The Truth About Bodybuilding Arm Measurements
The Truth About Bodybuilding Arm Measurements

by Charles Poliquin

When Johnny Weismuller—the first screen Tarzan—first swung across movie theater screens, he was considered to be very muscular. Kids all over the country beat their chests, bellowed their Tarzan cries, and dreamed of building up their arms to look like the apeman's. Too bad his upper arm measurement was a paltry 15 inches in circumference.

Personally, I remember as a kid watching Charles Bronson in a movie called "Cold Sweat." He wore a T-shirt that would've even been tight on Woody Allen, and I remember being awestruck by his muscularity. Now, when I think about that movie, I realize that his arms were probably about 11 or 12 inches around. Nowadays, even six-year-old kids know that a big arm has to be at least 20 inches.

Bodybuilders have always been obsessed with arm size, but even the general public seems to recognize an impressive pair of guns when they see them, and maybe it has something to do with those old movies that we used to watch. I mean, most people wouldn't recognize a well-developed chest or pair of legs if they were on anyone else other than Marilyn Monroe, Raquel Welch, or the girl next-door who tanned in that little bikini that we could just barely see if we crawled under the hedges and peeked through the little knothole in the fence.

Somehow, arm measurement commands respect. I remember meeting with the Mighty Ducks hockey team and, although some of the players were attentive to what I had to say, others obviously weren't impressed. It wasn't until one of them asked me to show my biceps that they all started listening. After that, I attained immediate status among them, and many of them practically asked me to move in with them and/or date their sisters.

Maybe it's because of the obsession with arm measurement that so many bodybuilders flat-out lie about them. Most arm measurements in the bodybuilding world are so exaggerated, they make Wilt Chamberlain's claims about his sexual conquests seem kind of tame.

If you look at most Weider publications, 20-inch arms are within the grasp of just about anybody who can afford his supplements, and 22-inch arms are about a dime a dozen in the IFBB pro circuit. However, take it from me—this is far from the truth. As the old saying goes, don't piss on my leg and tell me that it's raining.

One of the first authors to tell the truth about bodybuilding measurements was Nautilus inventor Arthur Jones. He published the real arm measurements of elite bodybuilders like Casey Viator, Mike Mentzer, Sergio Oliva, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In "The Nautilus Book, Volume II," Jones recounts that the most muscular arm he ever measured was that of Sergio Oliva. At 20-1/8 inches, Sergio's arms literally dwarfed his head, making him appear the target of some weird, voodoo curse. However, the book was published in the early '70s. Since then, the average bodybuilder has "evolved" considerably, mostly thanks to improvements in nutrition, training methodologies, and—how shall I put it?—"recuperative" methods which come in little bottles that are sold by guys in trench coats and named Guido.

In general, improvements in arm measurement are related to gains in lean body mass. A good rule of thumb is that for every inch you want to gain on your arms, you need to gain roughly 15 pounds of equally distributed body mass. In other words, to make significant improvements in your arms, you have to gain mass all over your entire body.

The human body is a finely-tuned machine that will only allow for a certain amount of asymmetry. Therefore, if you devote your training energies solely to building big arms, you'd eventually reach a point of total stagnation because you weren't training your legs. In other words, no wheels, no wings! Furthermore, if arms grew without some sort of concurrent development in the legs, most bodybuilders would have to walk on their hands.

There are some interesting correlations and relationships when you compare bodybuilders' heights, weights, and arm measurements. For instance, a 5'7" tall bodybuilder who weighs 214 pounds and has a bodyfat percentage of 8% should have arm development between 19-1/4 and 19-5/8 inches. Yet many of these same individuals will claim to have arms that are over 21 inches, a measurement that's quite rare, regardless of height and bodyweight.

I've personally measured the arms of the hulking individuals listed below. All of them had placed in the top eight of a recent show, and the measurements were taken about ten days after the show, presumably when they were at their biggest from all of the post-competition carbs ingested.

Bodybuilder A
Height: 6'0"
Weight: 286 pounds
Cold arm measurement: 20.62"

Bodybuilder B
Height: 5'3"
Weight: 228 pounds
Cold arm measurement: 20.25"

Bodybuilder C
Height: 5'7"
Weight: 214 pounds
Cold arm measurement: 19.62"

Bodybuilder D
Height: 5'11"
Weight: 258 pounds
Cold arm measurement: 18.9"

If I published pict