Journal of Applied Physiology

Contrasts in muscle and myofibers of elite male and female bodybuilders

S. E. Alway, W. H. Grumbt, W. J. Gonyea, J. Stray-Gundersen


Muscle cross-sectional area (CSA), fiber area, and fiber number were determined from the biceps brachii of eight elite male bodybuilders (MB) and five elite female bodybuilders (FB) who had similar training characteristics. Biceps CSA was obtained from computer tomographic scanning and corrected for noncontractile tissue. Biceps CSA was twofold greater in MB relative to FB and strongly correlated to lean body mass (R = 0.93). Biceps CSA expressed per kilogram lean body mass (LBM) or per centimeter body height (BH) was 35% greater in MB compared with FB. Most of the gender difference in muscle CSA was because of greater absolute mean fiber areas in MB (9,607 microns2) relative to FB (5,386 microns2); however, MB also had a significantly greater population of small type II fibers (less than 2,000 microns2) compared with FB. Type II fiber area/LBM averaged 1.6-fold greater in MB compared with FB; however, type I fiber area/LBM was similar between groups. Biceps CSA was positively correlated to fiber CSA (R = 0.75) and fiber number (R = 0.55). This suggests that adaptations to resistance training may be complex and involve fiber hypertrophy and fiber number (e.g., proliferation). Alternatively, since the muscle characteristics before training are not known, these apparent adaptations might be genetically determined attributes.