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?

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!

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!

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

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

Fitness Quest: Healthy Aging

Someone once, I can’t remember who, described aging best: you’re old when you drop something and you have to decide if it’s worth bending over to pick it up or if you can learn to live without it.

This observation seemed like a funny joke when I first heard it, but today it strikes a little too close to home. I don’t know about you but every day I wake up with some new little snap, crackle, or pop and I don’t mean in my cereal bowl! The sad truth is that time has a way with catching up to all of us sooner or later and no matter how we fight it we have to admit that we might be just a little bit past our prime as we enter our golden years (not that I’m there yet *cough*).

The problem as I see it is that most of us surrender to the inevitable way, way too soon. There are reports that for each decade past the age of 30 that men will lose between 3 and 5% of their muscle mass resulting in a loss of 30% of their muscle in their lifetimes (compared to their twenties). Moreover, there are also studies that show most people will also gain 1 or 2 pounds a year at the same time. Why? Well, no doubt some of this is because of the natural aging process. But I maintain it’s also because at some point in their youth most people just decide that it’s not worth the effort to stay fit anymore. They sit down in front of their TVs, laptops, tablets, phones, whatever and just don’t get up. Maybe it’s because of some pain or stiffness in the joints. Maybe it’s just because they feel tired all the time. Maybe it’s just because of <insert reason here>. Maybe it really is because of some serious medical condition – but I’m guessing that if you are still reading this that it’s not in your case and you are really looking for the key to staying healthy longer. Well here it is: exercise.

Now, I’m not saying that you have to workout like a pro-athlete or get up and run marathons several times a year (though you can if you want). I’m suggesting that even a moderate amount of movement each day, along with a little weight bearing exercise (body or actual weights) can help you maintain strength, balance, and keep those pounds off as you get older. Along with a healthy diet, of course.

Skinny me in my twenties!
Not so skinny me today. Yes, there’s still some muscle under the fat.

I’ll use myself as an example. Based on photographic evidence I was always a fairly skinny guy through my teens and into my twenties. At one point after my Crohn’s revealed itself I only weighed about 130 – 140 pounds for a while at a height of about 5’11”. However, over the course of my thirties and forties instead of losing muscle mass as the experts would predict I nearly doubled my bodyweight. Certainly, a lot of my mass gained was fat but I also increased my strength from bench pressing 95 pounds (43 kg) to a 1 rep max lift of 350 pounds (159 kg) in my late forties. In other words, at an age when my strength should have been declining, thanks to regular exercise my strength increase more than threefold.

Even today, though I don’t lift heavy to protect my joints, my 1 rep max lift is calculated to be at about 315 pounds (143 kg). Okay, I just said that to brag since it’s a decrease in strength over the past decade it doesn’t really support my overall point. Going on…

Now I may not be the best example, because thanks to Crohn’s I was not at full strength for a good chunk of my twenties or even good health. The onset of my disease did set me back a fair amount and I lost gains that I had made earlier during college. Not that I was a beefcake before Crohn’s reared it’s life altering head. But my point remains, instead of losing muscle over the next twenty years I gained muscle through regular exercise. Likewise, my regular training partner, who did not suffer from the same medical conditions and setbacks I did, also gained muscle and strength during this period. To me we are both examples that the “ravages of time” can at the very least be slowed down if not out right reversed through regular weight bearing exercise.

And it’s never too late to start. Studies have shown that people in their seventies, eighties and beyond are capable of gaining muscle and strength with just moderate weightlifting. Now granted as we age our joints maybe can’t take the strain of very heavy lifting and certainly recovery time is greater. Even I have to admit that I’m unlikely to be able to win the title of Mr. Olympia no matter how hard I train or even become a social media fitness model (shocking, I know). But I do know that if I fall down I have the strength to get up and, more importantly, I have the strength to squat without having to use the handles in the handicap stall in a public restroom. Practical strength is valuable as we age – trust me. Also, bonus, weight bearing exercises also keep your bones strong.

Even if weights aren’t your thing, there is value in just getting up and moving each day. Take a brisk walk, do some yoga or stretching, find some way to move. This will improve your cardiovascular system and balance, too.

Exercise alone doesn’t solve every issue of aging. Arthritis and other issue will likely cause your joints to ache. As I age I find I have to pay attention to other things, too. Diet, obviously, and also posture. Years of spending my days hunched over a computer keyboard have taken a toll. Both in terms of stiffness in my shoulders and in what is now sometimes called “nerd neck” (really). It may take some effort to get back into the habit of standing tall, gut in, shoulders back, chest out, but it’s worth it in the long run.

Good posture can make you look better and feel better – even as you get older!

Sadly, there are no guarantees in life and exercise isn’t a panacea for all conditions. The reality is that you can do everything right and still get sick. Take me for example, as I mentioned earlier I have Crohn’s disease. This condition, which is of unknown origin still today, may have been partly responsible for the heart attack which damaged – and continues to damage – my heart. I suffered a bowel perforation from the damage that Crohn’s did to my intestines, which resulted in me becoming an ostomate for several months. Though the surgery saved my life and I’ve been “reconnected” my digestive system doesn’t work at peak performance. I’m incapable of absorbing nutrients as well as I did prior to the surgery which could have a long term impact on my health. I was hospitalized with Norovirus which was likely picked up because I likely ate food that someone who didn’t wash their hands properly had prepared. This caused extreme dehydration and my kidneys even shut down so they don’t work as well as they used to now. I had a blood clot in my leg (deep vein thrombosis aka DVT). I have to sleep with “life support” – a CPAP machine – due to central sleep apnea which causes my brain to forget to tell my lungs to keep breathing, and so on and so forth. No matter what you do you are likely going to have problems as you get older.

You will also likely consider shaving your ears but that’s a topic best left for another blog entry.

I strongly suggest that you start moving more as soon as possible. Obviously, consult with your medical care team (and if you’re older you probably have a team of doctors) before beginning any new exercise program. However, I have often said that the moment you stop moving is the moment you become old. It’s as simple as that.

The thing to remember, no matter how tough aging can be, is that we are among the lucky ones. Many people haven’t made it to our age (whatever that may be). Each day is a blessing and we should make the most of every single one. None of us knows how long we have on this Earth, but with a little self-care the chances of those remaining days and years being enjoyable increase considerably.

As the saying goes, old age isn’t for the timid. They also say only the good die young. So do yourself a favor and give your bad self some exercise!

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

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.

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 grâce, 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!

#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