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Old 12-30-2007, 01:12 PM
psychonaut psychonaut is offline
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The mystery of the gigantic Popeye forearms

Once upon a time in Toronto I was apartment-hunting. I had an appointment to see a room near the top of a high-rise on Bay Street. As I entered the elevator, I was joined by a man in a T-shirt who looked to be in his late 20s. He was in all respects a normal-looking young male caucasian, except for the fact that he had... well, the most concise way I could describe it would be "Popeye arms". That is, his upper arms were of completely normal girth, but his forearms were absolutely massive. I am renowned for the size of my hands, and I'm sure even I couldn't wrap them both around his forearm and have my fingers meet. The forearms were uniform in size and well-proportioned unto themselves, but quite out of proportion to the rest of his body.

Exactly what the cause was of this aberration has been bugging me for some six or seven years now, and in retrospect I regret not asking the guy about his arms (rude though that may have seemed). I'm wondering if anyone here can offer some sort of explanation as to how this fellow ended up with such massive forearms. Here are some of the possibilities I've been mulling over:
  • The man was some sort of bodybuilder who, for reasons unknown, decided to build up only his forearms. Aside from the fact that this particular concentration seems preposterous, I don't know if it's even possible to build up one's forearm muscles without also exercising the upper arm muscles. Besides, this man's arms seemed quite smooth and uniformly large; there weren't any bulges to suggest that they were particularl muscular.
  • The man had elephantiasis. While IANAD, I tend to discount this possibility because, again, his forearms were quite smooth and uniform in size, whereas the pictures of elephantiasis I've seen invariably depict the affected limbs as irregularly swollen, with several depressions and protrusions. Also, elephantiasis is treatable and rare outside the tropics; one wouldn't expect to see sufferers as far north as Toronto and in a country with free health care.
  • The man was a theatre/film actor playing Popeye on his way to or from a performance/shooting, and the forearms were prosthetics. I think this case unlikely because (a) I had the opportunity of examining the forearms at fairly close proximity, and there was nothing at all to suggest that they were artificial—they even had fine hair on them, (b) actors don't generally wear prosthetics outside the theatre or film shoot, and (c) neither the IMDb nor the ITDb indicate any Popeye movies or plays being produced in Toronto at the time.
  • The man had some other disease or congenital disorder which resulted in swollen forearms. However, I'm not aware of any such diseases or congenital disorders. Anyone else?
  • The man is was into extreme body modification and had his forearms deliberately altered, surgically or with techniques such as saline injections. This would explain the uniformity of the deformity, but I'm not aware of such a body modification ever being practiced. Any BME readers here know otherwise? Were/are Popeye arms in vogue among a certain segment of extreme body modification fans?
Can anyone suggest which of these explanations is likely, or offer some other explanation that fits the available data?
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  #2  
Old 12-30-2007, 01:19 PM
jjimm jjimm is offline
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Spinach?
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  #3  
Old 12-30-2007, 01:47 PM
Will Repair Will Repair is offline
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Was he carrying one of these?
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Old 12-30-2007, 02:03 PM
Cub Mistress Cub Mistress is online now
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The largest forearms I have ever seen were on men who milked cows by hand, twice a day.
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  #5  
Old 12-30-2007, 02:08 PM
Oregon sunshine Oregon sunshine is offline
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Perhaps he was a stone sculptor or practitioner of some other art which would build up only one's forearms (hand drumming?)
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  #6  
Old 12-30-2007, 03:14 PM
Mr. Moto Mr. Moto is offline
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I used to see it to a mild degree in the Navy, among the deck apes and bo'suns. Came from handling lines a lot.

The Popeye image didn't come from nothing, you know.
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  #7  
Old 12-30-2007, 03:18 PM
OtakuLoki OtakuLoki is offline
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The reason that Popeye the Sailor-Man had such exaggerated forearms is because deck-apes did have bulkier forearms than most people. AIUI, hand strength comes from the muscles in the forearms, so while the upper arm muscles are used in lifting and pulling, for the more detailed manipulations associated with rigging vessels, or even the work in a steam engineroom, gave a huge workout to the muscles in the forearms.

Thus any work where strength of grip, combined with the ability to manipulate objects under tension, is a common task would lead to those Popeye arms. Some possibilities besides the obvious: masonry, carpentry, wire handling for the local telecom, and sewage maintenance work.
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Old 12-30-2007, 05:22 PM
Lumpy Lumpy is online now
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The muscles of the forearms are almost exclusively dedicated to bending the wrist and helping flex or extend the grip of the hands. So yeah, if you spend much of your day holding onto objects that are trying to get away from you, you'll get meaty forearms.

This says nothing about why Popeye's calves are so massive however.
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Old 12-30-2007, 06:21 PM
psychonaut psychonaut is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by OtakuLoki
Thus any work where strength of grip, combined with the ability to manipulate objects under tension, is a common task would lead to those Popeye arms. Some possibilities besides the obvious: masonry, carpentry, wire handling for the local telecom, and sewage maintenance work.
I'm still skeptical. Are there any photos online of deck apes, masons, carpenters, wire handlers, etc. showing their exaggerated forearms? I could then compare this to my recollection to determine whether manual labour alone could account for the man's condition.
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Old 12-30-2007, 06:25 PM
Siam Sam Siam Sam is offline
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Perhaps he had sailed to these climes and contracted elephantiasis, which is endemic in certain parts. That tends to make you look that way.
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  #11  
Old 12-30-2007, 06:58 PM
OtakuLoki OtakuLoki is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by psychonaut
I'm still skeptical. Are there any photos online of deck apes, masons, carpenters, wire handlers, etc. showing their exaggerated forearms? I could then compare this to my recollection to determine whether manual labour alone could account for the man's condition.

You're making me dig out cruise books, yanno. (Think yearbooks for navy ships) I'll have to see if we've got any candids of the more dedicated deck apes. Formal poses, after all, tend to be torso shots.
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  #12  
Old 12-30-2007, 10:42 PM
Mr. Moto Mr. Moto is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lumpy
This says nothing about why Popeye's calves are so massive however.
Those aren't his calves, they're just his pants. Navy issue trousers for enlisted men were traditionally bellbottoms, and they still are for certain uniforms.
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  #13  
Old 12-30-2007, 10:51 PM
Mr. Moto Mr. Moto is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by psychonaut
I'm still skeptical. Are there any photos online of deck apes, masons, carpenters, wire handlers, etc. showing their exaggerated forearms? I could then compare this to my recollection to determine whether manual labour alone could account for the man's condition.
Like I said, this wouldn't exactly look like Popeye. However:

Link 1.

Link 2.

Link 3 - look at SN Rincon.
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  #14  
Old 12-30-2007, 10:54 PM
Mr. Moto Mr. Moto is offline
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BTW, they ought to sculpt the guy in Link 2 and put him in a war memorial somewhere. He's the living embodiment of millions of sailors, right down to the cigarette.
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Old 12-30-2007, 11:32 PM
Leiko Leiko is offline
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It's a long shot, but the largest forearm'd people I know play more video games than most, and when they aren't playing video games, they're playing with swords and boken, lifting heavy objects, or being single teenage/early twenties guys, if you get my meaning.

But in those cases, their forearms still weren't that massive, even when flexed, and the dominant arm had larger muscles than the other.
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Old 12-30-2007, 11:41 PM
psychonaut psychonaut is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr. Moto
Like I said, this wouldn't exactly look like Popeye. However:

Link 1.

Link 2.

Link 3 - look at SN Rincon.
No way, not even close. Those guys' forearms are muscular but not huge. Toronto Popeye's arms were huge but not muscular. Almost bloated, I would say. Think elephantiasis huge, only not as lumpy. I look at SN Rincon's arms and think, "Wow, that guy has strong arms." I look at Toronto guy's arms and wonder how his arms are even possible. Imagine someone with normal (non-muscular) forearms, and then triple their diameter.

Last edited by psychonaut; 12-30-2007 at 11:45 PM..
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  #17  
Old 12-31-2007, 12:14 AM
Joey P Joey P is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by psychonaut
No way, not even close. Those guys' forearms are muscular but not huge. Toronto Popeye's arms were huge but not muscular. Almost bloated, I would say. Think elephantiasis huge, only not as lumpy. I look at SN Rincon's arms and think, "Wow, that guy has strong arms." I look at Toronto guy's arms and wonder how his arms are even possible. Imagine someone with normal (non-muscular) forearms, and then triple their diameter.
Ahhh, you suggested they were muscular in the OP. I've never seen it in arms, but I've seen it in peoples calves, though I think that is mostly a water retainment issue associated with some diseases.
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Old 12-31-2007, 04:51 AM
Carson O'Genic Carson O'Genic is offline
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My grandfather had such forearms.He started blacksmithing at an early age,ten or so,and plied the trade much of his life,though he was noted for many manual arts.
One of his genealogic lines is noted for stocky builds,no doubt a contributor.
He played that game where you take a ten pound sledge hammer,hold it at arm's length with the arm horizontal and lower it ,using the wrist alone, 'til it gently touches the forehead.
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Old 12-31-2007, 06:51 AM
Kaotic Newtral Kaotic Newtral is offline
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Probably not the answer but some real-life information:



I've been a bowler for most of my life. I started leagues when I was 4 years old and at 16 joined men's bowling leagues and I'd usually bowl year round, 3 leagues a week. Before I gave up on the sport around 32(long story), I had huge forearms in proportion to the rest of my arm. Most notably on my right arm. It takes a lot of wrist strength to crank a 16lb ball over and over down the lanes. Mine were nowhere near the largest I'd seen.

I guy I used to bowl league with had forearms that looked like thighs(not quite..but damn close).
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Old 12-31-2007, 07:56 AM
Acid Lamp Acid Lamp is offline
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I'm a sculptor, and guitar player and have over developed certain muscles of the forearm. Almost all of them exclusively on the under-portion of the limb. That would be the Brachioradialis, but not the flexors or exstensors. I think it has to do with only using certain muscle groups in that repetitive activity. Sculpting for me never needed a lot of shoulder muscle, even while using heavier hammers. I tended to spread the weight across my back and chest instead. On my dominant arm my bicep is also large, while my tricep group and shoulder are underdeveloped in comparison.
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  #21  
Old 12-31-2007, 08:25 AM
Crafter_Man Crafter_Man is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr. Moto
I found myself looking at FN Barrick instead.
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  #22  
Old 12-31-2007, 08:30 AM
Mr. Moto Mr. Moto is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Crafter_Man
I found myself looking at FN Barrick instead.
Yeah, she ain't bad. She can touch up my bulkhead anytime.
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