At least half of the reason most of us work out is to look great—and there’s nothing wrong with that. People are always searching for “hacks” to live a better life, and looking good is a big one.

Being physically attractive positively impacts every aspect of your life: it boosts your confidence, makes you more likable, and causes people to treat you better.

How do you build a beautiful body, though?

The key to it all is the application of a mathematical relationship known as the Golden Ratio.

In this article, we’ll deep dive into this ancient formula, and you’ll learn how it dictates the proportions of the “ideal” male body, how to compare your body to these standards, how to eat and train to build the ideal male physique, and more.

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Human Body Measurements and the Golden Ratio

After spending most of his life designing siege engines, fortresses, and camps to support Julius Caesar’s campaigns across Europe, architect and engineer Marcus Vitruvius published De Architectura, one of the most important sources of modern knowledge on Roman building methods, planning, and design.

Vitruvius’s publication also included ideal human proportions, which he believed should inform the structure of sacred temples. He believed the human body reflected the hidden geometry of the universe, serving as a microcosmic representation of the physical world.

Over fifteen hundred years later, Leonardo da Vinci drew the human figure per Vitruvius’s observations and named it the Vitruvian Man.

The Vitruvian Man would become an exemplar of perfect male proportions, and researchers would later discover that its balance and beauty stemmed from its expression of a mathematical relationship known as the divine proportion or golden ratio.

First defined by Euclid in 300 BC, the golden ratio is simple: two quantities are in this ratio if the sum of the quantities divided by the larger quantity equals the larger quantity divided by the smaller one.

Visually, it looks like this:

Or, expressed numerically, it’s 1:1.618 (1 to 1.618). In the case of the above image, b is 1 unit long, and a is 1.618 units long.

The fascinating thing about the golden ratio is that it’s more than just a mathematical curiosity—it’s a fundamental principle found throughout nature.

Scientists have discovered it in everything from the arrangement of branches along the stems of plants and in the veins of leaves to animal skeletons, chemical compounds, and even at the subatomic level.

Nowhere is the golden ratio more evident than in the human body.

The face, for example, is filled with instances of this ratio: the head forms a golden rectangle with the eyes at its midpoint. The mouth and nose are positioned at golden distances between the eyes and the chin. Even the teeth and ears reveal the ratio.

We also find the golden ratio in the overall proportions of the human body, the different lengths of the finger bones, the makeup of the feet and toes, and even the structure of DNA.

Additionally, as da Vinci observed so long ago, the more the body embraces the golden ratio, the more beautiful we perceive it to be.

And so for centuries, artists used it to design more appealing figures, while more recently, plastic surgeons and cosmetic dentists have used it to create more attractive faces and mouths.

The golden ratio is useful for our purposes, too.

By adjusting the proportions of our bodies to align with this ratio, we can enhance our visual appeal. This concept isn’t new—Eugen Sandow, one of the pioneers of bodybuilding, used it to build one of the most admired physiques of his time:

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The Proportions of the Ideal Male Physique

Sandow was renowned for his resemblance to classical Greek and Roman sculptures, which were celebrated for their portrayal of the ideal male body—a small waist that expands upward into a broad, muscular chest and shoulders, balanced by powerful legs.

For instance, here’s Sandow doing his best impression of Glykon’s statue of Hercules, which depicted the apogee of physical perfection among the ancient Greeks:

To achieve this striking resemblance, Sandow measured the statues he aspired to look like and found they had certain proportions between body parts in common. From his observations, he developed a blueprint for the perfect physique called the “Grecian ideal.”

Although he didn’t know it, his system revolved around the golden ratio, and it later served as a model for future bodybuilders known for their proportions, like Steve Reeves, Serge Nubret, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Perhaps no one better exemplified this approach to bodybuilding better than Frank Zane, who had truly outstanding proportions and symmetry:

How can you achieve the ideal male physique reminiscent of a Greek sculpture?

It starts with establishing reference points—parts of the body that’ll determine how large other parts should be to create a pleasing whole.

Some of these points, such as the wrist and knee circumference, don’t change in size as you age or gain or lose body fat or muscle. Others, such as the waist, do.

For example, by measuring your wrist size, you can establish how large your upper arms should be, and from that measurement how big your calves should be. Your knee size determines how large your upper legs should be, and your waist size tells you how broad your chest and shoulders should be.

In other words, the formula for an ideal male physique is a set of straightforward relationships between body parts.

Therefore, the first step toward building the ideal male body is measuring the following:

1. Arm Circumference

Your flexed arms should be 150% larger than the circumference of your non-dominant wrist (wrist circumference x 2.5).

To measure your wrist, find the bony lump on the outside (the styloid process), open your hand, and wrap a tape measure around the space between that lump and your hand.

To measure your flexed arms, wrap the tape around the largest part of them (the peak of your biceps and middle of your triceps).

2. Calf Circumference

To measure your flexed calf, raise your heel, press your toes into the floor, and wrap a measuring tape around the largest part of the muscle.

3. Shoulder Circumference

Your shoulder circumference should measure 1.618 times larger than your waist (waist circumference x 1.618).

This produces the coveted V-taper that research has proven to be attractive to women.

4. Chest Circumference

Your chest circumference should be 550% larger than the circumference of your non-dominant wrist (wrist circumference x 6.5).

Then, take a regular breath (don’t overly expand or deflate your chest) and note the result.

5. Upper Leg Circumference

Your upper leg circumference should be 75% larger than your knee circumference (knee circumference x 1.75).

Measure your knee circumference by straightening your leg and wrapping a tape around the middle of your kneecap.

For upper leg circumference, flex your thigh and hamstring, and measure the widest part of your upper leg.

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Comparing Your Body to the Ideal Male Physique

By now, you’re probably eager to grab a tape measure and see how you stack up against the ideal male physique.

Before you do, there’s an important point to consider: if your body fat percentage is too high, your measurements will be skewed, and this will affect some areas of your body more than others.

To accurately assess which parts of your body need the most improvement, you should first focus on reducing your body fat percentage to around 10-to-12%, which is lean enough to showcase your physique without being impractical or unhealthy.

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Once you’re lean, taking your measurements is simple.

Measure the following areas first thing in the morning, before eating or working out, and record your numbers:

Non-dominant wrist circumference
Arm circumference (both arms)
Shoulder circumference
Chest circumference
Waist circumference
Upper leg circumference (both legs)
Non-dominant knee circumference
Calf circumference (both calves)

Then, compare your figures to the formulas given earlier and note your strengths and weaknesses.

For example, I have a . . .

7-inch non-dominant wrist
32-inch waist
14-inch non-dominant knee

. . . and here are my current measurements compared to my “ideal” numbers:

Based on the ideal measurements, I need to work on my shoulders, chest, upper legs, and calves—and I agree with most of that.

My shoulders could always use more size (as a natural lifter, there’s no such thing as shoulders that are “too big”).

I’m happy with my chest development, but I could go in for more lats (which would expand my chest measurement).

According to these standards and most other “bodybuilding measurements,” my upper legs are slightly behind, but I’m content with their size. In fact, I don’t want them any bigger—finding jeans that fit is already challenging!

And my calves need some size, but thanks to my genetics, that’s a tough row to hoe.

This brings me to another important point.

While the Grecian ideal offers useful benchmarks, don’t treat it as dogma. Sometimes, the targets can be unrealistic (I’ll never have 17-inch calves) or unnecessary (my chest already looks disproportionately big for my size, so adding more mass is pointless).

So, take your measurements, compare them to the model, assess where you agree, and adjust your training as needed.

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How to Build the Ideal Male Body

If you’ve been training for a year or more and the formulas above suggest you have lagging body parts, you may need to run a “specialization routine” to bring your trailing muscles up to snuff.

This means following a program that temporarily prioritizes specific muscle groups to accelerate their growth while maintaining the size and strength of your other muscles.

For help with how to do this, listen to my interview with Steve Hall.

If you’re new to training or have no glaring weaknesses and want to build proportional whole-body muscle, the process is simpler.

It mostly comes down to developing all your major muscle groups using exercises that allow you to lift heavy weights safely and progress regularly, and then eating to drive muscle growth.

Here’s everything you need to know:

Workout Routine

The following workout routine contains the best exercises for developing all your major muscle groups and the perfect amount of hard training to help you build muscle without wearing yourself to a frazzle.

If the 5-day workout program doesn’t fit your schedule, you can shorten it to a 4-day routine by skipping Day 5. And if you’d prefer to do a 3-day routine, skip Days 3 and 5.

Diet

To achieve the Grecian Ideal, your diet must fuel muscle growth.

Exactly how this looks depends on your previous strength training experience:

New weightlifters: When new to strength training, your body is hyper-responsive to its effects, allowing you to build muscle even when you’re in a calorie deficit. Thus, if you’re a beginner weightlifter looking to build the ideal male physique while losing fat, aim to eat 20-to-25% fewer calories than you burn every day. Or, if you’re already lean, aim to eat approximately the same number of calories as you burn daily.
Experienced weightlifters: After 12 months or more of consistent training, you must eat more calories than you burn to build muscle effectively. Aim for 110% of your total daily energy expenditure to maximize muscle growth while minimizing fat gain.

In both scenarios, you also need to eat the right amount of protein, carbs, and fat. Here are some good guidelines:

Eat 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day.
Get 20-to-30% of daily calories from fat.
Get the remainder of your daily calories from carbs.
How Close Can You Get to the Ideal Male Body?

Comparing the human body’s measurements to the golden ratio provides clear, objective standards to aim for, but your genetics will play a significant role in determining how close you can get to those ideals.

While it’s impossible to predict exactly how large each muscle group can grow, there are formulas that offer reasonable estimates.

Dr. Casey Butt’s work, for example, allows you to use your height, body fat percentage, and wrist and ankle measurements to estimate how big you’ll be able to grow your chest, biceps, forearms, neck, thighs, and calves.