- You can make your physique more attractive by improving your muscle proportions according to a formula known as the Grecian Ideal.
- This Grecian Ideal states that your flexed arms and calves should be 2.5 times larger than your non-dominant wrist, your shoulders should be 1.618 times larger than your waist, your chest should be 6.5 times larger than your wrist, and your upper leg should be 1.75 times larger than your knee.
- Most people don’t have the genetics to reach these targets perfectly, but everyone can get close enough to have an outstanding physique.
Let’s face it: a big reason most of us guys work out is to look great.
You know, muscular, lean, proportional . . . “aesthetic” as the narcissists like to say.
To be specific:
- Broad shoulders with bulging biceps and triceps
- A big, flat chest on top of a V-tapered torso
- A narrow waist and defined core
- Developed and defined legs that end in sculpted calves
- With a low level of body fat, giving everything a tight, hard look
And there’s nothing wrong with that.
People are always looking for “hacks” and shortcuts to live a better life and looking good is a big one.
When you look good, people instinctively like you more and treat you better, and this more or less always pays dividends no matter what you’re trying to do.
How exactly do you build that type of physique, though?
“Bodybuilding,” of course, but these days, that’s a loaded term because contemporary bodybuilders are all about packing on freakish amounts of mass in a quest to look like a hybrid between a human and Belgian Blue cow.
That wasn’t always the case though.
Once upon a time, before the advent of steroids, bodybuilders wanted to look like athletes in their prime or ancient warriors, not hulking mountains of anabolic-infused muscle.
For example, check out “the father of bodybuilding,” Eugen Sandow from the late 1800s, before steroids:
He’d be considered small and fat by today’s bodybuilding standards, but his physique is also more or less the best you can hope for as a natural weightlifter in terms of overall muscularity, proportions, and body fat levels.
And that’s perfectly okay with most guys, who would pike a pod of baby seals to look like Eugen.
Another good example is the bodybuilding pioneer Otto Arco, who achieved this look in the early 1900s:
And finally, here’s George Hackenschmidt, a contemporary of Sandow and Arco (and the inventor of the barbell bench press):
These men couldn’t dial up their doses of #dedication to gain endless muscle, so instead, they pursued the ideal relationship between size and symmetry and became literal embodiments of the essence of male beauty—just the right balance of overall muscular development, proportion, and definition.
What’s more, nothing they did is entirely out of reach for the average guy.
While you or I can’t forge our bodies into carbon copies of Eugen’s, Otto’s, or George’s, we can almost certainly reach their level through enough hard work and patience.
And that’s what this article is going to be all about—a deep dive into exactly what creates that look and how to create a plan that’ll actually get you there.
Yes, building an “aesthetic” physique is formulaic, and anyone can do it, including you.
In this article, you’re going to learn . . .
- The ancient formula that dictates the proportions of the “ideal” male body
- How to compare your body to these standards to see what parts need the most work
- How close you can expect to get to these numbers based on your genetics
- And finally, how to eat and train to build the ideal male body.
Let’s get started.
Table of Contents
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After spending most of his life building siege weapons, fortresses, and camps in support of Julius Caesar’s campaigns across Europe, the architect, author, and engineer Marcus Vitruvius published the book De Architectura.
It has become one of the most important sources of modern knowledge of Roman building methods, planning, and design, including plans and materials for towns, temples, civil and domestic buildings, pavements, aqueducts, and more.
Vitruvius’ publication also includes ideal human proportions, which he believed should inform the structure of sacred temples. In fact, he claimed that the human body corresponded to the hidden geometry of the universe itself and thus was a microcosmic representation of the physical realm.
Over fifteen hundred years later, sometime around 1487, Leonardo da Vinci drew the human figure in accordance with Vitruvis’ observations and named it the Vitruvian Man. Like Vitrivius, da Vinci was fascinated with human anatomy and believed that “man is a model of the world.”
The Vitruvian Man would quickly 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 Divine Proportion or Golden Ratio.
Euclid first defined the Golden Ratio in his tour de force Elements, published in 300 BC. The concept is simple: two quantities are in the Golden Ratio if the ratio of the sum of the quantities to the larger quantity is equal to the ratio of the larger quantity to the smaller one.
Visually, it looks like this:
And numerically, it’s expressed like this: 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 it isn’t an abstract thought experiment—it appears to be a natural law.
Scientists have found its expression everywhere in nature, including the arrangement of branches along the stems of plants and in the veins of leaves, the skeletons of animals and the disposition of their veins and nerves, the composition of chemical compounds and the geometry of crystals.
Researchers have recently reported the ratio present even at the subatomic level.
Nowhere is the Golden Ratio more exemplified than in the human body, however.
The human face, for instance, abounds with examples of the Golden Ratio. The head forms a golden rectangle with the eyes at its midpoint. The mouth and nose are each placed at golden distances between the eyes and the bottom of the chin. The spatial relationship of the teeth and the construction of the ear each reveal the ratio, too.
The Golden Ratio is also found 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.
What’s more, as da Vinci observed so long ago, the more the body embraces the Golden Ratio, the more beautiful it’s perceived to be, which is why it has been used by artists for centuries now to create more beautiful figures, and more recently, by modern plastic surgeons and cosmetic dentists to create more attractive faces and mouths.
Some scientists have pointed out that you can find all kinds of various equations in nature if you look for them hard enough, but the Golden Ratio is so pervasive it’s impossible to dismiss it as coincidence.
The Golden Ratio has usefulness for our purposes here, too.
By adjusting the size of various body parts in relation to others to align with this ratio, we can improve our visual attractiveness.
This isn’t a new concept, either.
Eugen Sandow was the first person to popularize this approach to bodybuilding, and he used it to build one of the most impressive physiques of his time.
Summary: The Golden Ratio is a special geometric relationship found in nature and used by artists, architects, and plastic surgeons to create a beautiful sense of symmetry and proportion. By applying this ratio to your muscles, you can make your body more attractive.
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Eugen Sandow was renowned for his resemblance to classical Greek and Roman sculptures, which were known for their portrayal of the ideal male physique—a small waist that expands upward into a broad, muscular chest and shoulders, which is then balanced by developed, defined legs.
For instance, here’s Sandow doing his best impression of Glykon’s statue of Hercules, which represented the apogee of physical perfection among the ancient Greeks:
This striking resemblance was no accident.
Sandow measured the statues in museums that he aspired to look like and found that they had certain proportions between body parts in common. From this observation, Sandow developed a blueprint for the perfect physique, which he called the “Grecian Ideal.”
Although he didn’t know it at the time, Sandow’s system for building a beautiful body revolves around the Golden Ratio, and it later served as a model for future bodybuilders who became known for their gracefully powerful physiques, like Steve Reeves, Danny Padilla, Serge Nubret, Bob Paris, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Perhaps no one better exemplified this approach to bodybuilding better than Frank Zane, who had truly outstanding proportions and symmetry:
So, then what are these proportions? And how can we use them to look like a Greek sculpture too?
It starts with establishing reference points—parts of the body that will determine how large other parts should be to achieve a maximally pleasing whole. Some of these reference points, such as the wrist and knee, 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 determine how large your upper arms should be, and from that measurement how large your calves should be. Your knee size determines how large your upper leg should be, and your waist size tells you how broad your chest and shoulders should be.
In other words, the ideal male physique can be reduced to simple, formulaic relationships between body part measurements.
And here they are.
1. Your flexed arms should be 150% larger than the circumference of your non-dominant wrist (wrist circumference x 2.5).
To measure the smallest part of your wrist, find the bony lump on the outside of it (the styloid process), open your hand, and wrap a tape measure around the space between that lump and your hand.
And to measure your arms, measure the largest part of your flexed arms (the peak of your biceps and middle of your triceps).
Some people say you should only measure your non-dominant arm, but I like to measure both and average the sum for a more accurate number. This also helps you identify any muscle imbalances between your right and left arms.
I recommend you take these measurements under normal conditions, too (without a pump or carb loading to increase your muscle size). Otherwise, your measurements won’t reflect your everyday level of muscularity, which is what matters the most, not how you look for the thirty minutes following a workout.
Some people say this rule of thumb applies to an unflexed arm, not flexed, but I disagree. My wrist circumference is 7 inches and arms are 17 inches flexed and 14.5 inches unflexed, and they look nicely balanced in comparison to my chest and shoulders.
If I were to assume this ratio applies to an unflexed arm, however, my arms would have to swell to about 17 inches unflexed and 20+ inches flexed, which would look absolutely ridiculous and require copious steroid use.
So, even if you lack a prominent biceps peak, stick with flexed measurements.
2. Your flexed calves should match your flexed arms.
The general rule is your calves should match your arms, and if we’re measuring flexed arms, we should also measure flexed calves.
To do this, raise your heel, press your toes into the ground, and wrap a measuring tape around the largest part of your calf.
3. Your shoulder circumference should measure 1.618 times larger than your waist (waist circumference x 1.618).
This is what produces the coveted V-taper that scientific research has proven to be attractive to women.
To measure your waist circumference, circle your waist with a measuring tape at your natural waistline, which is located above your belly button and below your rib cage. Don’t suck in your stomach.
And to measure your shoulder circumference, stand upright with your arms comfortably at your sides (no flaring your elbows or spreading your lats), and have a friend wrap a measuring tape around your shoulders and chest at its widest point. This is usually right around the top of your armpits.
4. Your chest circumference should be 550% larger than the circumference of your non-dominant wrist (wrist circumference x 6.5).
There are other ways to reach the ideal chest measurement, but this is the easiest and most reliable one.
To measure your chest circumference, stand upright with your arms comfortably at your sides (again, no flaring your elbows or spreading your lats), and have a friend place a measuring tape at the fullest part of one of your pecs and wrap it around the other, under your armpit, across your shoulder blades, under your other armpit, and back to the starting point.
Then, take in a normal breath (not overly expanding or deflating your chest) and note the result.
5. Your upper leg circumference should be 75% larger than your knee circumference (knee circumference x 1.75).
To qualify as a certified ubermensch, you need an impressive set of wheels.
To measure your knee circumference, extend your leg and wrap a measuring tape around the middle of your kneecap.
To measure your upper leg circumference, flex your upper leg and wrap a measuring tape around the widest part of your thigh and hamstring.
Alright then. Are you ready to see how you measure up?
Before you break out the tape measure, an important caveat:
If your body fat percentage is too high, your measurements will be skewed because some areas of your body will be affected more than others.
Thus, if you want to use everything you’ve just learned to see which parts of your body need improvement the most, you need to get lean first.
Specifically, I recommend you get down to somewhere around 10 to 12% body fat, which is lean enough to showcase your physique but not so lean as to be impractical or even unhealthy.
As for taking your measurements, it’s pretty straightforward—simply take the following measurements first thing in the morning, before eating or working out, and note down your numbers:
- Your non-dominant wrist circumference
- Your arm circumference (both arms)
- Your shoulder circumference
- Your chest circumference
- Your waist circumference
- Your upper leg circumference (both legs)
- Your knee circumference
- Your calf circumference (both calves)
Then, compare your numbers against the formulas given earlier and note your strengths and weaknesses.
For example, here are my current measurements:
- 7-inch non-dominant wrist
- 17-inch arms
- 51-inch shoulder circumference
- 43-inch chest circumference
- 32-inch waist
- 24-inch upper legs
- 14-inch knee
- 15-inch calves
And here are my “ideal” numbers:
- 17.5-inch arms
- 52-inch shoulder circumference
- 45.5-inch chest circumference
- 25-inch upper legs
- 17.5-inch calves
My shoulders can always use a bit more goosing (you really can’t have shoulders that are “too big” as a natural weightlifter).
I’m happy with my chest development, but I could use a tad more lats (which would expand my chest measurement).
Per bodybuilding standards, my upper legs are a little behind, but I’m happy with where they’re at and, frankly, don’t want bigger upper legs (it’s already hard enough to find jeans that fit!).
Finally, my calves definitely need some size, but thanks mostly to my genetics, that’s a lost cause.
This brings me to another important point.
While the Grecian Ideal is a helpful reference point, don’t treat it like dogma. Sometimes, as in my case, the targets can be unrealistic (I’ll never have 17-inch calves) or excessive (my chest already looks strangely big for my size, so there’s no sense in trying to add another couple inches).
So, take your measurements, compare them against the model, see where you agree, and program your training accordingly.
Summary: To achieve the ideal male body, you want your flexed arms and calves to be 2.5 times larger than your non-dominant wrist, your shoulders to be 1.618 times larger than your waist, your chest to be 6.5 times larger than your wrist, and your upper leg to be 1.75 times larger than your knee.
Applying the Golden Ratio to our body’s proportions gives us objective standards to strive for, but your genetics will largely determine how close you can get to achieving these goals.
And while there’s no way to calculate how big each of your major muscles can grow with absolute certainty, there are formulas that can give you reasonable estimates.
For instance, thanks to the work of Dr. Casey Butt, you can use your height, body fat percentage, and wrist and ankle measurements to gain insight into how big you’ll be able to grow your chest, biceps, forearms, neck, thighs, and calves.
(Check out this article to learn more about how this works.)
Here’s a calculator based on Dr. Butt’s insights:
Now, it’s worth mentioning that the data used to create this formula almost certainly included some steroid users, so it may be wise to reduce your targets by 5% or so.
You also should keep in mind that the results from this calculator represent the best possible outcome if you have good genetics and do everything right with your diet and training.
That said, it’s a useful tool for estimating how close each of your muscles can get to achieving the proportions of Sandow’s Grecian ideal.
For example, I’m 6’2, about 10% body fat, and my wrist is 7 inches and my ankle is 8 inches.
According to Dr. Butt’s calculator, here are the maximum measurements I could hope to achieve under ideal circumstances:
- Chest: 47.3 inches
- Biceps: 17.6 inches
- Forearms: 14.1 inches
- Neck: 17.1 inches
- Thighs: 24.5 inches
- Calves: 16.4 inches
As I said a moment ago, it’s probably best to scale these numbers down by about 5%, which gives the following:
- Chest: 44.9 inches
- Biceps: 16.7 inches
- Forearms: 13.5 inches
- Neck: 16.2 inches
- Thighs: 23.3 inches
- Calves: 15.6 inches
And for what it’s worth, these numbers are absolutely spot-on in my case and represent more or less exactly what I’ve been able to achieve in about a decade of proper diet and training.
Accordingly, it’s fair for me to assume that most of my body parts are about as big as they’re ever going to get, which also lines up with similar calculations of my genetic potential for whole-body muscle gain that say there’s little if any muscle left for me to gain no matter what I do in the gym.
And I’m okay with that. I like the way my body looks (thanks in part to the fact that I’ve gotten very close to the Grecian Ideal ratios) and enjoy my diet and training.
It also goes without saying that very few people are going to be able to achieve “perfect” ratios, and this is nothing to fret about.
With the right plan and enough hard work, just about everyone can get a few key muscle groups like the chest, shoulders, and arms up to snuff, and this alone is enough to build a physique that’s head and shoulders above the average weightlifter’s.
If you can do that (and you almost certainly can), plus train your legs enough so they aren’t a glaring weakness and then maintain a relatively low body fat percentage, you’re going to look fantastic.
Summary: Depending on your genetics, you may never be able to fully embody the Grecian Ideal, and that’s okay. Achieve what you can and chances are you’ll wind up with an impressive physique.
If you want to build a fantastic physique, you need to do more than haphazardly lift weights, eat food, and take supplements.
That’ll get you size but not necessarily “aesthetics.”
That’s why you need to pay special attention to how you develop your muscles and strive for proper proportion and symmetry.
You can use a collection of simple standards known as the Grecian Ideal to help with this.
This Grecian Ideal states that your flexed arms and calves should be 2.5 times larger than your non-dominant wrist, your shoulders should be 1.618 times larger than your waist, your chest should be 6.5 times larger than your wrist, and your upper leg should be 1.75 times larger than your knee.
Most people don’t have the genetics to reach these targets perfectly, but everyone can get close enough to have an outstanding physique.
What do you think of the formula for the ideal male body? Have anything else to add? Lemme know in the comments below!
+ Scientific References
- Horvath T. Physical attractiveness: The influence of selected torso parameters. Arch Sex Behav. 1981;10(1):21-24. doi:10.1007/BF01542671
- Liu Y, Sumpter DJT. Is the golden ratio a universal constant for self-replication? PLoS One. 2018;13(7). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0200601
- Coldea R, Tennant DA, Wheeler EM, et al. Quantum criticality in an ising chain: Experimental evidence for emergent e8 symmetry. Science (80- ). 2010;327(5962):177-180. doi:10.1126/science.1180085
- Lucker GW, Beane WE, Helmreich RL. The strength of the halo effect in physical attractiveness research. J Psychol Interdiscip Appl. 1981;107(1):69-75. doi:10.1080/00223980.1981.9915206