Typically bodybuilders don’t complain about rapid muscle growth, but there can be a noticeable cosmetic side effect: stretch marks.
If you have had enough to success in your workout program that stretch marks are a problem, first of all, congratulations, you are clearly in the elite of muscle builders.
But if you want to get rid of stretch marks, or even keep them from occurring in the first place, here are five things you need to know.
5 Things You Need to Know about Stretch Marks as a Bodybuilder
- Stretch marks are a sign of growing fast. They usually occur during pregnancy, during rapid weight gain due to fat, and during rapid muscle growth. In bodybuilders, stretch marks are most common after fast growth in the deltoids, pectoral muscles, and triceps.
- Taking creatine after a workout increases stretch marks, due to the way creatine works. Creatine combines with water to bulk up muscle. Theoretically, doing your workouts “dry” would offset the tendency of creatine to accelerate stretch mark formation all over your body—but it would also lead you more vulnerable to heat stress and heat stroke as well as cancel out the effects of the supplement.
If you don’t get adequate hydration, creatine won’t do you any good.
- If you don’t want to deal with stretch marks, don’t bulk up during your off season. Bulking up during your off-season usually involves adding fat, not muscle, anyway.
- Use skin treatments that contain natural moisturizing factors, such as ceramide, cholesterol (in a skin cream or skin oil, not in your food), fatty acids (again, on you, not necessarily in you), glycerin, glycosaminoglycans, glycosphingolipids, hyaluronic acid, mucopolysaccharides, and pyrrolidone carboxylic acid, which is also known as sodium PCA.
Natural skin care agents that help smooth out stretch marks include apricot oil, canola oil, olive oil, sunflower oil, coconut oil, jojoba oil, jojoba wax, lanolin, lecithin, sweet almond oil, shea butter, squalene, and even corn oil. All of these products help maintain the lipid content of the skin. Fats and ceramides make up about 75 per cent of the bulk of the skin, and they give skin its “stretch.”
All of these products help keep the skin intact, so it does not form fine cracks and tears that lead to scar formation. When they are formulated with vitamin E, recent stretch marks begin to heal and are less likely to get infected.
- While you are getting rid of stretch marks, consider covering them up with a bronzing agent —not by getting a sun tan or by visiting a tanning booth! Adding depth to your natural skin pigment makes stretch marks less visible.
Does Working out Cause Stretch Marks?
Yes, you can get stretch marks from gaining muscle. This is because your skin is stretching to accommodate the extra muscle tissue, and this might cause small tears in the dermis.
Depending on the type of bodybuilding you engage in, you can get stretch marks:
- on your shoulders (common in people who weight-lift and seriously work out their back),
- on your butt (from too many squats)
- and even your pecs (excessive focus on the chest area)
Another really common area for stretch marks is the inner arms/ armpit area, because many bodybuilders tend to focus heavily on growing their arms.
How can I Exercise without Getting Stretch Marks?
Many bodybuilders ask this. Keen to look their best, most confident selves, they’d like to do anything in their power to avoid the appearance of those unsightly stretch marks.
An excellent way to prevent stretch marks is to put on muscle gradually. Many people make the mistake of going at it hard, jumping head first into these colossal, intense workout routines. Which work. If they’re lucky enough not to sprain something while doing them, many people can grow their muscle mass a lot in very little time.
Here’s the catch, though. Separate from your mind (which is all for putting on those muscles), your body simply can not accommodate such a rapid muscle growth. And so, you get stretch marks.
Easing into a bodybuilding practice can have a huge number of benefits, starting with reducing the risk of stretch marks.
Look at it this way. If you do 100 squats on your first day, your body will be overwhelmed. If you grow your practice from 20, adding 5 squats each day or so, your body will be far better prepared to cope, and thus, you’ll be less likely to get stretch marks.
Don’t focus solely on one area. This is another golden rule that bodybuilders should follow if they want to avoid getting stretch marks. See, many make the mistake of assuming that since they’re naturally predisposed to gain weight in one specific area (as most people are), then they’d best focus on that area alone.
But by putting all your focus in one spot, you are naturally putting that area under a whole lot of pressure. That area of your body (often the pecs, in men) will struggle to cope with all the attention, but will eventually give in and let the stretch marks take over.
Evenly distribute your exercises so that you have a well-rounded workout.
It’s also really important that you have a balanced diet. You know how they tell you to get a lot of fruit and veggies? Well, that’s for an excellent reason. The more vitamins you have in your body, the healthier and better hydrated your skin will be. This, in turn, will diminish the risk of stretch marks.
Try to look for foods high in vitamin C, for example, as this is a great source of antioxidants that will keep your skin healthy and clean and your moisture barrier intact. Also, look for zinc, either as supplements or directly from your diet.
And of course, always stay hydrated, to ensure your skin is well-nurtured.
Can I Prevent Workout Stretch Marks?
While the above suggestions do technically count as prevention, there isn’t an actual answer to this question. Since stretch marks are heavily influenced by genetics, some people will be more predisposed to them than others.
Will the above suggestions completely prevent the appearance of stretch marks? Only time will tell. We suggest that you use a deep moisturizer to keep your skin hydrated. This, paired with mindful exercise, might help prevent gym stretch marks.
Will My Stretch Marks Go Away If I Gain A Lot of Muscle?
No, they will not. It’s important to understand that stretch marks affect the middle layer of your skin (the dermis) and have nothing to do with the muscles underneath, so no, the simple act of getting muscles won’t actually get rid of stretch marks.
However, a lot of people have this misconception (that muscle equals lack of stretch marks) because generally, stretch marks tend to look better on toned people. Why? Because on flabby skin, stretch marks are more evident and more visually disturbing.
Exercise eliminates excess fat, which tightens the skin and makes it look more supple. This, in turn, improves the appearance of stretch marks and makes them appear smaller and less severe.
Gym Stretch Marks Q & A
Here are some of the most common questions that people ask in regard to stretch marks and weightlifting (as well as other forms of bodybuilding).
Does Running Cause Stretch Marks? Alternatively, Does It Help Them?
No, running does not cause stretch marks. In general, running tones the muscles you have, and whatever muscle it adds on, it does so gradually. So your body has time to adjust and adapt to the extra weight.
As for helping, running can only help with stretch marks because, as mentioned above, it tightens the skin and gets rid of flabbiness. But it can’t make stretch marks disappear.
Can Stretch Marks Fade With Exercise?
Not exactly. As your skin normally regenerates, then your stretch marks will, in time, fade somewhat. Exercise gets the blood flowing, which in turn stimulates a faster cell turnover, so your skin may regenerate more quickly, while you exercise. But not more intensely than it would if you didn’t exercise.
Is There A Stretch Mark Cream for Bodybuilders?
Not specifically, no. But bodybuilders can benefit from regular stretch mark creams, like TriLastin or Mustela or Palmer’s Cocoa Butter Formula. In fact, we’d actually recommend that you, as a bodybuilder, look for a stretch mark cream designed for pregnancy, because those tend to be free from dangerous chemicals (and who doesn’t want that?) and immensely hydrating.
One major benefit of treating bodybuilding stretch marks (as opposed to pregnancy marks) is that you can more freely use vitamin A creams, such as Retin-A (it’s restricted while pregnant). These can be immensely helpful in regenerating the skin and fading stretch marks.
Where Am I Most Likely to Get Stretch Marks From Exercise?
It really depends on what body area you’re exercising. If you tend to focus on the pecs, then you might get marks on the chest. If you’re more of a leg person, you may just as easily get marks on your thighs.
Getting Rid of Bodybuilding Stretch Marks
If you are very serious about getting rid of stretch marks, you might consider alternating your use of a product that provides natural moisturizing factors (listed in #4 above) with a product that provides beta-hydroxy acids.
Natural moisturizing factors help live skin cells “glue” together to keep lines from forming and to smooth out existing stretch marks.
Beta-hydroxy acids get into pores and remove the glue that keeps dead skin cells stuck to the skin, accentuating lines and scars.
Every beta-hydroxy acid product stings just a little while it’s working, but if it stings a lot, you’re using too much. The best beta-hydroxy acid for bodybuilders is salicylic acid, which removes dead skin but stops inflammation with the power of aspirin.