Romance Writers' Reference: Muscles, Part 1

June 26, 2013

The endlessly fascinating male torso.  Image from

The extent of my bodybuilding experience begins with buying 5-pound handweights at Target and ends with a viewing of Pumping Iron, the entertaining 1977 docudrama wherein Arnold Schwarzenegger manipulates and undermines Lou Ferrigno to win the title of Mr. Olympia.  As a resident of California, I quickly developed respect for my former governor's mastery of draconian mind games and understood how he got elected here in the first place.

But I digress.  This post is designed to help me (and you, by extension) learn the names of the major muscle groups of the male body.  My objective is to move from vague phrases like "his chest was just silly with muscles" to "the rigid caps of his deltoids flexed under her fingers as she grabbed his shoulders for balance."

Classical and comic-book training requires artists to study these diagrams carefully and to draw representations of the human body again and again and again.  Since romance writers traffic in similar physical ideals, we should know the muscle groups just as well.  So here goes.

Image from
The above diagram will help you visualize the different muscle groups.  The man in the drawing has no ass (and no John Thomas, for that matter), but for our purposes, this diagram will have to do.

A muscular neck is not a single column of muscle; rather it is a collection of thick, manly tendons with ridiculously long medical-school type names.  Notice that the more mansome and frightening your hero is, the more pronounced his trapezius will be.  The trapezius runs along the tops of the shoulders and creates a kind of cape of muscle that lies across the upper part of the back.  A well-developed trapezius will make your hero look like a linebacker.  Too well-developed and it will look like he has no neck, or like a Cardassian from Star Trek (not to be confused with a Kardashian).  Here is a photo to help you visualize this.

Image from

 Tom Hardy has an absolutely breathtaking trapezius.  Look at his undershirt holding on for dear life.

Tom Hardy.  Image from

Now we're talking pecs, or pectoralis major (upper half) and minor (lower).  A hard chest on a hero is a must.  I've read some romance writers describe their heroes' chests as walls and shields, but the pecs are convex, slightly rounded and perfectly contoured to fit the shallow palm of a girl's hand as she tentatively touches him for the first time and thinks, Ooh-la-la.  Buffness.

The challenge in describing aesthetically pleasing pecs is to describe them as hard, but not too big.  He shouldn't have too much cleavage.  Also, how to describe the perfect male nipple?  Flat?  Tiny?  Smooth?  I once read Ken Follett describe male nipples as hairy.  Come on, Ken Follett!  It amazes me that an author who can describe the majesty of a flying buttress suddenly becomes a grossed-out thirteen-year-old when it comes to writing about the human body.

Sexiness comes from a combination of vulnerability and strength.  To have these tender, nerve-packed points sitting on top all that hard muscle...suffice to say, lovers and romance writers can't afford to ignore male nipples.

Take a gander at Joe Manganiello's pecs and nipples and see what I mean.

Joe Manganiello.  From
One more question regarding pecs: chest hair or not?  It all depends on what you like.  This past week I read a hilarious article on discussing Henry Cavill's hairy chest in Man of Steel.  Here's an excerpt.
With that beard and that flannel and that Crossfit-jacked hairy chest, I expected Superman to eschew his usual secret identity at the Daily Planet and start a new life as Portland’s hottest artisanal-beer brewer.
As the article discusses, waxed, hairless chests are currently de rigeur (see stills from Captain America and Thor).  However, to help you make up your own mind, I have prepared a collage of appropriate chests with appropriate levels of hair.   You can probably guess where I stand on this debate.

Chris Evans, Hugh Jackman, Gerard Butler, and Henry Cavill kindly demonstrate how chest hair can be a very, very good thing indeed.

Known colloquially as the "six-pack," the tendinous intersection are fibrous bands that separate the rectus abdominus into three muscle groups.  These muscles provide the body with forward flexion (known colloquially as "bending over").  Abs tend to be as unique as fingerprints.  Take a look.

Michael Phelps.  Image from
LL Cool J has some of my favorite abs.  Image from

Channing Tatum and Joe Manganiello show off two different flavors of abs.  Image from
The serratus anterior muscle can be seen in Joe Manganiello's photo above.  The bumpy region just below his right pec and to the left of his six-pack is the serratus anterior, from the Latin word serrare, meaning "to saw" and referring to the shape.  What is its function?
The serratus anterior is occasionally called the "big swing muscle" or "boxer's muscle" because it is largely responsible for the protraction of the scapula — that is, the pulling of the scapula forward and around the rib cage that occurs when someone throws a punch.
One last thing about abs.  My friends have called this next thing an "Adonis belt" or "lust handles."  You know what they are: the deep lines at the tops of outrageously fit men's hips.  You can see them whenenever boxers, swimming trunks, and jeans play peeky-boo a drag just a little too low.  These grooves exist because of an absence of muscle or fat at the base of the external obliques.  Heroines in romance novels can usually be found hanging on to these for dear life.  Here's Ryan Reynolds showing you his groovy grooves.

Ryan Reynold's hip grooves.  Image from
Okay.  As much as I could go on and on about the musculature of attractive men, here is where I stop Part 1.  Stay tuned for Romance Writers' Reference: Muscles, Part 2: Back, Butt, and Extremities.


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