Strength is associated with muscle mass. It is expected of a bigger, more muscular guy to be stronger than a smaller dude. And yet sometimes “wiry”, skinny brahs display extreme strength rearranging the architecture in the craniums of the spectators.
Why? Why are some skinny guys so strong?
“Skinny boy” strength is the product of advantageous leverages, high concentration of fast-twitch fibers, advanced joint conditioning, and low-rep high-intensity training resulting in efficient force output. Of course, not every skinny guy has every aforementioned advantage, but most of the time, at least one of them is present.
Let’s look at each condition separately.
Lifting a.k.a. “the game of human crane” is heavily dependent on a lifter’s leverages. Your anthropometry, or proportions in simpler terms, can make a lift easier or harder.
The classic example in this category would be the deadlift.
According to the famous deadlifter Bob Peoples, the ultimate body for deadlifting consists of a short torso, lengthy legs, and long arms.
The more “compact” the spine, the less stress there is on the lower back when you deadlift because the lever is shorter.
Long arms shorten the pull greatly. If you look at deadlifters with “gorilla” arms, you will see that the bar is not much higher than knee level after the lockout. Meanwhile, men with short arms have to pull the bar to or above the mid-thigh.
Another benefit of long arms is that they put the back in a more vertical position since you don’t have to bend over as much to grab it.
As far as long legs are concerned, it’s debatable whether they’re highly beneficial to the deadlift.
Long femurs turn the deadlift into an ultra-hip-dominant lift because the lifter has to bend over more to assume a proper pulling position. This property could be seen as advantageous because the position amplifies the involvement of the stronger posterior chain, but the arrangement creates a problem too – the back angle is more horizontal, and the lower back is stressed more as a result. Hence why some people disagree with the idea that long legs are part of the perfect deadlift anthropometry.
Many skinny guys deadlift impressive weights precisely because they’re built to do it. I would say that I am one of those guys as I have the proportions described by Peoples.
After three months of training, I deadlifted 165kg/363lbs weighing 71kg/156lbs at my first and only powerlifting meet which was organized by a local gym. Eventually, I pulled over 200kg/440lbs for two singles weighing 77kg/169lbs.
While those numbers are not impressive on the Internet, I can assure you that my deadlift strength surprised many people. To be honest, it amazed even me.
Today, I know the secret. I have great leverages for deadlifting. Ironically, I am a terrible bench presser precisely for the same reason – my arms are long and skinny.
Some strength feats are more dependent on joint conditioning rather than muscular strength. For instance, many martial artists perform impressive stunts that would break even the big bodybuilders thanks to special techniques and extended preparation of the connective tissues.
Of course, strong joints help with lifting too. Some skinny dudes have ultra-robust and durable tendons and ligaments that can take a whole lot of beating. The stronger your connective tissues are, the harder you can lift without hurting yourself.
Some people are born with a higher concentration of fast-twitch fibers. This characteristic has a multitude of benefits. The greater the number of fast-twitch fibers, the faster you can sprint, punch…etc.
But fast-twitch fibers are not just for speed and explosiveness. They help you lift heavier weights too as they are responsible for short movements generating high tension.
However, there’s a catch here. If a person has a high concentration of fast-twitch fibers, then he or she also has good potential for growth because the fast-twitch fibers are the ones that can hypertrophy the most. The slow-twitch fibers get bigger too but not nearly as much.
How can someone have a high concentration of fast-twitch fibers and be skinny at the same time?
Two possibilities come to mind:
Lack of training. Untrained individuals spending most of their time stuck in a sedentary lifestyle wouldn’t be in a top condition. I’ve seen guys with great potential for natural bodybuilding (thick bones, long muscle bellies) who don’t look all that impressive simply because they don’t leave the office.
Poor nutrition. If you live on a skateboarder diet (i.e. waffles and marijuana), your body wouldn’t be able to maintain an optimal amount of muscle mass.
But when those individuals begin lifting, they progress quickly and display scary strength and speed. While building themselves up, they tend to look average, and their strength appears surprising.
Strength training (low reps, long rest, heavy weights)
Strength contains a huge mental element. The more you can overclock your central nervous system, the more force you can produce. The only way to develop that skill is to train with heavy weights for low reps and with huge rest pauses between the attempts which is what weightlifters do. That type of training helps them develop impressive strength with minimal hypertrophy.
Lifting heavy weights in such fashion isn’t an optimal way to stimulate muscular growth because it greatly limits the time under tension and doesn’t develop the capillary density of the lifter.
Some weightlifters have a capillary density lower than that of untrained individuals because the formers’ muscle fibers get too big in proportion to their capillaries which lag behind due to the “anti-pump” training.
Some ordinary skinny guys who follow similar training methodologies showcase astonishing strength in consequence of the same stimuli – they’ve optimized their ability to generate force with a small engine.
Additional Factors that Could Be Behind Skinny Boy Strength
Short Muscle Bellies
Short muscle bellies are considered an anti-bodybuilding trait because they limit potential growth.
For the same reason, muscle tears could severely hurt a man’s muscular development.
For example, when a bodybuilder tears a biceps, and the muscle doesn’t recover to its previous length, then that arm flexor often remains a weak body part forever. Dorian Yates’ left biceps is a perfect illustration of that principle. After a tear, it assumed the shape of a tennis ball and never recovered.
Nonetheless, a short muscle isn’t a weaker muscle. Hence why some people with short muscle bellies can be stronger than they look.
For instance, if you have forearms with short muscle bellies, they may look really skinny even though you have sick grip strength.
Some skinny dudes are not that skinny.
The large presence of roided men on the Internet has altered our perception. When an ordinary person gets sucked into the vortex of muscle construction, he is immediately introduced to a legion of ultra-muscular behemoths. After spending a little time in that realm, you start to classify people who aren’t technically small as untrained individuals.
A man can be of perfectly normal stature for what’s possible naturally, but the brainwashed crowd may label him as skinny because he doesn’t compare favorably to the idols promoted online.
If the same person dedicates his effort to strength cultivation, he could demonstrate results surprising the unaware.
Bodyweight movements do not require you to be humongous since you’re lifting your bodyweight – the lighter you’re the less you have to pull or push. As a consequence, some fairly skinny guys develop impressive bodyweight strength (e.g., planches on the fingertips) without excessive muscle mass.
Two other factors that facilitate this outcome are the skill element and the joint conditioning that many bodyweight movements depend on.
Steroids are often associated with extreme muscular size because they permit the body to synthesize an excessive amount of protein unreachable through a natural pathway. But that doesn’t mean that every dude on steroids has to be gigantic.
Bodybuilding, weightlifting, powerlifting, and arm wrestling have different weight classes ranging from light to superheavyweight. It would be illogical to assume that only the competitors in the heavy categories are juicing.
Smaller individuals use PEDs too. They limit the growth by taking anabolic drugs promoting smaller bodyweight gains and by manipulating the overall caloric intake.
Many impressive weightlifters and powerlifters weigh 60-70kg/132-154lbs and yet display incredible strength because they train hard, take drugs, and carry physiques that are in fact pretty thick for their heights.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is skinny strength a desirable trait?
Trying to become as strong as possible while being as small as possible makes logical sense only when you’re competing in a certain weight class or performing an activity requiring you to remain light (e.g., acting).
Outside of that condition, I don’t see why anyone would want to minimize their growth.
More importantly, naturals will never get “too muscular”. Similar dilemmas exist only in the lives of roided brahs. Even if you do the most hypertrophy-oriented routine, whatever that is, you will never get unnaturally big without injections.
Why do some people brag about their skinny strength?
In the past, it was common to worship the so-called “wiry strength” while making fun of the “dysfunctional” muscles of bodybuilders.
As some regular readers of the site may guess, this was a marketing plot designed by the 5×5 gurus. The goal was to win over the masses confused as to why they’d been failing to reach the muscular development showcased by their idols.
Under the 5×5 spell, many men took comfort in their “wiry strength” and labeled bodybuilders as vain, roided idiots even though steroids are the name of the game for every strength sport.
Why are some powerlifters so skinny?
Pro powerlifters are not technically skinny. The guys in the smaller weight classes may appear to be, but they’re lean and compact rather than skinny. They may not be carrying as much mass as the men competing in the heavy categories, but their musculatures are significantly thicker than you might think.
For instance, Lamar Gant was only around 132lbs/60kg which makes him tiny in comparison to guys like Kirk Karwoski (275lbs), but Gant was only 5’2” (1.57 m). Therefore, he was fairly thick for his height. If you meet guys like him in person, you wouldn’t think that they lack muscle mass.
Back in the day, I watched an older Youtuber talking about sprinting. Judging by his videos, he didn’t appear big to me. But one day, when I saw him drinking at a local bar, I was impressed by his stature – he had a rugged look that the camera couldn’t reproduce. He didn’t look skinny to me anymore.