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What Are The Ideal Body Measurements?

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Find out what the ideal measurements are for a natural bodybuilder or a classical muscular male physique.

Ideal measurementsI’m often asked what my body measurements are and/or what are the ideal measurements for a bodybuilder or a classical muscular male physique. Believe it or not, there are actually many formulas for determining the “ideal body proportions.” On the other hand, you might want to take them with a grain of salt…

QUESTION: Tom, there is one thing that I really would like to know – your measurements. You have a physique that (in my opinion) is ideal and your photos are a real inspiration to me. I am able to move up in weight gradually with my workouts, so I know I am building muscle, but I never have a measurement to shoot for – e.g. biceps, chest, waist, hips, etc. Also, it seems like certain ratios (for example, chest to waist ratio, and maybe there are others?), would be helpful also. My thinking is that if my waist and hips are “growing” faster than my chest, then that might be an indicator that I am gaining fat where it likes to show up first (hips and waist). The measurements I have of myself are: chest, waist, hips, biceps, forearms, thighs, calves. Thank you.

ANSWER: Personally, I no longer take my measurements, although I did regularly when I was a teenager. I do, however think it’s a great way to chart progress. Circumference measurements give you feedback about how well your training (and nutrition) regimen are working and let’s you catch yourself if certain body parts are lagging behind others, or in the case of waist and hips, if you’re gaining body fat.

The waist measurement is an important one, because when your waist circumference is going down, you know your overall body fat is going down. Also, when your waist shrinks even a little bit, it tends to completely change the way you look – even if you don’t gain any muscle, a narrow waist (also see ab exercises) creates an illusion of broader shoulders (also see shoulder exercises). Abdominal fat and a large waist measurement is also a health risk.

There have been all kinds of different formulas proposed over the years for the “ideal proportions”, but I never aimed for a certain measurement myself. Bodybuilding is a very visual sport. The judges don’t come up on stage and measure your arms in a bodybuilding contest – you are judged on appearance.

I’ve always gone after a certain “look” as opposed to a certain measurement. I cut out photos of bodybuilders whose physiques I admire and want to emulate and rather than having a measurement in mind, I always have a picture of my ideal in mind.

On top of a solid base of muscle size, I simply work towards symmetry, so all muscles are developed equally, with no single muscle groups that are out of proportion compared to others - for example, a huge chest and rib cage with small arms looks silly - huge arms and small legs looks un-symmetrical as well.

I’m not all that hung up on weighing a certain amount either, although I do weigh myself regularly. The main reason I monitor my weight closely is because in the off season, I’m always interested in gaining more lean body mass and prior to competition I have to make a weight class (middleweight has a 176 1/4 lbs cutoff. )

I’m 5’ 8” tall and I weigh 174-176 for competitions. That is very much a “false” weight, however, because I easily lose 6-10 pounds of water weight in the three days before a contest. By the Monday after a Saturday contest, my weight is usually back up to 180-184 or so. Off season, I weigh about 195-200 lbs. My off season body fat is usually around 9-10% and before contests it’s around 4%.

Years ago I do remember measuring my arms and they were 17 1/2” cold and 18” pumped. That was a long time ago. I would imagine they’re bit larger now, but who knows. My waist is 31-32” most of the year, even smaller before contests (last notch on the lifting belt!)

These are somewhat typical off season / pre contest height, weight and body fat measurements for a natural bodybuilder. In the professional and open federations (not drug tested), those weights and measurements might be considered “small.” However, a 17-18 inch arm on a lean and proportionate body can look very impressive.

Steve Reeves for example, was known as one of the most symmetrical and aesthetically pleasing bodybuilders of all time, even though he was not “huge” by today’s standards.

Reeves wrote about ideal measurements frequently and was always striving for his idea of perfection in this regard (and came close to achieving his own personal ideal). One of his criteria for ideal proportions included having his arms, calves and neck measure the same.

Steve Reeves Measurements:

  • Arms: 18.5 inches
  • Calves: 18.5 inches
  • Neck: 18.5 inches
  • Thighs: 27 inches
  • Chest: 54 inches
  • Waist: 30 inches

In his “classic physique” book, Reeves said his formula for “ideal proportions” was as follows:

Muscle to bone ratios:

  • Arm size = 252% of wrist size
  • Calf size = 192% of ankle size
  • Neck Size = 79% of head size
  • Chest Size = 148% of pelvis size
  • Waist size = 86% of pelvis size
  • Thigh size = 175% of knee size

Steve Reeves’ height and weight chart for a bodybuilder (natural)

Height Ideal Weight Height Ideal Weight
5’5” 160lbs 6’0” 200lbs
5’6” 165lbs 6’1” 210lbs
5’7” 170lbs 6’2” 220lbs
5’8” 175lbs 6’3” 230lbs
5’9” 180lbs 6’4” 240lbs
5’10” 185lbs 6’5” 250lbs
5’11” 190lbs    

NB: Calculate your own ideal proportions using our Ideal Measurements Calculator.

In the book Brawn, Stuart McRobert published the old “John McCallum formula for “challenging yet realistic” measurements for “hard gainers". His formula is based on wrist measurement and was also published in the book Super Squats:

John McCallum’s realistic measurement ideals for hard gainers

  1. 6.5 times your wrist gives chest girth
  2. 85% of the chest girth produces the hips
  3. Take 70% of the chest girth for the waist
  4. 53% of the chest gives the thigh girth
  5. The neck size is 37% of the chest
  6. 36% of the chest produces the upper arm girth
  7. The calves come out a little less at 34%
  8. The forearms get 29% of the chest measurement

Incidentally, McRobert’s book Brawn has an entire chapter called “expectations” which discusses the truth about measurement claims.

I find all these measurement ideals very interesting, but personally I take them with a grain of salt.

Be careful with some of the formulas for “ideal measurements”, because if they were based on steroid using and or pro bodybuilders, you may get discouraged by trying to pursue an impossible goal for a natural bodybuilder or the measurements of someone with a totally different bone structure than you have.

Measurements - especially arm measurements - are also frequently exaggerated. Twenty inch arms, for example, are rare and when you actually see them in person, you realize just how massive they really are. But somehow beginners and natural athletes get the idea in their head that bodybuilding success means 250 pounds and a 20 inch arm.

The truth is, a 17 to 18 inch arm on a ripped 175-180 pound physique with excellent balance, symmetry and proportion can look much larger than it really is – it’s an optical illusion of sorts.

Some of these guidelines for “ideal proportions” are the “Grecian” or “classical” ideals while others are ideals for bodybuilders. In either case, keep in mind they are subjective – they’re just someone else’s opinion of what is an ideal measurement. The only opinion that matters in the end is your own.

Train hard and expect success,

Tom Venuto
NSCA-CPT, CSCS
Lifetime Natural Bodybuilder

Calculate your proportions: Ideal Body Measurements Calculator

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    Tom has been involved with fitness since 1989. His book "Burn the fat, feed the muscle" and articles have been featured in many large online sites.
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Comments (15)

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onwugbolu meshack
Posted Fri, 07/16/2010 - 22:21

pls my names are onwugbolu meshack, and i am carrying out research on distribution of height, waist, wrist and neck for my project, i need you guys to help with more material on that as you do so, God will bless aboundantly, if available pls do send it to my email box, my address is onwugbolumeshack@yahoo.com thanks.

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andrew
Posted Thu, 03/24/2011 - 15:21

hi. my name is andrew and i struggle with a little bit of stomach fat. i have a bad addiction to red bulls. im tryin to quit but its hard. i was wonder if u knew if i can still drink one or two and still be able too loose weight and build muscle?

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Gianni
Posted Sat, 05/05/2012 - 22:08

Dude, its pure sugar. Sugar = bad carbs. Bad carbs = fat. You can gain muscle depending on what you're eating and how you're working out in the gym, but as far as fat goes, good luck if you're going to keep drinking Red Bulls. In short, cut your addiction and choose something healthier as a substitute for sugar, like fruit. Or if it's the caffine you're addicted to, drink coffee.

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Frank Martino
Posted Tue, 02/12/2013 - 22:09

It's call will power...and if you have will power to train, suplement and eat well.....you should have enough of it to get off the Red Bull****..... and remember if you see the Buddha on the road .....kill him..

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Rene Mardis
Posted Fri, 01/10/2014 - 17:44

why don't you try it and see for yourself

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Dustin
Posted Fri, 01/10/2014 - 20:18

Look into sugar free. Still bad for you body, but not your waist.

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Rob Michaelson
Posted Sat, 06/25/2011 - 20:52

Good post about ideal measurements. I do have to say that I feel the Steve Reeves chest measurement is off. I have seen many other places where it was listed at 52", and many more that listed it at 50 inches. I really think he had a 50" chest, which is great and would match the rest of his measurements better. I always thought Bob Paris had some of the best symmetry and proportion around, but I could never find his measurements listed anywhere. He had a lot of the Reeves lines though, something we're not seeing much of today.

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Tadgh
Posted Sat, 03/31/2012 - 11:37

Is the upper arm measurement meant to be taken with the bicep flexed or relaxed? It makes a big difference.

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Steve's picture
Steve
Posted Sat, 03/31/2012 - 16:14

Flexed.

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Dick Bastyr
Posted Mon, 08/05/2013 - 21:29

I am 67 years old. Do fitness and strength training twice a week for 1 hour each time. Have done this for little over 2 years. 5 foot 11 inches tall. My calves are 15-5/8 inch. Good BMI. Are they average-good-or better?
Upper body strength very good.

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Brad Baylis
Posted Sat, 08/24/2013 - 09:44

At 60,and never having been a body builder,I'm five-nine,205-210 lb.(this morning,Aug.24,2013,I was
almost exactly 210),have a 48'' Chest Normal,50" Chest Expanded,411/4" Waist,181/2/183/4" Biceps,an 18" Neck,eight-inch Wrist.I'll measure my calves,hips and ankles later this weekend,but please assess my present physique,give me a reasonable weight for my height,age and build,and
advise me about an exercise and diet routine which can aid my becoming more buff.

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ganesh
Posted Thu, 12/19/2013 - 22:28

Hi guys
I am 5' 9inch tall and weight 69kgs and waist size 31inch male

please tell me my ideal size

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Nat
Posted Tue, 07/15/2014 - 05:58

In order for this to make any sense, the measurments need to be described as a girth (side to side measurement) or a circumference. A waist girth of 30 inches is pretty big (and possibly dangerous for heart disease), whereas a cirumference of 30 inches is slim.

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really nat?
Posted Tue, 10/28/2014 - 12:06

Actually Nat, girth and circumference have the same meaning. I'm sure it was just a slight over sight on your part. Now Width means a measurement from side to side. Maybe that's the one syllable word you were looking for?

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ashok
Posted Sun, 11/30/2014 - 00:56

dear all,

my height is 5"6 and weight 74 and what should be the best biceps and chest size?

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