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.
Photos and words @copyright David P. Wahr

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.

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