by Dr. Keoni Teta
It is interesting that the perfect male physique is different based on who is judging. There is certainly a cultural aspect to it. Different cultures have slightly different standards of what they perceive as the most attractive male body shape. The same goes for the female body too. After all, depending on your culture, and even the time period in history, the perfect male physique changes.
The physical characteristics that stay consistent with whoever is judging the male physique are broad shoulders and a small waist. Also, across all cultures today, a toned male body is more appealing than a male flabby body. Taken together, broad shoulders, smaller waist and toned body, imply to the observer that you are strong, fit, healthy, and even intelligent. The science on this is pretty interesting. We know that first impressions can be game changers for us. According to science, an appealing physique gives you an advantage in job interviews, auditions, and even political campaigns. Your pay is even influenced by your physique; and of course having an attractive physique makes your more appealing to the opposite sex.
The good news is, for most healthy men, shoulders do tend to be broader than waist measurements. And healthy men tend to be toned and not flabby.
If we really want to get to the specifics on what the ideal ratios of the male physique are, we need to look to science. And yes, science does have some answers for us.
The Golden Ratio/Divine Proportion:
The ideal physique across all cultures is based on the Golden Ratio or Divine Proportion which is Phi (Φ = 1.618…). Artists throughout the ages have used this ratio to sculpt, paint, and chisel the perfect male physiques. Go take a look at the ancient statues of Greek and Roman gods or the statue of David by Michelangelo to get an idea of what I am talking about. Seeing the David statue in real life was awe inspiring for me in so many ways.
For the male body, this Golden Ratio can be calculated as follows:
Take the circumference of your shoulders in inches and divide it by the circumference of your waist in inches. The number you get should be 1.6.
The shoulder circumference measurement should be taken with a tape measure by wrapping it around your shoulders and chest at its widest point between your collar bone and nipples.
The waist measurement should be taken by wrapping the tape measure around your waist at the top or tip of the hip bone.
So as an example, I have 51 inch circumference measurement of my shoulders and a 34 inch waist. Using this formula my ratio is 1.5. So like most men my age or older, I should probably be working on reducing my waist line through diet. This is especially true if you have excess flab around your waist, which most middle-aged men like myself do indeed have. Having a waist measurement between 32 and 31 inches would be my ideal. I could work on my shoulders with weight training too to improve this ratio.
Another measure that is closely related to the shoulder/waist Golden Ratio is the V-shape in men. Men that have a V-shape when looking from the shoulders to waist are certainly on the right track to achieve the Golden Ratio. Also, these men are considered easier on the eyes no matter which gender is doing the judging.
This is the measurement Metabolic Effect tends to use; however, using both the Golden Ratio and the V-shape number is probably best.
So the way to get your V-shape number is the following:
Take the circumference measurements around your waist and chest. The waist measurement should be at the smallest point between the bottom of the rib cage and above the belly button. The chest measurement should be in line with the nipples. Wrap the tape measure around the chest under the arms at nipple level.
Once you have the measurements, divide your waist measurement by your chest measurement to get a “waist to chest ratio”. The ideal value is between .7 and .8 with .77 being the most preferred measurement by women.
For more information on the V shape and to calculate your V measurement and go here.
If your measurement is .8 or above (which most men in the Western world have) you are no longer in the preferable V-shape zone, and have now entered what we call the apple shape zone.
Taking your Measurements with a Picture:
Probably, the easiest way to get your V-shape or Golden Ratio is with a picture of yourself. You can then use a ruler to measure the required distances. For the V-shape number, measure your waist at the smallest point across and then divide it by the measurement from shoulder crease to shoulder crease across the nipple line. For the Golden Ratio number measure from shoulder to shoulder midway between your collar bone and nipples and then divide it by the waist measurement from the top of the hip bone to the other hip bone.
What To Do with the Numbers:
Knowing the Golden Ratio and your V-shape numbers is a great way to evaluate your lifestyle, especially in terms of exercise and nutrition.
If your Golden Ratio is greater than 1.6 you may want to back off of the heavy shoulder, chest and back exercises, and if it is less than 1.6, you probably want to revaluate your lifestyle habits in terms of diet and even sleep habits.
The same goes for your V-shape number. If you start out with a waist to chest ratio of say .79 and after two weeks you have lost weight but found your number went up to .81, instead of down, then you know you are doing something wrong. At the ME clinic we have seen this occur in people on very low carb or prolonged fasting diets. It also may occur with too much cardio exercise. On the other hand, resistance training of your back, shoulders, and chest can help optimize this number too.
Many bodybuilders will have a Golden Ratio greater than 1.6 or V shape number lower than .77, and most middle-aged men will have a Golden Ratio less than 1.6 or a V shape much greater than .77. Keep in mind the further away you get from these desirable numbers (whether greater or lessor), the less easy on the eyes your physiques will be by who ever is observing you.
Since most of us are not body builders, lets focus on the steps us men can take that are less then 1.6 and greater than .77 with the goal of achieving these Divine Proportions.
1. A toned waist is better made in the kitchen then in the weight room. Focus on not over consuming calories. It is actually better for you to eat junk food that is not over consumed than to eat healthy food that is over consumed. Don’t get me wrong here, I am not advocating a junk food diet at all; however, many people unconsciously over-consume healthy food, only because it is deemed healthy, without ever realizing it. In psychology this is call the “Halo Effect.” Just because dark chocolate is labeled as healthy does not mean you can eat a ton of it. So eat healthy, but do not over consume.
2. A waist tends to expand with long hours of sitting in front of the computer or television. Also, TV watching or mindlessly browsing internet can be trigger of eating snacks. My father is notorious for this. To unwind he likes to sit in front of the TV, and after an hour or so, snack food invariably shows up beside him, usually peanuts. Night after night of doing this gets you further and further away from the Golden Ratio. Minimize TV and computer time.
3. Exercise consistently. If the extra weight is in your waist, any exercise done on a consistent basis is better than worrying about what type of exercise to do. Just find something you enjoy that you can do most days of the week (5-7) for at least 30 minutes.
4. Stay NEAT. NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis) is the energy expended from walking to work, typing, yard work, standing, tinkering, and fidgeting. It is NOT the energy expended from sleeping , eating, playing sports or exercise. So do as much NEAT as you can.
5. Know your fat gaining medications and either reduce the dose or come off of them as soon as you can. The biggest culprits are usually medications for depression or other mood disorders. Other weight promoting medications include: corticosteroids, anti-histamines, and even some diabetes and heart medications. The best way to begin to come off of your medications is to start implementing healthy lifestyle habits. Talk to your doctor about this and make a plan to start reducing medication load.
6. Increase your fiber consumption. Probably the best and easiest way to do this without adding extra daily calories is to take a fiber supplement before most large meals. To me using a fiber supplement is analogous to changing the oil in your car. It just helps the body in so many ways (e.g. helps detoxify, promotes satiation, optimizes gut function, prevents cancer, etc.) besides reducing your waistline.
7. Increase your body’s endogenous testosterone (T) levels. Part of the reason younger men have smaller waists is because of their T levels. T levels start decreasing after the age of 30 and play a part in age-related weight gain for men. There are many ways to increase T levels naturally, and all of the above points will help. Men can also help increase their (T) levels by doing the following:
a. Optimize your vitamin D levels (50 – 80 ng/ml)
b. Take a magnesium, zinc, or even a DHEA supplement
c. Take a herbal T booster (e.g. Tongkat Ali, Epimedium, Tribulus, etc.)
d. Eat enough protein
e. Meditate or find other ways to reduce your stress
f. Improve your sleep habits
g. Workout with weights
h. Do not over consume alcohol
i. Do some Intermittent fasting
j. Do some sprint training
k. Do not over train
l. Hang out with women more
8. Do not go on a stereotypical energy restricted diet. The eat less exercise more diet is one of the biggest causes of an expanding waist line. This is especially true the longer you do it and also the more times you go on a diet. Remember the show The Biggest Loser? Unfortunately, now most of them are becoming the biggest gainers. 🙁
9. Improve your sleep. Not only will sleep boost T levels, it also helps you burn fat in other ways. If you are not oxygenating you body optimally then you are not going to burn fat optimally. Many men that snore or have sleep apnea are going to have a more difficult time losing the excess weight in their torso. If your doctor recommended a CPAP for you then try to use it. It just might help you start burning excess fat.
10. Drink plenty of water. Water is by far the best ergogenic nutrient there is. Not being hydrated adequately causes exercise performance to suffer dramatically. Being slightly dehydrated also has the potential to slow down fat burning through many different mechanisms. One of the obvious ones is confusing thirst for hunger, which can contribute to over-eating. Appropriate hydration allows for enhanced performance, and also, a more efficient fat burning body. A good rule of thumb for optimal water intake throughout the day is 1/2 your body weight in ounces of water.
For most of us attaining these Appealing Ratios it is more about diet than exercise. In general use diet to chisel your waist and resistance training to bulk up your chest and shoulders. By using both, you will optimize your ratios easier.