for an interesting read. Keep on training, this is probably one of the best ways to a longer and healthier life.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the reply, I enjoy hearing other people’s stories and experiences. With an 8″ wrist, which I believe is on the large side, I’m not surprised that you have large forearms. You have a solid skeleton to support a great deal of muscle. No doubt in part due to your strength training. I can let you know, being a few years older, that I think we can all hang onto our strength a lot longer than common knowledge would have us believe. I notice that I don’t recover quite as quickly but I am still making gains through training (after some setbacks due to health issues from my Crohn’s) and my trainer says that I outlift many of his younger clients. So I agree – keep training as long as you can!

      Liked by 1 person

      • You’re welcome, I have just searched for ‘World’s oldest weight lifter’ and found Jim Arrington who’s a professional bodybuilder at 85. There are others in their 80s and long ago I saw on TV an American lady weight training at 102. Very impressive and shows it can be done well into old age. Takes me longer to recover too, but I’m retired now, so I can just train at a pace I’m comfortable with.

        Liked by 1 person

    • That’s an impressive dead lift. Just measured my forearms 15.5″, wrist 7″ arms at rest to the side is 17.5″ flexed 19.2″. I’m 5’11” 240 lbs. Yeah training to preserve is what my main goal is too. Keeping the legs to what I use to have is tougher. I’m measuring thighs at 26″ calves at 18″, much smaller than many years ago. I have to give credit where it’s due and that’s spending 20 years in the Marine Corps. They instilled a work ethic in me that I use every day. What I really need to do is more aerobics, gotta get the fat off, need to be down around 200. I use to be able to drop 20 – 30 lbs in a few months. Now I’m lucky to lose10 lbs in a few months UGH!! BTW never used anything stronger than protein drinks…

      Liked by 2 people

      • I think we can all agree that the “battle of the bulge” gets more difficult as we get older. But it sounds like you’ve managed to maintain a great deal of muscle over the years. Nice work (and great work ethic)!

        Like

        • It’s refreshing to see a blog from what I consider average Joe’s. There isn’t much out there that hits on keeping muscle after 50 and nutrition. Yeah, there’s a ton of crap and the same five pictures of these guys in their late 50’s to early 60’s with competition style bodies. You can see the AAS and testosterone replacement drugs oozing off them. And the occasional Men’s Fitness article about middle aged actors who have personal trainers. But for us average guys, there’s really not much good advice out there. I really don’t want to listen to a 20 or 30 year old Silver Sneakers or Pilate instructor either… I’m interested in what type of diet for our age group/metabolism etc. What protein rule do you follow, fat and carbs. Do you use supplements? I believe I have the weight training down, I just need to reboot my fat burning and nutrition intake……

          Liked by 2 people

          • I’ll admit that I now have a personal trainer – but only twice a week and not so much for the knowledge he might have but to help keep me honest. I agree that there isn’t much out there for the mature man. I think the assumption, which I also think is false, is that we either don’t care anymore or are unable to exercise. FYI – in my case I just try to follow good rules of nutrition and get a little more protein than an inactive person (i.e. a shake after working out) and the only supplements I use are multi-vitamins and omega-3 tablets. Though you’ve given me an idea for another blog entry – supplements and the mature man. I wonder what info I can dig up that’s reputable out there? I’m guessing not much!

            Like

      • That’s quite some physique you have there. I’m not sure the deadlift was so impressive. Intuitively, it would appear I lifted half that weight with one hand; but lifting up one end of an object is easier than lifting half that weight as one object entirely off the floor, such as say, a Daddy dumbbell. Still, I remember young work colleagues who could not lift up one end of a 220lb roll of reinforced PVC. So, at almost 56, I’m pleased with that lift anyway. Likewise, I took nothing stronger than protein shakes. Attitude has far more power than anything cooked up in some laboratory. You, of course, have the additional benefit of military training.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Keep up the good work, it’s tough building muscle in your middle ages. I’m pushing 60, but have pretty much trained on and off all my adult life. My arms measure 19″ flexed 18.5″ UN-flexed. My problem at this age is fat ratio/definition. Plus the tendons can’t handle the weight it use to, so I have to be careful, my muscles and brain still want to go at it hard, but you have to retrain yourself to use different techniques and go lighter. I now condense my workouts to just one hour a day, concentrating on looks not size and strength. In my hay-day I’d bench 475, but today I try not to exceed 250, in fact I’ll just train with 225 and do more isometric for definition.
      Either way, weight training is a life saver at any age. I was diagnosed with CLL ( Chronic Lymphoma Leukemia) a few years ago. I am one of the fortunate ones that is on watch and wait and don’t require treatment. Some days are tougher than others with the tiredness and joint pain, but my weight training keeps me looking and feeling young. No one believes me when I tell them my age and illness, no complaints here…. Bottom line, keep training and don’t worry about size, you hit it on the head with just go for the look. If you feel like you’re getting stale. try switching up your routine, try new methods, keep your muscles guessing, but don’t over do it. I always look forward to my workouts, what can I do today to make my shoulders pop better or tighten up my calves, above all keep it fun……..

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thanks for your insight and encouragement. Like you I’m pushing 60 now. In just a few months in fact. Fat vs muscle ratio is the challenge but I’d be lying if I said I’ve completely given up my quest for size. It’s just further down the list!

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s