When is a Man’s Chest Considered Big?

Size Matters…Right?

It’s no secret that men are obsessed with size. In fact, men are so obsessed that we are constantly comparing ourselves to other men that we meet on the street, bar, gym, locker room, even office. “Is this guy taller than me? Stronger? Could I take him if I had too?” and other thoughts enter our minds. To most of us bigger, taller, stronger, and even longer, is almost always better. Just listen to any sports cast for proof of this. At some point you’ll learn the basic physical stats of almost every player whether it’s basketball, football or even golf.

When that man is a bodybuilder the size that matters most to him, outside of the bedroom or locker room at least, is his arms. As is evident by the popularity of my earlier post When is a Man’s Arm Considered Big which has had literally thousands of views. I’ll go out on a limb and say that he next size he’s concerned with is his chest or more specifically the width/circumference of the upper torso (shoulders/back/pecs). After all, arms are often hidden by sleeves but a wide back and a thick chest is evident even in bulky clothing.

Average Chest Size?

Not an average sized chest.
You don’t need a chest shelf like Arnold in his prime to appear big. But it sure doesn’t hurt!
This may be the closest I ever got to having the “big chest” look.

Which leads us to the question – how big is the average man’s chest?

I thought this would be an easy question to answer by simply doing a little research and seeing what size shirts were the most popular. I was wrong. It turns out that there is some variation among clothing manufacturer’s as to how they determine shirt size. For example one company’s “large” may fit a 42″ (106.68 cm) – 44″ (111.76 cm) chest but another’s “large” is only 40″ (101.6cm) – 42″ (106.68 cm).

However, I did discover that almost everyone out there agrees that the most popular shirt sizes are large and medium. So I made an arbitrary decision based on the sizes that Hanes (the t-shirt and underwear people) use that a Large shirt fits up to a 44″ (111.76cm) chest. Using the approximate percentages of sales from several companies I determined that about 30% of all men (in the USA at least) wear a large shirt and, depending on whose sales you go by, between 65% and 80% of all men wear shirts that suggest a chest circumference of 44″ (111.76cm) or less.

So, the quick answer is that most men have a chest which does not exceed 44″ (111.76cm). You can consider your chest large if you exceed this measurement.

End of story, right? Not so fast bucko!

Does Size Matter?

While it’s true that your chest is big if you have more than 44″ (111.76cm) that may not matter if your waist is also close to the same size or worse is even larger than your chest. It should be obvious but, just in case, today – especially in the USA and other “western” nations – there is an obesity epidemic. So a lot of men have big chests because of bodyfat and a big chest with a big belly underneath it is just not impressive. You may be strong but you are not going to look like it (sadly, I fall into this category). People will see the gut and think “fat.” So if you want your chest to really stand out you need to keep the waist tight and bodyfat low.

So at what point does the chest start to look big? Well, again, the clothing industry gives us a clue. Most shirts and suits are designed for men who have what is known as a “drop” of less than 8″ (20.32cm). That is to say that their waist is between 0 and 8 inches smaller than their chest. A drop of anything over 8″ (20.32cm) is considered an athletic cut. So that’s our basic answer.

However, in my opinion and observation at least, this 8″ drop is just a starting point. To get that classic V shape (or X shape as it’s described now – don’t skip leg day) I think you need at least a 10″ (20.54cm) drop or larger. Sadly, this is easier said than done but certainly a goal to strive for.

The Final Verdict

Unfortunately, unlike arms or even legs, which can essentially hold their own in terms of size and visual impact, you really can’t consider the chest without looking at the entire torso. A big chest with weak shoulders just looks…odd. Big chest with big belly as I’ve already said just looks fat. Of course you can’t have a strong chest without a strong back. You really need to focus on developing all upper body parts to get that muscular well-built look that we all want.

The good news is that there really isn’t a magic number – even though you’ll find plenty of articles concerning the fabled “golden ratio” and “perfect proportions.” One I really like by John Romaniello on T-Nation is linked at the bottom of this blog by the way.

Clothes Make the Man

Since I’ve been talking about clothes so much I should also mention that they play an important part in displaying your work in the gym. Most men won’t admit that they really don’t need a large shirt or XL shirt and end up hiding their chests under a layer of cloth that flaps like a tent awning in the breeze. You’ll look much better and bigger with a shirt that actually fits. So put the ego size aside and maybe try a size smaller to see how it looks. Warning – this only works with a solid chest and a flat stomach. If you don’t have both you risk showing off bulges and sags that you’d rather have hidden. Trust me on this…I won’t say how I know, but I know.

To Sum it All Up

Even if you can’t manage a 10″ (20.54cm) drop just having a flat stomach a few inches smaller than your waist will really set your physique apart from most men today. So when they size you up they’ll realize who the bigger man is (unless alcohol is involved then all bets are off).

And isn’t that what we all want in the end?

Here’s an article on T Nation that better explains the “golden” ratio.
Timo Eherer (@newteemo on Instagram) demonstrates the importance of a proper fitting shirt to show off the chest (and arm!) gains. A baggy shirt will make you look smaller and hide your hard work in the gym. Note how the width of his delts contributes to a classic pec “shelf” and the overall size of his chest.

Photo Credit: Timo Eherer – used with permisson.
Bryce Gambler demonstrates the dramatic effect of a relatively wide upper body (44 inches/111.76 cm) and a small waist (32 inches/81.28 cm). A 12 inch/30.5 cm “drop.” Note that Bryce is about 6’4″ (1.93m) but doesn’t have that “lanky” look many tall men have – because he paid attention to developing his complete torso.


Photo Credit: Bryce Gambler – used with permission.

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted in which case the original artist retains all rights. Otherwise photos and words @copyright by David P. Wahr

How to Choose A Personal Trainer

Don’t worry – a good trainer won’t judge you for past mistakes. But not following his or her advice is fair game.

Photo by Victor Freitas on Pexels.com

At some point in your training life you are going to decide that maybe you could do better with a personal trainer. Perhaps it’s to help you get started on your fitness journey, to take you to the next level, or even, as in my current case, someone to check in with on a regular basis to review form and monitor progress.

So the question is two-fold: 1) do you need a trainer and 2) how do you choose a trainer?

Why Have a Trainer?

A good trainer can help you to feel super!

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I’m a proponent of personal trainers for the most part and have had a couple now. It took me a long time to put aside my ego and realize that maybe I wasn’t the best person to judge my own form when lifting and that learning from reading books and watching the big guys at the gym really wasn’t cutting it.

But once I made the decision to work with a trainer I really haven’t gone back. My preference is to find someone you can work with in person, but in a pinch an online trainer can be helpful. I’ve tried both ways and for me the in person experience is just more useful.

Photo by Timothy on Pexels.com

The big question I think most people have is “how do I choose a personal trainer?” and this is an important one. Just because someone has a million followers on Tik Tok, Instagram, etc. and abs that could cut glass doesn’t mean that he or she knows how to train someone else. Especially if that someone else may be fighting years of poor diet and exercise.

Remember, choosing a personal trainer is not a decision to make lightly. This is someone that ideally you’ll be relying on for years to come and who will have a huge influence on the only thing of value that your really have (outside of personal relationships): your body and health!

Though I’ve been happy with the trainers I’ve worked with I have to admit that I could have been more methodical in my search. My experience in finding trainers has been haphazard at best – I found my first trainer at an amusement park of all places. Hey, you have to talk about something while waiting a couple hours in line for a roller coaster, right?

So, realizing my limitations I turned to my current trainer, Matt Elvey, who also happens to be an instructor in Exercise Science at Owens Community College and teaches future personal trainers.

Here’s the advice he shared with me about finding a trainer who you can work with.

What to Look for in a Personal Trainer

  • Certification- NSCA/ACSM/ACE are examples of the big name certifications in the field.  
  • Experience training the clientele you would classify yourself as. Example-if a trainer has almost exclusive experience training bodybuilders and you are looking for fat/weight loss.  This probably isn’t a good match.
Contrary to popular opinion, your trainer shouldn’t leave you like this after a workour!

Photo by Victor Freitas on Pexels.com

What Questions to Ask Before Working with a Trainer

  • What is your training philosophy? Ex-my approach to training is to manage the minimums of every client, assessing left/right asymmetries and bulding a program off of that.  
  • If you have injuries/health issues, do they have experience with these. Ex- chronic knee pain, diabetes, heart attack etc.  
  • Price per session/availability 

What Qualities Make a Good Trainer

  • Knowledge base, a trainer has to know muscles, different training techniques and when to implement them. 
  • Having a “gauge”- knowing what your client can handle and when they are ready to progress etc. 
  • Managing “downtime” in a workout. We do stretches for opposite muscles we are working in between sets of muscles we are working. Example-Pec fly machine/T-spine mobility with PVC pipe. 
  • Probably just as important as any other factor-being personable and building rapport. 

My Two Cents

In addition to the good advice Matt gives above I’d like to add a couple items you need to consider before working with a trainer:

  • Are you ready to commit to your goals? There’s no sense hiring an expert if you aren’t ready to make training a priority in your life.
  • Be honest about your goals. Do you really just want to be healthier or do you want abs? Believe it or not these goals are not as similar as you might think.
  • Be honest about your time and other commitments when discussing availability.
  • Be honest about your previous exercise experience.

On-Line vs In-Person Training

I’ve done both and personally, I get a lot more out of in person training so that’s what I would recommend. But if you choose to go with an online program, which frankly can be less expensive, be aware that you will need a very high level of discipline to make it work. You won’t have that extra motivation which comes from knowing that someone is waiting for you to show up.

Conclusion

So, there you have it. Advice from an expert and from me. Ultimately the choice is yours of course and the important thing is that regardless of whether you have a trainer or not that you start today to get moving!

Do you have any hints and ideas on choosing a trainer? I’d love to read about them in the comments!

Just me showing off my latest gains – thanks Matt!

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted in which case the original artist retains all rights. Otherwise photos and words @copyright by David P. Wahr

Advice to Youth – Part 2: So You Still Want to Get Big…

Timo before and after. Photo courtesy of Timo Eherer.

If you read part one of this blog, The Matter of Size, you already know that as much as we like to get big that lifting, bodybuilding, pumping up, whatever you want to call it, is much more than the quest of always having to turn sideways to enter a room. Through weightlifting and bodybuilding you have already gained confidence, better health, focus, and discipline (or you are about to).

But as someone who has always chased those fabled 19″ (50 cm) arms – I get it. Strength and flexibility are fine but sometimes you just want to be able to flex and watch your sleeves start to rip under the strain of your massive arms to the amazement of onlookers. Intimidate or attract others with your Thor like physique.

Okay, fine. So how do you achieve this? Well, I’ve covered it to some degree in earlier blog posts including The Secret to Building Big Arms. But why should you listen to some fat old guy who doesn’t look like he could find a gym let alone bench press more than his bodyweight?

First of all, I can bench more than my bodyweight which, yes, is considerably more weight than it should be. But I get your point – you want to hear from some juiced up 300 pound genetic anomaly or the latest Tik Tok influencer. Someone who looks how you want to look.

So let’s compromise. Let’s hear from someone who is about your age and has achieved a great deal of size and strength.

Meet Timo Eherer who is a young German bodybuilder who I somehow befriended on Instagram (find him @new.teemo). He’s been at the iron game for a little over 5 years and is a natural athlete. From his before and after pictures (above left) I think he’s clearly learned a thing or two about how to gain mass over the years. Agreed? Good, keep reading for a few tips on how to grow.

Eat Big, Get Big?

Curls for the girls – and bigger biceps! Photo courtesy of Timo Eherer

There’s a saying in bodybuilding circles that to get big you have to eat big. This has led to many a young bodybuilder stuffing himself with all sorts of food and not necessarily healthy food. So the result is a lot of fat strong guys out there (I say looking in the mirror and pointing at myself). While it’s true that in order to gain mass you need to increase your caloric intake, it’s not true that you can eat anything you want because it’s “bulking season.” Though calories per se don’t make you fat, eating extra fat seems to do the job pretty well. This is because fat is calorically dense. It doesn’t take much to deliver extra calories but the volume will leave you less than satisfied with your meal causing you to eat more than you plan. And where do all the calories your body doesn’t use go? That’s right – fat.

As Timo says:

“Do not dirty bulk! It’s just a waste of time. You won’t build more muscle with a caloric surplus of 1000kcal compared to 200-300. in the end, you just get fat.”

Trust me on this one – he’s absolutely right. I have spent a lifetime essentially dirty bulking (see Confessions of a Junk Food Junkie for details) and the results are not pretty.

So what to do? It’s pretty simple actually. Here are Timo’s 5 top lessons – so far – from his bodybuilding journey:

Do not dirty bulk
It’s just a waste of time. You won’t build more muscle with a caloric surplus of 1000kcal compared to 200-300. in the end, you just get fat.

Always train harder is bull****
You also need breaks! Sure, Training hard is very very important. Going close to muscle failure to damage your muscle for growth is necessary. BUT you still need breaks. Deloads. Essential when you want to grow in the long run.

Protein is overrated
More protein means less carbs and carbs are the main energy source. You DONT need more than 2-2,5G of protein per kg bodyweight. Everything else is junk. Better get those carbs.

Alcohol won’t kill your gains
Sure, alcohol is bad in general. But you should not fear it. One drink here and there won’t do anything to your gains or performance. Just don’t consume it on a regular basis. That’s bad and a waste of money.

The weight you lift doesn’t matter
It is what it is. I had to mention this at the end now. Mind muscle connection and technique is EVERYTHING. If you have to drop your weights for a better feeling and technique then always do it! Progression is important. Doesn’t matter what’s the base weight. 100kg doesn’t mean it’s better than 80kg. It matters how effective your training is!

But I Want Big Arms!

Camera angles can help you get big arms, too. I’m no Timo but I’m still trying. Here’s me in 2022 showing off the gains.

Don’t we all? But okay, arm development is something that Timo has clearly figured out. As he says:

“I told you guys, 3x arms per week is the key. Arms can’t be big enough, right? Destroying arms one time per week might be fun but it isn’t effective at all. Also, don’t use too much weight, go lighter and maintain control. Train them 3-4x/week, use lower weights and get a good pump due to a good feeling and you’re fine. Watch them grow and thank me later.”

No Magic Potion

So there you have it. Some advice from a peer. In the end I think it’s most important that you learn to listen to and learn from your own body. Record workouts, take measurements, figure out what you respond to and more importantly what you don’t respond to. I’m all for learning as much as you can about proper technique and even at my ripe old age I check out various YouTube videos, blogs, etc. on how to lift. But, you also have to learn to separate the hype from the facts. The more you know about basic anatomy and muscle structure the better you’ll be able to avoid injury.

There is no magic serum, vitamin, pre-workout, or protein mix out there. In fact, my suggestion is to get your nutrition figured out before you resort to trying any of that stuff – and yes, I have some protein supplement in my kitchen right now. But I don’t depend on it for my basic needs.

I think that you will gain a lot from your bodybuilding journey. Do it right and the weight room will be your home from a long time to come.

Good luck – and don’t be afraid to let me know what you’ve already discovered works and doesn’t work for you. It may help someone else along the way someday!

Onward!

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted in which case the original artist retains all rights. Otherwise photos and words @copyright by David P. Wahr

Advice to Youth – Part 1: The Matter of Size

Google analytics is an amazing thing. Using it tells a blogger all sorts of things about his or her audience. For example: if you are reading this right now you are more than likely male, between the ages of 15 and 34, enjoy sports and fitness activities, and you found my blog by searching for something like “average bicep size” or “how big is the average man’s bicep” or maybe even “is 13 inch arms a good size for a 15 year old?”

If this description fits you, keep reading. Everyone else please go enjoy some of my other posts – hopefully you find something you like. If you do, please be sure to leave a comment and “like.” I appreciate it – thanks.

For Guys Just Starting Out

Now that the casual reader has moved on to other things let’s have a little man-to-man chat. I know that you are worried about the size of your arms. I also know that you are not alone in your goal of having bigger more muscular arms. Based on the literally thousands of you who have read my blog “When is an Arm Considered Big?” this is a common goal of anyone who has picked up a weight.

Believe me, I get it. I was skinny once myself many, many, years ago with arms that were six inches thinner than they are now. Heck, I remember being excited that my flexed bicep passed the 13 inch mark (which is the average size of a man’s arm by the way). Even now that they tape closer to 17 inches, I still want them bigger – the quest for size can become an obsession. There’s a satisfaction to watching that peak stretch the tape a little more each workout, the feel of the pump swelling the veins in your arm, finding that you know longer can wear long sleeve shirts, and so on and so forth. It can even become a bit of a game sizing up the “competition” on the street (bigger than him, smaller than him, way bigger than that guy, holy crap! I gotta hit the gym to catch up to him, etc.).

But here’s the thing – it’s not all about size. There is nothing inherently better about a 16 inch arm over a 13 inch arm. In fact, in some cases, the 13 inch arm might actually look better and be stronger. Raw size isn’t the true measure of an arm. Shape and leanness should be considered. And speaking of shape…

You Can’t Change the Shape of Your Muscles

You might get that split but not this shape.

I don’t care how many concentration curls you do if you have football shaped biceps you will never have peaks so tall that they have snow caps on them in the winter. You can always improve what you have but some things just won’t change. Accept this and you will be happier in the long run. Besides, flatter biceps actually have more volume than short high peaked ones and are likely stronger.

Do The Big Lifts and Focus on More than the Beach Muscles

Okay, he does have decent calves.

Early on in your lifting career you’ll get the most bang from your buck by doing the big three – squats, deadlifts, and bench. In fact, I credit heavy benching for my tricep development (just about the only muscle group I regularly get compliments on). Activate the big muscles in your legs (quads, glutes, etc.) and you’ll reap benefits all over your body.

Once you gone up a shirt size you can start the concentration work. But make sure that your legs can support your torso first and avoid looking like a badly proportioned action figure doll (I’m looking at you He Man).

Keep Records

I suggest keeping some records. In this age of cell phones progress pics are literally a snap – in my day you had to buy film, take it to a little booth in the mall parking lot, wait two weeks, and get it back only to find out that the lens cap was on the camera the whole time (end of grumpy old man rant). Keep track of your weight and measurements. Trust me, one day when you are struggling to get in that 10th rep on your third set of curls at 60 pounds it will help you to look back and realize when you used to bench the same weight and thought it was heavy!

I have records going back decades! This one shows my obsession with gaining size and perfecting my proportions.

Don’t Make My Mistakes

The one thing I wish I understood from day one of lifting is that building muscle takes time. There is no magic workout, pill, or pre-workout that will get you bigger faster. Your body will respond but maybe not as quickly as the stud over in the squat rack curling 100 pounds for reps. But, maybe faster than the guy in your gym class who eats everything in sight but can’t seem to gain weight. Each of us respond to exercise a little differently, but we all do eventually respond. So called “dirty bulks,” weight gainers, and fad diets will lead to excess fat. And though that fat may be easy to burn off now the day will come – and it will come without warning – that it won’t come off so easily. What good is having a pair of 18 inch arms when they are flat and flabby? None at all. Trust me on this one.

Eat clean, stay lean. You’ll thank me later – and so will your heart.

Don’t Give Up

There will be times that you decide that your quest to get bigger and stronger just isn’t worth the time in the gym, the constant monitoring of your diet, the sacrifice of going out with friends while they are all going to the bar. Like I said earlier – it will take time. Not days and weeks, but months and years.

It’s Better to Train Alone Than With the Wrong Training Partner

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you need a training partner to properly workout. True, the right training partner is worth his weight in gold. He will have similar goals as you and be supportive of your goals, too. He will also commit to working out with you on a very regular basis. But, choosing the wrong partner who maybe has different goals, doesn’t show up when expected, keeps putting you down for your goals (“Why would anyone want big arms? Legs are all that matter!” as an example) will just slow you down and hold you back. In this case go your own way and keep looking for someone who is better for you. But I myself worked out alone for years. Did I like it? Not really but I kept trying to get the job done anyway.

Oh, and if you workout alone please don’t be afraid to ask for a spot. Most guys will say yes – at least until their set is done.

The Next Step

Okay, so now you know what I say. But, if you are still reading you may be thinking “hey, I’ve seen pictures of you old man. Why should I believe anything you say? You’re not built like [insert name of the latest TikTok or Instagram “influencer” here] and you don’t even have your own clothing line.

Okay, fair enough. So next week I’ll bring you part two of this discussion and give you tips from someone who might be more relatable to you. Stay tuned…

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted in which case the original artist retains all rights. Otherwise photos and words @copyright by David P. Wahr

My Bodybuilding to Fitness Journey

“Every man wants to be bigger than dad…”

From the Pumping Iron song – Written by Michael Small and performed by Joey Ward

In some ways this is an easy entry for me to write, in other ways it’s difficult. I started out thinking that I would write a blog about my journey to a 350 pound (160 kg) bench press and how you could achieve one, too (short answer: go to http://www.timinvermont.com/fitness/benchpgm.htm and follow the program there. It may take a few rounds, but you’ll gain a lot of strength and a lot of size each time). But, I got to looking at old records and started to reflect on my progress over the years. This reminiscing led me to a basic question about myself: am I now or was I ever an actual bodybuilder?

Let’s review the evidence…

First Impressions

If you looked at me today or at any point in my life your answer to the question “is Dave a bodybuilder” would be a pretty emphatic “no.” Sure, I have some size and statistically speaking there are very few men my age who can lift as much as I can in the weight room (see my blog How Much Can the Average Man Bench Press for details and to find out how you compare). But I’m clearly much too fat to be a bodybuilder in the popular sense, my waist and hips are too wide, etc., etc. At best you might think I’ve done some power lifting in my past. But I’m no Arnold. Heck, I’m not even a Richard Simmons. But in the broader sense of the term? Maybe…

The Early Years

Skinny me!
Not so skinny me.

If you look into my past it’s clear that exercise and weightlifting in particular have been part of my life for a long time. I actually started lifting in high school using my dad’s 110 pound plastic barbell set purchased at Montgomery Wards (we called it “monkey” Wards back in the day – what a laugh that was…eh, I guess you had to be alive then). Believe it or not at that time my school did not have a proper weight room. There was a Universal Gym that lived in a store room just off the gym by the custodial office but frankly, even though I was on the on the track team, I was too intimidated the “jocks” to actually use it myself.

Despite my self image of being fat (probably a blog post in and of itself) I was a skinny teen and not even remotely considered a jock – though I did finally letter in track my junior year. The earliest records I have indicated that I had average sized 13 inch (33 cm) arms in my twenties and benched about 90 pounds (40 kg) for reps during a typical workout. My 39 inch (99 cm) was barely larger than my 37 inch (94 cm) waist.

Not surprisingly, my goal back in my teens and twenties was simple: get bigger.

And not just a little bigger, I wanted to be huge with 22 inch (56 cm) arms and to be barely able to fit into a XXXL shirt. I wanted to look like the guys on the magazine covers – Arnold, Big Lou Ferrigno, Dave Draper, and a host of others. This quest for size, by the way, had nothing to do with attracting girls. I think it was for what may be a more common reason – I didn’t want to be small or perceived as weak. I also wanted to be satisfied with what I saw in the mirror. Narcissism isn’t just for politicians.

Reality vs Expectations

The picture is small and grainy – early digital photography – but I like the look of that tricep!

So in my younger years I had bought fairly heavily into the myth that anyone could achieve a Mr. Olympia physique. The myth that the secret to size and strength was to take the right supplement, do the specific workout that Mr. Current Trophy Winner did, curl the weight with you pinky pointing up, and so on and so forth. Do these things and the muscle would come. In my naivety I didn’t realize that to achieve a champion bodybuilder’s physique took a lot more dedication than I had, to the point of making it your life, extraordinary genetics, and chemical assistance well beyond a second scoop of creatine before your workout.

So, predictably, I wasn’t very successful in those early years. At least in terms of my progress matching my expectations. However, even without having someone to guide me in the gym and to follow me around slapping pizza out of my hands, I did start to make progress. My trial and error method of training, my research skills, and overall desire to make a change did serve me better than I thought. I had the tools to at least get closer to my goal – but I kept getting in my own way so to speak. There was also, of course, my health issues. Primarily Crohn’s Disease.

Adversity, Attitude, and the Middle Years

Big, but needed more definition.

As I mentioned earlier I had issues maintaining a consistent workout. Some were due to allowing conflicts to get in the way of my training (I’m looking at you theatre), but others were of a more serious health nature. The first being Crohn’s which is often a debilitating inflammatory bowel disease. People who are afflicted with Crohn’s can suffer from severe pain, nutritional deficiencies, and more than 75% of us end up with surgery (I’m one of the 75% in fact).

Because of Crohn’s I lost all the meager gains I had made in my early twenties during a serious and long term episode. I went from 180 pounds (82 kg) down to about 130 pounds (59 kg). I didn’t mind the sub-thirty inch (76 cm) waist. But it came with 10 inch (25 cm) arms – flexed – and no abs. To be fair, I never had abs. Even as a skinny teen I didn’t have them. They just hadn’t been invented yet.

During those two years or so before my Crohn’s came under some level of control I had trouble just getting through the day and maintaining a job let alone work out. I was having trouble eating enough food to stay alive let alone gain mass.

But, the day finally came that my appetite returned and so did my efforts in the gym. I have to admit that I actually hit my bodybuilding stride in my thirties and forties. In fact it was in my forties that I started getting compliments and comments about the size of my arms. Fun fact, today my forearm is actually bigger than my upper arm was when I first started lifting (it pays to keep records folks).

It was also in my mid forties that my strength reached it’s peak – unfortunately, so did my weight but that’s another story. It took a few decades but my 60 pound (27 kg) bench press soared to 350 pounds (not quite 160 kg) one time max rep. I stress “one time.” Only once, I never tried again, but I still claim it.

Today – A New Attitude?

Before and after my ileostomy reversal.

In the past 3 or 4 years began what I called my period of rapid decline. Not because I was having less successful workouts. But because suddenly multiple health crises started popping up.

First came the Deep Vein Thrombosis (blood clot in my leg). This was followed by the news a few months later that at some point earlier in the year I had suffered a heart attack which permanently decreased the function of my heart. Then Crohn’s decided to have another swat at my which led to a perforated bowel and an ileostomy bag for a long 6 months or so. During which time I contracted Norovirus which put me into kidney failure (see Wash Your Hands People for details).

But even after all the above, I still returned to lifting. The desire to want to be bigger and stronger has not abated over the years, but I have added a new dimension to my training.

A long time ago a personal trainer, who was a competitive bodybuilder, told me that you should never mistake bodybuilding for fitness. Bodybuilding, in the competitive world at least, is all about looks. In fact, many of the practices that professional and amateur competitors do to prepare for a contest can be harmful if not dangerous to the body. Water depletion, calorie restriction, and this is before any discussion of drugs is considered.

In my younger days, if I had the dedication and drive to be competitive, I might have followed that same unhealthy path in the quest to get big, look better and to win trophies. But today, now that the realization of how precious and rare good health actually is has become evident to me, I have changed my training. Sure, I still lift and want to have muscle to flex, but I now also work on cardio and fat loss. It may be too little, too late, but here we are.

Advice to Youth or Lessons Learned

The take-aways of my journey are simple. If you want to be a competitive bodybuilder that’s your choice and there’s nothing wrong with it. But understand that it is a lifestyle and one that will take you away from other things in life. Leisure time, outside activities, and possibly relationships. I may be over stating this as there are happy pro-bodybuilders. But they sacrificed along the way.

Here’s a few more tidbits of things I’ve learned over time:

  • To thine own self be true. When I first started training bodybuilding was an oddity. In fact, coaches were still actively discouraging weight training because they worried that their athletes would become “muscle-bound.” So to large degree the idea of lifting to get bigger and stronger was frowned upon. Today there is no such stigma and it’s almost expected that everyone will lift weights at some point. Just be sure that you understand your motivations for doing so. Is it to get stronger? Look better? Get bigger? Staying focused on your goal will guide your training.
  • Remember – you are doing this for you. No one else. Your goals are your goals and you don’t have to justify the why’s of them to anyone but your self. Keep that in mind when you are asked why you work out so much, watch your diet so closely, etc.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Likewise, don’t think that you know it all. There’s a world of information on bodybuilding out there. Arnold’s Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding is still essential reading, too. I actually shared a hose one summer with a grad student who was clearly an experienced lifter and we never once talked about training. A missed opportunity for sure and I’m betting one of many.
  • Nutrition is key. Trust me on this, you can’t supplement your way past a bad diet. Speaking of supplements, you probably need fewer than you think (I know I’ll get some flack on this point). Some extra protein when you can’t get all your meals in, maybe some creatine but that’s about it. Especially when you are just starting out. In any case, get your diet straight first. Then you can experiment with supplements – but I bet you’ll find that you can get very far without them.
  • Your heart is your most important muscle. I know that it’s hard to think about heart health and keeping your body fat low when you are in your teens and twenties and your metabolism is firing at full speed. No one asks about your blood oxygen levels at the beach after all. But believe me, one day without warning your metabolism will suddenly slow down and instead of being that skinny guy with a natural six-pack you’ll be that fat guy with a full keg! You’ll have trouble walking up stairs, and a couple of squats will really make you sweat. You can avoid almost all of this with a little walking and running each day. Cardio – it’s not just for heart patients. It helps keep you from becoming one, too.
  • Be kind. Some day down the road when a gym newbie asks you for a spot or advice, give it. Remember where you started. Also, humor that old guy in the gym who tells you that he used to lift 350 pounds. If you keep working out and stay healthy someday that old guy will be you.
Posing in the “playroom”

There is no point of regretting the past, but I do wish that I was more focused on my training early on. However, I am happy with where my current training is taking me. Even with my prime training years behind me (I have to admit it) I still make gains. Granted, my challenges are different now. I don’t try to lift all the weights. I now have goals that involve running longer distances – or any distance – and I find I’ve become more of a cheerleader for others as they begin their own bodybuilding or fitness journeys. Which isn’t a bad thing at all. Done right, bodybuilding and weight lifting can be a life long activity.

So, Are You a Bodybuilder or Nah, Brah*?

Oh, that’s right I forgot we started with that question. I have to admit that even today, when I’ve had to begrudgingly modify my training style to focus more on cardio and cut back on the heavy weights, that I still have that old mindset of bigger and stronger is better. My training partner can confirm that I spend a little too much time flexing in the mirror and trying to find just the right light to make by biceps “pop” when I flex. I enjoy the feel of the weight as I push and pull it. I look forward to the “pump” as the workout progresses and the endorphins kick in and that feeling when even though you’re tired it feels like you could lift a Mack Truck off your chest and conquer the world. I like seeing new veins emerge and when muscle definition starts to show through the layer of fat (diet ladies and gentlemen). I enjoy trying out new exercises and figuring out what works for me and what doesn’t.

So yeah, I may not be good at it and you’ll never see me on stage in a pair of posing briefs with way too much self-tanner covering every inch of my body, but I think it’s time to admit that I am a bodybuilder. Proud of it, too.

Are you one? Leave your thoughts in the comments and let’s discuss!

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted in which case the original artist retains all rights. Otherwise photos and words @copyright by David P. Wahr

*P.S. – I promise never to use “brah” in a header again.

How Do Your Arms Stack Up to Other Gym Bros?

Note: I continue to collect data for the survey mentioned below. This post is updated as information changes.

There is an old saying that starts with “every man knows two sizes about himself” and if that man is a bodybuilder it’s a safe bet that one of those sizes is how big his arms are!

Based on the popularity of some of my earlier posts on what is the average bicep size (see When is a Man’s Arm Considered Big? and How Do You Know if You Have Big Arms? for reference) I know that this is a topic of interest for many guys out there – in fact the number one way people find my blog is because they typed “average arm size” or “average bicep size” into their favorite search engine. So, let’s presume you’ve been lifting a while now, you know how big the average bicep is and you know that you compare well to the average Joe on the street. But how big is that dude posing over in the corner of the gym and posting to his Instagram account? Do you match him? That guy looks pretty jacked…how big are his ‘guns?’

Let’s see if we can get some answers to allay your fears and satisfy your curiosity.

Does Size Matter?

Photo by Timothy on Pexels.com

The short answer to this question is an emphatic…sort of.

It all depends what you are hoping to accomplish with your training. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that when most men start lifting it’s for one of two main reasons: 1) they want to get stronger (aka the “Charles Atlas Syndrome”) or 2) they want to look better (aka the “what ‘chu doing tonight?” syndrome).

If your goal is strength then yes, to a large degree, size does matter. But not in the way you might think. In general a bigger muscle is a stronger muscle. However, muscle size isn’t necessarily a good indicator of a man’s strength. I’ve known some 175 pound men who regularly outlift guys 50 pounds heavier. But, at some point size will be a factor. For example if a 175 pound man can bench 350 pounds he’s very strong pound for pound but has likely maxed out his capacity. Whereas if a 250 pound man can bench press 400 pounds he isn’t as strong per pound, but he’s got enough mass that he may be able to put up even more weight. It’s a matter of physics – it takes weight to move weight. There’s a reason that weightlifting competitions are divided into weight classes after all.

If, however, you are going for an aesthetic look of some kind. Perhaps to model, compete in bodybuilding, or catch the eye of a certain someone across the weight room, size does matter. You want to obtain proportions which show off your hard work in the gym and stretch your sleeves just enough to look good. But depending on your height and overall basic build you might be able to do this at a much smaller size that you think.

The Big Lie (or What to Really Expect)

The first thing you need to stop worrying about is the average bicep size of pro or any competitive bodybuilders. You don’t have to look far to find claims of exaggerated arm size which can lead to unrealistic expectations among natural lifters who are just starting out. Any bodybuilder worth his salt is going to claim that he has an arm which measures 20 inches (51 cm) or more. Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example, claimed he had a 22″ (56 cm) arm at his peak at a lean bodyweight of 235 pounds (107 kg) and a height of either 6’1″ or 6’2″ (187 cm).

However, even for one of the greatest bodybuilders ever, an arm that size is unlikely. I’m not saying that arms this big don’t exist, as I personally know a bodybuilder who has 20″ (51 cm) arms. But he is admittedly not natural and that measurement is flexed with a pump. To be frank, arms that big usually belong to men with high bodyfat percentages so they appear flat and without shape. Which in part defeats the goal of having big arms -which is to look and be strong.

The sad truth is that despite what you see on the internet or read in the muscle magazines (do they still have those?) you are not likely to get to a true 20″ arm with out extraordinary genetics and chemical assistance (prove me wrong guys – and more power to you if you do).

So, having said all this what can you expect. That’s were my recent survey came in.

Collecting Data

Photo by Andres Ayrton on Pexels.com

Getting some basic information on the arm size of guys who lift for non-competitive reasons was a little difficult. This is in part because apparently hanging out at the men’s locker room of the local Planet Fitness with a tape measure in hand is not only frowned upon, but can even get you a lifetime ban from the place (don’t ask how I know)! These left me to approached men I know in real life and through social media and ask them how big their arms are. To my surprise, most agreed to help out as they were curious, too.

I want to stress that my survey is unscientific. To my knowledge all the participants have lifted for at least five years and some for considerably longer. Weightlifting and bodybuilding is not necessarily their primary athletic activity at this time, but it is included in their regular workouts. A few of the participants are actively trying to build their arms up (6), some are trying to maintain size (3) and the others are just lifting to improve/maintain their health (6). My sample group, though I think diverse, currently only has 19 men in it.

Testing Conditions

For the reasons stated above, all measurements were self-reported by the participants. There was no consistency in measuring tapes or techniques. The men range in age from 21 years old to 61 years old – but age is not factored into my results. The tallest are 6’3″ (190.5 cm) and the shortest is about 5’5″ (165 cm). I did not factor in weight, bodyfat percentage or other bodily measurements such as chest and waist. However, to my eye at least, all can be considered muscular even if a few are rocking the so-called “dad bod” or, in my case, the “grandad bod.” Most are Americans, but because I was able to gather information through social media some of the participants are men who reside outside of the United States.

Most of the men had a large arm and a small arm. For the purposes of this survey I took the larger arm’s measurement. Four of the men mentioned specifically that their arms had been larger in the past but they had lost size during the pandemic or for other reasons.

Most importantly, to my knowledge, most are “natural” athletes who take nothing stronger than protein powder and pre-workout. I did not ask about the use of PEDs (performance enhancing drugs) though. These are just regular guys who lift on a regular basis. It’s intended to be a random sample of who you might meet in a typical gym and, let’s face it, in today’s culture you are likely comparing yourself to a couple of guys who are juicing but you don’t know it. Okay, I’ve got a couple ringers in my sample group who were once elite athletes and a couple personal trainers who lift for a living.

The Results

Photo by Pikx By Panther on Pexels.com

Let start with the numbers rounded to the nearest quarter inch or half centimeter:

  • Average Height – 70 inches (178 cm). Yes, they are a relatively tall group.
    Median Height – 70 inches (178 cm). Seven men are 5’10” exactly and make up the most common height. The next most common height it 5’11” (180 cm) with three men this tall.
  • Average Arm Unflexed – just under 15 inches (38 cm).
    Median Arm Unflexed – 15 inches (38 cm).
  • Average Arm Flexed – 16.3 inches (41.4 cm)
    Median Arm Flexed – 16.25 inches (41.3 cm)

Average Difference Between Flexed and Unflexed Arm – just under 1.5 inches (3.8 cm). Median difference is 1.5 inches exactly (3.81 cm)

I threw the last measurement between the flexed and unflexed arm in for fun. Remember, when an arm is flexed the volume of the muscle doesn’t change, just the shape of it does. It’s my understanding that the difference in size between a flexed and unflexed arm can be an indication of how much fat is in the arm because you can’t flex fat. This is not true with the very lean man but may be true for those of us with a more substantial BMI. I’ve noticed myself that the leaner I get the greater this difference becomes. My difference is 2 inches (5 cm). The largest difference in the survey was at 2.5 inches (6.5 cm) and the smallest at a half inch (1.3 cm) which oddly enough was on a man who I know is very lean.

So what can we learn from the above information? I think the obvious take away is that if you lift you can expect your arms to get to at least 16 inches (42 cm) at a minimum regardless of height. Interestingly enough the tallest men in my survey, who were both 6’3″ (190.5 cm) did not have the biggest arms. That honor belonged to a man who stands 6’1″ (185.5 cm) with 18.25 inch (46.5.cm) arms. Likewise the shortest man at about 5’5″ (165 cm) had arms an inch larger, at 16″ (41 cm) than men 6 inches taller than him! However, in general, the men over 6 feet tall had larger arms. This probably shouldn’t be a surprise as a bigger skeleton has more room for muscle to grow. Even though overall proportions may make that taller man look leaner at a technically larger size than the shorter guys.

And before you get concerned that a 17 inch arm is too small – go read my blog post on when is a man’s arm considered big that I mentioned earlier. You’ll find out that the average non-lifter’s arms are much smaller. By several inches!

Conclusion

To sum everything up, it’s better to go for an arm that looks big than one which is actually big. Especially if you happen to be under 6 feet tall. Any man who is sporting a muscular arm that measures 16″ (41 cm) or more can consider his arms to be big. And likely, so will everyone else!

Stay lean, focus on the triceps as much if not more than the biceps, and you’ll be getting second looks because of the size of your “guns” soon enough. Tall guys, the good news is that you can likely build arms which exceed those of a man who is shorter. But, bad news, if you are like most of the tall men I know at least, you’re going to have to keep pushing on to 18″ (46 cm) to look really big. And remember, the true 18″ arm is rare.

If you need some tips on building big biceps check out another one of my blog posts The Secret to Building Big Arms Which No One Else is Willing to Share.

Well, what are you waiting for? Stop flexing in the mirror and go get lifting!

P.S. – do you want to participate in this survey? It’s not too late. Just comment or message me with your stats and I’ll add them into the sample group.

P.S.S. – want to know how your chest stacks up? Go to When is a Man’s Chest Considered Big.

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted in which case the original artist retains all rights. Otherwise photos and words @copyright by David P. Wahr

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. Nearly every guy who has done a barbell curl and made some gains has measured his arms and thought “are 16 inch arms a good size?” 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!

P.S. – do you want to know how your 16 inch arms stack up to the average guy or your fellow gym goers? Find out here and here! Want to build bigger arms? Here are couple tips.

Photo by Cesar Galeu00e3o on Pexels.com

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted in which case the original artist retains all rights. Otherwise photos and words @copyright by 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.

Youth and Fitness

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.

Old = Inactive?

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.

Time for a Change

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