by John Romaniello T-Nation
Not long ago, I made a comment here at T NATION that "guys just want to look ****ing awesome."
While it was an off-the-cuff remark, it was also sincere. It's also supported by over 10 years of reading and contributing to T NATION and personally coaching hundreds of male clients.
Despite T NATION being a bodybuilding site, the vast majority of readers aren't interested in looking like bodybuilders; at least, not the pro bodybuilders of today.
Instead, they want to look good. Sure, they want to be jacked, but they also want to look and feel athletic. They also want to be attractive to women.
Achieving a body like this shouldn't be that difficult, and yet not many trainees attain it. I believe it's because they don't have a way to really measure or quantify their goal.
This article will change that.
The Problem (And The Solution)
Guys who just want to look awesome run into a few problems. The first is simply the lack of information specific to that goal.
Articles about how to get big arms or build a huge chest dominate magazines, books, and websites. Those are great resources, to be sure, but they leave the trainee in the unenviable position of having to develop his body piecemeal without a big picture perspective.
This article will give you the specifics of how to assess your body for both symmetry and size. You'll now have a resource to help you understand if you should be focusing on arms, legs, chest, etc.
No matter what program you do in the future, this article can serve as a guideline to measure against.
The second – and hopefully easiest – problem to overcome is the resistance. The dearth of information from traditional sources leads the trainee to look elsewhere. The most obvious place is message boards – which should be helpful – if they weren't populated by certifiable *******s.
You've seen it. Someone asks a simple question about wanting to build a body that's more like a fitness model than a bodybuilder, and he's hopelessly lambasted and ridiculed off the bandwidth.
Well, that stops here.
As a former fitness model and a former competitive bodybuilder, I can tell you that for most, the fitness model side is more fun.
As of today, you no longer have to resort to message boards for info, so you don't have to put up with bull****.
What Looking Awesome Means
The briefest definition is the best one. Looking awesome means an aesthetic physique that has a level of muscularity above most people – broad shoulders, narrow waist, big arms, and low body fat.
Now, that's not really that descriptive. It gives you an overview – I'll give specifics later – but it doesn't tell you why. And in many cases the "why" is as important as the "what" and the "how."
The why is this – you want to turn heads...of all types. What this means is that, ultimately, guys want to build a body that's impressive to the greatest number of their peers, and attractive to the greatest number of prospective mates.
That's what looking awesome means.
The Science of Looking Awesome
Looking awesome isn't just some arbitrary set of rules that I pulled out of my ass after talking to a bunch of bubblegum-snapping girls. It's an arbitrary set of rules based on science that I happened to confirm by talking to a bunch of bubblegum-snapping girls.
I've looked at two different but not completely disparate interpretations of "the ideal" – ancient models based on a certain "golden rule" and, perhaps less esoterically, traditional "rules" of symmetry that apply specifically to bodybuilding.
By combining these two, I've come up with guidelines for developing a body that will be attractive as determined by science, and impressive for it's symmetry and level of development by bodybuilding standards.
In short, a full-on formula for looking awesome.
The Golden Ratio
The truth is, there's a science to what looks appealing, and to what looks impressive, and both of those are based on the intrinsic need to search for and appreciate symmetry.
Human brains are programmed to look for symmetry and balance everywhere; programmed to be attracted to it and to try to create it. What we consider a good body is partly based on what we view as a body that projects certain characteristics of bodily symmetry.
This is the result of falling in line with something of which you've undoubtedly heard: the Golden Ratio, a mathematical constant that presents itself all over nature, from flowers to pineapples, to the shells on sea creatures.
In purely mathematical terms, the Golden Ratio is a comparison of any two aspects that are ideally proportioned.
Algebraically, if you have two numbers, A and B, it has to be such that (A + B) divided by A = A divided by B.
You remember algebra, right? Perhaps a picture would help.
Numerically, this will be expressed as a comparison, which results in a ratio of 1:1.618. This appears naturally all over your body. For example, if the length of the hand has the value of 1, then the combined length of hand + forearm has the approximate value of 1.618.
Similarly the proportion of upper arm to hand + forearm is in the same ratio of 1:618.
Looking elsewhere on the body, the human face abounds with examples of the Golden Ratio. The head forms a golden rectangle with the eyes at its midpoint. The mouth and nose are each placed at Golden sections of the distance between the eyes and the bottom of the chin.
It appears all over the human body, from the length of the arms and legs compared to the torso, and it seems to define what proportions look best, that is, most attractive.
The Golden Ratio has been used to construct visions of "the ideal" since ancient times. Artists used it to create sculptures and artwork of the ideal human figure.
Today, plastic surgeons and cosmetic dentists use it to restructure the human face.
Regarding looking awesome, this is interpreted to apply to comparisons of certain body parts against others.
This is especially true for the part about being attractive to women. When it comes to being sexually desirable to the opposite sex, it's crucial to understand that certain body dimensions are visually important from an evolutionary perspective.
More than any other body parts, having shoulders that are broad relative to your waist will accomplish this. It's not only physically impressive; it's also a genetic marker of strength and virility.
As you must have surmised by now, the ideal comparison between these is the Golden Ratio, or 1:1.618.
Therefore, the first step in achieving a body that looks awesome is to achieve a physique where your shoulders measure 1.618 times your waist. We'll look at this in greater depth later on, but this is just step one.
Bodybuilders (Used to) Know About Symmetry
It's not enough to have broad shoulders and a narrow waist. It's a good start, and for creating an attractive body, it, along with low body fat, may be enough. But you want more than that.
For you – for us – it's not enough to have a body that ladies like, or we'd stop once we hit Jake Gyllenhaal status. To build a body that guys respect and the ladies lust after, you'll have to take it a step further.
That means building a good amount of muscle, while paying attention to symmetry and proportion.
And when it comes to developing a symmetrically muscular body, there's no better source than the late Steve Reeves.
One of the greatest bodybuilders of his time, Reeves is woefully tiny by any standard of modern bodybuilding. However, while the sport has passed him by in terms of sheer mass, Reeves is still known today for his symmetry and the aesthetic appeal of his physique.
Now, it must be noted that there are a lot of different formulas and methods that bodybuilders have used over the years to determine ideal measurements.
But since Reeves is always the "go-to" reference for the ideal, I prefer his formulas, which, although a bit too specific, are based on 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
For anyone outside of competitive bodybuilding, this level of detail is unnecessary, particularly regarding measuring calves, waist, and neck.
Measuring waist size is necessary, but I don't like the way it's set up in Reeves' view, because your waist size probably isn't changing (more on that later).
As for calves and neck, for the sake of simplicity, it's effective to simply try to have them match the upper arms to the greatest degree possible.
Putting together the best of the Golden Ratio and Reeves' theories, we'd have a custom formula.
Roman's Ratios for Looking Awesome
Arm size = 252% of wrist size
Calf size = Equal to arm size
Neck Size = Equal to arm size
Waist size = Lean condition w\waist (LCW)
Shoulder Size = 1.618 x LCW (Golden Ratio)
Thigh size = 175% of knee size
The Specifics of Measurement
Knowing the formula(s) is one thing, employing them is another. Thankfully, it's not hard to do. Here's a quick guide for how to get started.
Everything Begins with a Constant
The first thing you'll notice about the formula for looking awesome is that many of the measurements are based on the results of other measurements; meaning that to get everything right, you'll have to first measure those that don't change.
These are called "constants" because they're always the same.
Your wrist, for example, is going to measure the same for your entire adult life. The same for your knee.
To begin, take both of these measurements, starting with the knee. Once you have that, follow the formula and determine the goal girth for your quad.
Next, measure the wrist of your non-dominant hand. Using the formula, you'll be able to determine the goal measurement for your upper arm, which also gives you the goal girth for your neck and calves.
This is pretty self-explanatory. It becomes more difficult when we're talking about your waist.
As mentioned earlier, you want to measure something constant, something unchanging, and yet as anyone who's gone on a diet can attest, your waist circumference can vary heavily.
However, notwithstanding a bit of muscular hypertrophy from years of heavy squats and deadlifts, the actual waist circumference of a natural lifter isn't going to change very much for any reason other than fat gain.
That's the way I want you to measure your lean condition waist, or LCW. Your LCW is the measurement of your waist when you're dieted down to the leanest condition you could comfortably maintain.
This means that if you feel confident that, with the goal of looking awesome, you could conceivably get to and maintain about 10% body fat, measure your waist when you're in THAT condition.
From here, you take the measurement of your LCW and multiply it by 1.618. This number is the goal measurement for the circumference of your shoulders (measured around your body, by another person).
Keep in mind, that to create a physique that's most aesthetically pleasing, you want to achieve proportions that fit as closely to the Golden Ratio as possible.
So, do not, for example, measure your waist when you're the leanest you've ever been, unless you plan on staying there. Doing so will skew the measurement for your shoulder circumference goal.
The physique you build should be sustainable.
An Awesome Example
Colin is one of my online clients. He's been training with me for about three months and has dropped over 40 pounds. Now that we've gotten him past the "basic" part of his programming for fat loss, it's time to start gearing things towards the end goal of looking awesome.
Here are Colin's current stats:
Weight: 213 pounds
Upper arm: 17"
The first thing we do is note the knee measurement, which is 15 inches.
Next up is the thigh. According to the formula, Colin should aim for a thigh circumference of 26 inches. With 3 inches to go, Colin's got some work to do.
Moving to Colin's wrists, his measures 7.5 inches, meaning the goal for his upper arm would be 19 inches. Based on that, he'd also want to aim for 19 inches for his calves and neck.
Next is his waist. His current waist is 36.5 inches, but he's also 14% body fat. He's got about 30 pounds of fat on his body, and since his limb measurements aren't overly large, we can surmise that he's holding most of his fat in his midsection.
We'll make a conservative estimate that at 10% body fat (his goal) Colin's waist will be about 32 inches. Using the Golden Ratio, that would place his ideal shoulder circumference (measured around the shoulders, with arms at sides) at around 51.75 inches.
All told, here's a comparison of where Colin is versus his ideal stats:
Body Part Measured Current Goal Difference Needed
Waist 36.5 32 (Assumed Constant) -4.5
Shoulders 50.5 51.75 +1.25
Wrist 7.5 (Constant) 7.5 (Constant) N/A
Upper Arm 17 19 +2
Calf 17 19 +2
Neck 18 19 +1
Knee 15 (Constant) 15 (Constant) N/A
Thigh 23 26 +3
The plan of attack for Colin and I is pretty obvious. First, we diet him down to 10%, taking steps not to lose any mass. We establish his actual LCW (which I suspect will be 32"). From there, we start general bulking cycle, during which he should fill out his shoulders to the ideal measurement, as well as add some size to his neck.
After reassessment, we engage in a number of specialization programs, hitting each body part piecemeal.
If he dedicated himself to it from the time he gets to 10%, Colin should hit all the goals above, or at least come as close as he feels necessary within one to two years, less in some cases, more in others (assuming set-backs, etc.).
While it's certainly not a "quick fix" Colin will have a plan of attack and know exactly what to focus on to bring his physique to the next level.
He'll have an exact blueprint for looking awesome.
An Addendum for Arms: Allowing for Differences in Height and Joint Size
One of the (very few) benefits of being a short guy is that you tend to be more successful in muscle-building endeavors. Not only are you blessed with a shorter ROM (allowing bigger weights to be used) and put muscle on faster, muscle also looks bigger on you.
Put another way, less muscle is necessary to make a shorter frame look muscular.
On the other hand, a taller guy will need to gain a significant amount more muscle, and usually achieve a greater level of development, to appear equally muscular.
For example, a 16" upper arm on a guy who's 5'7" will look huge. It won't be nearly as impressive on someone 6'2".
It's important to mention this because the above formulas are based on the constants I mentioned before. However, some tall guys have small joints, which means that even if a taller guy achieves the level of development that formulas say is appropriate for his wrist size, his upper arms might still appear relatively small.
To that, I've come up with a little cheat sheet for arm size based on height.
It's not exact, of course, but it gives you a guideline. While I still recommend starting with the previous formulas, when it comes to arm size, the following chart will give you a general recommendation for size based on your height.
Even if your joints suggest something else, if you stick to this chart, your arms will be large and developed enough to be considered "big" or "impressive" for your height.
Now, your arms won't look hyooooge; however they'll be impressive enough to catch some looks, get touched by the ladies at bars, and you'll still be able to fit into a suit jacket.
Height Arm Size Height Arm Size
5'5" or below 15 5'10" –5'11.5" 16.75" – 17"
5'5" – 5'7" 15" – 15.5" 6' – 6'1" 17.25" – 17.5"
5'7'' – 5'8" 15.5" – 16" 6'1.5" – 6'2.5" 17.5" – 18"
5'8.5" – 5'9.5" 16" – 16.5" 6'3" – 6'4" 18.5" – 19"
Here's a brief example to illustrate.
One of my readers is a young guy named Ted, whose height measures at 5'4.5" – not a tall guy by any stretch (pun intended), but he has the advantage of a shorter ROM, so chances are he can out-bench you.
Plus, he has another advantage – within the lifespan of his training, he's going to achieve arms that are "big" a lot faster than someone whose 6'3"!
We won't get into his entire breakdown, but his wrist measures 6.5 inches, and so according to my (and Reeves') formula, his ideal arm measurement would be 16 inches.
Now that's a decent sized arm by most standards, but for a guy Ted's height, it'll look massive.
By way of comparison, famed bodybuilder Franco Columbu was listed at 5'5" and his arm measurement of 18" is widely considered to have been an exaggeration – chances are he was closer to 17". Either way, they looked colossal.
This means that for Ted, whose current arm measurement is just under 14 inches, 'big' arms could measure 15 inches or above, meaning he's not far off.
Again, what's ideal is relative to other measurements, and so height counts for a lot and often affects the goal more than joint size.
Final Thoughts on Looking Awesome
Okay Champ, you're all set. You've got your step-by-step system to keep you on the right path to looking awesome.
Once you've taken your measurements, you'll know exactly what your goals should be for your arms, legs, shoulders; your overall physique.
Remember, any good program can make you muscular and lean, but by following the above advice, you'll be well developed and symmetrical, and aesthetically impressive in every sense of the word. You'll have a physique that ladies love, and even the biggest internet hater will respect.
In short, you will look awesome.