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) |
by Ellington Darden, Ph.D.
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, "Ive never seen so many tall men in one place." Youve 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, youll 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 dont 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.
Now, I want you to suppose that your goal is to have very large muscles. Also, I want you to pretend that youve 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 cant 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 dont look anything like Ronnie Coleman, Jay Cutler, Dorian Yates, Mike Mentzer, Arnold Schwarzenegger, or whoever your bodybuilding hero is. What are you doing wrong? Whats the answer? You decide to ask a bodybuilding coach.
Heres where the coaches differ. The average basketball coach understands the importance of genetics in his sport. The average bodybuilding coach doesnt. 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!
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, youd 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 youre 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 doesnt 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 objects 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 doesnt look right it doesnt work, it doesnt 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.
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 dont train. And if you do train, you probably already believe you understand bodybuilding because you have big arms. So, you probably wouldnt 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?
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:
To calculate upper arm potential, multiply wrist size by 2.3.
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 Im 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.
Youve 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.