Why is it that so many men are fixated on building their upper body muscles?
Big chests, bulging biceps, rippling trapezius, sculpted shoulders – they flaunt these with pride.
The alpha males tend to believe their super-masculinity is projected by how well-defined these areas are, and often neglect to work on the lower parts of their bodies.
Male legs don’t get the same devotion simply because they don’t quite attract ego-boosting attention from the opposite sex, although we do notice them when you wear shorts.
Back in the days of our ancestors, male muscularity was important in hunting and fighting.
Success in physical confrontations was dictated by two key factors – muscle mass and strength – also traits modern women find desirable, in addition to an intelligent mind and sensitive personality.
In a study conducted by Western Illinois University in the United States, women rated the abdominal muscles, or the abs, as the sexiest muscle on a man’s body.
Not surprising as the abs are located front and centre on the body and is the most visible when a man walks towards a woman.
Men with a large amount of abdominal fat have lower levels of testosterone, which translates to a lower sex drive and decreased fertility.
For the genetically-unblessed males, building the right muscles in the right areas can be a challenge, and your testosterone level plays a role in this.
Testosterone is primarily produced by the gonads (testes in men and ovaries in women), although small quantities are also produced by the adrenal glands in both sexes.
It is an androgen, meaning that it stimulates the development of male characteristics.
Present in much greater levels in men than women, testosterone initiates the development of the male internal and external reproductive organs during foetal development and is essential for the production of sperm in adult life.
This hormone also signals the body to make new blood cells, ensures that muscles and bones stay strong, and enhances libido in both men and women.
Training to build muscle mass elevates testosterone, while elevated testosterone, in turn, helps build muscle mass – they go hand in hand.
But it is unclear whether the hormone affects athletic performance.
Women and testosterone
By now, you would have read about athlete Caster Semenya’s widely-publicised case regarding her testosterone levels.
She has hyperandrogenism, a condition that causes her body to naturally produce male sex hormones at higher levels than most females.
Unconfirmed reports say the South African two-time middle-distance Olympic gold medallist has no womb or ovaries, but has internal testes instead, because of a chromosomal abnormality.
She identifies as a woman although some have labelled her as intersex.
Earlier this month, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) – the high court of international sports – ruled that athletes with certain forms of what they call “disorders of sex development” (DSD) would have to lower their testosterone levels in order to be eligible to compete as a woman in certain elite races.
DSD is an umbrella term for people with developmental conditions affecting the genitalia and gonads.
Because her testosterone levels are three times higher than the normal woman, Semenya needs to take hormone-suppressing drugs or undergo surgery if she wants to continue competing as a woman in her chosen athletic event.
Every drug has the potential to cause side effects and it’s not known how these treatments would affect an athlete’s overall health.
CAS acknowledges that this could “demonstrate the practical impossibility of compliance, which could, in turn, lead to a different conclusion as to the proportionality of the DSD regulations.”
For almost a decade, Semenya’s case has been debated over issues of gender, women with elevated testosterone levels and physical advantage.
Usually, when a woman has too much testosterone, she will have irregular or absent menstrual periods, more body hair than the average woman, or frontal balding.
Other possible symptoms include acne, an enlarged clitoris, increa-sed muscle mass and deepening of voice.
High testosterone levels in a female can also cause polycystic ovarian syndrome, which may also result in infertility.
Work those legs and butt
A number of studies show that men who focus on training their leg muscles will naturally build their upper bodies.
This is as training the bigger leg muscles causes the greatest overall rise in testosterone, which circulates around the whole body – even to muscles that have not been trained.
So guys, if you want to increase your testosterone, you might need to revise your thinking and spend more time building your leg muscles. Then watch your whole body grow.
Just like a woman’s oestrogen levels begin to decline during the perimenopausal years, a man’s testosterone level also begins to drop around the age of 30 and continues to do so as he ages.
If you’re not building muscles despite putting in the effort, it could be due to low testosterone levels, which can also turn the muscles flabby and cause them to lose strength.
With low testosterone levels, or in the absence of it, the oestrogen hormone takes over.
Oestrogen deposits fat to your body parts, either in your chest or just around your belly, which might explain your slowly-expanding girth as you age.
Regularly hitting the pubs during the weekend to chill can also significantly lower your testosterone levels.
Imagine, all the hard work you’ve put into building your body either at the gym or at the park during the week, can be wiped out by just one night of overindulgence.
Such is the detrimental effects of one too many alcoholic weekend drinks.
To know what your testosterone levels are, do a blood test.
Men can boost testosterone naturally through diet and exercise, or in some cases, through supplementation. I know of many vain ones who take testosterone supplements to retain their flat stomachs!
Of course, it’s easier than working out, but in the long run, it turns into flab and loose skin.
Middle-aged men often resort to testosterone therapy to feel younger and more “vigorous” as they advance in age.
This therapy comes in many forms, such as creams, patches, gels and pills, and is used after consultation with the doctor.
But there is limited evidence to prove that the therapy raises testosterone in healthy older males.
Factors that can increase it naturally include a balanced diet, reducing stress, adequate sleep, and exercise, especially lifting weights.
However, using body weight alone will not cause much difference to your testosterone level – you’ll have to use external weights (dumbbells, barbells, sand bags, etc) to see a difference.
Reduce the number of repetitions and increase the weight progressively to up the intensity.
Perform the moves slowly instead of quickly. By slowing down your movement, you’re actually turning it into a high-intensity exercise.
Slow movements allow your muscles, at the microscopic level, to access the maximum number of cross-bridges between the protein filaments that produce movement in the muscle.
Build your muscles while increasing your testosterone levels slowly, steadily and naturally.