How Do You Know if You Have Big Arms?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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

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

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

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

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

Simple, other people will tell you.

Now, go hit the gym. It’s arm day!

Photo by Cesar Galeu00e3o on Pexels.com

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

Fitness Quest: 2019 A Year in Review

It may be a couple days late, but at the start of another year I think it’s worth taking a quick look back at where I’ve come fitness wise at least. One of the benefits of keeping records is being able to see progress which in real time seems to never come.

I started 2019 as an ostomate. I’ve discussed this in other blogs (like this one here). Suffice it to say that there are challenges when you don’t have use of your colon. Among them was getting the proper nutrients and maintaining weight. In some ways this was good as I did lose a good deal of fat through the experience but also lost muscle as well.

Giving the “thumbs up” after surgery!

I am fortunate that my ileostomy could be reversed and was in April 2019. The results were immediate, observable and positive. Muscle gains, despite being a middle-aged man, were rapid as my body started bouncing back to it’s old self. To the point that my trainer was impressed and even asked if I had always put on muscle so quickly (I wish). By the end of the year I had gained about 30 pounds and according to skin fold measurements almost all of it was lean mass.

Briefly, I started the year weighing 196 pounds/89 kg with a bodyfat % of 24%. I ended weighing 226 pounds/102.5 kg with a bodyfat of 23.5. Even given the usual error rate a significant gain in solid mass (skinfold totals dropped from 151 to 137). My chest grew from 39.5 inches/100.3 cm inches to almost 45 inches/114.3 cm. My unflexed arms are the same size (about 13.5 inches/34.3 cm) but flexed I stretch the tape to nearly 16 inches/40.6 cm, a gain of about 1.5 inches/3.8 cm.

Me putting on a good face during the annual Rose Run in Petersburg, MI

Cardiovascularly, even though I didn’t beat my best time in my annual 5K run I did better than I have in most years. My blood pressure has crept up this year so I need to refocus on my diet – especially my sugar habit – and get more regular with my cardio. Though I do a couple cardio and core sessions each week I’m not getting my steps in now that winter is here. I’m making better use of my exercise bike since last week and will have to keep it up.

Foods we should all eat more often!

My diet has changed. I’m cooking more food myself at home and packing lunch almost everyday. I wouldn’t say I’m on a true mediterranean diet by any means, but I eat more olive oil, hummus, and vegetables in general than I ever thought I would. Plus, even though I visit the drive-thru much too often (2-3 times per week) this is about half as often as I used to do.

I do take a lot more selfies these days, too!

For 2020 I’ve got the usual goals – increased cardiovascular health, less fat and more muscle. If the past year is an indication I like my odds.

Onward!

Crohn’s Update: Surgery and Post-Op Condition

Warning: as usual with my posts regarding my struggles with Crohn’s this post contains frank discussion of basic bodily functions not usually discussed in polite company. If talk of peeing and pooping make you squeamish, you may want to just move along.

Giving the “thumbs up” after surgery!

Those of you have read my previous post know that I had gone into the hospital to have what the medical staff referred to as an “ileostomy takedown” or in other words, my internal plumbing was reconnected and all organs that belonged inside my body (the stoma, which was a portion of small intestine pushed out through my abdomen for the removal of waste via an appliance aka “the bag”) were put back inside. This is an operation I had been looking forward to. Even though the creation of the stoma quite literally saved my life, it was an inconvenience to deal with – some of the issues I have described in earlier blog entries.

So, how did it go? Pretty well actually. According to the surgeon the surgery could not have gone better. Unfortunately, this does not mean that there were no issues. The biggest one, from my perspective, was that the epidural given to me to control pain also caused an issue where I could not release my bladder. You see, the epidural provided strong drugs to my mid-section which essentially turned off nerve receptors. The good news is that thanks to this treatment I was up and around pretty quickly. The bad news, I couldn’t urinate. This led to not one, not two, but several different catheters being inserted into my uretha – an uncomfortable procedure at best and in my case painful as apparently one of the times my uretha was “nicked.” As bad as not being able to go was, the sight of blood coming out of where blood should never come out was a bit unnerving to say the least. Plus this caused some pain in my you know what, which prevented me from trying to go. At one time the urine back up was so bad that after one catheter I released 1.2 liters of urine. For comparison, the average male bladder maxes out as about 400 – 600 milliliters. My bladder was pushed to its limit. This extended my hospital visit by a couple days as they wanted to be sure that my urinary function was normal before sending me home.

Well, that and the unexpected vomiting.

The third day post-op my gut seemed to be waking back up. I didn’t actually pass gas or stool yet, but my bowel sounds were active. In fact, one nurse said my gut sounded “hyperactive.” Which usual meant that things were starting to move through my system again and my long unused colon was waking up (so to speak). Wrong. Just as I was about to try to eat some lunch my guts went into full revolt. And very much like the girl in the Exorcist I began spewing everywhere! Since I hadn’t eaten much what came out was a build up of gastric juices and other liquids. The good news is that I learned I could still move quickly despite any lingering internal pain, the bad news is that we discovered how much liquid I could hold in. Turns out, quite a lot.

After these two setbacks, things started to improve quickly. My bowels began moving on day 4 PO (post-op), pretty much pure liquid but I was passing stool and gas. My bladder kicked back in later that same day thanks to some Flowmax and the discontinuation of the epidural. So by day 6 PO I was able to come home.

Now, one day shy of three weeks post-op, my stool is still pretty liquid with signs of solids every now and then. Still going more often than I’d like, but it’s way more controllable than the stoma was – plus no more bag to change frequently and more importantly, no accidents since my surgery. My staples have been removed and my new scar is healing. I have a shallow hole where my stoma used to be which is getting shallower by the day.

Still several more weeks before I can lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk, but I can walk and stand upright. I even have permission to get on my exercise bike and next week I’m going to ask about being allowed to work from home so I can at least catch up on emails. Things are looking up and I have no regrets about undergoing the surgery.

Physically, I did lose some weight again through the ordeal and am now at about 190 pounds. The lightest I’ve been in some time. Given how fast food is still flowing through me, I may get down to the mid-180 range before things settle down. The good news though is that my bodyfat% seems to be dropping in relation to my muscle mass. So though I’ve lost some of both fat and muscle, the fat loss has been greater. I’ll be in a good position for rebuilding once I’m able to lift again.

About 3 weeks post-operation. My shoulders seem to have lost some mass again.

Arms are a little smaller and flatter, too. The shirt I’m wearing used to be much tighter and now I have the dreaded sleeve gap.

Onward!

Fitness Quest: Pre-Op Condition

So those of you who have read my blog know that I had an ileostomy in August 2018 as a result of my ongoing struggle with Crohn’s disease. You also know that I have a strong interest in physical fitness which sometimes results in me actually working out. In my youth (July 2018) my focus had been mostly on building muscle with an increasing amount of cardio thrown in due to a heart attack brought on by a severe Crohn’s attack. With the ileostomy, my focus shifted again.

From day one of the ileostomy I knew that it was reversable and that another surgery would one day be in my future. So, my fitness efforts changed somewhat again and I put much more effort into my workouts. So along with my walking, tap dancing once a week, twice a week lifting with my brother-in-law (aka “the animal”) I added a couple drop-in classes at the College I work at (Owens Community College – your success starts here) and also engaged the services of a personal trainer once a week. I wanted to be as strong and healthy as possible before going back “under the knife.” Well, today is the day that I go into surgery so here’s a quick update on where I stand.

The good news: I’m clearly stronger. I can bench more weight and reps than prior to my hospitalization in August 2018. My stamina has increased and I have more muscle. Body measurements indicate that my proportions are changing. I get positive comments on my triceps on a regular basis and even though my arms haven’t actually grown I think they look better.

On the right my arm in August 2018, the left as it looks today. Same size better shape and definition.

I also think my entire torso looks better. My waist hasn’t really shrunk, but since my chest is larger, by an inch, and a tighter waist a “V” shape is starting to form. All positive changes.

The bad news: my electronic scale and fat folds both say that my bodyfat % is the same as it was in August though the skin folds seem to indicate that the fat has moved around. My personal trainer is baffled as he agrees that I look better and am clearly stronger, too. Do I trust the mirror instead of calipers and scales? Not sure.

My recent trip to the hospital (see previous blog post) revealed that one of my heart medications may have been breaking down my muscle instead of helping me as it should have. If this is the case it might explain why my muscles didn’t grow more from my regular workouts (age is a factor as well, I’m sure, sigh).

The conclusion: I’ll be healthier with my colon reconnected. The colon is where most of the water is absorbed by the body and my challenge to stay hydrated over these past several months may be taking a toll on my kidneys. As my GI says, it will be easier for me to stay healthy with everything reconnected. The hard work of doing so still remains with me.

In any event I’ll have six weeks of recovery after the surgery. Six weeks without lifting anything heavier than a gallon of milk. I’ll be able to walk, but probably not run or dance until after six weeks as well.

Rare picture of me not only shirtless but with scar and appliance in full view.

Six weeks to plan my return to the gym, get my diet fine tuned and keep cultivating other healthy habits. My ileostomy reversal is an end of sorts, and a welcome one, but the beginning of my next chapter.

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: October 2017 and Olympic Goals

A little late on my update for last month – but it’s been a busy week so this update will flow into the first part of November as well:

Crohn’s Update: things are going very well with my Crohn’s. I’ve had only one or two days where I got off to a slow start do to the disease. I believe that being regular with my vitamin regimen, staying active as possible, keeping up with my weight training, and watching my diet are all helping. If I feel better over all, my Crohn’s stays quiet.

Workouts: progress continues! I’m gaining strength, slowly but surely, and stamina. My arms are a little larger, my chest is larger, my shoulders more defined, my waist is shrinking, and my weight is decreasing.

I did spend the first week of November in Colorado Springs at the Broadmoor Resort no less (one of America’s true luxury resorts) at a business conference (NACAS – where I was inducted as the board President). Though I suffered early on a brief attack of altitude sickness, several gallons of water and many deep breaths later I was feeling positively energized in the thin mountain air. So good that by the end of my stay I was lifting weights in the fitness center each night – including 250 on the bench for three reps. Twenty five more pounds than at home – it was on a machine though so it didn’t require as much use of the stabilizing muscles as a “true” bench press. Still felt good though!

Cardio: most of the month was ho-hum in this area. Being in a play (mentioned in the last post) did slow me down somewhat. However, one the play was finished I was able to step things back up so to speak. Also, as I mentioned above,  I took a trip to Colorado Springs. Nothing like a stay in the thin mountain air, hikes up a couple of hills (and 224 steps to the top of Seven Falls and another 185 to the Eagles Landing) and walking all over a spread out resort (the Broadmoor) and conference center to get those steps in!

Nutrition: I’m doing pretty well in this department. I hit my protein goals most days and stay below my carb goals. Fats, still an issue, but getting better. I’m finding some supplementation with protein drinks is really helping. I’m making my own smoothies starting this week as well. Now that my weight is down, I’m considering adding a few more calories per day to see if I can spur some additional muscle growth without adding fat. A challenge for anyone – let alone a middle age man with a history of being fat prone. But, if you don’t experiment you don’t learn, right?

Other Cool Things this Month: the biggest cool think I did this month was visit the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs as part of the aforementioned conference. Here I got to meet several Olympic and Paralympic athletes and I’ll post more about that later. But what a thrill it was to participate in an Olympic Flame lighting ceremony and meet so many athletes. If I needed any more motivation to keep working out, I got it that night. I may never have the body of a gymnast – the shoulders and biceps on those guys – but I can keep pushing my own personal limits.

And so can you.

Onward!

20171107_205842
Olympic gymnast Sam Mikulak having fun with a fan.