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Muscles Are Meaningful

Then, Tatsu allegedly stomped across the kitchen and proceeded to open up a can on Sheamus, with some reports even characterizing the beating as bad enough to elicit tears from the future WWE Champion.
Let this be a lesson to you, folks: Size doesn't matter...unless you want to get pushed in the WWE.

In works of fiction, it is generally assumed that characters with big muscles must be strong. In most media, this compels creators to depict strong characters as with hulking muscular builds, often disregarding what kind of build people in any given activity would be likely to have, for fear not doing so would risk forcing the audience out of the story.

This frequently carries the opposite meaning as well: small characters are usually elusive, quiet, agile, stealthy and quick, while large characters being such will not be believable.

In Professional Wrestling, this is taken to extremes. Few fans will accept a smaller or average sized wrestler as a main event contender without years of development, whereas larger wrestlers may be advanced to the main event scene almost immediately after debuting. Fans and promoters alike also tend to gravitate toward men with large biceps and pectorals over triceps and the core body because the former look better on camera, even though the latter are more useful for wrestling.

Related to Bishounen Line. Polar opposite of Muscles Are Meaningless. The Giant will always be portrayed this way, even if they're mostly fat.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Kasumi Gyoubu from Basilisk is by far the most muscular character in the series, and he's capable of breaking necks with his bare hands... and we're not talking about the basic neck twist, but a one hand grab n' crush!
  • Three Words: Alex Louis Armstrong from Fullmetal Alchemist. Save for the homunculus Sloth, (who also fits this trope, being the manga equivalent of a passive Hulk), he's easily the tallest and most muscular "normal" human in the cast. He's able to take punches from, and lift up the aforementioned homunculus, tank his head getting slammed through concrete, (which for the record, broke the wall!), and dish the punishment right back out.
    • Other examples are Izumi's husband Sig, whose equally sized, only a little portly, and the Iron Blood Alchemist, Basque Grand.
  • In Soul Eater, Crona and Ragnarok get noticabely stronger the bigger Ragnarok gets. In fact, from the time they first appear, Ragnarok's soul is already bigger in perimeter than Crona's height, and by the second battle they have with Maka, Ragnarok's soul is now almost the size of a two story house. When Ragnarok's soul is cleansed, he and Crona re about as strong as Maka, showing that their strength has lowered greatly.
  • In Berserk, you can have a reasonable idea of where characters sit on the sliding scale of Mighty Glacier to Fragile Speedster by their bulk, with Pippin at one end and Casca on the other. Guts, being a Lightning Bruiser, is very tall and muscular, but is still smaller than many of the other characters. Although said other characters are demonic Half-Human Hybrids ...
  • In Eyeshield Twenty One, you can pretty much rate physical strength of a player by seeing their bulk. Their effectiveness, in other hand....
  • Most martial artists in Fist of the North Star are rather muscular, the ones who aren't, well...
  • One Piece ironically tends to play this trope straight with the weaker characters. If a character is muscular, it is a good sign that he is not entirely without fighting ability, and big, muscular Mooks tend to somewhat stronger than the small, lean ones. But when it comes to the really Badass characters, Muscles Are Meaningless (some are very muscular, some are slightly muscular, some are scrawny).

    Comic Books 
  • This trope is almost the entire plot for the Hulk, as any character's superpower can be easily identified by which body part is the largest (The Leader, the Abomination, etc.)
    • In the movie, the Hulk himself would also get larger as he got angrier/stronger.
  • This is also prevalent in many Rogue's Galleries.
    • For Spider-Man, the "strong" villains were always large and muscular (e.g. the Rhino) while the villains who had other powers were slimmer (e.g. the Chameleon.)
      • Carnage subverted this trend; he was at least as strong as Venom if not stronger (and thus stronger than Spider-Man) but was actually smaller and less muscular than Peter Parker without his symbiote.
      • Venom himself is something of a subversion; he's much larger and muscular than Spider-Man, but also somewhat faster, more agile, sneakier due to his use of the symbiote's camouflage, and just about the only Spider-villain who could reliably catch Peter by surprise. Stealth and psychological intimidation were Venom's favored tactics, even when his size and strength gave him an advantage in fights.
  • Kingpin might be a subversion. Inexplicitly stronger than Spiderman, but when Spidey makes a fat joke he finds out the hard way that Kingpin is also a Lightning Bruiser with almost no fat.
  • Batman had Bane, Clayface, Solomon Grundy, and other "melee" villains who were larger than Batman.
    • Batman is an especially obvious example of this trope. In comics where he had to fight, he was drawn larger than average (Batman: The Dark Knight Returns). In comics where he used his detective skills, he was drawn slimmer and less muscular (The Brave and the Bold).
    • In films, Batman traditionally wore a padded Bat-suit, but appeared slim as Bruce Wayne.
  • Superman's villains who fought with him were drawn larger (e.g. Doomsday.)
    • However, the villains that outsmarted him were drawn smaller, e.g. Mr. Mxyzptlk, Luthor, etc.

  • A rare female example - fourteen-year-old Scout, in Dark Rendezvous, has been training for years to build muscle, and is noted as being stronger than the other Jedi apprentices.
  • Thriller author Lee Child has almost always depicted his protagonist, Jack Reacher, as being the biggest man in the book. This is consistent with Reacher's nearly-effortless thrashing of anyone dumb enough to ignore this trope, although some of his combat prowess does come from skill and experience.
  • Feruchemists in Mistborn: The Original Trilogy get bigger muscles when they tap strength, to the point where one protagonist breifly ends up about nine feet tall and built like a bear.
    • And PlayedWith in the case of Allomancers, who do not gain extra muscles to go with their magical Super-Strength. While this means that a skinny 5-foot-nothing girl can out-wrestle a 250-lb brute if she's burning pewter and he isn't, the burly man will still be that much stronger than the skinny girl if both are burning pewter.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Both teams and fans of The Amazing Race fully believe this trope, no matter how many times the show subverts it or deconstructs it. At the beginning of each season it's the biggest and strongest teams that are generally the most feared by the other teams, and who are usually picked to win by the fans. Though justified in the first four seasons, where physical strength was only challenged by those with travel knowledge, in later seasons it's much more likely for an "Alpha Male" team to eliminate themselves with a stupid mistake than to dominate a season.
    • Derek & Drew serve as an excellent deconstruction of this concept on the Race during Season 3. On the tails of fit male teams winning the first two seasons, many of the teams became immediately obsessed with beating the "wonder twins", despite Derek & Drew viewing themselves as barely hanging on for the first few legs. At the same time, Ken & Gerard talked about how no one was giving them any thought because of their pudgier physiques, and Teri & Ian were outright disregarded as fodder. While Derek & Drew did end up being formidable opponents, so did Ken & Gerard and Teri & Ian, who both edged out Derek & Drew to make it to the Final 3. The twins lost not because they got beat in some head-to-head competition, but simply because they couldn't find a clue.
    • Season 5 winner Chip was a huge proponent of this trope, especially when writing for the "Return of the Racers" blog for He constantly talked about how "alpha male" teams had a unfair advantage over all other teams, and how he and his wife never would have had a shot against one of these teams (even though they did beat the arguably stronger team of Colin & Christie). When he made a list of the strongest individual racers, the top 11 spots all went to men, with the top female racer being a physical trainer.
  • Survivor has a similar situation. In the early stages when tribes compete for team immunity, women and older players often get targeted due to percieved weakness; and when it shifts to an individual competition then the young fit guys become the targets due to being percieved as threats in immunity challenges. Like in The Amazing Race, physical strength usually doesn't affect challenge success as much as some people think it does, and the social game is more of a factor overall.
    • Survivor: One World has a good example of the perception vs. the reality of this. Matt, an alpha male, picked out some other alpha males to work with and believed they ran the tribe; at one point describing them as "roosters" leading the "chickens" around. Then the tribe acutally had to go to Tribal Council; and it was pointed out to him that there were five "chickens" and only four "roosters". Goodbye, Matt.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • In Professional Wrestling, "large" wrestlers (275 lbs or more) are usually given squash matches and power finishing moves. Smaller (200 lbs or less) are usually in matches that demonstrate acrobatic or high-flying moves.
  • In general, the only women that are allowed to compete against men were the female bodybuilders who were equal to them in size. Chyna is by far the most famous, but see also: Nicole Bass, Midnight, Asya.
    • Recently, "The Glamazon" Beth Phoenix competed in the Royal Rumble, even eliminating The Great Khali. Yes, the same guy in the picture at the top of this page.
    • On the indies smaller women can bypass this but they'll normally have to rely on Waif-Fu during matches.
    • Kana seems to be the exception that proves the rule, as she tends to rely on stiff shots and submission hold...and usually ends up beaten after the larger man toughs them out.
  • With the advent of the light heavyweight division of the WCW and WWF during the Monday Night Wars, smaller wrestlers doing power moves became more common, and larger wrestlers doing acrobatic moves like the kip-up were also common.
  • ECW averted this often, and even squeezed in a series of subversions with the "Little Spike Dudley: Giant Killer" gimmick, where the 150-pound-soaking-wet Spike would somehow, after having been beaten half-to-death by men 3 times his size, and with commentator Joey Styles begging for the ref to stop the match, find a way to prevail in the end.
  • Inverted by Hydra of CHIKARA, who must weigh 150 pounds, but is treated by announcers and other wrestlers as a behemoth.
  • In Professional Wrestling, this is taken to extremes, as few fans will accept a smaller (Rey Mysterio Jr, AJ Styles) or average sized wrestler (Bret Hart, Eddie Guerrero, Shawn Michaels, even "Stone Cold" Steve Austin himself) as a main event contender without years of development. Whereas larger wrestlers (Kane, Brock Lesnar, The Great Khali) may be advanced to the main event scene almost immediately after debuting. This is particularly noticable in WWE, where 1) the promotion has access to much larger wrestlers than smaller promotions, and 2) the CEO, Vince McMahon, doesn't like smaller wrestlers and is reluctant to push them. Nowhere is this mentality more apparent than in the career of The Giant (Paul "The Big Show" Wight, who had his pro wrestling debut (not just his first televised match, but his first match ever) in the main event of a WCW Pay-Per-View for the world championship — and won!
    • Other good examples are Sheamus, Wade Barrett, and Alberto Del Rio in decending order. Sheamus first appeared on TV as a (supposed) jobber before plowing through on his way to being a monster heel.
  • In the women's division Beth Phoenix and Natalya are often thought by casual fans to be the only women in WWE that can wrestle (they're not) because they're noticeably more muscular than the rest of the Divas who nearly all look like supermodels (some are, some aren't). In a bit of possible Unfortunate Implications Aksana is in the same build as those three and doesn't get this because she's frequently dressed in more feminine clothing. Observe.

    Video Games 
  • The constitution system in the Fire Emblem series especially Fire Emblem Thracia. The constitution system is how much you character weighs and is able to pick up another unit (either by force on enemy units, or slinging allied units over your shoulder). Pretty much the only characters who have high constitution stats and growth are really muscular guys, big armored men, and mounted units. Skinny wiry Bishonens and especially thin girls will pretty much never get a a point in constitution when leveling up unless the player is really lucky. Even Marty, a muscular brigand who is virtually useless in everything can make use of his muscles with an extremely high base constitution stat and constitution growth.
  • Resident Evil: From 5 onward, Chris Redfield has bulked up considerably and it shows. He's able to send enemies flying with one punch, as well as lift up and bodily throw them with ease. Also, during his brief face-off with Leon Kennedy in 6, it's clear that he has the advantage in terms of physical strength.

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alternative title(s): Prejudiced For Pecs
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