Definition of muscle in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈmʌs(ə)l/


1A band or bundle of fibrous tissue in a human or animal body that has the ability to contract, producing movement in or maintaining the position of parts of the body: the calf muscle [mass noun]: the sheet of muscle between the abdomen and chest
More example sentences
  • The powerful venom acts on the victim's voluntary muscles, paralysing the muscles required for body movement and breathing.
  • Make sure you get sufficient protein to protect not only your bones, but your muscles and other body tissues.
  • Each time the calf and thigh muscles contract when walking, veins deep inside the leg are squeezed.
literary thew
1.1A muscle or muscles when well developed or prominently visible under the skin: his muscles rippled beneath his tanned skin
More example sentences
  • Her stomach tightens, strong muscles visible beneath her skin.
  • He stroked her neck, feeling the strong muscles beneath the skin ripple at his touch.
  • He watched the way she took up a pickaxe and swung it, saw the muscles rippling beneath her tanned skin.

Muscles are formed of bands, sheets, or columns of elongated cells (or fibres) containing interlocking parallel arrays of the proteins actin and myosin. Projections on the myosin molecules respond to chemical signals by forming and reforming chemical bonds to the actin, so that the filaments move past each other and interlock more deeply. This converts chemical energy into the mechanical force of contraction, and also generates heat.

2 [mass noun] Physical power; strength: he had muscle but no brains
More example sentences
  • We've power of muscle and brain, and where else is that combination useful?
  • A matter of a difference in opinion should not be settled with muscle rather than the brain.
  • But without our brain and muscle not a single wheel can turn.
strength, power, muscularity, brawn, brawniness, burliness, huskiness
informal beef, beefiness
literary thew
2.1 informal A man or men exhibiting physical power or strength, typically employed to use or threaten violence: an ex-marine of enormous proportions who’d been brought along as muscle
More example sentences
  • Louis was the sort of low-grade man child that shoestring celebrities often employ as muscle to keep up appearances and work as a butler.
  • By this time both sides had brought some professional muscle to bear on proceedings.
  • I really hope he cuts a deal and brings in the hired muscle.
2.2Power or influence, especially in a commercial or political sphere: many companies lack the financial muscle to adopt a more hard-nosed relationship with buyers
More example sentences
  • The truth is, governments and governments alone have the financial and political muscle that can deliver real change.
  • Public officials must provide the political muscle and resources to implement these programs.
  • They'd just pay their better players more, and use their financial muscle to build a dominant team.
influence, power, strength, might, force, forcefulness, weight, potency
informal clout, beef, pull


[with object and adverbial] informal, chiefly North American
1Move (an object) in a particular direction by using one’s physical strength: they were muscling baggage into the hold of the plane
More example sentences
  • His strength allows him to muscle shots even when he doesn't put the bat's sweet spot on the ball.
  • A third-generation Marine, he lugged the same heavy pack, muscled the same kind of machine gun into his foxhole at night and took the same risks as any of the bigger men.
  • The six-liter, 325-horsepower turbo diesel engine can muscle you up loose inclines and keep you in the passing lane.
1.1Coerce by violence or by economic or political pressure: he was eventually muscled out of the market
More example sentences
  • We see it every day on our way to work, a street scene replicated city-wide: white-collar execs hailing taxis on every street corner, muscling others out of the way for the comfort of air-conditioned interiors.
  • I was driving to work one morning recently when a gentleman in a big Sports Utility Vehicle barreled down on me from a side street and muscled his way into the line of morning traffic.
  • And Labour MPs have not just muscled this off the agenda in the run-up to the General Election expected next summer only to see it reappear in the autumn.



flex one's muscles

Give a show of strength or power: the committee likes to flex its political muscles from time to time
More example sentences
  • And who can forget the imperial powers flexing their muscles - Mussolini's Italy invading Ethiopia, Hitler's Germany making its territorial advances in Europe.
  • History often provides an opportunity for political outfits to flex their muscles and resort to a show of pomp to impress a wavering rank and file.
  • Committees are also flexing their muscles in ways ministers are struggling to predict.

not move a muscle

Not move at all: the driver shouted in his ear, but he did not move a muscle
More example sentences
  • In any case, he didn't move a muscle - indeed, he appeared uncharacteristically calm - as I advanced slowly but steadily in his direction.
  • Her wild curls whip around her face, but she doesn't move a muscle.
  • I don't move a muscle, keeping my face completely unreadable.

Phrasal verbs


muscle in/into

informal Use one’s power or influence to interfere with or become involved in (another’s affairs): the banks' attempts to muscle in on the insurance business
More example sentences
  • Somehow this company muscling into our market was never going to take off.
  • A new budget hotel chain has muscled into the market there with a somewhat spurious name.
  • It has muscled into this market and has grown to a reasonable size.
interfere with, force one's way into, elbow one's way in on, butt in on, impose oneself on, encroach on
informal horn in on

muscle up

US informal Build up one’s muscles: to prepare for his role, he cut his hair, muscled up, and went to boot camp
More example sentences
  • But now the players are muscling up without bulking up.
  • Players may become bigger and stronger, and such muscling up certainly would help ‘a football linebacker or a professional wrestler or a saloon bouncer,’ he said.
  • Even easygainers often have trouble muscling up this area.



Example sentences
  • The boy was already sprawled inside, his pants twisted up, exposing skinny, muscleless calves.
  • The Captain put his long muscleless arm around me, and we sat together on the wall.
  • In addition, it was recognized that muscleless adult females had more eggs in their ovaries than muscled females.


Late Middle English: from French, from Latin musculus, diminutive of mus 'mouse' (some muscles being thought to be mouse-like in form).

  • The ancient Romans saw a resemblance between a flexing muscle in the upper arm and the movements of a mouse. Latin musculus, from mus ‘mouse’, meant ‘little mouse’ and also ‘muscle’. It entered English through French in the 14th century. The edible mollusc the mussel (Old English) is the same word, and the accepted spellings of both words remained variable into the 19th century.

Words that rhyme with muscle

bustle, mussel, Russell, rustle, tussle

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: muscle

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