November 09, 2020 10 min read
Written by Vitruvius in the 1st century BC, “De architectura” is our largest source of knowledge when it comes to Roman planning and design; everything from harbors to measuring devices. But what we’re interested in is the description of the perfect human body.
If the name Vitruvius rings a bell, it’s probably because DaVinci based his “perfect man” (the “Vitruvian Man”) on these writings. Presumably to show what the ideal male body really looks like.
And from ancient Greek statues to today’s bodybuilding competitions, the human form has maintained its stance as something to be revered and perfected. But how do we judge perfection? Measurements.
We’re all familiar with our height and weight. Those two pieces of information give us a rough framework for judging where we’re at in our development. However, the information these two variables provide is far from ideal.
That’s why measuring the circumference of individual body parts is so much more useful. When it comes to ideas of the “perfect” human body, all measurements deal with ratios. Meaning, the measurement of each individual body part is considered in relation to other body parts. So, for example, your wrist measurement would dictate your ideal arm measurement.
We’ll get into the details of the aesthetics further below, but for now, let’s just that there’s a lot of ideas of what the ratio is for a perfect body. This ignores changing tastes and fashions. The bodybuilders of today look nothing like the bodybuilders of the early 20th century—take, for example, Eugen Sandow and compare him to contemporary bodybuilders. This is one reason why bodily measurement ratios should be taken with a grain of salt.
Outside of aesthetics, taking body measurements is extremely helpful when it comes to gauging your progress. Especially if you’ve been at the grindstone for a while, gains might be more difficult to come by and even more difficult to notice. This is removed from the idea of “ideal measurements”, but it can help when it comes to making sure that your training routine is really doing what it’s supposed to.
Lastly, measuring your body parts is super helpful when it comes to checking symmetry. Every person has a dominant and less dominant side, and as much as we might try to correct against it, the stronger side will always tend to make up for the weaker. This is especially true for those big compound lifts that require a barbell. With both sides of your body attached to the same weight, the weaker side won’t put in the required effort.
When making your measurements, one of the most important aspects to keep in mind is body fat percentage and body composition.
Body fat is going to appear first in certain areas, such as the thighs and waist, so measuring something like waist circumference will throw off the numbers. To get the best results when measuring, you’ll want your body fat to hover somewhere around 10 and 12 percent. This will effectively reveal your physique while also being healthy and practical. And, if you’re looking to lose a few pounds of fat, measuring your waist is a great way to estimate your body fat percentage when using the relative fat mass formula.
Otherwise, here’s a few tips to keep in mind next time you want to gauge your progress:
With the proper methods out of the way, let’s take a closer look at the body parts themselves.
Each one of these measurements is important when trying to achieve ideal proportions—however, some may be more important than others when looking just at aesthetics. In terms of tools, all you’ll need is a tape measure.
When it comes to measuring arm size, you’ll want to measure the biceps at their widest girth. You can either do this with your arms relaxed at your side or with your arms bent.
The wrist is measured at the narrowest part—right in between the bony protrusion on the outside and your hand. Keep your hand open as you’re measuring. The forearm should be measured at the thickest part.
Calves can be measured sitting down or standing with a partner. The measurement should be taken at the widest part. Thighs are measured at the largest girth in the upper leg, just underneath the butt. The hip measurement is taken around the largest part of the butt.
The chest measurement should be taken after you’ve exhaled, with the tape measurer lying above the nipples. The shoulder measurement will benefit from having a partner, but it should be taken at the widest point of the shoulders. The neck should also be measured at the widest part.
Finally, waist size is measured at the narrowest point. This tends to be around the belly button, and it should be halfway between the bottom of your rib cage and the top of the hip bone.
I’ve Got All These Numbers…Now What?
So, you’ve properly measured everything there is to measure. But what do any of these measurements even mean?
When it comes to ideal proportions, there are a few ways that things are calculated—we’ll look into this down below. However, it’s important to remember that these provide a guideline for the perfect physique, not an absolute rule. Individuals will be different based on body type and the aesthetic that works for them.
The end goal, after all, is to look as good as possible. And as we all know, beauty’s in the eye of the beholder. These ideals can provide a good path forward when making goals, but they should also be taken with a grain of salt.
It’s much like the difference between a quantitative and qualitative approach; unless you're firmly in the camp of measuring, it’d probably do you well to take the measurements while also considering the aesthetic “look” that you’re aiming for.
Saying that, let’s look into a couple of the most popular systems of ideal measurements.
This system revolves around two things we mentioned at the very beginning: the “Vitruvian Man” and Eugene Sandow.
Vitruvius based his perfect proportions on the golden ratio—a topic you might already be familiar with. The run-down is that the golden ratio is aesthetically pleasing, and some people have argued that it appears in both natural and man-made phenomena. That means anything from the arrangement of leaves on trees, to financial markets—although a lot of these claims are questionable.
Sandow—the organizer of the first major bodybuilding competition—based his body on what he saw in classical Greek and Roman statues. He called this the “Grecian Ideal”, and it turned out to be roughly based on the golden ratio, and hence, the Vitruvian man.
This is the classic physique of the ideal male body, but it’s not something that’s completely unachievable for the average man. Of course, this depends on body type and personal preferences, but the Grecian Ideal is known and all you really need to know is the measurement of your wrist to get your Grecian proportions.
You can find calculators for this online, but we’ll go through the thinking behind it below. Sandow proved to be an inspiration for many greats such as Frank Zane, Steve Reeves, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, so you know his system must have something to it.
Unlike the measurements above, these will be taken while flexed.
The first thing to find out is the circumference of your wrist. Once you’ve done that, move to measuring your flexed arm—but don’t go in with a pump. An ideal proportion between wrist and arm has your arm being 2.5 times larger than your wrist.
Moving down the body, next up are the calves. Both of your flexed calves should perfectly match your flexed arms.
Your waist is measured in relation to your shoulders. Specifically, the shoulder measurement should be 1.618 times larger than your waist measurement. This is important because it’s what creates the v-taper in men—a part of the physique that’s proven to be attractive. This also highlights the importance of toning the waist, since the aesthetic benefits build up with the v-taper. The number 1.618 is taken directly from the golden ratio.
When it comes to the chest we’ll be once again using the circumference of the wrist. Ideally, the chest should be 6.5 times larger than your non-dominant wrist.
And finally, thighs should be 1.75 times the girth of your knee.
While these measurements are definitely possible for some, it’s important to keep in him how stylized they are as well. Consider the “look” you’re going for before sticking too hard to these numbers since the ideal proportions will probably over or undercompensate with different body parts.
Furthermore, body fat can majorly throw off the results—especially when it comes to measuring the waist. If you’re looking for the most exact measurements, it’d be a good idea to slim down.
Steve Reeves, bodybuilding legend of the mid-1900s, has always been considered as one of the most symmetrical and best-proportioned bodybuilders of all time.
His measurements were:
Having one of the most aesthetic bodies around, it makes sense that he came up with his own system for measuring the ideal proportions of the male physique. It differs in many ways from the Grecian model.
For one, Reeves believed that height played a critical role in how much weight one should put on when bodybuilding. This was an attempt to work within the natural limits of the body—namely, the natural symmetry found in people of varying height. This was the outline he proposed for keeping muscular body weight within limits:
The focus on the body’s structure continued with an emphasis placed on muscle to bone ratios. The aim was to be able to pack on as much muscle as possible while also not taking away from the aesthetics of symmetry and proportion. Using bone ratios also allowed for a sort of optical illusion, making a bodybuilder look larger than he was.
These are the ratios:
Using calf size as an example, you would multiply your ankle measurement by 1.92 in order to figure out your ideal size of calves.
Building on these calculations, Reeves also believed that an ideally proportioned man would have his calves, arms, and neck all measure the same. Furthermore, the waist should measure double of what the neck does, and the thighs should measure half of the chest circumference.
The Reeves example makes it apparent how body type (especially when it comes to the bones) can really mess up an attempt to get to these strict proportions. And if you’re wondering if Reeves ever got to his own ideal measurements: everything checked out other than his waist was 6 inches less than what it should’ve been.
Whether you’re serious about getting the Grecian physique, or you just want a general goal to shoot towards, you’re going to have to make sure that you’re supporting your body in all the right ways.
Above all else, that means having a good meal plan. For those who always struggle with losing weight, it’s going to be important to keep a low body fat percentage in order to properly measure muscles and body parts. And for those who have trouble building muscle, eating will have to become integral to the training routine.
While you need to support your training with a good source of carbs and fats, protein is going to be especially important when shooting for the perfect physique. If you want the ideal body, you’re going to need to eat the ideal foods.
And although the hard training goes without saying, you also need to give your body some time to recover. The only way to consolidate your gains over the long term is by taking care of yourself while also pushing your body.
If you need that extra edge with your training, a high-quality workout supplement can turbocharge your gains if used properly and backed up by a good training regime, diet plan, and recovery schedule.
Keeping your body’s measurements up to date is an amazing tool for keeping track of your progress and staying motivated. You’ll have a record of your growth, while also being able to see areas that might need extra attention. When it comes to working out smart, there’s no better way to do it.
And of course, everyone is tempted to compare themselves to the ideal physique—and for good reason. Measurements provide a benchmark and a goal to strive towards, whether competitive or not.
Either way, it’s important to remember that these are just subjective tools. They might’ve been based on experience and lofty philosophical ideals, but in the end, they’re someone else’s opinion. And someone else’s opinion isn’t going to carry you to your goals.