β€œNo man has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.” – Socrates

You could lie all you want but you workout because you want to look great. Period. If looking good wasn’t a side-effect of exercise and healthy diet, a much smaller magnitude of the modern population would be obsessed today with “staying fit”.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing and it isn’t about being vain. Physical attractiveness is correlated with higher confidence. It has in fact been proven by research that physically attractive people are liked more by others and are treated better. This may seem unfair but it is hard-wired into us by nature and we are all subject to this bias.

Although most of us didn’t win the genetic jackpot like Hrithik Roshan or Henry Cavill, it is very much within our reach to build a body that maximises our attractiveness.

The word aesthetic is derived from the Greek word aisthetikos, meaning “aesthetic, sensitive, sentient”, pertaining to sense perception, which in turn was derived from aisthanomai, meaning “I perceive, feel, sense”.

Merriam Webster defines aesthetics as a pleasing appearance or effect.

Thus aesthetics by its very definition is related primarily to the sensation of sight. All of us enjoy beautiful things. We praise beautiful architecture, get lost in scenic landscapes and enjoy art that touches our soul.

The greeks considered the body as a work of art and this is evident in their portrayal of the male human form.

The Doryphoros of Polykleitos
The Doryphoros of Polykleitos
The Farnese Hercules
David by Michelangelo
David by Michelangelo

The word bodybuilding today often carries a negative connotation and evokes imagery of anabolic muscle-laden extraterrestrial beasts but this wasn’t always the case with the sport.

Bodybuilding as an art evolved to emulate ancient notions of physique and aesthetics. Before the advent of “medical technology” (read: steroids) into the sport of bodybuilding, bodybuilders sought to sculpt their bodies like those of ancient gods and warriors reminiscent of greek statues.

Eugen Sandow
Eugen Sandow – The Father of Bodybuilding in late 1800s
George Hackenschmidt
George Hackenschmidt – Inventor of the Barbell Bench Press

While they may look puny when compared to the mass monsters that compete on the professional stage today, but majority would agree that these physiques are much more appealing to the eyes. They are also within the reach of us mere mortals.

These men sculpted their bodies using tools that are available to any average modern day man today. Even though genetic hurdles won’t let you and me turn into carbon copies of Sandow, we can come very close to achieving such level of aesthetics.

Such notions of male beauty are not limited to the sport of bodybuilding alone. Even in pop culture, the male ideal that is considered attractive by both men and women embodies similar levels of overall muscle development, proportions and symmetry.

Here are some examples.

Brad Pitt in Fight Club
Brad Pitt in Fight Club
Henry Cavill training during Man of Steel

The science behind what makes a body look good

So what is it that makes these bodies actually look good? Is there an objective measure of what is aesthetic?

It is pretty simple actually.

It all boils down to just one number: 1.618. This is the Golden Ratio.

Marcus Vitruvius, the Roman architect in his book De Architectura talked of ideal human proportions, which he believed should inform the structure of sacred temples. 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.

Vitruvias’ observations were exemplified in the form of a visual representation by Leonardo da Vinci who too was fascinated by the human form. This drawing was called the Vitruvian Man.

Vitruvian Man
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 they termed as the Golden Ratio.

Golden Ratio
Visual Representation of the Golden Ratio

The interesting thing about the golden ratio is that it seems to be embedded in everything that is around us. It has been found in the skeletons of animals, the veins of leaves and in the geometry of crystals.

The presence of the golden ratio is highly prominent in the human body. And according to Da Vinci, the more one’s features adhere to this golden ratio, the more beautiful the body appears to others. This principle is applied by many plastic surgeons today whose day job is to carve (literally) people’s bodies towards an ideal.

How is the golden ratio relevant to bodybuilding

Eugen Sandow was known to take measurements of greek statues in order to understand the proportions he needed to build for his own body. Hence it is no coincidence that he ended up looking like one.

It appears that our body is made up of multiple reference points that determine the ideal size of various body parts. For example, your flexed arms should be 150% larger than the circumference of your non-dominant wrist (wrist circumference x 2.5).

I have really puny 6 inch wrists 😭, so my ideal arm size would be (6 x 2.5) = 15 inches. But if you were genetically gifted with larger bones and had a 7 inch wrist circumference, your ideal would be (7 x 2.5) = 17.5 inches.

So, you can see that not everyone would look good with massive 17 inch arms. It all depends on how your biceps line up with your wrist size. Otherwise just by looking at you, people would subconsciously sense that something was off about your appearance.

What about other body parts? Well, there are a bunch of other formulae to calculate your ideal proportions according to your individual physical build. And thankfully, we have the work of Dr. Casey Butt on the Grecian ideal to help us in this regard.

Quantifying the Grecian Ideal

To use Dr. Butt’s research, you would first have to calculate your ideal waist size at a lean bodyfat of under 15%. Here is a chart so you can estimate how lean you are currently.

Male bodyfat percentage chart
Male bodyfat percentage chart

If you are not under 15% bodyfat yet, fret not. You must first focus on losing some fat before you can find out your ideal proportions. But read on because this information would still be helpful when you finally get there.

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Once you have your waist size at a lean bodyfat of under 15%, what next?

Here are the numbers according to Dr. Casey Butt’s research:

  • Ideal male waist size: you at under 15% body fat
  • Ideal male chest size: waist circumference + 12 inches
  • Ideal male hip size: waist circumference Γ— 1.25
  • Ideal male thigh size: waist circumference Γ— 0.75
  • Ideal male shoulder size: waist circumference Γ— 1.618
  • Ideal male bicep size: waist circumference Γ— 0.5
  • Ideal male forearm size: biceps circumference Γ— 0.8

As someone, with a waist size of 29.5 inches at 11-12% bodyfat, for me my ideal measurements would be:

  • Ideal male chest size: waist circumference + 12 inches = 41.5 inches
  • Ideal hip size: waist circumference Γ— 1.25 = 36.8 inches
  • Ideal thigh size: waist circumference Γ— 0.75 = 22.2 inches
  • Ideal shoulder size: waist circumference Γ— 1.618 = 47.7 inches
  • Ideal bicep size: waist circumference Γ— 0.5 = 14.75 inches
  • Ideal forearm size: biceps circumference Γ— 0.8 = 11.8 inches

Among all of these measurements, the one with the greatest importance is your shoulder to waist ratio which is exactly equivalent to the golden ratio of 1.618. According to research, this ratio is a very strong indicator of attractiveness.

No wonder broad shoulders are considered a desired physical trait in men. This is why you find suits that have padded shoulders. And that is another reason why men look so good in suits. It is because of the emphasis of the attire on looking broad and powerful.

However, there can be too much of a good thing. Extra-wide shoulders coupled with a very tiny waist will throw your ratio off balance and you will end up looking really freaky.

Freaky Physique
Great on the stage; freaky in real life πŸ˜–

However, here is what optimal shoulder-to-waist ratios would look like.

Shoulder-to-waist Ratio
Optimal Shoulder-to-waist Ratios

Now that you have the numbers, what do you do with them?

Building an attractive physique involves more than performing mindless workouts hour after hour at the gym and guzzling down protein shakes. This might work if you were born with stellar genetics that just let you build muscle in all the right places in just the right amounts. But for the rest of us, we need a plan of action.

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We all love to train the body parts that we can grow easily or perform exercises that we find are fun. Maybe you enjoy training chest because you love the bench press; or you train arms every session because of the amazing pump you get.

However if your goal is to build a physique that creates a powerful impression on others, is aesthetically pleasing and makes you fit into all your clothes better, you have to work otherwise.

You have to be willing to put in extra work on body parts that lag behind and slow down on ones that grow really easily. While your friends may laugh at you for not doing 20 sets of squats on Leg Day and call you a wuss, if you already have monster 25 inch quads from just sitting, maybe you don’t need all those squats.

We all have our strengths and weaknesses. It is hence important to customise our training to suit our individual requirements instead of blindly copying what another might be doing.

Although you and me may lack the genetics to achieve the perfect Grecian ideal, a well crafted training program and a solid nutrition plan followed consistently over many years will get us very close to the goal.

Final words

While the Grecian Ideal gives us a goal to strive towards, it isn’t something set in stone. As in my case, I haven’t been able to grow my forearms beyond the 11 inch mark no matter what I do. Also, I have a really weak chest which doesn’t seem to grow beyond the 39 inch mark.

Hence, take the numbers with a grain of salt and design your training program around your individual genetic strengths and weaknesses. This is only a tool to guide you in the right direction while building your ideal physique.

However if you don’t want to put in the effort to build a great looking body, here is also a simple trick to increase your attractiveness 2x instantaneously (however only in your own eyes πŸ˜”). Just grab a drink. This is actually based on research which concluded that β€˜Beauty is in the eye of the beer holder’: People who think they are drunk also think they are attractive. 🍻

What are you doing right now to build your ideal physique?

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