Many people want to achieve their best fitness level, and they use markers for goals to reach. For example, they may want to increase their biceps’ circumference or acquire a certain body fat percentage.
A commonly perceived fitness marker that many want to achieve is popping veins in their arms and chest. Bodybuilders and fitness models all covet the idea of veins that pop out of their arms.
Is this really a sign of a healthy body, or can it be more of a sign of danger?
Let’s dig into the actual cause of veiny arms and learn the science behind why this shouldn’t be a goal for anyone who wants to be in their best shape.
What Makes Your Veins Pop?
If you are one of the people who are proud of your veiny arms, you may have been approached by others who envy them and ask how you have achieved such fitness stature.
The truth is, the cause of bulging arm veins is different depending on who you are.
Some notice them only when they work out. Others don’t get them, no matter how hard they work out. Others have them all the time.
Older adults can develop them naturally. When you age, the surface of your skin can thin, and your valves weaken, causing a buildup of blood in more visible veins.
Most often, the leading cause of the bicep veins popping out is one of two reasons.
High blood pressure may make your veins more prominent because more blood is pumping through veins in the arms, which puts force on the veins’ exterior.
This increase in blood pressure can come from various factors and may be chronic or short term.
Elevated stress hormones can also cause your veins to bulge. When you put your body under intense physical or mental stress, your body releases cortisol. Cortisol may cause elevated blood pressure.
Veiny Arms From Workouts
Worked muscles require more oxygen and nutrients delivered through the blood. As you stress your muscles, your heart pumps more blood to the muscles to provide those needed nutrients.
Working the muscles will also cause them to swell, leaving less room for the veins, pushing them up against the skin.
Weight lifting is the most complete type of exercise, but it isn’t the only exercise type that will cause veiny arms. Cardiovascular exercise also makes the heart pump harder and faster, which will increase blood flow throughout the body.
Both types of exercise increase blood pressure. The inner blood flow is more robust than the outer blood flow, causing blood to back up in the veins.
Veins can be seen easier in the arms because they are closer to the surface of your skin. For this reason, most of the types of workouts that cause popping veins are done with dumbbells by the arm muscles.
The triceps, biceps, and pectoral muscles can show popping veins when doing certain weightlifting moves at high repetitive movements.
Pushing moves that lift the weight over the head will cause a more significant increase of blood to the arms. The bench press, shoulder press, and snatch are all moves of this kind. You can also see prominent veins in your arms after doing push-ups.
Cardiovascular exercises that can result in veiny arms include bodyweight exercises done at high intensity. This type of exercise causes increased blood flow and an elevated heart rate.
BFRT (blood flow restriction training) is an exercise method using bands or cuffs to restrict blood flow to the biceps or triceps. This method aims to keep the blood in the limbs to help increase results from a lighter lifting load.
This method can be dangerous, as any mistakes can cause nerve or vascular damage.
Why Do People Think They Are a Sign of Fitness?
With all the evidence showing that veiny arms aren’t something to covet, where does the common opinion that only the fittest of the fit have veiny arms come from?
Although veiny arms are not a sign of fitness, many fit people get veiny arms. If you look at fitness models and bodybuilders, most of them will have very prominent bulging veins on their arms.
This is due to a variety of reasons. The first is their low body fat percentage. This lack of subcutaneous fat means less coverage for the veins, making them easily seen.
The bulging or swelling of the worked muscles pushes the veins to the surface, making them more prominent. So, the pursuit of fat loss and lean muscle can often result in bulging veins.
Many people consider vascularity at rest a marker of fitness because your muscles are stiff even when you aren’t using them.
The Dangers of Veiny Arms
If you notice that your upper body veins are extremely visible, you may want to consider the cause. You may be at risk of certain dangerous medical conditions.
High blood pressure often goes undetected by those who have it for many years. And elevated blood pressure can escalate into other problems.
Common ailments from untreated high blood pressure are heart attack and stroke. They result from the extra work that the heart has to undergo to push the blood through the arteries.
Other conditions resulting from high blood pressure include vision problems, kidney problems, and sexual dysfunction. This infographic from the American Heart Association can give you a visual breakdown of the various results of HBP.
If you have veiny arms due to high cortisol levels, you are in danger of a whole other set of medical problems. Although cortisol serves an essential purpose as a natural response to stress, it can be detrimental when you produce too much.
Chronic high cortisol can increase your blood sugar levels, which may result in diabetes if not controlled.
Prolonged raised cortisol can also make you gain weight because cortisol will make you think you are hungry when you are not. It is also the cause of cravings for fatty and sugary foods.
Cortisol can weaken your immune system by overdoing its anti-inflammatory response. You can notice that you get sick easier. You will also be more susceptible to developing food allergies and even be more at risk of cancer.
High cortisol levels will cause digestive problems. Part of the purpose of cortisol is to shut down any unnecessary bodily functions when facing stress. That way, you place all of your energy on survival.
Unfortunately, the digestive tract is one of the first systems that cortisol will turn off. You can develop ulcers, IBS, and colitis from cortisol overdrive.
Cortisol can elevate your blood pressure even more, causing damage to your artery walls and putting more stress on your heart.
High cortisol levels can even cause changes to your brain. Cortisol can cause your brain to stay stuck in the “fight or flight” response.
This can cause anxiety, depression, and even PTSD at its worst, and memory and concentration problems at its best.
When your veins are under prolonged pressure, the arterial walls can begin to weaken. This may result in varicose veins after some time. Varicose veins are more than just unpleasant to look at.
Varicose veins are often painful and can cause restless legs syndrome. Eventually, the blood in the veins can clot and possibly cause an embolism.
Can You Be Extremely Fit Without Bulging Veins?
If you have a healthy blood flow, you may not see bulging veins. This is a sign of a healthy heart that doesn’t strain to pump blood throughout the body.
With a healthy heart, you have a higher endurance level and can run farther and work harder than those whose heart is weak.
It could be that you are healthy, but you can’t see any veins in your arms due to a layer of fat that covers them. Now, too much fat is never a good thing, but it is important to know that too low a body fat percentage is also dangerous.
A body fat percentage that is below five percent is unhealthy. Even though bodybuilders often go below this body fat level when in competition, they know that they can’t maintain this low body fat without facing severe consequences.
An unhealthily low body fat percentage can cause heart problems, low immunity, infertility, low energy levels, brittle bones, brain fog, and skin problems.
Fitness Goals Worth Striving For
The purpose of getting fit is far more than just looking good. If you want to be healthier and live longer, your fitness goals should reflect that.
Although many fitness professionals and gym-goers may have bulging arm veins, this results from the pursuit of other fitness goals, not the goal itself. And often, it can be a sign of the overachieving of these goals.
Here are some better goals to strive for:
Healthy Blood Pressure Levels
Your blood pressure can affect many different systems in the body. Having healthy blood pressure is a worthwhile goal if you want to improve your health.
Get your blood pressure levels routinely checked by your doctor and see if you need to make improvements. Healthy adults will ideally have a blood pressure of 120/80.
Increase Muscle Mass
Your metabolism is faster the more muscle you have, since muscles use more energy to maintain. It is easier to keep a healthy body weight when you have more muscle.
To achieve a higher muscle mass, you need to do strength training regularly and provide adequate nutrition to feed the muscles.
There’s nothing wrong with workout routines that involve pull-ups and forearm curls but don’t base your fitness levels on the ability to see blood vessels in your arms.
Instead, develop a workout routine that works different muscle groups in the upper and lower body.
Maintain a Healthy Body Fat Percentage
If you are overweight, weight loss is an admirable fitness goal to strive for. But if you are within a healthy range, maintenance should be your goal. If your body fat percentage is too low, you need to raise your body fat percentage.
It is always best to incorporate cardio in your workout routine if cutting body fat is your fitness goal, but it shouldn’t be your entire workout.
Remember that muscle mass will help keep your metabolism high so that you burn more calories every day without even working out.
Keep Stress Levels Low
To keep your cortisol levels at a healthy range, you need to find ways to cut down on the stress that you face daily.
There are many superb stress reducers, and it all depends on your personal preference.
Some of our favorite ways to eliminate stress include;
- Spending time with friends
- Taking a walk in nature
- Watching funny videos
These are all viable and healthy means of reducing stress.
We’re trained to believe that veiny arms are a good thing. Based on the information above, they shouldn’t be something for which to strive.
If you happen to have veiny arms, make sure this is from the effects of workouts and not high blood pressure or high cortisol.
If you work out consistently and eat a healthy meal plan, you shouldn’t be worried if you can’t achieve bulging veins. This isn’t a reliable marker for fitness. You may be surprised that you can lift much more than the veiny arm guy across the gym.
In fact, if you notice that your veins bulge more than average, even when you don’t work out, you may need to get your blood pressure checked.
If your blood pressure levels are elevated, our Cardio Health Bundle can help you get your blood pressure down to healthy levels.