`When it comes to exercise, results vary widely.  Across a bell curve, at one end there are  extreme non-responders, people who, albeit rare, actually regress if they exercise, and at the other end, genetically gifted individuals, who seem to improve just walking near a gym.  Depending on which of the three main body types, ectomorph, (skinny, long limbed), endomorphs (tend to be heavier set, shorter limbs) and mesomorph (between the two), we are most closely aligned with, this will have a major determination on what we can expect.  Arthur Jones, inventor of Nautilus exercise machines once stated that a pure mesomorph usually will look fit and strong even if he has never exercised and a true ectomorph may not look it, even if he has exercised for years.  (See accompanying photo of two individuals. Jay Vincent a personal trainer and fitness model on the left http://www.biofitny.com and Simon Shawcross on the right who designs a highly respected personal training certification course, which methodology is used by both of them https://www.hituni.com

Other factors such as how much testosterone we produce have a huge effect.  Few people produce sufficient testosterone to build abnormally large muscles (especially after a certain age) and many try to make for this by taking anabolic steroids.

Many men will give up strength training, when they discover they cannot build large “bodybuilder” type muscles, note that people with noticeably large muscles that actually turn heads is about as common as people who are over 6 feet five inches tall, and both are largely determined by genetics.  If that were not the case, with all the gym memberships, magazine articles and supplements constantly promising big muscles, this would be more common place.   Some women fear strength training, because they believe it might cause them to have very large muscles that they don’t want.  The odds of this happening are even smaller with women as they naturally produce less testosterone than men, which is why men are generally stronger.  See other post on my site about The Graveyard and Visible Minority.

Still another factor beyond our control is the length of our muscle bellies.  Muscles are connected to joints by tendons, and you will note that heavily muscled individuals have long muscle bellies and short tendons, whereas the majority of us, have the opposite.  A short muscle belly can only grow so large no matter what you do.   In order to be successful in bodybuilding one has to also have these long muscle bellies throughout their body, as, if one has a large upper body, but doesn’t have the legs to match, it will be difficult to win contests.   There are also slow twitch, medium twitch and fast twitch fibres, with the latter being far more responsive to growing in size.  While there is evidence that proper training can have a positive effect on changing the proportion of each,  this is limited.

Of course none of the above has taken into consideration the use of anabolic drugs, previously mentioned, and more recently human growth hormone and other chemical experiments.  Sadly this has become very common even in adolescents.  While I hesitate to totally condemn an athlete who may be striving for a multi million dollar athletic or endorsement contract, I think it’s tragic in individuals who are simply trying to impress their friends.  (as an aside, I’m convinced that most young men care more about impressing their male friends than attracting the opposite sex).  Even professional bodybuilders, if you look into it, with the incredibly rare exceptions (count on one hand) who have been able to leverage their success into  lucrative acting careers make trivial incomes when considering  the health risks they are taking.  This is undoubtedly classic body dysmorphia similar to anorexia and perhaps best to understand this as a personality disorder to be adressed rather than judged.  Vanity is not necessarily a bad thing if it motivates one to take pride in their appearance and make good health choices, however, if it becomes obsessive to the point of dominating one’s mindset and actually making dangerous health choices, then honest introspection into one’s self-esteem and a reevaluation of priorities may be helpful

Another more recently discovered factor is a gene known as myostatin whose role is to ensure that we do not build excessively large muscles.  If you click on the link. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Myostatin. you can see examples of animals (a whippet and Belgian blue cattle) who lacking this gene, are incredibly heavily muscled even with no exercise at all.

Finally, while it was once thought that muscle size and muscle strength were closely correlated, recently, it has been shown to be quite possible for individuals to either become quite strong with relatively little increase in muscle size or to gain significant size with some increase in strength but not nearly as proportionately as an individual’s appearance might indicate.  Interestingly greater strength has been associated with longevity, but not so with large muscle size.  This research is still new and I would hesitate to draw conclusions prematurely, however food for thought as to why the myostatin gene seems to have been favoured by evolution.

What is becoming becoming increasingly apparent though is that some benefits of strength training (excessively large muscles) have been grossly exaggerated due to commercial interests, while other more critical health benefits have actually been grossly underestimated, and these are accessible to all who engage in this activity intelligently.  These include (partial list only). avoiding muscle loss, avoiding metabolic rate reduction, increasing metabolic rate, reducing body fat, increasing bone mineral density, improving glucose metabolism, improving gastrointestinal transit time, reducing resting blood pressure, improving blood lipid levels, reducing low back pain, and reducing arthritic pain. Most importantly in my opinion and what I emphasize in my facility is prolonging functional ability so that we may all age gracefully.