What Is The Ideal Male Body? A Look at The Male Body Throughout History

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Julien Raby

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Over 510 million people follow the hashtag, #fitness on social media outlets like Instagram and TikTok. It’s clear that many people are looking for the latest trends to not only increase their level of fitness but to also find tips on how to sculpt their bodies into the perfect physique. We are a product of our time, and the media has a huge sway over how we value some body types.

This has naturally led to a discussion of what the ideal male body looks like. Everyone has a slightly different idea of what makes a man attractive. But current trends often shape the general consensus of the perfect masculine body. Let’s take a look at the current outlook on the ideal male body.

ideal male body
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Is There Such a Thing as the Ideal Male Body?

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but let’s be honest: Sometimes it seems like everyone values one body type over another. Some trends, like having a lower body fat percentage, are advantageous for health purposes, while others, like bodies with abs, are just for aesthetics–eye-candy, if you will.

While perfection is certainly subjective, many male fitness–fanatics look toward social media influencers as a guide for the latest body trends they should aspire to. It’s true that some aspects of having an ideal body (like height and skin tone), are out of your control. But hitting the gym can get you ideal proportions by slimming down your waist and bulking up in just the right places.

What Is the Ideal Male Body?

So what is the “ideal” body type for men today? When an AI generator was asked to create pictures of an “ideal man” according to social media standards, he depicted a clean-cut, masculine body type at around 6 feet tall. He had absolutely chiseled abs, olive skin, and broad shoulders.

If you feel like these are unattainable body expectations, don’t worry. Real people are a little more realistic regarding their beliefs on the most desirable body traits.

The Treadmill Reviews surveyed 1,000 people to ask them what they considered the ideal male body to be. Women find the ideal proportions for a man to be around 6 ft tall, 187 pounds, a 33-inch waist, and a 41-inch chest.

Celebrities that share these attractive stats include Bradley Cooper and Channing Tatum.

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Bradley Cooper is considered by many as an attractive man with an ideal body.
Image Credit: Vanity Fair

How the Ideal Male Body Has Changed in History

As with many things, the proclaimed perfect male body shape can be a fad that goes in and out of style. The ideal male body has changed throughout the years.

So if you feel like you’re not on trend with your body and you don’t feel like hitting the gym, cross your fingers and wait a few years…you never know what body fitness trends will be in the future!

Ideal Male Body in the 1800s

In the 1800s, a generously-sized stomach and wide waist signified wealth and status. Forget about bulging muscles or looking lean; an ample frame proved that you could afford good food. 

There were even “Fat Men’s Clubs” that cropped up across the U.S. where you had to pay a fee and weigh a minimum of 200 pounds.

Ideal Male Body in the 1920s

There was a dramatic shift in the ideal male body with the rise in motion pictures in the 1920s. Leaner actors (but not overly muscular) were cast in order to offset the camera making a person look 20 pounds heavier on film.

Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant embodied this lean look and a new ideal was born. Gone were the days of larger bellies being the coveted look.

Ideal Male Body in the 1980s

Here come the muscles! Many consider the 1980s to be the bodybuilding revolution. Men began chasing after muscular physiques thanks to body-building pioneers like Arnold Schwarzenegger and his outstanding physique. Schwarzenegger rose in fame and popularity when Hollywood discovered him and started casting him in films.

At this time, bodybuilder Frank Zane also came into the spotlight. Zane took a different approach to bodybuilding and kept to a more classic physique. He had aesthetic muscle mass and phenomenal proportions without the extreme bulk of Schwarzenegger.

Broad shoulders, bulging chest muscles, rock-hard abs, and a smaller waist that formed a V became the ideal in the 1980s.

Classic bodybuilding exploded in popularity with a lot of crossover appeal. It had previously been a sport for men participating in Mr. Olympia, but movie stars and athletes began to bulk up through bodybuilding.

Actors like Chuck Norris and Sylvester Stalone both practiced bodybuilding to perfect their physiques and to become more marketable. The fitness world fell in love with bodybuilders and their muscular body composition.

Ideal Male Body in the Early 2000s

Understandably, it was difficult for average people to keep up with the standards of bodybuilding. As we approached the 21st century, people placed less emphasis on bulked-up, beefy male body ideals and more on a leaner, yet muscular look.

Brad Pitt in his role in Fight Club was thought to be the pinnacle of male fitness with his defined six-pack and athletic build. Men with smaller frame builds aimed for toned muscles and sought-after ‘cut’ abs.

A muscular man with a body that could be as the ideal male body
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A Breakdown of the Ideal Male Body

These traits are considered “ideal,” but keep in mind that the ideal male body is always evolving. So we can aim for perfection, but by the time we get there, another ideal may be trending.

Muscularity

The days of bulky muscle mass being the height of attraction are over. Leaner body types with visible muscle definition and a v-shaped upper body are considered ideal. While it’s true that there are varying degrees of muscularity, an overall low body fat percentage and a toned physique are the goals of many gym-goers.

Fat Content

Aside from giving you the sought-after ‘lean look,’ a low body fat percentage allows for six-pack muscles to shine through without being hidden behind a paunchy stomach.

Today’s ideal male body has a body fat percentage between 14-17%. It isn’t easy to obtain such stellar numbers, but it starts with a healthy diet void of excess sugar and carbs. An elevated daily (or almost daily) workout session can help you get in the target range too.

To check your body fat percentage, use a tape measure to measure the widest part of your neck and abdomen. Subtract your neck circumference from your abdomen circumference and the difference is your body fat percentage.

You can also use smart scales with Bluetooth connected apps that measure your body fat by simply stepping on a scale. These don’t always produce the most accurate readings, but they give you a good idea of where you’re at.

Upper Body

To get the ideal upper body, we can look at Leanardo DiVinci’s depiction of the Vitruvian man. He depicted a man with defined upper-body muscles and a chest that’s about 1.6X broader than the waist size. And, good news, a leaner muscular look now trumps the bulging muscles of the 80s that were often only achieved with steroid use.

Lower Body

As a general rule, you want your lower body to be strong with defined muscles, but not to overshadow your upper body. If someone’s eyes are drawn right to your muscular thighs, you may consider skipping leg day. A good proportion for thighs is to be 1.75 times bigger than the knee size.

Defined calves can be tricky to achieve, but they complement the lower body perfectly. Some believe that 17-inch calves are ideal, but this is hard to obtain as the calves are one of the most stubborn muscle groups to develop. The average calf circumference for men aged 30-39 is 15.6 in.

Body Proportions

Dial it back to ancient Greece around 50 B.C. Architect Marcus Vitruvius came up with specific proportions that artists used to sculpt attractive bodies. Ancient Greece philosopher Euclid likewise formulated a mathematical equation of perfect proportions called The Golden Ratio.

Although this was thousands of years ago, we still use these proportions as a benchmark for the perfect man. A few actors and bodybuilders like Steve Reeves and Arnold Schwarzenegger exemplify these proportions well with their perfect muscle proportions, broad shoulders, and slim waist making the perfect V shape.

A man with the ideal male body at the gym
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The Perfect Male Body According to Women

Perhaps unsurprisingly, most women prefer a man with an athletic body. For the ladies, it’s about a lean muscle mass as opposed to the bulky shape that some bodybuilders take on. Women also love a man that stands at over 5’9 with a shapely butt and broad chest.

The Perfect Male Body According to Men

Men typically value having large muscles more than women do. Often they try to emulate bulky bodybuilders, but that may not be an attainable body image without steroid use.

Men look to actor Mark Wahlberg as the ideal body type. He appears to have all the coveted attributes that men seem to want. He’s lean and muscular with defined biceps and rock-hard ab muscles. There’s no denying he has a great body and symmetrical proportions.

What Are the Measurements of an Ideal Male Body?

The ideal body measurements for the ideal male body are as follows:

  • Waist circumference between 25-47% of their height
  • Shoulders 1.618X bigger than their waist
  • Arms and neck have an identical circumference
  • Chest is 10-12” bigger than their waist

How Do You Achieve the Ideal Male Body?

So you aren’t the ideal body type…don’t sweat it! Aside from the genetically blessed, most people have to hit the gym and eat a clean diet in order to achieve anything close to these proportions. And many still can’t quite reach the mark because “the ideal male body” isn’t attainable for everyone. You can’t do anything about your height and many features of your genetic build.


Still, you can get closer to the beautiful body of your dreams by adding some crucial workouts and eating a balanced diet. Let’s take a look at what habits you’ll need to incorporate.

Steady Workout Regimen

Consistency is key to working your way towards an ideal body. Aim for 6-7 hours of functional strength training and compound strength training exercises. This will help dial down your body fat percentage and help you see muscle growth. Squats, lunges, lateral raises, pull-ups, and bench presses are all excellent examples of exercises that will yield results for a toned body.

Strength Training Above All

Strength training is a great way to acquire not only physical strength but also visible muscles. Lifting heavy weights at a lower rep is proven to be the most beneficial way to grow muscles. You want to practice hypertrophy in your training, which means that you’re continuing to challenge yourself by using heavier weights in order to complete muscle exhaustion.

Abs Are Made in the Kitchen

A healthy diet is an absolutely crucial element in obtaining your ideal body. As the saying goes, you can’t out-exercise a bad diet. Omitting sugary drinks and foods and adding lean meats like poultry and fish help to lower your body fat. A lower body fat percentage helps to rid your body of unwanted love handles to achieve the smaller waist look of an ideal body type. This also means that your defined abdominals can be the star of the show the next time you ditch your t-shirt in public.

A former heavy man with the ideal man body in too large pants
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Can Any Man Achieve the Ideal Male Body?

You may be doubtful about whether or not the ideal body is achievable for you. While genetics certainly play a part in many aspects of the ideal male body, there are exercises and diet plans that will help you slim down and gain muscle. As for height…well, there are always limits.

FAQs About Achieving the Ideal Male Body

If you’re trying to achieve the ideal male body, knowledge is power. Here’s a list of commonly asked questions regarding the ideal male body.

What Is the Ideal Male Waist Size?

Ratios are important in determining the waist size for the perfect male body. You want to aim for 45-47% of your height. If a man is 5’10”, then he would ideally have a 31-inch waist.

What Is a Good Chest Size for Men?

A chest should be 10-12” bigger than your waist to be considered ideal. If your waist was 31 inches, an appropriate chest size would be 42 inches.

What Is the Golden Ratio Body?

All the way back in 1509, Luca Pacioli says in his book, De divina proportione, that the golden ratio represents divinely inspired simplicity and orderliness. It’s a ratio between two numbers with a sum of 1.681.

Many believe that the golden ratio is naturally pleasing to the human eye. You can find it throughout nature and even in the human body. Today some people still use it as a marker to identify a beautiful person, even if they’re using this rule subconsciously.

What’s Considered Buff for Bodybuilders?

For a bodybuilder to be considered buff, they usually have 3 lbs of body weight for every inch that they’re tall. Here are some more stats of a buff bodybuilder:

– Arm measurements have a circumference between 14-17 inches
– Chest measurements between 38-50 inches
– Thigh measurements are between 20-25 inches
– Calf measurements around 14-25 inches

Why Do Measurements Matter to the Ideal Male Body?

Some people say that size doesn’t matter, but they clearly aren’t trying to achieve the ideal male body. Having a quantifiable goal is important so you don’t get carried away overtraining one part of your body more than another. (No one wants tree trunks on the bottom and twigs on top.) Measurements help you gain strength evenly in different muscle groups throughout your body.

Do Supplements Help in Achieving the Perfect Body?

Alongside a healthy diet, supplements can help you in your goal of achieving today’s standard of a perfect body. Some popular and effective supplements include:

– Whey protein powder, which helps with muscle growth
Creatine monohydrate, which increases muscle performance and strength during high-intensity workouts
– Essential amino acids, which are considered the building blocks of protein and help repair and grow muscle tissue
– Beta-alanine increases the amount of the antioxidant carnosine, which improves exercise endurance and performance during a workout

What Is the Ideal Weight for Men?

Weight isn’t the best indicator of fitness or health, and body measurements do a much better job of determining a person’s level of fitness. Ideally, women find men that are about 6 feet tall that weigh 187 pounds to be the most attractive.

Is It Better to Be Skinny or Skinny-Fat?

To be skinny fat means that someone’s BMI is in the normal range but they have an excess of body fat and not enough muscle mass. This is actually a dangerous condition and could lead to other concerning health conditions.

A person can be skinny and healthy, with genetics and a higher metabolism being the cause of their thinness.

If your body doesn’t take the shape of the ideal male, just remember that having a healthy diet and mindset takes precedence over looking good aesthetically.

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About

Julien Raby is the owner of BoxLife. He owns a bachelor in literature and a certificate in marketing from Concordia. He's Crossfit Level 1 certified and has been involved in Crossfit since 2010. In 2023 he finally made it to Crossfit Open Quarterfinals for the first time. LinkedIn Instagram Facebook

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