We’re not talking about abs here. Often times in a bodybuilder gym you will hear people commenting about so and so having longer or shorter muscle bellies, a fuller muscle belly or whatever variation they can find. Other than being an excuse for not being able to build muscle mass, or the big belly bodybuilders get from taking too much growth hormone, what is it exactly and what can you do about it?
The definition of a muscle belly :
- The scientific definition : A muscle belly is basically the sum of all the muscle fibers in any given muscle. These muscle fibers are grouped into bundles of around 150 fibers called fasciculi. Each one of these individual fibers can be broken down into hundreds or thousands of myofibrils. The myofibrils are surrounded by sarcoplasm and together they constitute the contractile part of the muscle. Here’s of a couple pictures showing the details of what I’m talking about here. Thanks to sport-fitness-advisor and gatlineducation.
- The bro-definition : When talking about muscle bellies a gym bro refers to the part of the muscle between the tendons, and refer to the lenght of this part on a certain individual.
What type (or what kind) of muscle bellies are there :
Okay before we get ahead of ourselves I just want to mention that muscle belly types aren’t based on any scientific nomenclature like fast and slow twitch muscle fibers, for example. You can have either :
- Short muscle bellies;
- Long muscle bellies;
- Something in between.
Short muscle bellies
A short muscle belly means that the muscle attaches high on the tendon, meaning the tendons are somewhat long and the muscle is somewhat short. Take an easy example : your bicep. Say your muscle bellies are attached high on the tendon, which means far from the elbow. That tends to create a gap between your bicep muscle and your forearm as your can see in the pictures below. Look at King Kamali’s bicep… do you see the large gap between his forearm and where his bicep starts to protrude? This is a good example of a short muscle belly. It is normally considered a disadvantage in bodybuilding because it’s very hard to build a lot of muscle around it and make it look ”full”. On the other hand shorter biceps (or other muscles for that matter) peak and protrude more easily. As a rule of thumb, if you can stick two or three fingers between your bicep and your forearm, chances are you are of this type and are at a disadvantage from a bodybuilding standpoint. Albert Beckles and Markus Ruhl are also good examples of this.
Long muscle bellies
This is when your muscle attaches very low on the tendon, in other words very close to the attached bone. Following the same bicep example, that means a shorter gap (or none at all) between your bicep and forearm, giving the muscle a ”fuller” and rounder, more esthetic look (according to bodybuilding judges.. everything is a matter of opinion). This is considered a genetic advantage in bodybuilding because it allows you to grow more mass and have fuller muscles. On the other hand long muscles are harder to peak. Sergio Oliva and Kevin Levrone are good example of this type. Phil Heath seems to have the best of both worlds : a long bicep but peaked as well. I guess this is why he has the best arms in bodybuilding right now.
What can you do about it?
Unfortunately there is not a whole lot you can do about it. Muscle belly lenght is entirely genetic. No matter what you do your tendon and muscle lenght will remain the same. Except if you get a torn bicep, then things could get worse for your bicep lenght. You could always compensate for a short bicep, for example by working harder on your forearms, hoping to hide any gaps. Pro bodybuilders also have their tricks on stage to de-emphasize short muscles. A couple Mr. Olympia winners in the past had short muscles. No worries, this is no excuse not to gain any mass.