The Ideal Body Measurements


I’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 creates an illusion of broader shoulders. 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)
5’5″ 160lbs
5’6″ 165lbs
5’7″ 170lbs
5’8″ 175lbs
5’9″ 180lbs
5’10” 185lbs
5’11” 190lbs
6’0″ 200lbs
6’1″ 210lbs
6’2″ 220lbs
6’3″ 230lbs
6’4″ 240lbs
6’5″ 250lbs

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.

The Sandow museum site has an ideal measurements calculator based on Earl Liederman’s 1924 book “muscle building”. This was before pro bodybuilding during the strong man era, and based on “ideal male Grecian proportions”

Grecian Ideal Proportions Calculator

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.

Copyright 2008 by Tom Venuto and Bodybuilding Secrets.Com. Do NOT copy without written permission from the author.

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Comments on The Ideal Body Measurements Leave a Comment

February 4, 2008

Dan @ 10:39 am #

That is crazy that your body fat fluctuates so much. I am not a body builder, just a muscle builder to be healthy.
I don’t take measurements either and like you have a vision of what I want and then I go for that. The mirror and pictures track my progress.
How do you regulate your body fat so much?

Scott Tousignant @ 10:41 am #

Great post Tom,
I guess it’s time for me to go out and buy more posters of the ideal physique that I’m aiming for.
Not to mention schedule more photo shoots so I can compare my progress and how my pictures look in comparison to the posters.
By the way, that camera angle makes you look a lot bigger. Your thighs look pretty massive there.
Thanks for the great info buddy and your perspective.
Scott Tousignant

Andrew @ 3:26 pm #

Very interesting post, Tom. It’s always great to read about what a natural bodybuilder does, rather than the assisted athlete.
I do miss your more frequent posting, but realise you are a very busy man.

February 7, 2008

Samuel Jeremiah @ 5:02 pm #

I have a request. I’m confident that I speak on behalf of hundreds and thousands of people who’ve read your books and articles and interviews.
We all know that you’re heavily influenced by audio books, and we know that you know that audio books work better than ebooks.
While I’m on a roll, let me make another request:
You remember 10% of what you read, 20% of what you hear, 30% of what you do, and 50% of what you do, right? (I heard this a long time ago..#s could be wrong)
E-Books introduced you to the world. Now it’s time for you to give us more.

February 21, 2008

Casey Butt @ 12:45 pm #

Hi Tom,
Very interesting article. However, I did find one error …the link to the Grecian Ideal Calculator at the Sandow Museum is actually based on John McCallum’s formulae, not Earl Liederman’s. Not really your fault though, because the Sandow Museum page itself does imply that the calculator is based on Liederman’s book.

March 6, 2008

BuildUrBody @ 3:29 pm #

Nice article, I want to emphasize the part about waist measurements being important.
As a personal trainer myself, alot of my clients get hung up on overall weight, and bodyfat comp; however, these results do not always show through as their weight may stay the same as they gain muscle mass.
The problem with bodyfat measurement is that its very sensative to the tester and the time of day, hydration, ect. I believe on avg the difference in bodyfat could be upwards 5%.
For my clients this means they may even “show” a higher bodyfat after six weeks of training. The only silver lining for most of these people is their measurements, especially the abdominal area and around the glutes. We almost always see these numbers come down, and we let the client know they are indeed on the right track.
Sometimes, it becomes very difficult to convince them that what they are doing is actually working, so we get them to put it in perspective…. are their clothes fitting, are people noticing the difference, and how do you feel.

racim @ 9:41 pm #

great info !!!
you are the one tom and
please write a book about building muscle just as you’ve done with fat loss bffm book

March 25, 2008

Thanks for the great article Tom. I agree that it is a much better idea to look at what you visually want to achieve rather than going off of some mathematical formula. But I can also see that when you’re first getting started it might be a good idea to see what is realistic for your body type.

Randy @ 11:52 am #

This is interesting makes me realize how disproportionate i am. i’m 5’11” 205 about 9-10%bf
my measurements
chest: 48
arms:18 1/2
calves:16 1/2
forearm: 14 1/2
wrist: 7″
ankle: 9″
knee: 14 1/2
as you can see have real issues building calves and neck, how bout some help. don’t have a great understanding of diet either.

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