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. So, let’s presume you’ve been lifting a while now and you know that you’re pretty big when compared 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? I don’t know, that guy looks pretty jacked…

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 17 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 if not all 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). Five guys 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 – 16.25 inches (42 cm)
    Median Arm Flexed – 16.25 inches (43 cm)

Average Difference Between Flexed and Unflexed Arm – 1.5 inches (4 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.

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.

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.

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

Fitness Quest: 2020 A Year in Review

Well, I’ve been away from this blog for far too long! I’m sure that both my fans have been wondering what I’ve been up to fitness-wise so here it is: not much.

I don’t have to tell anyone that 2020 was, at best, a weird year. For me the biggest adjustment was working mostly from home and I acknowledge that I’m fortunate to be able to do this. The other big adjustment was not being able to travel as I normally would. So you might think with all of this unscheduled free time being given to me because my normal after work activities being halted, especially community theatre as the biggest “time hog,” that my focus on fitness would have skyrocketed and that by now I’m a mass of lean, mean, old man muscle. Well, not so much.

The toys.

Gyms closing didn’t help but that wasn’t the real issue. My biggest issue was adjusting to cooking at home. Which, if done right, is the way we should all go. However, I found that when confronted with a full refrigerator and pantry all day I tended to “graze” all day in addition to my regular meals. So like so many others my weight creeped up during the past nine-months but went way up starting about July according to my fitbit. I think the combination of eating all day and the loss of my regular cardio classes just finally caught up with me despite my regular walks. I also suffered a mysterious shoulder injury in September so my lifting was impacted. My bench press in particular. I did manage to continue weight workouts with the personal trainer in his home gym and with my brother-in-law in his. The spring, summer, and early fall saw me taking regular walks with my sister mostly every night. But the extra fat has refused to budge.

Photo by Rachel Claire on Pexels.com

So, in an effort to make a change I’ve given into the marketing and am trying Noom. I have plenty of suggestions on how to improve the product which might be worthy of another blog entry after a few more weeks, but so far so good. It’s helped to remind me of things I already knew and I’m down about four (4) pounds so far (almost 2 kg).

Things I did discover while cooking for myself this past year – I do like a fairly wide variety of foods. The heart healthy Mediterranean diet is interesting and not that hard to make. Vegetables and fruits are filling and also tasty. Don’t get me wrong, hamburgers and fries are still a big portion of my diet (too big) but I do see the way and the light. Plus one of my new past-times is looking through cookbooks and thinking to myself “I can make that.”

The biggest news – I got through 2020 without a major health crisis! No ER visits, no surgeries. The Stelara I take to control my Crohn’s seems to be working and my gastroenterologist says that there is no sign of the disease. This means that, for the moment at least, I should be able to become as fit as my middle-aged body will let me. Yes, I still have a damaged heart from a previous heart attack. Yes, my kidneys are still below optimal function from my bout with Norovirus last year (did you forget that their are still other viruses out there waiting to get you? Keep washing your hands and covering your faces folks – thanks) but overall I’m stable and healthy. Minus a few occasional aches and pains. Also, I find it ironic that I can lift a small car off my chest if necessary (a very small car) but have trouble getting up off the floor. It’d be funny if it weren’t so true.

So, I’m done with 2020 and ready to move on to 2021. I can’t control what the world may have in store for me, but I can sure as heck control how I react to it and my own small corner of it.

Onward!

Fitness Quest: The Consequence of Measuring Muscle Mass

So, in my constant quest for greater fitness I thought it might be fun to engage a couple friends in a challenge to see who could lose the most body fat in the next few months (by the start of spring).  I decided that I should switch out my trusty Tanita scale that I’ve been using for some years with a Taylor scale that I’ve also been using on and off (to paraphrase that old saying: a man with one scale knows how much he weighs, a man with two is never sure). The reason being because though both scales measure body fat percentage – and are pretty close in their measurement – the Taylor scale has a few more

Scales
The Tanita and Taylor scales – both good

features including a calculation of hydration and muscle mass, all of which are uploadable into an app for easy tracking. For the challenge we have decided to use waist/hip ratio as our measurement tool, but I thought I’d follow my progress on the scales, too. Since I do weigh myself everyday anyway.

The “new” scale works nicely and as I said the body fat percentage corroborates with the other scale. But, today I took note of the other measurements. Fat mass was where I expected at about 25% (needs to be under 20), body water at 59% – a little dehydrated which isn’t surprising since my colon isn’t there absorbing water anymore since my ileostomy – and my muscle mass was at just over 30%. Now, you’ll notice that these percentages added together total more than 100%. I haven’t found it in the documentation yet, but I suspect that the body water figure is independent of the other two and is calculated off the remaining body mass (organs and skeleton). So, based on these readings my body is a little over half fat and muscle. So far so good right?

Well, I then wondered how my muscle mass compared with the average guy – you know, because we guys are all about measurements and comparisons with other men (to prove we’re better). Since I’ve been working out I’ve always assumed that I had more muscle

buff dave
Me during my “glory” days

mass than most men. I know that my arms are larger, even now in their “depleted” state (a little over 15″ in circumference compared to the average untrained American male who is around 11″) they do flex and do not jiggle when I move them. I once benched 350 pounds and still am capable (I think) of a one time max of more than my bodyweight. Good for anyone, great for a man of my “advanced” years. Plus, you know, I have done squats in the past, too keeping my lower body pretty fit – even with too much fat around the hips (you should see the definition in my “marching band” calves).

So off to Google I go and search for “how much muscle does the average man have” and imagine my surprise to find out that according to my scale I not only have less muscle than the average man (about 60 pounds compared to livestrong.com’s average of 72 pounds).  I thought, “okay, but surely my percentage is higher.” Nope…

muscle-mass-percentage-chart

Not only am I low for the average man, I’m low for a man my age and older! How is this possible? I was only in the hospital for a week and recovery for six weeks. Can muscle mass be lost that quickly?

Now, I did come out of the hospital 20 pounds lighter than I went in. This would equate to a loss of about 2 pounds a day for my 10 day stay, but most of the weight loss was early. I never figured out why it was so much, as I doubt that a meter of intestine (the full length of my ileum) weighs that much since it’s essentially a hollow tube of muscle and skin. Maybe it was because of all the stuff that was leaking into my abdomen was no longer there, a lot probably water weight, and maybe an incidental “liposuction” when they cut through the fat and muscle to get to my innards. I just didn’t know. However, I felt that when I cam out that my chest and shoulders had disappeared on me. Could I

Me in hospital
Me shortly after surgery in August 2018

really have lost that much muscle that quickly? Or is my scale wrong. Did one operation undo 30 years of weightlifting and bodybuilding?

I think it will be interesting to see what happens over the course of the next few weeks and months as I continue into my workout routine. I will admit that I wasn’t doing a lot prior to the operation but I was lifting twice a week and getting in some cardio. Plus, there was the cardio rehab I had just finished earlier in the late spring. Muscle memory is a wonderful thing, but we all know that as we get older we don’t bounce back as quickly as we did before.

In fact, most studies indicate that as we age we lose a significant amount of muscle with some, if I recall correctly, suggesting men lose as much as 10% of their muscle mass for each decade after 40 (or earlier). Most studies also suggest that this loss is as much due to inactivity as anything as we tend to move less as we get older and that working out becomes less of a priority when family and career get involved (thus the rise of the so-called “Dad Bod” someone with some muscle on them but it’s covered in a layer of fat).

However, there are also studies that suggest that this muscle loss can be slowed if not completely reversed. That, contrary to popular belief, even people in their eighties and nineties can gain muscle. Maybe not as fast as in our youth, but gains can be made. In fact, I feel that I was at my strongest in my mid to late forties. Not necessarily my fittest, just my strongest.

Which bring ups an interesting tangent. I had a conversation recently with a young man who I’ve befriended at work. He’s a bodybuilder (though I don’t think he would consider himself one since he lifts primarily for “fun,” but I’ve seen his before pictures and he’s clearly a bodybuilder) and he asked me an interesting question: “do you know how men keep getting stronger as they get older?” I replied that I had noticed the same thing myself, stating that many bodybuilders seem to hit their prime in their thirties and how I felt I gained strength well into my forties. But he then said, “no, do you know HOW men keep getting stronger?” and I indicated that I wasn’t sure, perhaps the body doesn’t actually fully mature until a man is in his twenties or later.

Now, I think I can answer that question a little better. Men who keep getting stronger as they age also don’t give up. They stay focused on being a little better each day, at lifting a little more, running a litter farther.

Basically, men get stronger as they age because they think they can.

I think that I can, too. The best is yet to come.

Onward.

Fitness Quest: Memories as Motivation

So, the other day I was in a bit of a funk. Unusual for me as I’m normally pretty chipper these days (ha – I make myself giggle), but like everyone else I can get a good case of the “woe is me” and “life stinks” going on. This particular case was about the usual these days: “why can’t I lift this (insert heavy object name here)? I could last year. Easily!” or “can’t I bench more than that?” or “why does it hurt when I bend?” or my perennial favorite, “how come my shirt sleeves seem to have so much room in them?” (sleeve gapitis – it’s a real thing, Google it. Seriously.) All in all, I had a serious lack of motivation and started looking back to the “good old days” through pictures and social media posts.

What I found depressed me further. Here’s me goofing off after trying to climb one of Colorado’s 14,000 footers:

colorado

Here I am running a 5K:

rose run

Here I am looking possibly as buff as I ever have:

buff dave

Here I am about to go surfing for gosh sake:

surfing

And the coup de grĂ¢ce, here’s the weight I was benching just a year ago. 255 for reps and sets:

255

All the makings of a good sob fest and longing for the glory years. Are they gone? Am I a has been? Has age finally caught up with me? Questions I’m sure most of us have asked ourselves and if you haven’t, you will.

But, you know what? I decided instead of wallowing in self-pity that I was going to use these images to motivate me.

My lungs and legs are still good. I can climb mountains. Maybe not summit, but I didn’t do that before anyway. I was climbing in Idaho just this past summer (well after my heart rehab).

I can still run a 5K and did just this past July. I bet I can beat my time next year!

I’m increasing weight in my bench each week. I can keep going and bench even more than I did a year ago!

And as far as looking buff – well, modesty prevents me from saying so judge for yourself:

dave gym (2)

Surfing? Sorry, that was a one and done! Fun, but there are sharks out in the ocean.

The best is yet to come.

Onward!

Fitness Quest: Deep Vein Thrombosis!

Those of you who have read my other blog posts know that I have a digestive disorder called Crohn’s. Though my case is well controlled and I’m responding very well to my current treatment (Humira) I’m always at risk of other complications. Well, one of those complications occurred this week and it wasn’t even one I was aware of: Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT).

DVT is a potentially serious and life threatening condition where, in the simplest terms, a blood clot forms in a vein (usually the leg) and blocks the blood flow. The result is pain and swelling of the limb – yes it hurts. In about 1 in 9 cases, if I’m reading the stats right, the clot will dislocate and move to the lung causing a blockage in the lungs (a pulmonary embolism or PE) and resulting in death. Scary stuff!  And it turns out that having an inflammatory bowel disease – like Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis – is a risk factor. Other risk factors are sitting still in one position too long (as in on a jet), a hereditary blood disorder known as “Factor V” which causes blood clots, injury, and others.

The good news is that we caught mine early, I’m on treatment (blood thinners) and there’s a good chance that I’ll get over this without any ill effects whatsoever (there’s also a chance I’ll have post thrombotic syndrome, aka PST, a couple years down the road, but I’ll cross that bridge if I come to it). Only time will tell and it may be as long as 6 months before I’m completely out of the woods.

There’s a lot of information on DVT on the web. Sites I used to gather my information and stats are:

Mayo Clinic
Cleveland Clinic
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
American Society of Hematology

I urge you to check out the facts for yourself and watch for the warning signs. If you have a leg cramp or strain in your leg that won’t go away, notice swelling, get checked soon. I thought my leg pain was just from lifting a heavy object the wrong way and waited almost a week before deciding that something was wrong. If I had been aware of the warning signs I could have started treatment that much earlier (that’s the warning).

In other personal fitness news:

Workouts: mine have been pretty blah since the New Year. Most people get geared up and motivated but for some reason I didn’t. I’m back on track with my weight training again – only upper body for now due to the DVT (and with my doctor’s permission). However walking and running is out of the question until the swelling and pain in my leg start to subside. I did get some good hiking in on a recent trip to Las Vegas and Death Valley recently though before the DVT hit.

Fitness and Nutrition: for whatever reason even with my exercise curtailed and my diet being, shall we say, lax my body fat seems to be decreasing even though my body weight is going up slightly each week. Could be a broken scale, could be that I’m doing something right and perhaps that my low carb, high fat strategy is more effective than I thought.

Well, as always the only direction to go is forward. So I’ll keep on keeping on.

Onward!

P.S. and for those who are not faint of heart, below is a picture of my good leg and afflicted leg side by side.

dvt-022517
Can you guess which leg is swollen? Hint: it’s the one with no definition.

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!