The Ideal Body Measurements

The Ideal Body Measurements

By Tom Venuto, NSCA-CPT, CSCS
www.BurnTheFat.com

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.

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.

Train hard and expect success,

Tom Venuto, NSCA-CPT, CSCS
Lifetime Natural Bodybuilder
Burn The Fat Feed The Muscle

About the Author:

Tom Venuto is a natural bodybuilder, certified personal trainer and freelance fitness writer. Tom is the author of “Burn the Fat, Feed The Muscle,” which teaches you how to get lean without drugs or supplements using secrets of the world’s best bodybuilders and fitness models. Learn how to get rid of stubborn fat and increase your metabolism by visiting: Burn The Fat Feed The Muscle [Read more…]

The Low Body Fat Secret Of Bodybuilders And Fitness Models

The Low Body Fat Secret Of Bodybuilders And Fitness Models
By Tom Venuto, NSCA-CPT, CSCS
Burn The Fat Feed The Muscle

The secret to getting super lean – I’m talking about being RIPPED, not just “average body fat” – is all about mastering the art of “peaking.” Most people do not have a clue about what it takes to reach the type of low body fat levels that reveal ripped six-pack abs, muscle striations, vascularity and extreme muscular definition, so they go about it completely the wrong way.

Here’s a case in point: One of my newsletter subscribers recently sent me this question:

Tom, on your Burn The Fat website, you wrote:

‘Who better to model than bodybuilders and fitness competitors? No athletes in the world get as lean as quickly as bodybuilders and fitness competitors. The transformations they undergo in 12 weeks prior to competition would boggle your mind! Only ultra-endurance athletes come close in terms of low body fat levels, but endurance athletes like triathaletes and marathoners often get lean at the expense of chewing up all their muscle. Some of them are nothing but skin and bone.’

“There seems to be a contradiction unless I’m missing something. Why do bodybuilders and fitness competitors have to go through a 12 week ‘transformation’ prior to every event instead of staying ‘lean and mean’ all the time? If they practice the secrets exposed in your book, they should be staying in shape all the time instead of having to work at losing fat prior to every competitive event, correct?”

There is a logical explanation for why bodybuilders and other physique athletes (fitness and figure competitors), don’t remain completely ripped all year round, and it’s the very reason they are able to get so ripped on the day of a contest…

You can’t hold a peak forever or it’s not a “peak”, right? What is the definition of a peak? It’s a high point surrounded by two lower points isn’t it?

Therefore, any shape you can stay in all year round is NOT your “peak” condition.

The intelligent approach to nutrition and training (which almost all bodybuilders and fitness/figure competitors use), is to train and diet in a seasonal or cyclical fashion and build up to a peak, then ease off to a maintenance or growth phase.

I am NOT talking about bulking up and getting fat and out of shape every year, then dieting it all off every year. What I’m talking about is going from good shape to great (peak) shape, then easing back off to good shape…. but never getting “out of shape.” Makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?

Here’s an example: I have no intentions whatsoever of walking around 365 days a year at 4% body fat like I appear in the photo on my website. Off-season, when I’m not competing, my body fat is usually between 8 – 10%. Mind you, that’s very lean and still single digit body fat.

I don’t stray too far from competition shape, but I don’t maintain contest shape all the time. It takes me 12-14 weeks or so to gradually drop from 9.5% to 3.5%-4.0% body fat to “peak” for competition with NO loss of lean body mass…using the same techniques I reveal in my e-book.

It would be almost impossible to maintain 4% body fat, and even if I could, why would I want to? For the few weeks prior to competition I’m so depleted, ripped, and even “drawn” in the face, that complete strangers walk up and offer to feed me.

Okay, so I’m just kidding about that, but let’s just say being “being ripped to shreds” isn’t a desirable condition to maintain because it takes such a monumental effort to stay there. It’s probably not even healthy to try forcing yourself to hold extreme low body fat. Unless you’re a natural “ectomorph” (skinny, fast metabolism body type), your body will fight you. Not only that, anabolic hormones may drop and sometimes your immune system is affected as well. It’s just not “normal” to walk around all the time with literally no subcutaneous body fat.

Instead of attempting to hold the peak, I cycle back into a less demanding off-season program and avoid creeping beyond 9.9% body fat. Some years I’ve stayed leaner – like 6-7%, (which takes effort), especially when I knew I would be photographed, but I don’t let my body fat go over 10%.

This practice isn’t just restricted to bodybuilders. Athletes in all sports use periodization to build themselves up to their best shape for competition. Is a pro football player in the same condition in March-April as he is in August-September? Not a chance. Many show up fat and out of shape (relatively speaking) for training camp, others just need fine tuning, but none are in peak form… that’s why they have training camp!!!

There’s another reason you wouldn’t want to maintain a “ripped to shreds” physique all year round – you’d have to be dieting (calorie restricted) all the time. And this is one of the reasons that 95% of people can’t lose weight and keep it off –they are CHRONIC dieters… always on some type of diet. Know anyone like that?

You can’t stay on restricted low calories indefinitely. Sooner or later your metabolism slows down and you plateau as your body adapts to the chronically lowered food intake. But if you diet for fat loss and push incredibly hard for 3 months, then ease off for a while and eat a little more (healthy food, not “pigging out”), your metabolic rate is re-stimulated. In a few weeks or months, you can return to another fat loss phase and reach an even lower body fat level, until you finally reach the point that’s your happy maintenance level for life – a level that is healthy and realistic – as well as visually appealing.

Bodybuilders have discovered a methodology for losing fat that’s so effective, it puts them in complete control of their body composition. They’ve mastered this area of their lives and will never have to worry about it again. If they ever “slip” and fall off the wagon like all humans do at times … no problem! They know how to get back into shape fast.

Bodybuilders have the tools and knowledge to hold a low body fat all year round (such as 9% for men, or about 15% for women), and then at a whim, to reach a temporary “peak” of extremely low body fat for the purpose of competition. Maybe most important of all, they have the power and control to slowly ease back from peak shape into maintenance, and not balloon up and yo-yo like most conventional dieters!

What if you had the power to stay lean all year round, and then get super lean when summer rolled around, or when you took your vacation to the Caribbean, or when your wedding date was coming up? Wouldn’t you like to be in control of your body like that? Isn’t that the same thing that bodybuilders and fitness/figure competitors do, only on a more practical, real-world level?

So even if you have no competitive aspirations whatsoever, don’t you agree that there’s something of value everyone could learn from physique athletes? Don’t model yourself after the huge crowd of losers who gobble diet pills, buy exercise gimmicks and suffer through starvation diets like automatons, only to gain back everything they lost! Instead, learn from the leanest athletes on Earth – natural bodybuilders and fitness competitors…

These physique athletes get as ripped as they want to be, exactly when they want to, simply by manipulating their diets in a cyclical fashion between pre-contest “cutting” programs and off season “maintenance” or “muscle growth” programs. Even if you have no desire to ever compete, try this seasonal “peaking” approach yourself and you’ll see that it can work as well for you as it does for elite bodybuilders.

If you’re interested in learning even more secrets of bodybuilders and fitness models, visit the Burn The Fat website at: Burn The Fat.

About the Author:

Tom Venuto is a lifetime natural bodybuilder, an NSCA-certified personal trainer (CPT) and a certified strength & conditioning specialist (CSCS). Tom is the author of the #1 best-selling e-book, “Burn the Fat, Feed The Muscle,” which teaches you how to get lean without drugs or supplements using the secrets of the world’s best bodybuilders and fitness models. Learn how to get rid of stubborn body fat and increase your metabolism by visiting: Burn The Fat.