Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Secrets of Strength - (Circa 1925) - Chapter 4 - Are Small Bones a Bar to Strength? - By Earle E. Liederman

Among those interested in muscle-culture, there is a widespread, but I believe erroneous, belief that only those who have big bones can get a fine muscular development. That is an idea which should be combated, because, as a fact, beauty of form (that is, perfect proportions), pronounced muscular development and great strength can be acquired by any man, be his bones large or small, if he cares enough for such things to work to get them.

Let us start by acknowledging that there is a basis for the belief that big bones make for big muscles. More of us feel that instinctively, when we see a big gawky boy of sixteen or seventeen, perhaps six feet tall, rather broad-shouldered and with noticeably large hands and feet. His extremities seem big, because the rest of his body is not particularly large, and that makes his hands big by comparison. Almost invariably we think "that chap is going to be a big man some day when he grows up to his hands and feet." In other words we recognize that the boy has the frame, but has not yet had time to "fill out." A man may be tall because his bones are longer than the average, but it takes more than mere length of bone to give size to the extremities.

A big-handed man or boy usually has thick wrists, broad palms, big joints and rather thick fingers. In a big-footed individual the foot is broad as well as long - and of course big bones make big joints. Most of the bones in the arms and legs are long with a knob at each end, the shape of the knob depending on the individual bone. It is hardly necessary to explain that the size of the knobs, say of the upper arm bone, bears a certain proportion to the thickness of the shaft of the bones; that is, a thick bone will have larger knobs at each end than will a thin bone. Therefore a man whose upper-arm bones are thick, and whose neighboring bones are correspondingly thick, will have bigger elbow and shoulder joints than will a man whose upper arm-bones are slender and where the knobs or the ends of the bones are small in proportion to the slender shaft. All that sounds dry and technical but it is something you must learn.

As all of you studied physiology in school you know that a muscle tapers off into tendons, and that these tendons are round like cords, sometimes flat like ribbons, and in other cases the tendinous attachment is broad. Sometimes the tendons are attached at the ends of the bones near the knob and sometimes to grooves in the bones. The part I am trying to make clear is this: Since there are certain places or spaces to which the tendons are attached, it stands to reason that on a big bone those places are bigger than on a small bone. Therefore, it is equally reasonable to say that the bigger the bone the bigger the tendons. And following that up, the bigger the tendons the bigger the muscles that rise from (or taper into) those tendons.

That is one way to state the case, and when so stated it does seem kind of hopeless for a man with slender and delicately made bones to try and get the rugged development which a man who has thick bones seems to acquire without particular effort. It is my opinion that people believe these things without being able to explain them. Certainly almost any man, young or old, will argue on those lines if you can get him to discuss his chances or becoming strong and muscular. It has gotten so that a man will tell you that he is naturally of the "truck-horse type," or "the race-horse type"; and will scout at the idea that his type is in any way changeable. Well, perhaps so, and perhaps not. But don't forget that, after all, it is possible through exercise to enlarge and to change the shape of the body, or belly, of the muscle, whether it is equipped at its termination with either stout or thin tendons. A young fellow may suddenly become dissatisfied with the size and shape of his upper arms. It may be a day in April that he notices how thin they are. Having planned to spend part of August at the seashore, he vows that by then he will have a decent-looking pair of arms.

He looks at his wrists, and says, "Huh! Not much bigger than a girl's." He examines his upper arm, puts a tape around it and finds that the reading is all of eleven inches. Doubles up his arm and looks at it in the mirror. Instead of showing a big lump of biceps, as it should, the shape of the arm is hardly different from when he holds it straight. There is a long low curve that shows where the biceps is, and that is all. On the back of the arm there is no indication of muscle. But he knows the muscles are there, for after all he can move his arms around the same as other folks can. He understands that the problem is to make those muscles bigger, and to get control of them so that they will stand out in pleasing curves.

So every morning he exercises with, say, a pair of 5-pound dumb-bells, and in the evenings he practices "chinning the bar" for his biceps muscles, and "dipping" on the floor for the triceps of his arms. At first he can "chin" himself only once or twice, and "dip" three or four times. But he is a "plugger" and by the time mid-summer comes around he can chin himself fifteen or twenty times without much trouble, and performs thirty or forty "dips" in succession. His arm muscles have responded to the regular hard work and the tape - which at first showed only 11 inches - now registers 13 1/2 inches when he passes it around his flexed biceps muscle.

A 13 1/2-inch arm is very far from being wonderful, but it looks so good in comparison to what it looked like in April that the young man takes great pride in it, and instead of dreading the ordeal of appearing in a sleeveless jersey, he anticipates flattering remarks about the size and shape of his arms. To increase the size of the upper arm by 2 1/2 inches in four months, is nothing at all remarkable, particularly when the arm was very thin to start with. If the arm had measured 13 1/2 inches at the start and had been increased to 16 inches it would have been much more noteworthy. But even that is possible and I have seen it happen, in the case of one of these tall, big-framed, broad-shouldered men; and while in his undeveloped stage a 13 1/2-inch arm looked as thin on him as an 11-inch arm does on a small-boned man of short stature.

Once I was discussing with a noted "Strong Man" the increase in strength that comes from graded weight-lifting. I mentioned a young man who had apparently tripled his lifting power in six months' training. "Yes," said my friend, "but that is about as far as he will go. I know him and I can tell you that he has realized all the strength that was in him. Look at his frame! It will not stand much more muscle. If he keeps on practicing he may improve his records by becoming more skilful, but I very much doubt whether he will get any bigger or actually any stronger."

This was a professional, who sincerely believes that there are limitations imposed by nature. There are other professionals (I am one of them) who believe that it is possible in some ways to overcome the handicaps of small bones and a naturally delicate physique.

Let us consider the arms, because they create most interest in the beginners. The small-boned man starts out by saying "it is impossible for me to get a big arm on account of my wrists being so very slender." He does not say whether he refers to the whole arm, to the forearm or the upper arm. In the forearm there are two bones, and their lower ends, which lie side by side, form part of the wrist-joint. The two forearm bones run roughly parallel to each other, and the placement of the bones governs in some measure the size of the forearm will be narrow when you hold the arm out in front of you with palm up. If there is a greater space between the bones, then the forearm will be broad. Since the longer of the two bones has a very considerable knob at its lower end, it can be readily seen that in an arm where the bones are big and thick, the extreme size of the knob will tend to set the bones further apart, thus making the wrist bigger and the forearm broader. Small bones may place a definite limit on the extent to which the forearms can be developed but the same thing is less true of the upper arm.

In the upper arm there is only one bone, and the thickness of that bone is small when compared the thickness of the arm itself. In the upper arm there is far more muscle-contents than bone-contents; and in the forearm it should be noted that there is more muscle at its upper end where the bones are close together.

The fact that it is hard for some men to develop big forearms (even by the hardest kind of work) positively does not make it impossible for them to develop big and wonderfully muscled upper arms.

One authority on the subject, who to say the least, is a man of very wide experience, says that the best most men can do in this way of development is to get a forearm 1 9-10 times the size of the wrist and that the flexed upper arm should measure 1-5 more than the forearm. To quote his own example: a man with a seven-inch wrist can get a 13 3-10-inch forearm and a 16-inch upper arm. He does not claim that this is the limit, but does claim that such proportions are possible to any man who will exercise hard enough.

Thirteen-inch forearms are comparatively rare, even in big men; and then you usually find them terminating in a wrist which is 7 1/4 or 7 1/2 inches around.

While I believe that the figures given by the authority just mentioned are possible, and that perhaps they show ideal proportions, my experience is that the forearm is apt to be smaller in proportion to the wrist, and that the upper arm can be developed until it is more than 25 per cent bigger than the forearm.

There is a "Strong Man" who was quite prominent a few years ago who, to my positive knowledge, has a 7 1/4-inch wrist, a 12 1/2-inch forearm and a 16 1/2-inch upper arm. His wrists are bony-looking, his forearms are terrifically strong, despite their comparatively small size, and his upper arms are wonderful. Figure out his proportions and you will find that his forearm is only a little more than 1 7-10 times the size of his wrist and that his upper arm, instead of being only 20 per cent larger than the forearm, is actually 33 per cent, or about one-third larger. And if that man could have developed his forearms any more he would have done so, because he was justifiably proud of his strength and his development, and would go to any trouble to improve himself in either respect.

I adduce this case to prove two things. First, that big wrists do not necessarily imply big forearms; and second, that the size of the upper arm is not limited by the size of the forearm.

If you were to examine a lot of ditch-diggers, or lumber-choppers, or any other class of men who use their arms continually, you would find that as a rule their forearms are large in proportion to the upper arms. While in gymnasts, "Strong Men" tumblers, and physical culturists in general, you would find the opposite to be the case; that the upper arms were unusually big as compared to the forearms. I myself, who have an upper arm measuring 16 1/2 inches, am a case in point; for I have never been able to get my forearm up to quite 13 inches, this leaving my upper arm over 25 per cent larger than my forearm; and my wrist is hardly 7 inches around. I admit that it is an advantage, from the standpoint of strength, to have big bones on which to build, but I refuse to admit that big bones are essential - or that a small-boned man is doomed to have small muscles.

There are those who think that shortness of stature - lack of height - is a positive bar to strength or development, and it is particularly hard to persuade them that any man can become possessed of great strength no matter what his height.

In the course of your life you have probably seen a number of professional "Strong Men" performing in circuses, or on the vaudeville stage. In addition it is likely that you have seen some amateur athletes of great strength, and perhaps there are among your own friends one or two men who are exceedingly strong.

If you were asked to describe a "Strong Man," you would undoubtedly say that such a man was strongly built, with fine shoulders, big chest, powerful legs and tremendous muscled arms. Also, if you were speaking of a professional, you would mention that his muscles were not only big but were very "clean-cut" and well-shaped.

I would be willing to wager that you have never seen a real "Strong Man" who was either very thin or who showed no muscle. The very idea of strength is connected in your mind with individuals of a certain bulk or a certain development. For my part, and remember that I have known scores of them, I have never known a "Strong Man" who had an arm smaller than 14 inches around. Nor have I known any man capable of feats of great strength who had a chest smaller than 40 inches. That goes for all of them, tall and short, big and little. Some years ago I saw a great deal of the famous Frenchman, Pierre Gasnier, and Pierre was a short man, for his head came scarcely past my shoulder. He had a chest like a barrel, and big, splendidly rounded arms and shoulders - and was so strong that he could toss around a 100-pound dumb-bell as easily as you would handle a medicine ball. His bones were perhaps a little bigger than those of most men of his height, but certainly no larger than those of the average middle-sized man.

I could name for you a dozen "Strong Men," none of them who are more than 5 feet 4 inches tall; and the least developed of them has a 15-inch arm and a 42-inch chest. In fact, nature seems to impose the rule that no man can do extreme feats of strength unless he has a body and limbs of a certain size - that is girth. It appears that a chest smaller than 40 inches will not harbor enough power, and arms smaller than 14 inches do not contain enough muscular fibre to enable the owner to exert great strength. Like all other rules, this one may have exceptions, but I have never happened to come across one of those exceptions.

It certainly is odd the way Dame Nature evens things up; or better still, the way she enables you to even things up. Otherwise how is it that when a short man trains to become strong he will get just about as big arms and chest and develop as much, or almost as much, power as do the big chaps?

I saw a "Strong Act" where two did Herculean feats, lifting each other around in ways that bespoke immense muscular power; and holding balances that required the utmost of muscular control. One of them was 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighed 175 pounds, the other was only 5 feet 4 inches and weighed 150 pounds. Both of them measured about the same, having 42-inch chests, 15-inch arms and 23-inch thighs. True, the taller one was more gracefully built, having longer and finer lines; and the shorter one looked somewhat chunky. As far as actual strength was concerned there was little to choose between them. The big man by reason of his greater weight could show more power in certain ways, and his longer arms and legs were an advantage in some feats which involved a sling-like movement. But the smaller man, being what we call "short-coupled," could exert more strength in feats where a shorter leverage was an advantage.

And that brings me back to a subject I mentioned before: the common desire to possess the so-called "elegant" figure. Time and again, when talking to a short man, I find a positive dislike of certain types of build. A short man will express the most enthusiastic desire to become strong and especially to possess a great muscular development, and I will assess his possibilities for him, carefully explaining how, even with his slight frame, he can get a 40-inch chest and that with such a chest he is bound to get an impressive pair of shoulders. And it frequently happens that when I get that far, I will notice a far-away look in his eyes, and know that he is trying to make a mental picture of himself as he will appear when fully developed. Finally he will break out, and say "But if I had as big a chest as that and broad shoulders it would make me look squat and chunky. I don't want to look too heavy." And then I have to tell him that he cannot have his cake and eat it too. Everyone is entitled to his likes and dislikes, and if a man prefers slenderness to strength, no one can find fault with him. But this happens to be a book on the "secrets of strength," and it also happens that great strength entails a body of certain girth, and muscles of at least a certain size.

A large part of the population has a distinct prejudice against massiveness; and seems unable to understand that a person can be big without being massive. Given correct proportions even the most powerfully developed man can and will present a graceful appearance.

There lives in Massachusetts a 60-year-old man named Oscar Matthes. In 1884 he was famous as a "Strong Man"; in 1894 he was even more famous; and today in 1925 he is still a man of great power. Here is one of the cases which proves the value of systematic exercise, for when a child he was so small and puny that exercise was prescribed as necessary. He never got over being small in one way - in height. He never was taller than 4 feet 11 inches, and when in training never weighed more than 105 pounds. And here is what he accomplished by dint of regular and systematic exercise. He got his measurements up to the following figures: Wrist 6 1/4 inches, forearm 12, biceps 14 1/2, chest 40, waist 28, hips 35, thigh 21, calf 14 3/4 and neck 14 inches.

There is encouragement for any man, and incidentally there is the answer to those short people who are afraid of becoming chunky. Too, Mr. Matthes is not chunky, but is in all respects just a miniature Hercules. A 14 1/2-inch arm on a man less than five feet tall! How man tall men who read this book have an arm that big? And a wrist only 6 1/4 inches around! How many of my readers have such a handicap as that? Matthes must have had very small bones to start with, as those wrists prove. And that he was of slender frame is shown by the comparative size of his chest, waist and hips. A man with a 28-inch waist simply cannot be chunky in appearance, for these chunky men have bodies like barrels; bodies almost the same size all the way down. Since Matthes' chest is 12 inches larger than his waist, he must have a finely tapering body; and the fact that his hips are five inches smaller than the chest helps to add an appearance of lightness to the figure. Here was have in a small man the very spread of shoulder, the great chest, and the trim hips that novelists rave about.

It is interesting to note that Matthes' arms have just about the proportions recommended by the authority already quoted. His upper arm is exactly 20 per cent larger than his forearm; and his forearm a trifle more than 1 9-10 times the size of the wrist. If you take the trouble to look again at Matthes' measurements you will agree with me that they are not very large, except in proportion to the man's height. As already said the average young fellow of middle height has a 35-inch chest and a 12-inch arm. Most athletes of middle height have bigger measurements than that, and there are many gymnasts, football players and the like, who have 40-inch chests and 14 1/2-inch arms, and who weigh around 160 pounds. Certainly a 40-inch chest and 14 1/2-inch arm would be nothing out of the way for a strong man of medium height. In Matthes' case the secret of his great strength is the marvelous muscular development of the man compared to his height and his small frame. If ever a man owed his strength to his development, then Matthes does. To give you an idea of that strength, I can tell you that he has a record of 10 feet 7 inches in the standing broad jump, has "chinned" himself three times with one hand, and on one occasion lifted with hands alone off an 18-inch platform, carried ten feet and then placed on another platform 24 inches high, a barrel weighing 513 pounds. If that last isn't strength, then please tell me what it is. For he had not the advantage of weighing a great deal himself, and consequently had none of the so-called power of the big men; nothing to help him but sheer strength.

While a small-boned man may have trouble in building up big forearms, and large shapely calves, he has far less difficulty in getting a fine development of the upper arms and thighs; and practically none in putting powerful, shapely muscles on the body itself. I have never found it hard to put big muscles on a pupil's chest, or his upper back, no matter how small his bones were.

I think, and most experienced trainers will agree with me, that the hardest part of the body to develop is the calf of the leg. The size of the ankle does not have as much effect on the size of the calf as does the wrist in respect to the forearm. It is true that with a 16-inch calf you will usually find a big ankle; but it is not uncommon to find a man who has big ankles and but little calf development. Also you will often find men who have slender, round ankles and incredibly developed calves. The calf of the leg is a puzzle to many trainers and the despair of many physical culturists. There are no other muscles which so obstinately refuse to grow in size and improve in shape, as those which lie between the ankle and the knee. It is easy to make them strong, but to change their appearance is quite another matter. I know a man who is a professional wrestler and weight-lifter, and who is unquestionably one of the most magnificently built men in the whole world - from the knees up. According to the old rules of proportion, in a well-proportioned man, the neck, the flexed upper arms and the calves of the legs should measure the same. But this man has an 18-inch neck, upper arms that measure 17 1/2 inches (when he tenses his muscles), and calves which are only 15 inches around. Incidentally he is 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighs 215 pounds when in condition. He has thick wrists and large ankles, and while his forearm measures fully 14 inches, the calves of his legs only girth one-quarter of an inch more than those of little Mr. Matthes, who has tiny ankles. I asked this big fellow how it was that his calves were so puny compared to the rest of him, and he frankly said that he could give no explanation. He acknowledged that he had never taken any pains to develop them, and doubted whether they would be any stronger if he did succeed in making them bigger. That his calf muscles are very strong, no one who has seen him in action could doubt; for in wrestling he can stand with firmly planted feet and toss the heaviest opponents around as though they were feather-beds. And on one occasion I saw him put a 500-pound weight on his shoulders and squat several times in succession (squatting is really a thigh exercise, but the calves have to assume part of the work), and no one with weak lower legs can squat while supporting a really heavy weight.

I have a theory about the calves, though I cannot swear that it amounts to anything. I have observed that it is the shape rather than the size of the ankle which governs the size of the calf.

If the ankle is thick from side to side, then the calf will be deep from front to back. On the contrary if the ankle is thin from side to side then, while the calf may have a fair width, it will lack that fulness in the rear part which adds so much to its size and pleasing contour. This seems somewhat contradictory, for one would think that if the ankle was thick from front to back, the calf would be likewise; whereas just the reverse is the case. This is tied up in some way with the placement of the ankle bones, for if the knobs of bone which appear at the sides of the ankle, are placed well forward, the calf is apt to be small, but if they are set further back the calf will be larger.

A somewhat similar condition is often noticed in the wrist, because men who have wrists of a certain shape rarely have any trouble in securing a great forearm development. Very frequently you see men whose wrists are so slender as to cause remark. There will be no sign of any bone at the thumb side of the wrist, while at the little-finger side the projecting knob of bone is small. In such cases, the wrist when viewed from the side will seem hardly any thicker than the palm of the hand, and for a distance of four inches up from the hand the forearm will show hardly any variation in size, all the bulk being in the upper-half of the forearm near the elbow. Such men can get big forearms but they have to work hard to get them. There are other men whose wrists are thick, with the bone apparent at the thumb side, and the development of the muscles seems to start right from the wrist. From the base of the thumb, the tendon will be so big and thick that it gives the wrist a sort of square appearance. On the inner side of the forearms, about two inches from the base of the hand, there will be a small canoe-shaped muscle, which is rarely seen on men with thin wrists. Such men have but little difficulty in getting big forearms. Joe Nordquest has a wrist of this type, and when he bends his arm half-way and tenses all the muscles, his forearm for the moment looks almost as wide as it is long.

Enthusiastic muscle-culturists have a great habit of comparing arms. Two young fellows will get in a discussion about arm development, and end by rolling up their sleeves to show what their arms look like. Since the forearm is the first part displayed, its size and shape, or the lack of it, is what makes the first impression. A poor forearm is a great incentive to exercise, for a man will get so ashamed of a puny wrist, and shapeless forearm that he will spend a lot of time at exercises that will improve the appearance of the lower arm. Knowing that thin wrists make the arm look weak, there are fellows who always wear wrist-straps. The straps naturally add to the thickness of the wrist, and you would think that would make the rest of the forearm look smaller. The exact opposite is the case, for the effect of the wrist-strap is to make the fleshy or muscular upper part of the forearm look shorter and more massive.

Strong wrists are such an advantage that it is impossible to spend too much time at improving their shape and power. These big-boned, thick-armed men, conscious of the fact that nature has been liberal in the matter of handing out strength to them, will rarely take the trouble to develop their forearms to the limit. I have never yet seen a big man whose forearms measured more than 14 1/2 inches (when the whole arm was held straight) even though some of them had wrists which measured 8 or 8 1/2 inches. And I verily believe that with an 8 1/2-inch wrist a man could develop a 15 1/2-inch forearm if he cared to. On the contrary I know plenty of small-boned men, who have so resented their lack of size that they have developed forearms nearly twice the size of their wrists.

I know that in some quarters it is held that slender wrists and ankles are signs of an aristocratic ancestry, and that thick ankles and knobby wrists are indications of common blood. The fact is that if you inherit big wrists and ankles it is proof that your recent ancestors have, at least, done some useful work; or have been of the fighting, athletic type.

I can understand why a woman should cultivate slenderness in the extremities, but I never have been able to see why a man should consider thin wrists a distinction. Rather they are a mark of effeminacy.

Iron Nation
Does modern bodybuilding make you sick? You should write for Natural Strength! I always need good articles about drug-free weight training. It only has to be at least a page and nothing fancy. Just write it strong and truthful with passion! Send your articles directly to me:

Vintage Bodybuilding Literature

Vintage Bodybuilding Literature
Oldtime Strongman Books

This site does not provide medical advice. We assume no liability for the information provided in NaturalStrength articles. Please consult your physician before beginning any exercise or nutrition program. Copyright © 1999-2024 | All Rights Reserved.