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Q: Here is a question for you:  A friend loves going to her barre class & she was explaining how they focus on very light weights & stretching after working each muscle group to develop strong, long & lean muscles.  Is there any validity to that approach?

A:  The short answer is NO.  The length of a muscle is a function of the length of the bones it’s attached to – only getting taller makes a muscle longer. If anyone has figured out how to make an adult taller they’d have a Nobel prize.

The more complete answer is: 
·     exercise is good, and we’re always happy to hear someone is being consistent. 
·     we agree that muscles can and should get stronger.
·     we disagree with the idea that there’s any sort of special exercises that can make muscles longer or leaner. 
o   Muscles are connected to bones, and they only get longer when the bones get longer. (Remember growing pains?)  If you’re not getting taller your muscles aren’t getting longer no matter what. 
o   Anything that burns calories can help you get leaner.  The more calories you burn the more that exercise will help you with leanness.  With that said, even at high reps, you want to lift the heaviest possible weight because that will help you burn the most calories and have the greatest positive impact on your metabolism.  Using something that feels light means getting less out of the workout.
·     Selection bias: dancers look like dancers because that body type helps you excel at dance, not the other way around.  (Barre is derived from the ballet barre, it’s derived from the dance form of ballet.)

Selection Bias
Being genetically gifted for attractiveness helps you excel as a model, and not the other way around. Nobody thinks that being a model helps you be more attractive, but we still buy skin care products with a model’s name on them because some part of us (me included) wishes that if we buy their stuff we can look more like them.

Basketball players are tall, have long arms and big hands.  The average NBA player is 6’6″, and their average wing span is 6’10″; whereas the average US male is 5’9″ with a wing span of 5’9″.  You don’t become tall with long arms because you excel as a basketball player.  Instead being tall with long arms helps you excel in basketball.

Muscle Shape
Our bodies and our muscles are all unique.  The shape and look of your muscles is determined, primarily by things that are primarily outside of our control:

1.     Attachment Points: This is where on the bone your muscles attach.  Everyone attaches in about the same spots, but the millimeters of difference between us makes for profound differences in appearance and strength.  Obviously, changing this would require ripping tendons off the bone and attaching them in a new spot, and isn’t recommended.

2.     Muscle Belly Length: If you make a muscle with your arm the bump in the middle of your bicep is your muscle belly.  The longer your muscle belly the bigger your muscle appears to be, and vice versa.

3.     Joint Size: Some people are actually big boned, in that they have wide joints. I have very wide elbows, which has the effect of making my arm muscles look smaller than they would be on an average person’s arms. (I appreciate your sympathy for my plight.)

4.     Height and limb length, which we’ve covered

5.     Layer of fat over top of your muscles: you can control this to an extent, and, also, we all have unique fat distributions, so the rate of change in different areas of your body is determined genetically.


Bottom Line
Appreciate your unique body while also striving to make the most of it.  Both are important.  Only having appreciation leads to apathy and lack of self-care, and only striving for improvement leads to self-loathing.  It’s not easy, and you’ll never be perfectly balanced for long, but you are worth it. You can be the best version of yourself, but you cannot be someone else.

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