Does height affect muscle growth?
Height neither decreases nor increases one’s muscle-building faculties. The perception that shorter men build muscle faster and more efficiently than taller people is the result of muscle mass distribution in relation to the surface area.
Shorter people have to fill out a smaller space to look like they lift. Hence, many wrongfully conclude that height affects muscle growth.
The mean density of a body is determined by dividing its mass by its volume:
When two bodies have the same mass (weight) but different volume, the one with the smaller volume has a higher density at that weight.
The bodies of tall people have greater volume since long bones take more space. Therefore, if two men weigh 160lbs/72.7kg at 5’9”/175cm and 6’2”/188cm, the taller individual will have a substantially lower density at that weight and will look thinner. Contrariwise, the shorter person will be thicker.
Short People Increase Their Thickness Faster
Average men have similar muscle-building capabilities. However, when you’re shorter, every extra gram that you gain has a greater impact on your density/thickness.
If you poor 100 ml into two bottles with different volume, say 1 l and 1.5 l, the smaller would be filled to a greater percentage. In order for the bigger bottle to reach the same percentage, you’d have to pour more liquid into it.
Muscle construction operates on the same principles. And since the natural body can produce only so much muscle in a given amount of time, shorter individuals see quicker visual results.
Aren’t Tall People Supposed to Have More Testosterone?
Growth hormone (GH), a hormone made in the pituitary gland, has a greater influence on a person’s height than testosterone.
A clear indication of that mechanism would be women. Some females reach impressive heights even though women produce less testosterone than men.
The reason why most women are shorter than men isn’t the lack of testosterone, but the presence of estrogen in their bodies which triggers growth plate closure early on.
Ultimately, a greater height isn’t an indication of high testosterone levels. It could actually indicate the opposite – lower testosterone levels.
A study from 1976 used testosterone treatment to limit the growth of boys who were genetically predisposed to reaching extraordinary heights.
29 boys with a mean height prediction of 198cm/6’6” (many of them were going to be taller than that) participated in the study for 1.2 years.
The results were accelerated bone maturation (1.8 years) and 5.4cm average height reduction.
The subjects recovered their natural testosterone production after 1.5 years (longer in some cases).
The conclusion was that testosterone can serve as a tool to decrease the growth of an individual.
Since synthetic testosterone mimics the natural test produced by the testicles, one can conclude that some short dudes owe their height to naturally high testosterone. Individuals who fall in that category would have an even easier time developing a denser musculature.
Bodybuilding is Not Kind to Tall People
Most professional bodybuilders are under 6’2”/182cm if not less than that.
Why? Because tall people have to build significantly more mass to equip their frames with a sufficient amount of muscle to compete on stage.
One of the biggest bodybuilders ever was Greg Kovacs. He was around 6’4”/193cm tall and weighed 330lbs/150kg in contest condition. In the off-season, his bodyweight was over 400lbs/181kg.
Maintaining such a muscular physique requires more of everything – food, drugs…etc. As a result, the organism of tall bodybuilders suffers more because it has to process everything that you put in it.
Tall bodybuilders may have superior height, but at the end of the day, their internal organs are not more powerful than those of shorter competitors. Ultimately, the pain, the discomfort, the sacrifice and the risk are just too great.
Bodybuilding will never be a tall man’s game.
Short Bodybuilders Can Get Away with Smaller Doses
Since shorter bodybuilders don’t have to gain as much mass, they can use smaller doses and eat less than bigger guys. As a consequence, they don’t stress their organisms as much and have a greater chance of enjoying a longer and possibly healthier career.
Muscle Belly Length Matters Too
The length of a muscle has a tremendous effect on its potential hypertrophy. Longer muscles have more room for growth thanks to their larger army of muscle fibers.
If you’ve been genetically programmed to have short muscles bellies and long tendons at certain places, then those areas become harder if not impossible to fill. Many people with long limbs experience this problem.
Usually, those individuals are also tall, but that’s not always the case. For example, you can have long arms and short legs at the same time. This is the so-called “gorilla look”. The legendary powerlifter Ed Coan is built this way.
The places that showcase the greatest gaps are the calves and the forearms. Many tall men have problems building those areas as there’s almost nothing to build when half of the distance between the joints is all tendons.
As a result, tall people with short muscle bellies receive another muscle-building penalty preventing them from filling out their frames.
Bones with a larger diameter (greater thickness), need larger muscles to operate properly. Consequently, individuals with thicker skeletons tend to carry a greater amount of muscle mass by default.
A musculature bigger as a result of greater bone girth is the hardest to lose because it’s engineered on a cellular level under the orders of a man’s DNA. Only illness, starvation and very old age can eat this type of muscle mass.
My grandfather had a massive skeleton and was fairly big even in his late 60s and 70s solely due to his bones. Yes, he was doing physical labor too, but usually only on the weekends. As far as I know, he never did any sports.
Another example of bone importance are women with large frames. If you go to a basketball or a volleyball game, you’ll see some tall women with thick frames who carry a decent amount of mass naturally.
Height Does Not Equal a Thick Frame
Contrary to popular belief, tall people do not have a thick frame by default. Many high-altitude dudes are built like antelopes – long and slim bones. Meanwhile, some short men have exceptionally thick “rhino” frames.
What Are the Ultimate Genetics for Natural Muscle Construction?
Men of average height with a thick bone structure and long muscle bellies have the greatest natural potential for growth.
An individual with similar characteristics who eats sufficiently could carry more muscle mass than many average men even without lifting weights.
Contrariwise, tall people with slim bones and short muscle bellies (e.g., me), have the hardest time filling out and receive the smallest return on their investment. People like us can acquire a lot of strength, but at the end of the day, we’re fighting an uphill battle that we’ll never win.
If you want to learn more about the natural growth potential, check out the book Potential: How Big Can You Get Naturally.
Zachmann, M., Ferrandez, A., Mürset, G., Gnehm, H. and Prader, A., 1976. Testosterone treatment of excessively tall boys. The Journal of Pediatrics, 88(1), pp.116-123.