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The Potential for Huge Muscles
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Ellington Darden, Ph.D.

The Potential for Huge Muscles:
Only One Man in a Million Has It!

When it comes to being successful in professional
basketball — or bodybuilding — having the right genetics
is the most important factor.

Ray Mentzer (left), at age 24, and brother Mike, at age 26, had great genetic potential for developing huge muscles. Both of them had long muscles and short tendons in their forearms, biceps, triceps, thighs, and calves. (1978 photo by Wayne Gallasch)


Pretend for a few minutes that your foremost goal in life is to be 7 feet tall. Since your height is only 5 feet 8 inches, this is an especially far-reaching challenge. Also suppose that you have never heard of basketball and never seen a basketball game.

Then, one day while you are visiting Los Angeles, Atlanta, or New York, you attend a professional basketball game for the first time.

"Wow," you exclaim after the initial quarter, "I’ve never seen so many tall men in one place." You’ve just got to get down close to the court for a better look. When you are near the court, perhaps only a few yards from some of the players, you are convinced that your long-desired goal can be obtained.

How? By becoming skilled at bouncing and shooting a basketball. Almost anyone should be able to see the relationship.

When you return home, the first thing you do is go to your local sporting goods store and purchase a basketball, a backboard, and a basket. Then you round up every basketball book you can find from your local library and bookstore. With a lot of practice, you figure, you’ll start growing taller in no time.

You begin practicing. You dribble and you shoot. And you continue on a daily basis — for weeks and months.

Unfortunately, you don’t get taller. The only thing that increases is your proficiency at dribbling and shooting. Nothing you seem to do with the ball makes you taller. But why were all the players on the professional basketball teams so tall?

You decide to seek out a basketball coach and ask him what your problem is. Much to your displeasure, the coach explains to you that playing basketball has no effect on your height. You must have the genes to get taller, the coach says, and if you do, you will get taller whether or not you play basketball.

To play professional basketball, an individual must be very tall. He must learn the skills of basketball at an early age. This is not to say, however, that most people cannot learn the skill of basketball and enjoy playing the game. But there is little chance for an individual to play professional basketball unless he has inherited genes that make him tall.

So far, so good. You should now definitely see the connection among genetics, being very tall, and professional basketball.


HUGE MUSCLES AND MR. OLYMPIA

Now, I want you to suppose that your goal is to have very large muscles. Also, I want you to pretend that you’ve never heard of bodybuilding and never seen a bodybuilding contest.

Then, one day you visit Las Vegas and are invited to attend the Mr. Olympia contest. Furthermore, you get to go backstage at intermission and watch the finalist pump up. You are simply awed by the size of these men.

You can’t help but notice that all of these guys are lifting weights backstage. Lifting weights, you reason, must be the secret to getting very large muscles.

So, the next day you purchase some weights, buy some bodybuilding books, and start training. Months and years go by, and yes, you get bigger and stronger, but you don’t look anything like Ronnie Coleman, Jay Cutler, Dorian Yates, Mike Mentzer, Arnold Schwarzenegger, or whoever your bodybuilding hero is. What are you doing wrong? What’s the answer? You decide to ask a bodybuilding coach.


THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BASKETBALL AND BODYBUILDING COACHES

Here’s where the coaches differ. The average basketball coach understands the importance of genetics in his sport. The average bodybuilding coach doesn’t. The bodybuilding coach is likely to tell you that you need more training, different exercises, new routines, or additional food supplements. He is not likely to tell you that you must have unusual genetics to get unusually large muscles. Professional bodybuilders have inherited muscular characteristics that make them unique.

In fact, the men who enter the Mr. Olympia are as rare as the men who are 7 feet tall and play professional basketball. Both are giants: giants in muscle or giants in height.

In my opinion, approximately one in a million men in the United States has the genetic potential to be 7 feet tall, or the genetic potential to build huge Mr. Olympia-type muscles. One in a million — think about it!


MUSCLE LENGTH — THE KEY FACTOR

The length of your muscle bellies is the single most important factor in determining potential size. Your muscles attach to bone by tendons. If you surgically removed an entire muscle from your body with the tendons intact, you’d notice that the tendons at either end are composed of very dense tissue. Follow this dense tissue until it tapers into the muscle. Now cut the tendons off at both ends. What you’re left with is called the muscle belly, the meaty part of the tissue. The longer the muscle belly, the greater the cross-sectional area and volume can become.

Bodybuilders with huge muscles, or the potential for developing them, have short tendons and long muscle bellies. For a muscle to be wide, it must be exceptionally long. An exceptionally long muscle doesn’t have to be wide, but it has the potential to be and it responds quickly to proper training.

While simple in theory, the muscle-length connection is still widely ignored. I remember well the first time I heard Arthur Jones discuss the topic in 1973. Jones used the concept of aspect ratio to make it clear. Aspect ratio deals with the relationship between an object’s length and width.

For example, framed pictures that you display on the wall have an established width-to-height ratio that is pleasing to the eye. The standard five-by-seven-inch or eight-by-ten-inch photograph fall into this category. Vary significantly from this aspect ratio and the picture doesn’t look right — it doesn’t work, it doesn’t function correctly.

A similar aspect ratio, Jones reasoned, applies to muscles. For muscle to function, it must contract or shorten. During contraction, the thin actin filaments within the involved muscle fibers are pulled toward the thick myosin filaments. What happens is similar to interlacing your fingertips and smoothly pushing them together and then pulling them apart. Since most muscles have a teardrop-like shape, as the fibers enlarge, the angle of pull on the tendon becomes less and less direct. Past a certain size, the muscle — or at least part of it — would fail to contract. It simply would not function. Its aspect ratio would not allow it to work.

In other words, a short muscle cannot be very wide because its angle of pull would be so poor that it would not be able to contract efficiently. The body, therefore, would not allow a short, wide muscle to develop.

To function effectively, a wide muscle must be long. And the length of your muscles is 100 percent genetically determined. You cannot lengthen them through exercise, nutrition, drugs, or anything else.

Some of the most easily measured muscle lengths are the biceps and triceps of the upper arms. How do you determine if you have long, average, or short muscle bellies in your upper arms?

I describe and illustrate biceps and triceps potential in chapter 7, pages 56-59, of my new HIT book. Please take a few minutes to review that section. The key factor is where your biceps and triceps muscles attach to the tendons that cross your elbow joint.

By applying the suggested tests and measurements in the HIT book, you can estimate your biceps and your triceps growth potential using the rating scale: great, good, average, poor, and bad.


LOOKING AT PROBABILITIES

What are your chances for building a really huge pair of arms? The type that would place you in the top five of the Mr. Olympia contest?

As I mentioned earlier, the odds are not good. They are approximately one in a million. In other words, out of every one million men in the United States, only one has the potential to have arms and the overall body of Ronnie Coleman, Mr. Olympia 2004. But even Coleman has his weaknesses.

The next time you see a full-body photo of Coleman, take a look at his calves. Both his gastrocnemius and soleus muscles are only average in length in each lower leg. His calves, regardless of what he does, will never be on the same level of development as are his upper arms. Coleman has long muscles and great potential in his arms, as well as his chest, thighs, and back.

Since there are approximately 290 million people in the United States, and half (145 million) are male, that means there are 145 males in this country with unusual genetic potential for building excessive large biceps and triceps.

Second, if you do have the genetic potential for building huge arms, you probably already have big arms — even if you don’t train. And if you do train, you probably already believe you understand bodybuilding because you have big arms. So, you probably wouldn’t be reading this article.

Thus, if you are reading this Web site, there is good probability that you do not have the genetic potential to build really exceptional arms. In fact, most of you probably have average, or slightly above-average potential.

So, what can a guy with average biceps and triceps potential expect from proper training? How big will your arms be if you reach your genetic potential? What is a realistic goal for your upper arm circumference?


A REALISTIC GOAL

Joe Roark, a strength and bodybuilding historian, who has done extensive research on accurate arm measurements and expectations, lists the following formula for the average trainee:

For example, if your wrist size is exactly 7 inches, then 7 times 2.3 equal 16.1 inches. "But who wants a 16-inch arm?" You might be thinking.

Notice, too, that I’m talking about an arm circumference that is accurately measured: cold, on the first contraction, at right angles to the bone, with a thin, tightly drawn tape. Measured in this manner, most bodybuilders who claim 18-inch arms would barely break 16 inches.

I promise you that that a lean, muscular 16-inch arm actually looks bigger than it is. It is in fact something that is rare and something to be very proud of.

You’ve certainly got to get 16-inch arms before you move higher up the tape. If you already have legitimate 16-inch arms, then your goal should be 16-1/2 inches or perhaps 17 inches. If you have 17-inch arms, then shoot for 17-1/2 inches.

In the final analysis, understand your genetic potential and be realistic about your arms — or any other body part.

Discuss this article | Text Version

HeavyHitter32

Ellington,

I'm have a 7" wrist (6'2" tall) and can't get my arms past 14.75" no matter what I do. (Been training HIT for 10 years).
Using your arm potential charts, there is exactly 1/2" of a gap between my biceps and tendon.

About a 4" gap in my triceps to tendon.

So, I appear to have at least average potential.

What can I do to get to 15", then eventually 16"?
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waynegr

Switzerland

Hi there,

Could you put your training routine in for two weeks to a month, and your calories for the same time, and what other activity?s you do, work, and sports, and what you weigh now.

PLEASE BE VERY VERY HONEST, OR WE CAN NEVER HELP.

Thank you Wayne
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HeavyHitter32

Right now, I am training about every 3rd or 4th day, alternating these two workouts:

Workout A

Leg Ext.
Squat
Row
Pulldown
Fly
Incline Press
Lateral Raises
Pressdown
Curl
Abs

Workout B

Leg Ext.
Leg Press
Hip Extension
Incline Fly
Decline Press
Shoulder Press
Triceps Ext.
Lying Curl

Each set is taken to absolute failure --- using the BowFlex Ultimate machine.

These workouts are getting very difficult to get through. I feel exhausted half way through and feel like a freight train has hit me.

My strength is that I usually gain a rep or two on several exercises a workout. Nothing dramtic, however.

I should preface that I have gained about 30 pounds of muscle and about 3" on my arm since I started training 10 yrs ago.

As far as calories, I'm around 2300-2400 a day. Bodyfat is in the mid to high teens. If I add anymore calories, it just seems to be fat gain. Also, my job is at a desk all day and I perform no other major activities.
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Ellington Darden

HH32,

What kind of a pump do you get on your 14.75-inch arms?

Ellington
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aikidoka

Sorry to ask a silly question. But where exactly is the wrist measurement taken? I am geussing right at the notch beteen the palm and the arm.

Thanks,

Mark
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HeavyHitter32

Ellington,

On my "best" pump day, I can get them between 15.25" and 15.5."

However, my arms never exceed 14.75" cold. In fact, I once bulked up, gaining an extra 10 pounds of fat --- and they still didn't change.

Considering I am 6'2" with decent muscle length in my arms, you would think they would get bigger.

Maybe I just lack fast twitch fiber in them?

On a side note, my calves don't exceed 14.5" -- I would say they are of average length.
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Ellington Darden

The wrist measurement is taken at the smallest position, which is in the notch you described.

Ellington
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liftnbig

That's strange HeavyHitter32 as I have 6 3/4" wrists yet have been able to bring my 10" arms upto 17 1/4" over the years! If anyone was in line for toothpick arms it was me, but by training all-out and allowing adequate recuperation time my arms have come a long way.

Here's how I see it. Mentzer had 16" arms when he was 16, and got them upto 18" with great genetics and drug use. I, on the other hand, had only 10" arms at 16, but achieved a 7 1/4" gain. So, who made the better gains?
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HeavyHitter32

I think fast twitch muscle fiber density is just as important as muscle length.

You can take two guys --- with the same length of muscle bellies --- but one has mostly FT and the other has ST...yet, one guy will be substantially bigger.

Of course, everything being equal, the longer muscle will be bigger because of geometrics. However, rarely is everything equal.

Obviously, there are other factors besides fiber density and length, as well.
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aikidoka

Well that gives me a shade over 15.5" for potential arm size. Im at about 14.5" now give or take.
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HeavyHitter32

Ellington,

Any suggestions as far as getting my arms over 15"?

Thanks.
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Seriousstrength

New York, USA

The basketball analogy is a poor one. Basketball players who become 7 feet tall do not have to do anything to become 7 feet tall.

Body builders with the best genetics still have to lift weights.


Look at Casey viator in the Colorado Experiment. At a body weight of 165 after the accident had he never lifted a weight again he would have remained 165.

It's a poor analogy.
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HeavyHitter32

The point is muscle potential, like height, eye color, bone size, skin color etc. is a *fixed* trait that cannot be altered.




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hitter4Jesus

It's a fine analogy. Seven-foot-tall people do have to do something to be seven feet tall. They must receive the proper nutrition during their growing years. And, like a bodybuilder, if a 7-foot-tall person was in a lab, surrounded by scientists who were feeding him with the precise amount required of the best nutrition they could figure, that 7-foot-tall person may have been 7'2, or better. It's not a perfect analogy, but it is a good one, the way I see it.
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Carlos.Molina

Ellington, I'm just getting started again after years off. I am 5'7, 11% fat, 27 & a half weist, 43 inch chest, 14 inch arms flexed (cold), 11 & a half inch forearms.
My biceps gap is average = 1 & a quarter inch. My triceps are very long (both heads) the longest head is 2 & three quarters away from elbow! My forearms are very long, wrist crease to bicep crease, muscle belly covers 75% of the length. I am small boned but have allways had natural muscle size. My wrist is 6 & a half inch! You say multiply wrist by 2.3 for average muscle length. For me would it be 2.4 or 2.5 ? I read that very long in forearms it can be more than doubled the wrist. So does that mean that I can build my forearms to 13 & a half inches? My ankles are 8 inches. My calves are also long. What is the formula for calve potential. How and what formula do you use for chest potential? Any other body parts?
Any one else also get back.
Thanks
carlo
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Ellington Darden

Seriousstrength,

Did you read the Boyer Coe Interview? Coe pointed out that he met Casey Viator when Viator was 13 and immediately recognized his potential for bodybuilding success. Also, at the start of the Colorado Experiment Viator was abnormally low in body weight, due to an allergic reaction to an anti-tetanus injection. His normal, untrained body weight was 185 pounds, not 165. Plus, as both Coe and Jones noted, Viator had an older sister who was his height and weighed a solid 180 pounds.

The point is . . . success in bodybuilding and success in basketball have a lot to do with genetics, the genetics of being wide and the genetics of being tall.

Ellington
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Ellington Darden

HH32,

Try the arm routines in chapter 21 of the new HIT. If you can pump your arms to 15 inches, then they can be that size eventually.

Ellington
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HeavyHitter32

Ellington,

Since I have a Bowflex Ultimate, what would you recommend? I know in your Bowflex book, you recommend the breakdown set. (I have that book too.)

Is there something else I could do --- something very demanding for arms?

Maybe a triple breakdown set?

Thanks.
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waynegr

Switzerland

Hi there,

As we have all read Ellington and Arthur's, how to determine your genetic potential, I have used it on well over a 1000 people and 95% of the time its true, but remember what it says at the end, My advice is to use both the biceps and the triceps charts in a very general, none, - definitive manner. As there are one or two other things to take into account, if the h.t.d.y.g.p. is in your favour, but your arms still wont grow that big, it could be because of things such as neuromuscular efficiency, endocrine system, fiber composition. But lets not let silly things like that stop us HITTERS.

You asked for something demanding, this is very very very demanding. Why not buy Ellington's big arms in six weeks, and in the meantime rest your arms for a full two weeks, hope you have taken and full two weeks rest every six months ???

Mind you as you have been working out for 10 years, you could do the big arms in six weeks course, say twice a week, that would take 7 weeks, then after you have finished the course, and your arms are well over 15" train your arms or your whole body only once a week maybe, on a split (yes I know all about splitting is not a good idea, but this way is a bit different) first workout, shoulders, back, chest, back and arms, second workout, legs calves and ab?s.

My next post is how I split my workout.

One more question how old are you, you say you have put on 30 pounds in 10 years, that's great, and 3 inches on your arms wow that's great to, excuse me for saying but your arms were very skinny before, and if you think about it 3 inch gain is great, but we all want you to get your arms over 15. One more thing as you are 6' 2", you must have long biceps and triceps, long arms, as your arms are 14" there will be still a lot more mass there, as of the length of them.

Remember Dorian Yates, put 70 pounds on in his 13 years of training, but he was a genetic freak, and steroid assisted.

Thank you Wayne


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HeavyHitter32

Wayne,

I am 32. The Big Arms book you refer to is now longer in bookstores. What is the routine for it?
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HeavyHitter32

For the sake of accuracy, I remeasured the tendon length on my bi and triceps.

My right arm tendon gap is actually closer to an 1.25"; my left bicep is about .75"

Where as both my triceps are about 4 1/4"

This is with my arms in a 90 degree angle.
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Belly

I am completely convinced you can put more size on your arms.My measurements of muscle length show poor potential in my arms,I discovered this in the late 80's when I read 100 High Intensity Ways to Improve Your Bodybuilding.My arms at the time were about 15" up from 12" over the course of a few years.My arms are now 16 1/2 to 17",although I would have to admit this is not a lean figure.I suspect you're going about it the wrong way.To add arm size most people have to add substantial bodyweight.I would recommend working your legs to build your arms,especially with squats.Also it sounds like you might be overtraining if you can't get through your workout,try cutting a few sets and experimenting with an extra day between your workouts.
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Seriousstrength

New York, USA

My point was that good genetics or not, one must lift weights to become larger. One has to do something to make big muscles happen. Not so for height. It just happens. My red hair is genetics pure and simple. My 13 1/2 inch forearm is genetics PLUS training.

No one has ever thought nor would they ever think that playing basketball makes people tall. When we see people in the gym with large muscles we don't think that multiple sets and volume got them that way -- we think lifting weights got them that way and that's correct.

People think more in terms of generalities. When we see people who study a lot we think being studious makes you smarter and it does. We don't however think about what is being studied.

Anyway, another point I was trying to make was that genetics aside, muscle grows according to the stimuls presented. If it takes a high intensity effort to make a muscle grow, just because Casey Viator has great genetics doesn't mean that a low intensity effort would stimulate growth as you suggest is possible in your new book.

Yet, it does seem to work doesn't it? Legions of trianees have done high volume/multiple set programs and gotten results. But what from?

The high volume folks may just happen to get a few HIT sets here and there in their training and this may be what is causing their growth. Who knows. Most of the research on muscle growth does not use HIT that's a fact.

And lastly, if too much volume is not good it stands to reason that too much intensity may also be no good and this is perhaps why Dr. Darden has suggested NTF training. Perhaps if all of one's training sessions were MIT (Moderate intensity training)sessions, you could train more often since recovery would not be as important.
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Ellington Darden

Seriousstrength,

In the 1970s, Arthur Jones believed you could not overdo intensity. In other words, the higher the better. In the late 1980s, with his computer testing machines, he found that intensity, primarily prolonged eccentric work, could make too much of an inroad into your starting level of strength.

Today, I believe Jones would say the same thing that you implied: too much intensity is not good.

There's a correct blend of intensity, duration, and frequency that changes somewhat . . . depending on many factors, such as age, sex, genetics (bodily proportions, length of muscles, fiber types, neurological efficiency), equipment, nutritional status, goals, and motivation.

Ellington
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