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Ballet Talk for Dancers

growing biceps?


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ever since I started taking ballet my biceps seem to be getting way too big! all of my muscles are of course getting stronger, and that's great, but when my arms are in fifth they're starting to look masculine! is it possible that I'm doing something wrong? perhaps the way I'm holding my arms? help?? thanks! xo

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Hi lalalauren,

Are you doing other activities or workouts in addition to ballet? What you are most likely seeing is that your body is adapting to the new demands of ballet and your body composition is changing...as many of us adult ballet students have experienced :huh: First of all, everyone's arms look "bigger" in the biceps in the overhead position, which is why bodybuilders and fighters often pose that way (and why guys often "pose" with their arms hanging on something overhead). You also might be becoming more body conscious and looking at/noticing your body in new ways (dance does tend to do that to you...all that time spent making your body do unnatural things like moving with turnout and hours in front of mirrors). BUT most importantly, you are probably losing some body fat, which occurs all over the body (and not just in the areas we think or want it to happen...the old "spot reduction is impossible" theme) and that is allowing the underlying musculature to become more visible.


Women generally have a higher body fat percentage than men, with a large proportion of that as a layer of subcutaneous fat (just under the skin), which is why women's muscles aren't as visible normally as men's are. It's actually VERY difficult for women to put on a significant amount of pure muscle simply because our testosterone (the muscle-building hormone) levels are so much lower than men's (some extreme athletes and female bodybuilders take a lot of male hormones to be able to "bulk up"). You are not going to turn into a bodybuilder...trust me!


However, women DO have quite a bit of natural muscle and I think you are just starting to see yours...always there but newly unveiled...and it might not be what you're used to seeing. Your biceps have always been there, but now you can really SEE them; ballet does tend to strengthen the arms and back, but it is certainly NOT a "bicep builder"...if it was, gyms all over the world would be full of young male dudebros busting out some barre exercises instead of International Bench Press Monday. But ballet does tend to shape and mold the muscles according to the unique physical demands of ballet and dancers often have low body fat which makes those lovely muscles more visible than in your average human. Relax and enjoy the visible fruits of your hard work :sweating:



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wow! thanks so much for your reply!! I especially love your mention of "dudebros" :hyper: but I was thinking about it and I just started taking a jazz class at my college (four hours/week) and we do lots of push ups and similar exercises in that class.. I'm thinking that might be the culprit? I definitely love most all the changes my body is making as well as how much stronger I'm becoming but trust me, the biceps are a bit much at the moment ;)


thanks again!! this was my first post and your warm welcome/reply really means a lot! xo

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The pushups, they mainly work the pectoral muscles of the chest with assist from the triceps, so they wouldn't be providing much stimulus for your biceps. Biceps mainly work to pull your arms closer to your body (the triceps mainly push your arms away from your body, hence the help in pushups). If you were doing a lot of rowing or pullups, that might trigger some biceps growth. Ballet, however, does not involve too much "pulling" with the arms against resistance so no worries there.


For what it's worth, I was an athlete in my former life (before adulthood, grad school, full-time work) and I spent literally years trying like mad to put on muscle and bulk up a bit; even working with a strength coach and a nutritionist, it was nearly impossible. I got very strong, but not "big" (the two are not inexorably linked...bodybuilders are actually not that strong and martial artists are not big). Muscle definition is pretty neat though...I never realized the extent to which I had developed my muscles until I started ballet as a grown woman and my body changed drastically. I lost a lot of body fat and could suddenly see my muscles, which I thought was cool but I can totally understand why it might be unnerving to others :hyper:

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It definitely sounds to me also that what you are seeing is more definition not size:) Definition in the muscles is great! A lot of women, don't like the look but it is VERY cool right now to have nice firm, defined muscles:) Thin spaghetti arms are nowhere as nice looking...be happy:) A lot of us WANT to have a nice defined arm:)

I used to go to the gym a lot and even with heavy lifting (unless you are doing steroids), it is VERY difficult (nigh impossible) for a woman to bulk up as you are describing, like Kylara says.

I have noticed also that with ballet, there is more muscle definition in the arms, legs and even the chest area and often a loss of size rather than a gain in size.


A way to check if you are gaining size is to measure the bicep with a measuring tape, write the number down and then take another measurement in a month to see if anything negative IS happening :hyper:

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