How Do You Know if You Have Big Arms?

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

There is a saying in most gyms that, for men at least, “the day you first pick up a weight is the day you become forever small.”

Like many sayings there seems to be some truth in it. In fact, I will go out on a limb and say that every man who starts to lift weights is doing it because at some level he wants bigger muscles. Oh sure, he might start with the idea of getting stronger for sports or maybe it’s because he is getting picked on for being too skinny (or too fat) or because he thinks it will help him get noticed by girls or any of a dozen more reasons. But, at the basic motivation level, he wants to be able to roll up his shirt sleeve and have something to flex. Or better yet, something to flex that will stretch his shirt sleeves without rolling them up.

This isn’t an issue just for American men. If my most popular blog post – When is a Man’s Arm Considered Big? – is any indication this is a concern for men all over the world. I’ve had hits from every continent (except Antarctica) and most every country. Some even from real people!

Go to social media or your favorite search engine and you’ll find that building bigger arms is a popular subject for literally thousands of Instagrammers, YouTubers, Facebookers, and I suspect Tik Tokkers too. Even men with extraordinarily big arms will talk about how they want to add just a little more “size to the bis” with the usual goal being a muscular 20 inches (or a little over 50 cm). Which, frankly, is unrealistic for most men and difficult to achieve even with vitamin-S (steroids).

Me as a “fat” teen. Photo from my high school yearbook.

“But wait,” you say, “don’t guys who are jacked know that they are jacked?” No, they don’t always know. Obviously a few do and they are eager to capitalize on this (again go to social media – you’ll find plenty of them willing to sell you a training program). But for most of us “average Joes” it’s a constant battle to gain a little more size and shape. Because no matter how developed we become there’s always the same skinny/fat guy looking back at us in the mirror.

Many people joke that bodybuilders and weightlifters – but never crossfitters for some reason (zing!) – suffer from body dysmorphia. I’m not going to go that far as true dysmorphia is a serious mental health disorder that can lead to significant issues. But I do think that as a group the bodybuilding community may suffer from what I’ll call a physical “misperception.” It’s no secret that in a way we are all two different people. We are the person who the world sees and also the person who we see inside our head. Moreover this inner perception of ourselves is often formed when we are young and difficult to change. If you were skinny as a kid, your self-image is one of a skinny kid. I myself always thought I was fat as a kid but pictures from my youth clearly indicate that this was never the case!

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

From my own personal experience regardless of how big or small my arms have been over the years – from stick thin (thanks to my Crohn’s disease) to flat and fat (thanks poor diet) – in the mirror I always see the same somewhat shapeless, flabby arm. Even when presented with external evidence to the contrary.

For example, here are a few comments I have gotten about my arms over the years:

  • “Wow, you have big triceps,” from an EMT helping to remove my sweatshirt in the Emergency Room (long story told here).
  • “You have big triceps,” a friend making casual conversation at a party after asking if I had been working out.
  • “You must workout,” from a phlebotomist about to take my blood.
  • “Don’t go breaking my blood pressure cuff with those muscles,” a medical technician during a pre-exam. Yes, in case you noticed, many of the comments I get about my arm development come from medical professionals.
  • “At some point your arms just kind of blew up like…(making a motion that indicates the size of a basketball),” a friend who was commenting on my weight room progress.
  • “You think your arms are small because you can’t see your triceps,” from a training partner.
  • “Looks like someone brought the big guns out tonight,” a crew member taking my ticket while I was boarding a boat for a dinner cruise (I was wearing a short sleeve shirt with admittedly tight sleeves).
  • “Oh come on, make a muscle,” a female friend at a party. I put this one here because all the other above comments were from men – so much about bigger muscles attracting women (sorry guys).

Interestingly enough, I got many of these comments when my arms were not at their biggest. Why? Because a fat arm doesn’t necessarily look big. Especially if it matches the rest of the body. Without definition and a visible “peak” to the bicep or “horseshoe” to the tricep the assumption is that there is no muscle underneath. A man with 18″ (46 cm) arms, which are big in anyone’s books, at 35% bodyfat may therefore look smaller than the man with a 16″ (41 cm) arms at 15% bodyfat. In this case size does not actually matter. The perception of size does.

So, if a big arm can look small and a small arm can look big – how do you know if you have big arms?

Simple, other people will tell you.

Now, go hit the gym. It’s arm day!

Photo by Cesar Galeu00e3o on Pexels.com

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted.
Photos and words @copyright David P. Wahr

The Secret to Building Big Arms Which No One Else is Willing to Share Is…

If there’s one thing that I think we can be sure of is that most guys who start lifting are interested in building big arms. In fact, based on ads and “click bait” on social media you might presume that most lifters are obsessed with arm size (I’m one of them).

Add an inch to your arms in 24 hours! The secret to bigger biceps! This routine is guaranteed to add inches to your arms! The pitches go on and on and with good reason and have been going on for as long as I’ve been aware. It can be argued that Joe Weider built an entire industry with ads for bigger biceps in the back of comic books.

Heck, the number one most viewed blog post I’ve written is When Is a Man’s Arm Considered Big? (followed closely by How Much Can the Average Man Bench? But we’ll investigate that another time).

So in my mind there is no doubt that men in particular want to have pumped up “guns.” They want to be asked to “make a muscle” for the admiring kids or be asked the ever popular “let me feel your arm” by an attractive young lady when hanging out and are just waiting for that subtle brush of their arm and the soft cooing from a potential romantic encounter.

Even though, more often than not, the comments come from fellow gym rats. However, “brah, how’d you build them pipes?” and “nice veins dude” comments are not unwelcome (just don’t interrupt during the set please).

Chances are if you’ve read this far you are one of the many men in search of the perfect exercise to build peaks high enough to get snow on them and triceps so full and well defined you can shoe a horse with them.

So what’s the secret? What’s the one thing I can do today to have bigger arms tomorrow?

To find out, I decided to take a completely unscientific survey of men I know who happen to have what I consider to be great arms. This group included gymnasts, rugby players, recreational lifters, and competitive bodybuilders. I asked a simple question: what is your favorite arm exercise and why?

And do you know what I found that these men all said was their favorite exercise? The one thing they did to build their enviable arms?

NO, JUST TELL ME ALREADY!

In no particular order the secret move they did was:

  • Barbell Curls
  • Hammer Curls
  • Spider Curls
  • Bent over DB Curls
  • Every other kind of curl
  • Tricep Extensions
  • Tricep Push-Downs
  • Pullups
  • Chinups
  • Every other kind of up
  • And on, and on, and on (okay, not that far on. I don’t know that many guys with jacked arms).

Many of the responders had very logical reasons why their move was a favorite. For example: Olympic gymnast, and all round nice guy, Jake Dalton said, “my favorite arm exercise is bent over db curls with drop sets. I like it because it is a difficult challenge and it also creates a lot of blood flow and it is also very specific to that muscle. It’s specifically bicep and that’s what I like about it.”

Jake Dalton

A friend and colleague of mine, Bodie Bankey (on Instagram @bbankey58 ), who is a competitive bodybuilder (and huge and also an all round nice guy) has a very specific routine that covers all the muscle angles because he has found that his arms seem to respond best to very controlled form and a mix of rep ranges.

Bodie Bankey in competition shape

So you can’t argue with the results these guys have gotten despite having different favorite exercises.

if there is noT one move OR ROUTINE to get big arms, How do I get my twigs to grow into logs?

There are only three real things all the guys I surveyed had in common: 1) a commitment to working out; 2) consistency in their work outs; and last but not least, 3) patience. In my opinion, all three of these things are of equal importance. Commitment to working out should be obvious. But what isn’t obvious is that the type of workout may not be critical between strict weight training and bodyweight exercises.

For instance Jake Dalton (did I mention that he is a former Olympian? Really, you should give him a follow on Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/user/jdflipkid/videos ) who has extremely well developed arms, even for a gymnast, didn’t specifically train his arms for size and strength. They are the product primarily of bodyweight exercises, done from a young age, and favorable genetics.

Bodie Bankey, like most bodybuilders, on the other hand trains specifically with weights for size and strength. Unlike Jake he didn’t start training for his sport specifically until late in his teens and though he clearly has a propensity for building muscle it took him years to attain his current size and strength. Read that again – years.

So to sum up, if you want big arms there are no shortcuts. You need to pick up a weight, curl and press it using good form, measure your results to figure out what works for you and what doesn’t, and have patience. Biceps, like Rome, aren’t built in a day or even a month. But give it a year or so and your arms will get bigger. So get ready for the comments and treat yourself to that new wardrobe.

So what’s your favorite arm exercise?

NOTE: results vary. Not everyone has the potential to grow 20 inch arms with freaky peaked biceps with or without chemical assistance. But that’s a subject for another blog entry (like this one).

Opinions in this blog are my own. I don’t have an editor and don’t know how to use commas. So if you find a mistake feel free to let me know. If you choose to follow any advice in this blog please be aware that I am not a medical professional or a professional health care/exercise science/therapist of any kind. Always consult a doctor before beginning a program of vigorous exercise.

Bodybuilding: Expectations vs Realities

This may come as a shock to some, but from the the moment a guy first picks up a weight, usually sometime in high school, he expects to get bodybuilder huge no matter how thin or heavy he might be. He might say that he is only working out for sports or to get “toned,” whatever that means, but my personal experience is otherwise. I’ve actually heard men say that they workout but that they don’t want to get too big – as if that was a possibility. I mean, most men will get bigger and stronger from lifting weights but getting “big” takes 1) genetics, which determine muscle shape, height, frame size, and a myriad of other physical characteristics – good and bad, 2) dedication and commitment to a routine, 3) proper nutrition (possibly the most important factor), 4) time, and if you really want to get “too big” most likely you’ll need 5) drugs (the illegal kind, not to be confused with supplements. By the way, I do not advocate the former and caution you to be careful with the latter). I could add another factor which is age. However, I believe that you can improve regardless of age. It might be harder to get going, you won’t recover quite as quickly and you may have to be more careful with your joints, but you can and will improve no matter how old or young you are.

Some of this expectation is natural, part of the male hubris if you will, but some of it is created from the sheer number of examples out there on social and traditional media. For example, I can remember a time when men could be in movies and television without having a six pack. And you don’t have to look far on social media to find all sorts of examples of guys (and gals) who are exceptionally well built. At least under the proper bathroom or locker room lighting.

Does this mean that you shouldn’t workout because you will never look the way you want too? Of course not. But most of us might want to consider setting goals that are more in line with our body types.

Take me for example. If you’ve read my previous blogs it should be no surprise that one of my goals from working out was always to build big, peaked biceps. However, the reality is that this will never happen for me. Regardless of how big (17.5 inches at one point) or small (about 11 inches) my arms are, my biceps always have a more rounded football like shape. In fact, until someone sees my triceps – my most commented on muscle – my arms don’t look that muscular.

Conversely, someone like my brother-in-law gets comments on the size of his arms – even when they are relatively small (for him at least) – because the shape of his bicep is more peaked and pronounced. Combine this with a genetic propensity to build his arms quickly – compared to most men – and you have someone who goes through sleeves with regularity. However, what he has in biceps he lacks in triceps. Sure they’re big, but not as pronounced as mine.

My unobtainable biceps goal as demonstrated by Peter K. Vaughn (find him on Instagram @peter.kv or @pkv.personaltraining).

Genetics determines muscle shape and the ability to build muscle. This doesn’t mean that someone with ordinary genetics can’t build a good looking body. But it’s going to take effort and commitment and frankly you may never look the way you want to look. Despite whatever artificial assistance Arnold had he was in reality a genetic freak (I don’t mean that in a mean way). Even at a young age he was better built than most adult men. His potential was enormous from the start.

My reality. Same size at Peter’s arm above, but due to a different shape and higher amount of body fat not nearly as impressive.

Regardless of genetics if you don’t put in the work and the nutrition, you won’t make outstanding progress as evidenced by this photo of my arm from 2017. A big arm, but soft. Below is a more recent picture of my arm after losing some weight. Shape is the same, but definition is better so the arm at a smaller size actually looks larger.

Me just before my recent surgery. My arm is smaller but better defined. Still no peak though due to the positioning of my muscle insertions and overall shape of the muscle belly.

So given that genetics will partly determine your ultimate results what can you expect if you put the work in? Frankly, quite a bit.

First off, regardless of how you end up looking you will feel better, move better and, barring an underlying medical condition of some kind, be healthier in general.

Even with an underlying health condition chances are you’ll do better with regular exercise than without (always check with your doctor before starting any program). For example, my friend Peter K. Vaughn like me suffers from Crohn’s. But despite multiple setbacks due to the disease he has the drive and stamina to keep making the best of what God gave him. Somewhat thin and lanky by nature he has overcome this to build a solid physique. The proof is in the picture below.

As you can see, he makes tremendous progress between setbacks. His biceps respond the fastest to training, but thanks to his consistency, commitment to proper nutrition, and the wonder of muscle memory, he bounces back quickly.

Even if you have great overall genetics to start with, it still takes time and effort to reach your full potential. Though progress can be noted in a few weeks, real change takes months and often years. For example Alexander Miles below.

Photo courtesy of Alexander Miles on Instagram @milesfitness. His website is
https://myfit-strategy.com/ .

Even as a teen you can see the potential in his physique based on his well defined delts and arms. However, he starts out pretty thin without much chest development or the classic V shape. Today however, you would not know that he was once a skinny teen. By working out regularly, and hard, staying focused on nutrition he’s been able to maximize his physique over a period of years.

Even guys with more average builds to start with can vastly improve their physiques and strength. For example, I used to work with a young man, Aymeric Van De Hove, pictured below, who went from a typical thin teen to a very well built man in less than five years. You can see some of his basic muscle shape in the 2010 photo, but no real hint of the physique that he would ultimately build over the next five years. With hard work and dedication he took what most experts might call an average physique and built something impressive and distinctly above average. Aymeric is also blessed with a very symmetrical physique. Note how his abs line up perfectly with each other. This is more rare than you might think and a product of genetics which cannot be changed regardless of how many crunches you do.

One last observation, “bro science” will tell you that tall men have a harder time putting on muscle than shorter men (think Basketball players versus gymnasts) but in my experience this isn’t necessarily true. I know some tall men who have an impressive amount of muscle on their frames and some skinny short guys. Some of the difference is just a matter of perspective. A 6 foot man with 16 inch arms will look smaller than a 5 foot 5 inch man with the same size arms. But, they actually have the same amount of muscle. And the taller man often has a larger frame and ultimately can put on more muscle than the shorter guy. In any case, both tall and shorter men can build a significant amount of muscle. In my opinion, you are more likely to be limited by the size and width of your frame.

Your height is no barrier to building muscle. Here’s Caleb Carr (@calebcarrfitness on Instagram) who is 5’5″ inches tall. Five years ago he was a lean runner with fairly wide shoulders, note the muscle definition in the before picgture. Already he was showing the potential for growth. Today he’s the same height and 75 pounds heavier (about 205). He’s clearly made the most of his great potential through heavy lifting and proper nutrition.
Likewise, tall men can build muscle too. Here’s me with Davy Barnes at the Arnold a few years ago. Davy, a recent contestant on the Titan Games (@davymichael on Instagram), stands 6’3″ and started working out when he was about 150 pounds. In this picture he weighed about 250 which is not his biggest. Currently, he carries 270 pounds on a relatively wide frame.

So to sum up, there are many factors that go into determining how far you can take your physique. I’ve only discussed a few here and most can be overcome for the most part. But the main takeaway is that regardless of the body nature gives you, you can build a better looking and healthier body. You need to put in the work, stay true to good nutrition, stay consistent in your workouts, and change your lifestyle to make meaningful change. The change will take time as there is no magic pill – but you can do it! Just don’t expect biceps like Arnold. Build the best body you can build, don’t be like me and keep comparing yourself to others or judging your progress by their progress.

We all have different metabolism’s and progress at our own rate. Keep striving to be the best you can be and you’ll be a happy camper indeed.

Onward!

Note: this blog is written from a male perspective because I’m a guy. Motivations and expectations are likely different for women. Just saying. Also, as always, no matter how motivated you feel after reading this blog – and I hope you feel at least a little motivated – always check with your favorite health care provider before starting a new exercise routine.

#oldguyslifttoo – Consarn It!

Those of you who follow me on other social media (yeah, both of you) may have noticed that I usually tag any remotely fitness related post first with #oldguyslifttoo. Though it clearly hasn’t caught on I’m trying to make a point with that hashtag.

It doesn’t take much observation to realize that in our culture and society fitness and athletic activities are the province of the young. In mo and t pro sports you’re finished before 40. A quick look through Instagram and you’ll find hundreds, if not thousands, of posts, pictures, selfies, swolfies, and not so random flexing poses of young men (and a few women) in front of bathroom mirrors. Each who seems fully dedicated to their particular workout, diet and intent on spreading their knowledge and enthusiasm to the world. Or at least get a date. Maybe both, I’m not sure, and I’m not criticizing this in the least. If it motivates anyone towards physical fitness I’m for it. Heck, if I had the abs and biceps of some of these guys I’d be right there in front of my mirror with my phone snapping a picture too.

But, you don’t see so much from older people. Go to a gym, again filled with folks under 40. Now I’m sure that there are a lot of reasons for this. The usual being other priorities. Career, family, etc. But, these reasons don’t explain all the middle-age men and women out there who have just stopped moving. The kids are out of the house, but instead of using the time gained from no longer running mom’s transit service they have doubled down on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and the like. Then complain that they hurt all the time or don’t have energy.

It’s time to change this folks. The benefits of daily exercise are well documented. Both men and women at any age can increase strength and improve quality of life with a moderate program of walking and weightlifting. Barring an underlying medical condition (and hey, I’m pooping into a plastic bag as I type this so I know about underlying conditions) you can stall father time. You may never have 20 inch arms or buns of steel again but you can keep your bones strong and muscles firm well into old age.

Which, for all you teens out there, doesn’t start at 30.

So, I’m proud to be an old guy who lifts, too. I hope you’ll join me.

And whoknows, maybe senior citizen swolfies will catch on too!

Onward!

Dave

Fitness Quest: The Benefits of Becoming A Fitness Fanatic

One of the blessings of constantly searching the internet for workout ideas, plans, diets, etc. is that you run across postings by interesting and often inspiring people (we’ll ignore the dull and uninspiring for now who seem to be much, much more prevalent). One person I found is Davy Barnes, a business owner by day and an aspiring fitness model/bodybuilder pretty much the rest of the time. He posted something a few weeks ago that I think sums up why so many first picked up a weight and become addicted to it. Though I imagine this is true of runners and pretty much any other dedicated athlete I chose a bodybuilder because I like to pretend I’m one whenever I’m lifting weights. He has, of course, given me permission to share this with you.

In his words…

“I remember when I used to consume toaster strudels, Mountain Dews, Chips, energy drinks, etc. every day. I was nothing bu skin and bones and couldn’t have been healthy. I hated that and finally one day I decided that was going to change. I have worked HARD for six years. A lot of people just see the results, but don’t see the endless hours at work, in the gym or in the kitchen…I don’t think a lot of people understand. To me Bodybuilding or Fitness is not only about your physique or how you look in the mirror, although that is a great reward; it is a way of developing a connection between your body and mind! It’s a way of building a stronger character and persona!

It must not be a selfish, self-centered activity but rather a tool to build confidence and strength to go through life. It can help motivate and lift those up around you who are maybe overweight, depressed, sad and looking to change to a healthier lifestyle. Many people confuse bodybuilding with only lifting weights, drinking protein shakes, juicing [steroids], flexing in photos or for girls but I look at it as a much broader experience! For me it is a continuous process of self-betterment in and outside the gym! Because of bodybuilding I am able to be more successful at other aspects of life; I am more disciplined, organized and focused at achieving my goals. I’m not lazy and I learned the most valuable principle-hard work always pays off!

Because of bodybuilding I can reach thousands of people all around the world to deliver my message, inspire and motivate to live a fuller, healthier and exciting life, to chase after goals and dreams and most importantly, be a witness to others. Even the Bible has verses stating to take care of our bodies and to eat healthy. Besides that, with all of the unhealthy food choices and diseases now days, it motivates me to eat even more clean every day! As hard as it is, I try not to be the guy who puts down anyone who may be unhealthy or overweight because, hey, at the end of the day we are all in this together!” 

Now, Davy is very good at what he has been doing and dedicated (see the picture I’ve included for evidence of this) and he’s gaining recognition and followers on social media and from what I can see, his message has remained unchanged. I like that.

He has chosen bodybuilding as his method of relating and dealing with the world and I think that anyone who looks to improve themselves could do much worse than begin a regular program of exercise – even if you choose not to build a Mr. Olympia worthy physique, you’ll end up stronger and healthier for the effort. I think this is true of any physical pursuit whether it be weight lifting, running, yoga, or whatever. As long as you focus, are patient, and stick with it you’ll develop not only your physical toughness but your mental toughness as well (presuming you avoid drugs, etc.).  You’ll be able to endure during difficult times, set goals, push your limits and continue long after others have given up.

And these are traits that can carry you through most any other part of your life as well, personal or professional.

Onward!

Davy Barnes Progression

Starting upper left and then going clockwise, Davy Barnes in 2007 (when he first took up weights), 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015. Patience, perseverance, and hard work paid off for him. You can find more about him on Facebook @davybarnesbodybuilding (aka Davy Muscle) and Instagram @davyb2333

 

Measurements and Bodybuilding Success

I find it an ironic fact of the age we live in that as a society we know more about nutrition and diet than ever before, we have access to more devices to aid in exercise than ever before, we have gyms and fitness centers everywhere, our televisions, computers, and mobile devices are littered with ads for weight loss and muscle building, bodybuilding has gone from an obscure past time to a main stream activity, the pressure to have a six pack (men and women) is palpable, diet, nutrition and exercise are common topics at any gathering and yet we are as a nation – with the rest of the world close behind – fatter and more unfit than ever before!

Now there are any number of reasons that this is the case. For example, our food is over sugared and over fat and we are eating out more and more often where the food is prepared with taste in mind first and health second (and the QSRs and Restaurants of the world think we like fat, salt, and sugar). I get that. But why do so many people start diets and fitness regimens each day only to fail?

I think a big part of it is that though everyone starts out with some sort of goal in mind, not everyone properly tracks and monitors their progress towards that goal.

One of the first things we learn in business is that if you can’t measure it you can’t fix it. As a result everything is measured, counted, and tracked in the most successful businesses. From the amount of product moved each day to the satisfaction of the patrons. Not only is an overall goal set but a good business also identifies strategic benchmarks and tracks information every step of the way.

I’m afraid that what seems like common sense in business may be forgotten in the kitchen and in the gym. How many of us have said, “I’m going to lose 10 pounds this month” and then made some changes to low fat foods, increased vegetables and switched to leaner meats only to discover that you have gained weight at the end of the month? This is because though you thought you were tracking what you were eating you really weren’t. If you want to be the most successful you need to track every single thing you eat. Not only the food itself but the amount. Is this a pain in the you know what? You betcha! But I think it is the only way. Otherwise, you will slip into old habits without even thinking about it (the “one cookie won’t hurt” mentality). Try logging everything you eat for a week. I bet you’ll be surprised to find out a couple things:

1. How much you really eat.
2. That you’ll lose weight the first week you do this because you are now conscious of what you are eating.

Once you’ve mastered logging move on to measuring portions. There are apps out there to assist (I like MyFitnessPal) but you’ll find you are better off eating and preparing meals at home versus eating out.

The same goes with your exercises and even your body. Most of us probably use a scale and check our waist on occasion but do you also track other key measurements? For example bodybuilders will often measure their arms for bragging rights (anything over 16″ is usually considered big check out my earlier blog, When is an Arm Considered Big? if you are interested in factoids like that) but did you know that if you check your unflexed arm and compare it to your flexed measurements and track the difference you can get an idea if you are getting leaner (you can’t flex fat)? Do you check your hips along with your waist? Are you tracking your exercises? It’s not enough to say “I’m going to run 20 minutes today” you need to check your distance as well. If you’re running 20 minutes and find yourself not going as far each time you need to step it up a notch and make progress – otherwise you are literally running behind! 

I’ve been tracking measurements and lifts since high school myself and have quite a log of progress to look back on when I find myself thinking that I haven’t made any progress over the years (see the featured image with this post). I find it helpful and motivating to realize that my forearms are now larger than my upper arms were in college and to see that I now, when I feel weaker overall inside, that I still lift more than twice what I did in high school. In many ways I find the old records more motivating than pictures or the mirror. I’ll be honest, I pretty much always see the same good looking guy in the mirror no matter how heavy, thin, bald, or old I am. I also realize that pictures can be deceiving depending on lighting and other factors (I always twist a little to make my waist seem smaller and shoulders broader for example). But the scales and tape measures don’t lie (unless you get the stretchy kind – don’t do that).

How about everyone else?

Onward!

Fitness Quest: The Road Less Traveled

It should not come as a shock to anyone who’s ever known or paid attention to me (or has read this blog) that I’ve had a long time interest in health, fitness, bodybuilding, etc. This interest goes back quite a ways to my first flirtations with the gym and working out in high school, through a more serious attempt during college, up to the current day. Yet, during all this time, even when I was at my strongest and curling more than 100 pounds and benching almost 1.5 times my body weight (when I weighed close to 240) I don’t think there was ever a time you would have called me muscular. Sure, I had big arms and a big chest but I also had (have?) a big butt and big gut to go along with them. In my quest for size and strength I only gave lip service to fat loss. So even though I could bench more than 300 pounds (which is why I’m glad I write down my workouts – it’s hard to believe that I was once capable of this) I couldn’t run around the block without the risk of heart attack. Though my arms taped at just over 17.5 inches in circumference when flexed (4.5 inches more than the “average” man’s) my biceps lacked peak – though my tris were pretty well defined – in short, I was big but not built. I wanted to look like a bodybuilder but I looked more like a Bluto (from the Popeye comic strip).

Over the years I’ve tried a variety of workouts with varying consistency. I always blamed my lack of consistency, genetics and even my Crohn’s for my lack of progress. Well, people with Crohn’s much worse than mine have made better progress (see my earlier blogs on Peter K. Vaughn and Peter Nielsen for examples) and I know men who have made dramatic changes in their physiques in the course of a few months.

Well, today in the grocery store I finally had a revelation. My problem has been in front of my for all these years. Why do I not look the way I want? Because I eat the way I want!

I’ve been told this over the decades by at least two personal trainers (maybe three), a nutritionist, friends, family and God only knows how many books on exercise, weightlifting, diet, and nutrition.

So, what am I going to do about this? Well, I’ve already started.

Now that I have my caloric intake under control I need to improve the quality of what goes into my mouth. I loaded up on fresh (or as fresh as we get now days) veggies and fruits. I avoided the sugary treats, and I have enough to last the week. I chose Greek yogurt over regular because it has fewer calories and more protein (need some dairy after all). Tomorrow I plan my meals out so that I’m not caught in a situation where I “have” to go through the drive-thru and I’m taking another look at my supplement plan. Currently, I’m not taking anything except iron and calcium that my doctor prescribed. I’m thinking of adding back in a multi-vitamin and fish oil. Possibly some glucosamine as well for joint health.

I currently feel  better than I have in years so I’m determined not to squander this feeling. I may never lift 350 pounds again (or maybe I will, who knows) but I bet I still have time to see my abs. At least two of them…

Onward!

The ‘Extrovert’ and The Arnold

Back in 2011 I first went to the Arnold Sports Festival, affectionately know simply as “The Arnold,” and was in many ways awestruck. The event is huge and more over very crowded! I got it into my head that I wanted to go again this year. So, last Saturday off I went – along with a young man on my staff who has recently decided to give bodybuilding a try (and who, in my humble opinion, probably has better genetics and will power to succeed in bodybuilding than anyone else I’ve ever known – except for one other person who also, coincidentally, worked for me a few years ago. But, I digress…).

We got to Columbus without incident quickly found parking near the convention center and followed the crowd to the doors. There we found the convention center literally packed with people! I’ve seen smaller crowds at Big Ten football games. However, the event did not disappoint.

The Expo was the centerpiece of the day and there were plenty of supplement companies there. The ones you’ve heard of and ones you haven’t heard of. Compared to last time I noticed that there were fewer exercise equipment companies which was a shame since I’m not much into supplements anymore. The amateur bodybuilding finals were going on most of the day at one side of the Expo hall and the WWE “experience” crowded them in at the other. There were lines everywhere! So much so that we didn’t get much in the way of supplement samples – and I gave most of what I had away to my young protege (ha) since chocolate was the flavor of the day and I don’t do chocolate. The longest line of the day appeared to belong to Bodybuilding.com and a lot of people seemed willing to wait probably two or more hours to get a t-shirt and a picture with a celebrity or two. But, not us!

However, we met some famous people in the bodybuilding world include Ed Corney who competed until he was about 70 years old. An inspiration for us older lifters.

We broke away from the Expo a couple times to see some gymnastics, martial arts, boxing, almost saw fencing, artwork, and I caught a glimpse of the jump rope finals (yes, really). All for the $15.00 entry fee – and there was more going on in other venues around Columbus. This event seems to take over Columbus. I’m impressed with how many people it draws.

Oh, and the extrovert part of this? Despite my usually reserved nature around strangers my brother-in-law insists that I am an extrovert. Not because I am gregarious and outgoing (unless I know you) but because he has noticed over the years that I seem to be drawn to crowds and am energized by them. It was late afternoon at The Arnold while surrounded by a crush of humanity that I realized something. I felt good. I wasn’t tired and actually seemed more energetic than I was in the morning. This led me to think about the places I like to frequent in general, amusement parks, NYC, etc. and it dawned on me…son of a gun, my brother-in-law is right. I am an extrovert.

I hate when he’s right…

Oh, and I finally got my picture taken with Jay Cutler. I seemed to be the last gym goer on earth to not have a picture of him! Nice guy but by the time I got to meet him at the end of the day it was clear to me that he’s an introvert!

Onward!

Jay Cutler and I at the 2015 Arnold.
Jay Cutler and I at the 2015 Arnold.

Oh the humanity!
Oh the humanity!

No Short Cuts

In one of the Facebook groups I participate in we’ve been discussing some different body weight exercises and different types of exercise equipment over the years and it occurs to me that we, as humans, are always looking for that “quick fix” to get healthy. We are always searching for the magic exercise or that one piece of equipment that will do the trick and finally let us reach our goals.

Don’t believe me? Just turn on the television early any given morning and you’ll find ads for “Total Gym” this, “Body Blast” that, “PX-99” or whatever number they are up to now. In the past i remember ab rollers, rockers, and slides. Thigh masters and belly busters, and more gimmicks and gadgets than I can remember!

And even for the more serious lifters there have been “gimmicks” and fads too. Remember the first Universal machine? Nautilus equipment (state of the art in the eighties)? What about Soloflex, Bowflex, and I don’t know what other flex? Bullworker? These were (and are) all variations of the same principle. Lift heavier weights (aka increase resistance) and you will get stronger. Whether it’s from lifting iron and lead or carbon rods and rubber bands resistance is the key.

Even with plain old body weight exercises we have fads: crossfit (which does include weights I believe), planking, aerobics, Zumba, dance aerobics, “yoba” (yoga and Zumba combined), etc.

Now, to be fair, I think that all these things probably did work to one degree or another. If the person who bought or tried them actually used them more than a few days. That’s the trick. It doesn’t matter so much what you do as long as you do it. The truth is that there is only one way to build a bigger (or smaller), better, and healthier you – you have to exercise more and eat less (or eat more if you’re bulking – but most of us don’t have a problem getting enough calories. Nutrients are another matter).

I’m actually a fan of a few of the items and workouts I’ve listed above (I enjoyed working out with Nautilus equipment and still use a variety of machines – especially when I don’t have a spotter). There’s nothing wrong in using something as long as you use it. But you need one other thing along with the device/gadget/gimmick/fad…patience.

And don’t get me started on supplements…

Onward!

PS – I’ve posted a few pictures of my favorite workout fads below. I haven’t used them all, but know people who have!

Soloflex
Soloflex
Tricep Bar
Tricep Bar – I use one of these
Universal Machine
Universal Machine
Indian Club Training
Indian Clubs
cap-barbell-biceps-arm-blaster-mab-101-1-500x270
Arm or Bicep Blaster
Bullworker
Bullworker

Body Illusions

I’ve always had a problem, unrelated to my Crohn’s and other health related issues, in that I tend to measure my successes against other people. I suppose we all do this to some degree, but it can really be a problem/bother when working on physical changes. Not so much with weight loss, I don’t really get worried if someone else loses weight faster than I do (even when competing with them a la “Biggest Loser”). But with things less under my control. Like “why don’t my biceps look like that guy’s” or “why can’t I bench as much as him?” and other things like that.

For example: there’s this guy I know who from my earliest memories of meeting him gave me a big case of bicep envy. Of course, over time memory does embellish things, but back in college on the rare occasions I would see him flex I remember being struck by how high and peaked his biceps were – to the point that you could even see the split in the peak. His arms weren’t especially large at the time, about 16 inches or so, but to an even skinnier me they seemed huge. Over the years I worked on my biceps until eventually my arms were just as large as his were back then. But, to my surprise, my arms didn’t look like his at all. I knew that I had muscle as I had gained strength and my arms were hard to the touch, but instead of high “peaks” my biceps retained a flatter “football” shape. Back to the weight room…

Some time later we began to work out together. Doing a heavy bench routine that we both responded well to – though to be fair he responded much better to than I did. By this time however, though I was still envious of his gains (his arms swelled from about 16 inches to well over 18 inches in just a few months – mine from just under 16 to about 17) I was also truly happy for him and his gains (though he never really gave the impression of caring about gains in size the way I did/do). But I noticed something else. Once again, my arms never got the peak I so desired but the peak that he had in his youth was not nearly as evident either. When he flexed I could see that his biceps were still decidedly more peaked than mine, just not as much as before. What happened? Science tells us that you can’t change the shape of the muscle, so why weren’t his now much larger arms (and solid) more dramatic as they were before? That’s when it occurred to me. It’s an illusion.

What caused his arm growth wasn’t this time so much a change in his biceps but instead that his triceps grew to match. As a result, the biceps did not stand out as much because they were balanced by the larger muscle underneath. This is part of my issue as well since my triceps actually to a degree overshadowed my biceps (something my friend had to point out to me).

These body illusions occur in other ways, too. I know another young man who when you meet him you realize that he is fit. You know, wide shoulders and thin waist, the classic “V” shape. But he’s not very large so fully dressed you don’t think of him as being overly muscular. It wasn’t until he posted a “selfie” on Instagram one day (which apparently is a thing you are supposed to do nowadays) that I realized he was very muscular – complete with six pack – and looked huge. I know he’s not “huge” but a lack of body fat actually adds to the illusion of size when there isn’t anything else for a point of reference (like another person).

I once play Lenny in “Of Mice and Men” and if you’ve read the book you know that Lenny was a big hulking brute of a man. I’m not so much of a hulk. I was going to be aided in creating the stage illusion of size by wearing some thick books (I was already the tallest in the cast except for one guy), but I went to a personal trainer friend of mine and asked what do I do to add size quickly? He suggested just focusing on the back and shoulders as those muscles will give the greatest illusion of size.

Where am I going with all this? I’m not sure. The big lesson is don’t compare yourself to others. That way leads to disappointment especially when you don’t understand that some of what you admire or envy in another person is an illusion.  Instead compare yourself with yourself with your training and fitness goals as there are fewer illusions involved (except for the self-deception many of us have when looking in a mirror – but that’s another topic).

Also, I’ve been talking about physical illusions. There are other illusions too. For example: like many Crohn’s sufferers, I try to give the illusion that I’m not in some sort of pain or discomfort every day. I have a feeling that this is true of many other people with other conditions physical and mental. So maybe when approaching someone else we all should keep in mind that the person we see on the outside is just an illusion. We can’t know what’s going on inside – they may be in just as much pain as we are and perhaps should be treated as such.

Onward!