Illustration of men with varying leg sizes.

What’s the ideal male leg size? How often should we be squatting and deadlifting? How much emphasis should we put on leg training if our goal is to improve our health, general strength, and appearance? What’s interesting is that there are popular views at opposite ends of the spectrum:

  • Some aesthetics-oriented approaches have us spending more of our time doing upper-body training: more incline bench pressing, chin-ups, overhead pressing, and biceps curls. If lower-body training is included at all, it’s often lighter stuff, such as one-legged squats and Romanian deadlifts.
  • Some strength training programs tell us that we should focus our energy on getting stronger at the Big Three lifts: the squat, bench press, and deadlift. In those circles, it’s common for every single workout to start with a few sets of strenuous back squats. Is that a good way to build a strong and attractive physique?

If we’re trying to build strong, healthy, and attractive physiques, how big should our legs be? How often should we train them? And what lower-body lifts should we choose?

Illustration of men with different leg sizes and degrees of muscularity.

Introduction

So, first of all, one point that often gets lost in conversations like these is that anything is better than nothing. It’s better to do push-ups than nothing at all, even if you don’t do cardio. Expanding that to lifting weights, it’s healthy to do the bench press, overhead press, and biceps curls, even if you don’t squat or deadlift. It’s not “bad” to only do upper-body training. Some people enjoy training that way, and it’s a helluva lot better than sitting on the couch for their overall strength, health, and appearance. It’s just not as good as it could be.

Furthermore, there’s no system that we need to mould ourselves into. We aren’t powerlifters who are judged based on three lifts. We’re not bodybuilders who need to conform to certain judging criteria. So it’s okay if you never squat or deadlift. It’s also okay if you only squat and deadlift. But I think people enjoy these articles because we talk about the correct and the best way to do things.

The case I want to make in this article is that we should take a balanced approach with our lifting routines. We shouldn’t necessarily prioritize the squat over every other lift, but we shouldn’t be neglecting it, either. That’s easier said than programmed, though. How often should we be squatting and deadlifting? How many sets should we be doing per workout? And does the squat always need to be the very first lift that we do?

I also want to argue that if we’re trying to build a strong and aesthetic physique, there’s more than just the squat, bench press, and deadlift. Choosing big compound lifts for our shoulders (such as the overhead press) and our upper backs (such as the chin-up) is just as important. In addition to that, if we don’t have isolation lifts for our arms (such as biceps curls, triceps extensions, and perhaps even some forearm training), our arms will likely lag behind. And even with all that, we haven’t done anything to bulk up our necks.

Finally, where does the law of diminishing returns kick in?

  • When are our legs big enough to look attractive, and is there such a thing as having legs that look too big?
  • When are our legs strong enough? Is squatting 225 pounds strong enough? What about 315? Most of us aren’t powerlifters, so building an ever stronger back squat isn’t always better.
  • And at what point do the general health benefits stop? If you can squat 225 for ten reps, is that good enough? Is there a point where the injury risks of squatting heavy start to outweigh the health benefits?

First, let’s go over some of the benefits of squatting and deadlifting, and make a case for why they should indeed be part of our lifting routines.

The Benefits of Building Strong Legs

Before we get into the benefits of building bigger and stronger legs, I should point out that when we’re talking about squatting and deadlifting, we aren’t necessarily talking specifically about the barbell back squat and conventional barbell deadlift. It’s true that those two lifts tend to give us the best bang for our bulk—they’re famous for a reason—but that isn’t to say that those specific variations need to be part of our lifting routines, just that we should find a way to train those general movement patterns.

Illustration of a man doing a dumbbell goblet squat.

When we say “squat,” keep in mind that you can do dumbbell goblet squats instead of low-bar back squats. And when we say deadlift, keep in mind that dumbbell Romanian deadlifts count, too. You can choose the lifts that best match your circumstances and your equipment.

Squatting & Deadlifting for General Health

First, I should be honest with you guys. I skipped leg day. To be fair, though, I was skipping push and pull day, too. I was a graphic design student who didn’t do any cardio or resistance training, and that was a major mistake. For an idea of what that looked like, here I am participating in a university photography project:

Shane Skipped Leg Day

I wasn’t really spending my evenings drinking bottles of wine in a haunted apartment, but my legs really were that small, and it’s hard to put into words how many problems that was causing me. My posture was caving in on itself, I was skinny and weak, I was unhappy with my appearance, and my cardiovascular health was so bad that I had started seeing a heart specialist on my eighteenth birthday. The doctor told me that I already at moderately high risk of having a heart attack and that if I couldn’t turn my health around, I’d be on statins by thirty.

Fast forward to my thirtieth birthday, and my heart specialist had me go to three different clinics to confirm my blood markers. He told me that in his entire career, he’d never seen someone make such a profound improvement to their general health. I’d been lifting three times per week for the past decade, I was going on daily walks, I had improved my diet, I had overhauled my sleep, and I had gained sixty pounds at 11% body fat:

When someone gains weight quickly, is it muscle or fat?

Now, to be clear, the heart specialist didn’t say that lifting weights is what caused my health to improve. He certainly didn’t say that it was the squatting and deadlifting that had improved my health. But adding up all those pieces, my health had taken a profound turn for the better. I had gone from high risk to low risk.

But I don’t want to undersell the importance of those big lower-body lifts, either. By squatting and deadlifting 2–3 times per week for two years, I had gone from doing partials squats 75 pounds to doing deep squats with 315 pounds. I had gone from doing awkward deadlifts with 95 pounds to doing conventional deadlifts with 425 pounds. Given that our quads and glutes are the two biggest muscles in our bodies, and that squats and deadlifts are the two best lifts for improving both bone density and cardiovascular fitness, I have no doubt that they were an important part of my transformation.

The research looking into lower-body strength is compelling, too. Here’s a study looking at the brain function of identical twins as they age. The guys with the stronger legs had better brain function and more grey matter than their identical twins, showing that lifting heavy can physically change our brains.

Doing a ten-rep set of squats, especially once we get strong at them, is quite similar to doing a hundred-meter sprint in terms of how much it demands of both our aerobic and anaerobic systems. If we rest a couple of minutes and then do another set, and then another, then we’re essentially doing high-intensity interval training (HIIT). We’re combining intense exercise with short periods of rest, and the effect on our general health can be profound.

Illustration of a doctor checking a skinny and muscular man to see if they're healthy.

Now, there are heavy compound upper-body lifts, too, such as the chin-up, the overhead press, and the bench press. But there’s a reason why people dread doing ten-rep sets of squats and deadlifts more than they dread a ten-rep set of the bench press. With the upper-body lifts, we aren’t engaging as much overall muscle mass, and so our aerobic systems aren’t being worked nearly as hard. The cardiovascular adaptations aren’t comparable.

To make things even more interesting, ten weeks of doing heavy squats has been shown to double our expression of a gene (PPAR-delta) that improves our ability to burn fat for energy (study). Not only could this make it easier to burn fat, but it could also potentially make it easier to stay leaner. And this is just one gene. The squat is a huge lift, and rigorous squat training causes us to adapt on many, many levels.

Squatting & Deadlifting for General Strength

The bigger our muscles are, the stronger they are. And the stronger our muscles are, the more force they can exert. This affects our ability to generate explosive force, too, so having bigger legs doesn’t just mean that we can lift more weight, it also means that we can run faster and jump higher. This makes deadlifts great for helping us lift heavier things off the ground, yes, but they’re also great for improving our general athleticism. The same is true with squats.

Moreover, lifting with the largest range of motion that we can manage is great for improving our flexibility, and gaining muscle mass has even been shown to physically lengthen our muscles (like adding links to a chain). Perhaps more importantly, we develop strength and control through that range of motion, improving our mobility. As a result, squatting and deadlifting are some of the best ways to improve our overall mobility and coordination.

Illustration of a man doing a conventional barbell deadlift.

When it comes to injury prevention, it’s the heavy squats and deadlifts that do the best job of strengthening our bones, tendons, muscles, and connective tissues, making them more resistant to injury. There’s also research showing that stronger glutes and lower-back muscles reduce the risk of developing lower back pain.

How Big is Too Big?

It’s pretty common for a guy to secretly skimp on his lower body training, but it’s very rare for a guy to be crazy enough to argue that we should be skimping on our lower body training.

Let me be that crazy person for a moment.

The Problem with “Big Three” Lifting Routines

Most serious lifters are serious enough to follow a good workout program. And all of the best workout programs include some form of squat (for the quads, glutes, and calves) and deadlift (for the hamstrings, glutes, and spinal erectors). In fact, most of those programs have a strength training bias, which often means starting the workout with heavy sets of low-bar back squats:

Illustration of a geared powerlifter doing a barbell back squat in a squat suit and knee wraps.

As controversial as this sounds, especially in strength training circles, this creates the opposite problem, where a lot of serious lifters have disproportionately large legs. And I don’t just means that they’re legs look too big, I mean that we have guys who can squat 400 pounds without being able to do ten chin-ups.

I’d argue that unless we’re powerlifters, we should care about more than just our squat, bench, and deadlift. Those are great lifts, but they aren’t the only great lifts. For example, the chin-up and overhead press are just as important for building well-rounded strength, and they have a far bigger impact on our appearance. As a result, we prefer to use a “Big Five” approach to bulking, where we focus equally on the squat, bench press, deadlift, overhead press, and chin-up, shifting our workouts from 33% upper body to 60% upper body.

Illustration of a man doing a barbell front squat.

The other thing to consider is that there are several variations of squats and deadlifts, each with their own unique advantages and disadvantages. If we follow in the footsteps of powerlifters, doing the low-bar back squat and sumo deadlift, we’re optimizing our routines for powerlifting performance, not for our health, general strength, or aesthetics. I’d argue that we’d get more benefit by choosing variations that incorporate our upper bodies a bit more, such as the front squat and conventional deadlift:

  1. The Front Squat: for our quads, glutes, and upper backs.
  2. The Bench Press: for our chests, shoulders, and triceps.
  3. The Conventional Deadlift: for our hamstrings, glutes, and lower backs.
  4. The Overhead Press: for our shoulders, triceps, and cores.
  5. The Chin-Up: for our upper backs, biceps, and abs.

The other popular trend in Big Three routines is to focus on lower rep ranges for the squat, bench press, and deadlift, but then to use moderate rep ranges for upper-body accessory work. For example, the workout might start with five-rep sets of squats but finish with ten-rep sets of barbell rows or biceps curls. That isn’t necessarily a problem for building muscle, but it means that we’re never squatting or deadlifting for more than five reps per set.

If we want the general health benefits of squatting and deadlifting, some of those benefits come from lifting in moderate rep ranges. That’s how we get more overall work done, and it’s how we stress our cardiovascular systems. For example, let’s say that someone can squat 275 for five reps for a total of 1375 pounds lifted per set. That same person could probably squat around 225 pounds for ten reps, which is a total of 2250 pounds lifted. In this case that’s 1.65x the amount of work being done. That’s why high-rep sets of squats and deadlifts leave us so winded. We’re doing more work. And that extra work can tax our cardiovascular systems enough to provoke robust adaptations.

Men with Bigger Upper Bodies are More Attractive

Are squats and deadlifts good for improving our aesthetics? It’s possible to have such small legs that it negatively impacts our appearance, but it’s actually surprisingly rare. Most of the aesthetic benefits we get from squats and deadlifts are from their ability to help us improve our posture and build more muscle in our traps and spinal erectors. Except in extreme cases, building bigger legs doesn’t really seem to impact our aesthetics at all.

Among the general public, most people are overweight, and overweight people tend to have proportionally stronger legs. After all, they need to carry their bodies around, including up flights of stairs, and that tends to build a fair amount of muscle in the legs, glutes, and lower backs. That’s not always the case, but it’s often the case.

Among lifters, you’d think that with all of these people benching instead of squatting and curling instead of deadlifting, we’d be seeing a bunch of guys with huge chests, big biceps and tiny legs. But that’s actually quite rare. Most guys who are good at lifting weights include some squats and deadlifts in their routines, and so most people with muscular physiques are fairly muscular overall. The guys who aren’t good at lifting weights might prioritize upper-body training, yes, but they often gain ten pounds and then that’s it. They get stuck in a plateau for the rest of their lives. They never build enough muscle to become all that disproportionate, and if they do, they usually fix it.

Illustration of men with different leg muscle sizes.

With naturally thinner guys, though, it’s more common to see stilt-like legs, and it’s absolutely possible to bulk up our upper bodies without paying enough attention to our legs, giving us a top-heavy appearance. It’s also common to see guys who squat without deadlifting, developing bigger quads without any hamstrings in the back. Or guys who don’t squat deep enough to activate their glutes, building big quads alongside flat butts.

However, most research looking into male attractiveness has been finding that lower-body strength doesn’t seem to have a large impact on our appearance. Having a stronger upper body scales almost perfectly with attractiveness, with stronger upper bodies being consistently rated as more attractive, but that same effect doesn’t seem to be true with our legs (study). As long as our legs aren’t obviously disproportionately small, they don’t seem to have any effect on our appearance.

Now, why is that? Why is it only the size and strength of our upper bodies that affect our attractiveness? I spoke with the lead researcher in the above study, Aaron Sell, PhD, and he explained that male attractiveness is linked to our formidability, which is linked to how good we are at fighting: punching, wrestling, swinging clubs, and throwing spears. It’s our upper-body muscles that determine how formidable we look. That shouldn’t even come as much of a surprise, given that wrestlers, boxers, and UFC fighters tend to have proportionally bigger upper bodies.

Now, as we mentioned above, that doesn’t mean that squats and deadlifts can’t be used to improve our appearance. If we choose front-loaded squats instead of back squats, we can increase the demands on our spinal erectors, which will give us a stronger and thicker torso, as well as helping to improve our posture. That can absolutely improve our aesthetics.

Before/After illustration of a man improving his posture.

Furthermore, one of the main benefits of the conventional deadlift is that it does such a good job of bulking up our entire posterior chains, including our hamstrings and glutes, yes, but also our spinal erectors, lats, and traps. As a result, the conventional deadlift is one of the very best lifts for improving our aesthetics, it’s just that it does so by helping us bulk up our upper bodies.

Bigger Upper Bodies Look More Masculine

When men hit puberty, we begin to produce more testosterone, our spines grow longer, and our shoulders grow broader. If we gain fat, most of that fat is dumped in our guts. That gives us longer, wider, and bigger upper bodies.

When women hit puberty, it’s their hips that grow broader and their legs that grow longer. If they gain fat, most of it’s stored in their lower bodies—in the hips and thighs. So even without considering muscle mass, men tend to have bigger upper bodies than women.

Illustration of a man with a feminine and a masculine body shape.

Then, when it comes to gaining muscle, men have more androgen receptors in our upper backs, upper arms, chests, and shoulder muscles, meaning that we tend to build muscle there more easily. As such, a “manly” physique associated with having big shoulders, chests, and backs.

With women, the opposite is true. They have more androgen receptors in their lower bodies, fewer in their upper bodies. As they gain muscle and strength, they’ll gain more of it in their hips and legs. As a result, a “feminine” physique is often defined by big hips and thighs.

This makes men naturally more upper-body dominant, women more lower-body dominant. And as we get stronger, that dimorphism only widens. Still, with enough deliberate effort, we can build massive lower bodies. For example, if we start every workout with squats, that’s where most of our energy will be invested, and we’re going to wind up gaining a lot of lower-body size without gaining a proportionate amount of upper body size.

Starting every single workout with squats might sound extreme, but that’s what you’ll see in a lot of popular strength programs, such as Starting Strength and StrongLifts.

In fact, most workout programs that are oriented around powerlifting or strength training are going to put most of their emphasis on the squat, deadlift, and bench press, which is going to result in most of your gains going to lower body. After all, that’s where most of your effort is going.

What’s interesting is that the powerlifting lifts are fairly arbitrary. They weren’t chosen because they were the best lifts, they were chosen because they made for great competition lifts. Other lifts, such as the chin-up and the overhead press (and perhaps even the barbell curl), are just as good for developing overall strength, but for various reasons, they weren’t selected as the official competition lifts.

Let’s consider those two lifts for a second:

  • Chin-ups develop the upper back, biceps, and abs.
  • Overhead presses which develop the shoulders, upper back, upper chest, and triceps.
Illustration of a man flexing flaming biceps.

If we added these two lifts to the big three, we’d have a program that was more effective for developing overall functional strength, given that our body would be proficient at these other important movement patterns. Our legs would still grow big, but with three of the five big lifts being upper-body lifts, our upper bodies would grow proportionally far bigger.

Our Lower Bodies Don’t Need to Be Infinitely Strong

A few years ago, I went to get a DEXA scan for an article we were writing on body-fat percentage. Here in Toronto, the main place to get DEXA scans is at The Bone Wellness Centre, so, along with my body-fat analysis, I got a bone-health consultation from the expert there. I had only been lifting for a few years, but my bone density was already (literally) off the chart. Now, it’s not that my bones were actually that dense, it’s just that the chart wasn’t designed for athletes or lifters, it was designed for people in the general population who were trying to improve their bone health. She explained that there wasn’t really any room for improvement—my bone density wasn’t just in the healthy range, it was at the very top of the healthy range.

Illustration of a man doing a barbell sumo deadlift.

At the time, I was squatting 275 pounds and deadlifting 375. Now, I’m squatting 325 pounds and deadlifting 425. Is that better for my general health? And is there really a reason to think that reaching my goal of squatting 400 pounds and deadlifting 500 pounds would improve my general health even more? I’m not so sure. There’s no doubt that building a strong deadlift is fantastic for our brains, our general health, and our overall athleticism, but as we get ever stronger, the risk-to-reward ratio increases. In fact, it’s actually quite rare to see elite powerlifters who aren’t nursing some aches, pains, and injuries.

But I wanted to make sure, so I asked Greg Nuckols, MA. Nuckols is a respected researcher, a record-holding powerlifter, and he runs the (great) powerlifting site, Stronger by Science. He guessed that after we can squat about 1.5 times our body weight with great technique, we’ve already gotten most of the general health benefits of squatting. He explained that doing heavy high-rep sets was certainly taxing on our cardiovascular systems (which is a healthy form of exercise), but that squatting extremely heavy for low reps was more of a powerlifter thing. And powerlifters aren’t doing it to improve their health, they’re doing it to win at their sport. And they’re willing to hurt themselves to do it.

Upper-Body Strength is Often Our Limiting Factor

Back when I was a skinny guy, I was physically incapable of lifting heavy things. Picking up a heavy piece of furniture was a total no-go. My spinal erectors just weren’t strong enough to hold my back in a safe position, my hips weren’t mobile enough for me to bend down with good form, and my grip wasn’t strong enough to hold onto anything heavy. I’m grateful that I didn’t throw out my back like my dad did. He was also skinny, and a bad moving day left him with a lifelong injury that he still deals with today, several decades later.

However, after gaining sixty pounds of muscle, and after building up a stronger squat and deadlift, I haven’t run into a single lower-body strength issue. Not once. Now, I’m not saying I’m strong enough to lift absolutely everything. I’m not. But when I find myself unable to lift something, it’s never my lower body that’s the weakest link. My fingers give out, my traps ache, my biceps burn. It’s the same thing when I’m carrying around my wife or kid. Same with moving furniture or carrying groceries home. My legs aren’t the problem. In fact, I can’t think of a single time since deadlifting 225 pounds that my lower-body strength has been a limiting factor. The main benefit from going from a 225-pound to a 415-pound deadlift isn’t that it made my lower body stronger, it’s that it made my spinal erectors, upper back, and forearms stronger

Illustration of a man doing a Zercher squat

Squats and deadlifts are still important, but so too are the bench press, overhead press, chin-up, row, and biceps curl. Spending more time strengthening those upper-body muscles may do a better job of strengthening our weak links. There’s also the possibility of choosing lower-body lifts that also help to strengthen our upper bodies, such as conventional deadlifts, front squats, and Zercher squats.

Big Legs Don’t Fit into Pants

This sounds like a stupid point to make, and to a certain extent, it is. It seems backwards to shape our bodies to our clothes instead of shaping our clothes to fit our bodies. But realistically, most of us will be buying clothes from regular stores, and I wish somebody would have warned me that building bigger legs would prevent me from wearing Levi’s jeans.

Now, this problem doesn’t affect everyone equally. Overweight people buy pants with larger waist sizes, and those larger waist sizes allow for larger butts and thighs. However, for those of us who are lean, having legs that are too big can become a real problem while buying pants. As Gregory O’Gallagher (from Kinobody) pointed out, if you keep going hard with the leg lifts, at a certain point, you’ll need to start buying a too-large waist size or switch over to pants designed for overweight people.

Like us, O’Gallagher wasn’t saying that we should have small, weak, or useless legs—he can deadlift over 405 pounds, squat over 315 pounds—just that there’s a point of diminishing returns where getting even stronger can start to make it harder to look good in regular clothes.

For the serious lifter, that might not matter. Greg Nuckols squats over 700 pounds and lives in athletic shorts. No problem. But not everyone is a serious lifter. Some people want to be able to fit into pants.

Squats Won’t Make Our Upper Bodies Bigger

There’s an old idea among bodybuilders that doing heavy squats mixed in with our upper-body training can help us bulk up our upper bodies. The idea is that it’s the big lower body lifts, such as squats and deadlifts, that stimulate the strongest anabolic hormone response—more testosterone, growth hormone, and IGF-1. That’s true, yes, and a few notable studies are often thrown around, but if we take all of the research into consideration, the effect largely disappears. To quote Brad Schoenfeld, PhD, who published the paper reviewing all of the studies done thus far:

What seems relatively clear from the literature is that if a relationship does, in fact, exist between acute systemic factors and muscle growth, the overall magnitude of the effect would be fairly modest.

Brad Schoenfeld, PhD

Furthermore, we have to factor in the opportunity cost of doing more lower-body training. If we do three sets of squats instead of five, that means that we can do a few more sets of upper body training. And there’s no doubt that an extra set of the bench press stimulates more chest growth than an extra set of squats.

What’s the Ideal Leg Size?

To find your ideal leg size, take your waist measurement and multiply it by 0.75. According to Casey Butt, PhD, that number is your ideal thigh circumference measured at the midway point between your knee and hip joint with your muscles relaxed. Note that for this to work properly, your waist needs to be quite lean. If you’re over 15% body fat, you might want to use your ideal waist size instead of your current waist size.

  • Ideal thigh size: waist × 0.75

To get this specific calculation, Dr Butt used the proportions found in statues of ancient Greek warriors and combined that with modern attractiveness research to come up with the most attractive male proportions. So the idea is that these proportions reflect the physique of a man who’s both strong and healthy, as an ancient warrior, Greek wrestler, or Olympic athlete would be.

What’s interesting is that the ideal leg size isn’t very big. For me, with a waist size of 31–32 inches, that gives me an ideal thigh size of around 24 inches. Nobody would consider those small legs, but they aren’t very big, either.

What Leg Proportions are the Most Attractive?

If you want to know all about building an attractive body, we’ve got an in-depth article on aesthetics here. To make a long story short, though, women are, on average, attracted to guys with big upper-body muscles (study). In fact, the perceived strength of our upper bodies accounts for around 70% of the attractiveness of our physiques overall, dwarfing factors like symmetry and posture. After the strength of our upper bodies, the other two important factors are body-fat percentage and height. They barely noticed how big our lower bodies are, provided that they looked reasonably athletic.

We should note, however, that the highest-quality studies involved looking at real men (mostly in college), and most men with muscular upper bodies also have muscular lower bodies. So even though women weren’t noticing the men’s legs, presumably these weren’t guys who were only bench pressing and doing barbell curls. It’s certainly possible that disproportionate or unathletic physiques would have been rated as less attractive.

The people who care about how big our lower bodies tend to be powerlifters, which makes sense, given that the squat is 1/3 of their sport, and bodybuilders, who care about how big every muscle is. But even then, most bodybuilders have traditionally favoured a v-tapered physique with a proportionately bigger upper body. It’s only recently that professional bodybuilders have begun to favour larger legs.

For example, back in the golden era of bodybuilding, which most people consider the golden age of aesthetics, you’d have guys like Frank Zane and Arnold Schwarzenegger winning the Mr Olympia title, and they had rather large upper bodies compared to their lower bodies:

Golden Era Bodybuilders Dig the V-Taper Aesthetic

This was reflected in their training routines, too. Squats were important, but not nearly as important as upper-body training. Most of their workouts would start with a couple of upper-body lifts before moving on to some lower-body training. It’s not that they had naturally smaller legs, it’s that leg training was seen as less important than upper-body training.

Nowadays, however, bodybuilding is all about the X-physique, with squats, leg presses, and leg extensions becoming far more dominant in bodybuilding routines. For example, here’s the most recent Mr Olympia winner, Phil Heath:

phil-heath-x-taper-proportions-legs

It takes a lot of effort to build legs that big, and I appreciate that—it’s impressive—but it’s an extremely niche sport. Most women don’t find those physiques attractive, and most men don’t want to look that way. That goes for Arnold Schwarzenegger, too, mind you. Most women consider him too bulky. Even in his heyday, he was getting roles as the action hero, barbarian, and killing machine, not the heartthrob.

If we look to the physiques that women find more attractive (and the kind of physiques that most men want to build), then we start to see men who look less like bodybuilders, more like Greek wrestlers:

Ryan Reynolds

Now, obviously these physiques are still built by lifting weights. The methods aren’t so different from bodybuilding. Biceps are still built by chin-ups and biceps curls. Shoulders are still built by overhead presses and lateral raises. It’s just that we’re just looking at guys with worse muscle-building genetics who spend less time training and who are (probably) aren’t taking performance-enhancing drugs.

However, if you take a look at Ryan Reynolds, there, you’ll notice that, first of all, the person choosing this heartthrob photo didn’t choose a photo where his legs were all that prominently displayed. But even if you look at his thighs, you’ll notice that this is clearly a v-tapered physique. His chest, arms, shoulders, and upper back are much more developed than this legs and butt.

The Most Aesthetic Male Proportions Overall

According to Dr Casey Butt’ guidelines, your hips should be about 25% larger than your waist, your thighs should be about 25% smaller than your waist, your shoulders should be around 62% larger than your waist, and your biceps should be around 50% the size of your waist.

  • Ideal waist size: you at 8–15% body fat
  • Ideal hip size: waist × 1.25
  • Ideal thigh size: waist × 0.75
  • Ideal shoulder size: waist × 1.618
  • Ideal bicep size: waist × 0.50

For example, here are the ideal proportions for a man who has a 30-inch waist at 12% body fat:

  • Waist: 30 inches
  • Hips: 37.5 inches
  • Thighs: 22.5 inches
  • Shoulders: 48.5 inches
  • Biceps: 15 inches.

Even for naturally skinny guys, these measurements tend to be realistically achievable, and often within just a couple of years of starting to lift weights.

How Much Leg Work Should We Do?

It’s time to get a little bit technical. Bear with me. The more sets and reps we do with a particular muscle, the more that muscle will grow (meta-analysis). A higher training volume means more muscle growth, at least up to a point. It seems like around 4–8 sets per muscle group per workout is enough to maximally stimulate muscle growth, and going higher than that doesn’t necessarily yield any extra growth.

The next thing to consider is our training frequency. Our muscles grow best if we stimulate them 2–3 times per week. So, to build muscle as quickly as possible, we want to do 4–8 sets per muscle per workout, and to train those muscles 2–3 times per week, giving us a total of 8–24 sets per week per muscle. (It’s possible to benefit from training our muscles as many as five times per week, but that doesn’t seem to offer any extra advantage.)

Illustration of two men with different upper and lower body proportions

However, there are a lot of muscles in our bodies, ranging from the big muscles like our quads, glutes, shoulders, chests, and lats, all the way to our smaller muscles, like those in our necks and forearms. And so, training all of our muscles with a high enough volume can take quite a lot of time and energy. If we’re only lifting weights a few times per week, we might not have enough time to maximize muscle growth in all of our muscles at once. Furthermore, our ability to recover is finite. If our lifting volume is too high in too many different areas, we can start to accumulate fatigue instead of muscle growth.

Plus, some lifts are harder to recover from than others. A squat is quite taxing on our central nervous system, a bicep curl is not. If our workouts have one fewer set of squats, that might leave room for three more sets of curls. If we look at the deadlift, that ratio gets even more extreme, where a few sets of deadlifts can be more fatiguing than entire upper-body workouts. Now, that isn’t to say that squats and deadlifts are bad—they’re two of the best lifts for building muscle—just that they come with an opportunity cost to consider. Since we can only lift so much, only recover from so much, the price of bigger legs is a smaller upper body, and vice versa.

Finally, the lifts we start our workouts with are going to get the majority of our energy. If a workout starts with squats, we can expect most of the growth stimulus to go to our legs, even if we include plenty of upper-body work afterwards. That’s fine, but if every workout starting with squats, we’re selling our upper bodies short. It might make more sense to start some workouts with squats, others with deadlifts, but also to have some workouts where we start off with the chin-up, the overhead press, or the bench press.

This means that when designing a workout program, we aren’t just trying to cram a bunch of compound lifts together, we’re trying to pick the lifts that offer us the best returns on our investment. We’re also trying to arrange those lifts in a way that best matches our goals.

For example, someone who wants to prioritize leg growth might start their workouts with a few sets of low-bar back squats, investing a ton of energy into bulking up their quads and glutes. But someone who wants to prioritize building broader shoulders might start their workouts with some overhead presses and chin-ups, and then do some lighter front squats afterwards. The squatting volume is the same in both cases, but we’d expect the first guy to build bigger legs, the second guy to build a bigger upper body.

Illustration of a skinny guy building muscle and becoming muscular (before/after).

I know this might seem like splitting hairs, but if you gain thirty pounds while following one program, you might wind up with a totally different physique than if you gained thirty pounds following another program. If you care about the size, strength, and aesthetics of your physique, that might be something you want to take into consideration when arranging your workouts. And different programs make these judgement calls differently.

The more time and energy we invest in specific muscle groups, the bigger and stronger they’ll grow. If there’s a lift you’re trying to improve at, best to put it first in your workout. If there’s a muscle group you’re eager to grow, better to put it front and centre and do more total sets for it.

Which Style of Training is Best for Our Proportions?

Different workout programs emphasize different lifts, different muscle groups, and different proportions. Some strength training programs train legs three days per week and start every single workout with squats. some bodybuilding programs train legs just once per week, with 2–3 separate workouts devoted entirely to their upper bodies. I would argue that both of those approaches are flawed, but let’s go into a few different popular approaches.

Illustration of a bodybuilder flexing his muscles.

Upper-Lower Split Proportions

An upper-lower split program alternates between upper-body days and lower-body days—50% volume for each. This is a great way of training for people who need to prioritize their lower-body strength or who want to build truly massive legs.

For example, it’s common for athletes to train this way, and I’ve seen world-class athletics coaches, such as Eric Cressey, design workout programs like this. If you’re a rugby player, say, then you might want to devote a ton of time to building bigger and faster legs, but you still need your upper body to be big and strong.

Monday: Lower body.
Tuesday: Upper body.
Wednesday: Rest.
Thursday: Lower body.
Friday: Upper body.
Saturday: Rest.
Sunday: Rest.

5×5 Proportions

Depending on the 5×5 program, it might have something like 40% lower-body lifts, 60% upper body lifts. (I got that breakdown from Stronglifts, which is a squat-based program.) This is a style of training that originated in powerlifting circles, so the idea here is to gain a lot of strength in the big three powerlifting lifts. Two of the three powerlifting lifts are lower body lifts, so it makes sense that there’s an emphasis on the lower body.

  • Monday: Full body, squat emphasis.
  • Tuesday: Rest.
  • Wednesday: Full body, squat emphasis.
  • Thursday: Rest.
  • Friday: Full body, squat emphasis.
  • Saturday: Rest.
  • Sunday: Rest.

Push-Pull-Legs Proportions

This kind of program has a push, pull, and leg day, with each of those days having a similar training volume. That’s 67% upper body, 33% lower body. These programs tend to be higher in volume (more lifts per muscle group per week) and thus do better at building overall muscle mass than strength-focused programs. Even these programs tend slightly more towards the X-physique, but depending on your style (and genetics), these can give pretty aesthetic results.

This isn’t my favourite way to design a routine for several good reasons, outlined in this article, but these programs are not at all bad.

  • Monday: Push, size emphasis.
  • Tuesday: Rest.
  • Wednesday: Pull, size emphasis.
  • Thursday: Rest.
  • Friday: Legs, size emphasis.
  • Saturday: Rest.
  • Sunday: Rest.

Big Five Proportions

We use an approach that we’ve dubbed the “Big 5” approach to bulking. It’s built around the squat, deadlift, bench press, chin-up, and overhead press. At first glance, that would make our Bony to Beastly Bulking Program about 60% upper body and 40% lower body.

However, we favour the front squat (or goblet squat), which puts more emphasis on the upper back. Similarly, when we deadlift, we put more emphasis on the spinal erectors.

Finally, we also tend to choose accessory lifts like biceps curls, chest flyes, and lateral raises, which help to develop the muscle groups that most of us care more about. We still squat and deadlift heavy to get all the health and performance benefits—strength, bone density, tougher connective tissues, better cardiovascular health, and so on—but we skip the calf raises and do some extra biceps curls instead.

Illustration of a man doing a dumbbell biceps curl.

So what we wind up with is a minimalist routine for our lower bodies, with a more comprehensive approach for our upper bodies. It looks something like this:

  • Monday: Full-body strength + upper body size.
  • Tuesday: Rest.
  • Wednesday: Full-body strength + upper body size.
  • Thursday: Rest.
  • Friday: Full-body strength + upper body size.
  • Saturday: Rest.
  • Sunday: Rest.

This isn’t radical, just more classic. 50s lifters like Steve Reeves would do full-body workouts three times per week that were around 75% upper body. His proportions became so famous that guys still aspire to look like him today.

Steve Reeves Proportions

It’s worth noting that not all aspects of his workout were ideal. Bodybuilding was a new thing back then, and over the past 60 years, we’ve learned a lot more about how to build an optimal hypertrophy program.

He hit the nail on the head by doing three full-body workouts per week, though, with modern research showing it to be the most effective way to bulk up—at least for beginner and intermediate trainees. I think his upper-to-lower-body ratio was spot on as well, although that’s more subjective.

Key Takeaways

Building strong legs is amazing for our health, fitness, brain, and even our appearance. Squats and deadlifts are also the two best lifts for gaining overall muscle mass, improving our overall body composition, increasing our bone density, building stronger connective tissues, and improving our cardiovascular health. Of all the lifts, there’s a good argument to be made that moderate-rep sets of heavy squats and deadlifts do the most to improve our general health.

In fact, having strong, functional legs is important enough that I think we should train our legs 2–3 times per week, doing 4–8 sets of squat and deadlift variations each workout (as part of a full-body workout). That higher frequency will give us the best muscle and strength gains, it’s a great form of exercise for our general health … and it still leaves plenty of time and energy to focus on our other lifts.

Illustration of a skinny guy building muscle and becoming muscular (before/after).

However, leg lifts don’t always need to be front and centre in our training. Not every workout needs to start with heavy sets of squats or deadlifts. There’s nothing wrong with starting our workouts with chin-ups or overhead presses, followed by lighter squat and deadlift variations, such as goblet squats and Romanian deadlifts.

Furthermore, you might prefer choosing lower-body lifts that also improve the strength and appearance of your upper bodies. For example, the front squat (or goblet squat) is just as good at bulking up our quads and glutes as the back squat, but it also builds muscle in our upper backs and helps to improve our posture. The conventional deadlift is another good example, where it’s great for our hamstrings and glutes as well as for our spinal erectors, traps, lats, and forearms.

I would argue that this approach actually gives us better general strength, general health, and aesthetics as we bulk up. For example, check out Thanos’ five-month progress photos:

Bony to Beastly Before After Transformation Thanos

Would he have looked or performed better if he did twice as much leg work and half as much upper-body work? I’m not so sure. In fact, after just a few months of bulking up, I bet he’s already closing in on the most attractive leg size for his frame.

To wrap this up, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a higher leg volume. But there’s also no sort of moral imperative there either. You can do less if you want to. Or more. Just consider your goals when making that decision.

What do you think?

Shane Duquette is the co-founder and creative lead of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell, and has a degree in design from York University in Toronto, Canada. He's personally gained sixty pounds at 11% body fat and has nine years of experience helping nearly ten thousand skinny people bulk up.

Marco Walker-Ng is the co-founder and strength coach of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell, and is a certified trainer (PTS) with a Bachelor's degree in Health Sciences (BHSc) from the University of Ottawa. His specialty is helping people build muscle to improve their strength and general health, with clients including college, professional, and Olympic athletes.

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84 Comments

  1. Quadzilla on September 27, 2016 at 2:28 pm

    If you have to ask, they aren’t big enough.

    • John on September 27, 2016 at 2:57 pm

      You know that’s right

    • Shane Duquette on September 27, 2016 at 3:47 pm

      Hehe. Oh Greg, I thought about your quads quite a lot while writing this article. Beastliest quads in the community for sure. But watch out. I’ve doubled my squat volume. I’m coming for you!

      • Quadzilla on September 29, 2016 at 8:48 am

        Haha! I’m flattered.

      • John on April 6, 2020 at 10:56 am

        Hi Shane, I’d just like to draw your attention to a specific detail within Casey Butts research. In the measurement section he stipulates that the thigh measurement should be taken half way between the knee and hip socket. Which is lower than the typically widest point of the leg. He also says the legs should not be flexed saying most bodybuilders will have a far larger leg measurement simply by moving their tape measure up and flexing their legs. Therefore maybe the ideal leg size of 75% of the waist is slightly larger than suggested here. For example my legs are 26.5 inches around the widest part flexed but only 24.5 inches with his measurements which puts me an inch above ideal with the first and an inch below with the latter. Loving the articles

  2. John on September 27, 2016 at 2:53 pm

    StrongLifts 5×5 rocks!

    • Shane Duquette on September 27, 2016 at 3:47 pm

      I agree. I think it’s pretty cool 🙂

      In case it isn’t clear, we only mention researchers, experts, competitors etc that we respect. We think very highly of all the names mentioned in this article.

  3. Ben on September 27, 2016 at 4:04 pm

    Where should we measure our thighs? Because e.g i’m 170 cm tall, have 56 cm circumference about midway, but a few centimeters higher where my quads come in, it’s 60,5 cm. That’s a huge difference! And i’m fairly lean (can see my upper abs still after bulking up +21 kgs in 3 months)
    Also, where to measure shoulders? A few cms above my armpit it’s 119 cm, a bit above my nipples, under my armpit it’s 122 cms. Totally different numbers.
    Thanks for the answer.

    • Shane Duquette on September 27, 2016 at 4:30 pm

      Nice job, Ben! 21 kilos in 3 months and still lean!? WTF holy gains 😀

      Measure yourself at the widest points. The only exception to that is with your waist, which should be measured at the narrowest point 🙂

      • Ben on September 28, 2016 at 9:50 am

        Thanks! I think i’ll send you guys some pictures when i end the program, so you can show everyone that your program works like a charm! I went from 52 kg to 73 kg in 11 weeks, eating lots of bananas eacb day, so carbohydrates are the secret i swear!
        Anyways, which one is a bigger turnout for girls: a weaker, less developed leg, or a stronger, bit overdeveloped leg? Because well, i guess i have to somehow weaken my legs if the weaker is more attractive, since i started phase 3 this week, and they’re already as huge as f.ck. I want some more size to my upper body, but i guess im doimg good already, if these numbers are correct.

        • Krsiak Daniel on September 29, 2016 at 4:25 am

          Out of personal experience. I never had legs or butt to begin with and there was no problem in the past to get a date 🙂 Are you a trained guy, perfect, girls notice for sure, you get points. What is no good and I see it all the time in friends who are powerlifters. Girls see it instantly and it is not good. Too much big legs are for average girl turn off.

        • Shane Duquette on October 1, 2016 at 9:31 pm

          You’re doing crazy good, Ben! 😀

          I think strength is very rarely a weakness. I wouldn’t try to weaken my legs if I were in your situation, I’d just focus a little more effort on the areas that aren’t growing as quickly. So maybe one fewer set and an extra rep in the tank on the squats and deadlifts, an extra set on the curls, pushdowns, lateral raises, flys, etc.

        • Shane Duquette on October 1, 2016 at 9:33 pm

          And definitely send us those pictures! 😀

  4. JK on September 27, 2016 at 4:12 pm

    Great stuff again. Im going with 4 sets of legs each week and the rest is 14 sets of upper body (8 for back and chest and 6 for arms and shoulders). Idk if thats all good but it puts me in that 25-30% of effort put in legs (excluding cardio). But I have noticed I have some lower back problems that werent caused by an injury, they just kinda sneaked up on me, since you talk about this a bit in your article would you have any advice as to how to go about mending this through exercise?

    • Shane Duquette on September 27, 2016 at 4:38 pm

      4 sets per week for your legs is very low volume. However, I know you have a great base of strength, your lifting technique is solid, and your mobility is good… so you don’t necessarily have a problem there. 4 sets per week, after all, should be more than enough to maintain your great lower body strength and function. This frees up room to accomplish your other goals.

      As for your lower back, that’s a very good question. In your case, my guess would be that your hips are tilted forward, your lower back spends all day a little contracted, and those muscles get fatigued. Even with a lower volume approach, that area just isn’t getting to fully recover. It’s overworked.

      I don’t think the problem is that you’re lifting heavier than your structure is built for, but we might want to work on your posture and see if there’s something in your technique that we can clean up. But, from what I remember at least, your technique looks pretty good.

      In the community, could you send me a side view of yourself standing sideways, relaxed posture? And then maybe a video of your squat and deadlift?

      • JK on September 27, 2016 at 5:08 pm

        Oh I feel so stupid and sorry for waisting your time (by giving you wrong information to work with) but i somehow managed to jumble up all the numbers for my sets. Its actually broken down like this 12 legs 12 chest 12 back 6 biceps 6 triceps and 6 shoulders. For the other part you must have me confused for someone else since im not a part of the community just a guy that likes to read the articles and always finds something to ask in the comments section 🙂

        • Shane Duquette on September 27, 2016 at 5:16 pm

          Oh! Yep. We have a member with your first name and last initial. I saw your email and assumed you were him. I’m sorry about that.

          Okay, so your volume sounds pretty reasonable now. But… I have no idea what’s going on with your back. That’s a tricky issue. Even WITH all the information, there’d still be some trial and error involved to fix you up.

  5. Y on September 28, 2016 at 4:45 am

    Have the winners been selected for that promo comp thing jared sent out?

    • Jared Polowick on September 28, 2016 at 3:44 pm

      Not yet. The software we used to log your feedback was having some serious technical issues 🙁 We heard from a number of people through email that they were having a hard time getting in touch with us. We’re hoping the tech guys have fixed it by now, we might send out one reminder email and extend it for a couple more days. But we might just wrap it up now, and then just do something again like this in the future—hopefully without the technical glitches. If you filled it out, we really appreciate your time Y!

  6. Joe tijerina on September 28, 2016 at 7:24 am

    Hey Shane I purchased B2B last August but I never got around to actually starting the program. Will I have to pay the full $200 for another year or is there a discounted price for those choosing to continue after their year is up? I’ll buy again either way. I belive in you guys and your program. Thanks Shane.
    Joe T.

    • Jared Polowick on September 28, 2016 at 3:49 pm

      Hey Joe,

      You’re free to keep the eBook, program, recipe book, etc. that you got when you signed up. That’s yours and you paid for it. If you lost it, that’s 100% okay, we can email it back out. I’m not sure if you lost the files, but I’ll email them to you now.

      We also have a couple renewal options for members. If you log in to your account, and then click “Add/Renew” you’ll see them there 🙂

      The great news is that renewing your account will get you access to the brand new Second Edition of the program.

      I hope that helps. Feel free to email us if you ever have any problems or questions like this!

    • Shane Duquette on September 29, 2016 at 11:37 am

      Thank you so much for supporting us, Joe! You don’t need to buy the whole program again, like Jared said, and you can renew your account from here on out for just 9/month.

      Sounds like you never got to actually use the program, though, and you never got the results that we promised. I’m going to shoot you ANOTHER email with some extra stuff, and we’re going to help you out 🙂

  7. ea on September 28, 2016 at 3:57 pm

    hey there b to b,

    Would you ever sell that glorious looking cookbook alone?
    I would really like to know some high calorie recipes , as my apetite is sinking in to the abyss. My muscles are not happy.

    Also, how do i get my muscles look hard? ive gained more than 40 pounds but still look kinda soft. im fairly lean too. Genetics? Anyway great post as always.

    • Shane Duquette on September 29, 2016 at 11:50 am

      If you’re signed up to the newsletter, we might have some good news for you soon!

      You might also really love the community, though. That’s where we test out all our new recipes, we’ve got a lot of members sharing their own recipes, and tons of cool conversations about how to hack our appetites so that we can eat more, more enjoyably 🙂

      Muscles hardness is a super confusing topic. For whatever reason, it’s very understudied. Most of the “answers” are more like guesses. For example, there have been studies looking into the density of muscles built with either higher or lower rep training, but still, nothing really conclusive about which leads to harder muscles. So most of the opinions there are just theories and bro-science.

      There are two things you can do, though. The first is getting even leaner. I know you’re fairly lean already, but most people are holding more fat than they suspect, and even a little bit of fat on top of your muscles will make them look and feel a lot softer. Fat can even be inside our muscles, sort of like how fattier cuts of steak have fat marbled into them. The second thing you can do is build even more muscle. That would increase the ratio of muscle to fat, making them harder. You’ve already built a helluva lot of muscle, though, so losing a bit of fat might be easier.

  8. Gio on October 1, 2016 at 5:04 am

    Hey B2B,

    Great article! What is your take on calves tho? You mention that it has less androgen receptors. How can the calves be stimulated properly?

    • Shane Duquette on October 1, 2016 at 11:49 am

      Calves have notoriously low growth potential in a lot of guys. It’s fairly straightforward to stimulate them—both standing and seated calf raises work quite well—but they won’t respond by growing as large as many of our other muscles. It’s also worth pointing out that most guys seem happy with their modest calf growth from just sticking to the compound lower body lifts.

  9. Krsiak Daniel on October 8, 2016 at 3:40 am

    I look like the guy that “skipped torso day” 😀

    • Shane Duquette on October 8, 2016 at 12:08 pm

      Hehe. I wouldn’t say you look like that guy, Daniel, but I can see how you’d be more susceptible to that look. Seems like a lot of us are. Maybe in part because we have smaller rib cages.

  10. Andy on October 10, 2016 at 9:14 pm

    How were the formulas determined regarding the proportions? If the legs were to be 25% smaller than the waist, it doesn’t make sense for the hips to be 25% larger than the waist – that is actually a very feminine shape. I would assert that the hip:waist ratio actually decreases significantly beyond 1.25:1 as one gets leaner past a certain point (holding muscle mass constant), but I don’t have any scientific proof to back this, only personal anecdote & experience

    • Shane Duquette on October 11, 2016 at 10:04 am

      Hey Andy, good question!

      The waist-to-hip ratio that’s generally considered the most attractive for women is 0.7 (hips 43% larger than waist). For men it’s 0.8 (hips 25% larger than waist). That may not sound like a huge difference, but it sure looks like one.

      I got these proportions from the researcher Casey Butts’ book Your Muscular Potential. He compared a few different studies and philosophies regarding proportions, but the main study cited for the most attractive male waist-to-hip ratio was Visual perception of male body attractiveness.

      If a guy is losing fat and keeping his muscle, my guess would be that he’d be losing a lot of fat under and over his abs, which is where men tend to store most of their fat, making his waist a lot smaller. His butt would surely get smaller as well, but my guess would be that he would wind up with even larger hips compared to his waist.

  11. PG on November 27, 2016 at 10:30 pm

    Does your recipe book contain vegetarian options?

    • Jared Polowick on November 28, 2016 at 10:16 am

      At the moment, most of the recipes are vegetarian, but it’s quite light on vegan options. The second edition of the recipe book, which is coming out very soon (and you’ll get it free if you sign up now) will have more plant-based options. (Our homemade gainer shake is already vegetarian by default and has fully plant-based options included.)

      The good news is that the main eBook teaches you everything you’ll need to know about nutrition, vegetarian or not, including how to tweak your current diet into a muscle-building one. So you don’t need to eat the foods that we like, rather you continue to eat the types of foods that you like—just with a few small tweaks. I hope that helps!

  12. Juan Guerrero on December 15, 2016 at 1:55 pm

    Hi guys, very interesting subject. I am from Colombia and I wanna thank you for all of the amazing info you share with us. My question, I have very big quads compared to my hamstrings, I have been lifting very heavy and my lower body has been growing really fast. I want to focus more on my upper body, which is the best way to mantain my lower body size? Also Id like to improve my quads-hamstrings imbalance.

    • Shane Duquette on December 15, 2016 at 6:09 pm

      The simplest way to bulk your hammies up a little bit would be to isolate them with lifts like romanian deadlifts, swiss ball leg curls, hamstring curls. Not sure why your quads are comparatively big, though. Are you sumo deadlifting and quarter squatting? Because then that might explain why your quads are growing and your hamstrings aren’t. But if you’re conventional deadlifting, Romanian deadlifting, and doing deep back squats—plenty of opportunity for your hamstrings to grow—then my guess would be that you have a huge butt that’s stealing gains away from your hamstrings.

      The best way to maintain your lower body size is to keep a couple compound lower body lifts in your routine. You could squat once a week (2+ sets), deadlift once every 2 weeks (2+ sets), and maybe toss in an assistance exercise for your hamstrings a couple times per week—I’d say the Romanian deadlift. That’s a bare minimum, so feel free to do more, but it should do the trick 🙂

  13. Donald on February 4, 2017 at 5:10 am

    My experience is that men store most bodyfat in the legs, butt and belly. So most of your leg size will be fat tissue anyway.

  14. MB on March 19, 2017 at 5:34 pm

    According to this article ideal biceps are half the size of your waist, should I bulk them up to half of my waist or just keep them in the 14-15″ size? What’s is more attractive?

    • Shane Duquette on March 20, 2017 at 10:15 am

      Hmm. What’s your body fat percentage? If it’s over 15% (no abs visible even in favourable lighting), then trimming down your waist would be your best bet for health and attractiveness, especially since 15″ is a pretty great arm size for most guys unless they’re quite tall or quite sturdily built. If you’re already lean, though, then bulking up your arms a little more might be a good idea 🙂

      • MB on March 31, 2017 at 11:33 pm

        I think my body fat percentage is about 12-14% because I can barely see my abs without flexing, I have around 31″ waist at almost 5’10”. So at 31″ waist, would 15.5″ biceps would be more attractive than my current 14.25″?

        Supposse I increase my waist to 32″, my biceps to 16″ and shoulder to 52″, would that put me at the “Strong” or “Jacked” category at my height of 177cm? Should I remain at 31″ waist?

        What would be an example measurement of someone with 50% lower body and 50% upper body? and someone 75 – 25%?

        Regards

        • Shane Duquette on April 2, 2017 at 11:36 am

          It’s hard to say if going from 14.25″ up to 15.5″ biceps will make you more attractive. It’d definitely be far more impressive to other guys, and it definitely wouldn’t lose you any points with women. But will it significantly impact your attractiveness with women? I’m not sure. Both are very good measurements for your height and waist size.

          It’s hard to say exactly what category different measurements put you in. I’d say that anything up around 13″ would be considered pretty fit and quite attractive. If you’re flirting with 15″ biceps you’re in the strong category and most likely optimally attractive. 18″ would definitely be jacked, and while you’d gain lots of respect points with guys, it probably wouldn’t be as attractive to most women. Between 13 and 15″, or between 15 and 18″… you’ve got some grey zones. 14.5 or 16″? Both would probably register as close enough to “strong” and be pretty great.

          31 and 32″ are both good for your waist. If you gain some core muscle, probably a good thing. If you gain some stomach fat, probably a bad thing. That’s not a huge change, though.

          For an example of what a lower-body-dominant program could yield, let’s say >22″ thighs with <13" biceps.

  15. Jack on March 24, 2017 at 7:46 pm

    I’m constantly going back n forth in my head deciding how much of a focus I want to place on my lower body. I personally like having dedicated lower body days instead of full body days so I train them anywhere from once to twice per week (and everything in-between).

    If I’m hitting them 2x/week I sometimes feel like I’m not being efficient with my energy like you said. I look at some people and think man they’d look better if their legs were a little smaller b/c it can proportionally hurt the aesthetic appeal of the upper body. Plus most males train legs 1x/week which means they’re able to do more upper body volume than me. I feel in a way that I’m at a disadvantage compared to them in the public eye. The public will rarely see or look at your legs anyways.

    On the other hand if I’m at 1x/week I may notice someone with a really developed lower body that I think looks amazing which just makes me want to add leg volume. Almost like their big legs are adding proportion. Maybe if I’m watching a sport like MMA or just someone who fills out (muscle-wise) a pair of pants/shorts rather than having them fit loosely. Random examples: https://goo.gl/81rU6Ehttps://goo.gl/uAHpLAhttps://goo.gl/Apnpae

    My lower body has always been behind my upper body but it’s not too drastic. Currently I’m hitting them 1.6x-1.7x/week but I’m considering going back up to 2x. I guess it still comes down to level of development and overall proportion why big legs can look good on one person and not good on another. I’m probably overthinking this, haha. Have you noticed the same?

  16. Jk on April 2, 2017 at 11:49 am

    I have a quick question the example you gave for a well built dude with a 30inch waist, what height does that assume? And what waist size should different height men aim for? I’m at 187cm so is there an equation for height to waist ?

    • Shane Duquette on April 2, 2017 at 12:27 pm

      We assumed the average male height of around 5’10. Seems like ectomorphs might trend a little taller with similarly sized waists, though. (I was 6’2 with a 28″ waist starting out, and now a 31″ waist after gaining 55 pounds.)

      You could calculate your ideal waist based on your height, but bone structure is such a huge part of it that it’s far better to get your ideal waist measurement from your natural proportions when you’re lean and strong. So a good way to start is to get down to a pleasantly low body fat percentage, measure your waist, and then budget in an inch of muscle growth for every 15 or so pounds of muscle you plan on gaining. While bulking, your waist will balloon out from all the food in your stomach, but even after an epic bulk you’ll only have gained a couple inches of muscle there.

  17. Nahid Salman on May 1, 2017 at 12:54 am

    Good to see that the proportions are mentioned and specified perfectly. I did a lot of research on the perfect body that attracts women. I have gone through many of the fitness pages for the perfect measurements. Smoe popular pages related to the golden ratio like Adonis index by John Barban, Kinobody by Gregory O’Gallagher . They all ended up with 1.618 the golden number. But for the lower body and other measurements, it varied a lot. Some concluded that the arm, neck and calf should be identical in size. On the contrary, Steve reeve’s formula emphasizes on the wrist size. But I truly believe that those were made by professional bodybuilders as a reflection of their bodybuilding career and experiences. So Casey Butt’s measurements are more accurate as he examined and surveyed the attraction from the opposite sex and finalised it. So thanks to him.
    But it would be really helpful if there was a measurement for an attractive chest like the shoulder, hip, thigh and biceps measurements. You know, attraction from opposite sex is not about only having 1.618 in shoulder and having a smaller chest girth or having a huge chest like man boobs. So we hope that there should be a perfect measurement like the other ones.
    Thanks in advance.

    • Shane Duquette on May 1, 2017 at 5:52 pm

      Sounds like you really did your research, Nahid! I think you’re right. I think Steve Reeves, for example, was likely trying to build a badass body from his own perspective, and perhaps from the perspective of other men. That’s fundamentally different from a guy who’s trying to look attractive to the opposite sex, and the ideal proportions are going to be way different.

      There’s an ideal chest size, it’s just not as important as the shoulder size, so it gets talked about less. It’s still important, though. If I recall correctly, Butts’ ideal measurement for the chest was about 1.4x the waist.

  18. Mike on January 2, 2018 at 11:31 am

    You said that you believe a 75%/25% upper to lower distribution of volume is better for ideal male proportions. And you do this through full body sessions. Not sure if youve noticed the same but as Im reaching more advanced stages my body feels better/healthier if Im training my movement patterns 1.5-2x/week rather than 3x/week. Typically I do this through rotating PPLs or ULPPLs but like you said I feel it wouldnt be a bad idea to be more upper focused. Ever run a 75/25 distribution as a 4 day split to get more recovery? For example Push/Pull/Legs/Weakpoint.

    • Shane Duquette on January 2, 2018 at 1:13 pm

      Hey Mike, that’s a good point.

      I should clarify that we aren’t recommending doing deadlifts three times per week or anything like that. We’ll often do, say, back squats on Monday, barbell deadlifts on Friday, and then some assistance exercises sprinkled in, such as romanian deadlifts and goblet squats. Even with the bench press, you won’t find us doing a barbell bench press more than twice per week… but you might find us tossing in some incline bench presses, some push-ups and some flyes alongside them. That way we still hit every muscle group each workout, but with a different emphasis and purpose behind it.

      As for a 4-day split, we usually opt for hitting target muscle areas at least twice per week. Since most of our members have a LOT of target muscle groups, that means hitting quite a lot of muscle groups each workout. However, dropping the frequency down to just once per week isn’t a bad idea. The difference between splits and full-body workouts isn’t that huge, and your plan sounds like it could work.

      In some of our advanced specialization programs we increase the frequency and intensity for some muscle groups while emphasizing recovery on other ones. As members cycle through the different specialization programs, they’re emphasizing growth and recovery in different areas. It works pretty well, and it’s not so different from your push/pull/legs/weak point idea, with the weak point being the specialization focus. (We also have a maintenance routine if people want to take it easy in the gym and FULLY emphasize recovery / lifestyle.)

  19. Josh on January 6, 2018 at 12:35 am

    Is there anyway to caculate your max weight shoulder, bicep, arm, leg, and chest size potential? For us hardgainerd. By your height and frame size and such.

    • Shane Duquette on January 15, 2018 at 11:22 am

      Yes. We cover that in some of our programs, but if you’re just curious about that (and not as much about how to achieve it), then I’d recommend Dr. Casey Butts’ stuff. He’s got a great eBook on it, but he also has free calculators online 🙂

      http://www.weightrainer.net/bodypred.html

  20. James on February 2, 2018 at 7:58 pm

    Great post. I have naturally muscular legs. I never train legs and they still get big if I eat too much!
    I lift upper body everyday never train legs (not even bike) and watch how much I eat. I don’t look weird.
    Everybody is different.

  21. Steve S on July 11, 2018 at 4:18 pm

    Hey guys, new to your site. I haven’t bought your program, but I love the articles and your philosophy. I have learned so much, so quickly from just perusing the blog.
    About 7 years ago I bought Vince Del Monte’s No Nonsense Muscle Building and did it for a little under a year, went from 135 to just under 145, plateaued, thought I needed to eat even more (which seemed impossible) and relaxed my diet and training, lost my gains, and decided the effort wasn’t worth the fleeting success.
    Since reading your articles I understand better why I plateaued. Now I’m older, sitting at 155, and excited to be getting back into the gym and eating more, but I’m wondering if you think the NNMB program is still a good fit. It uses about 8 lifts/workout, paired up into 4 supersets, usually using opposing movements. Only 1 superset/workout is dedicated to legs (squats, lunges, RDL) which seems in line with the 25% you recommend, and there are a variety of exercises for upper body: DB, BB, machine, bodyweight. Are there any major changes you’d recommend? Or things I should watch out for?

    • Shane Duquette on July 11, 2018 at 6:29 pm

      Hey Steve, congrats on the gains, man! Being up twenty pounds is awesome 🙂

      I’m all for everyone who’s trying to help skinny guys build muscle, and I’m really happy that Vince “The Skinny Guy Saviour” Delmonte is here helping. I remember being a skinny guy and buying four muscle-building prgorams: Anthony Ellis’, Vince Delmonte’s, John Berardi’s, and Sean Nalewanyj’s. The plan was to do one program each month and compare them afterwards, seeing which one gave us the best results. After the first month (doing Ellis’ program), we met Marco, and we switched over to doing more of an athletic bulking routine that he was using on his professional football and rugby players. We LOVED it, and that eventually evolved into Bony to Beastly.

      Anyway, we never actually wound up trying Vince Delmonte’s Program, and I haven’t read through his content in eight or nine years. We keep up-to-date on a lot of the top muscle-building researchers (such as Dr Eric Helms, Dr Brad Schoenfeld, Dr James Krieger, and Dr Stuart McGill) and a lot of the top science communicators (such as Greg Nuckols, Menno Henselmans, Dr John Berardi, and Mike Israetel). Since I’m more familiar with their content, I’m happy to recommend it. However, I’m not as familiar with Delmonte and some of our other competition.

      If I were to guess, I’d bet that Vince Delmonte’s muscle-building workout routine will be good enough to get you good results. Good visual results too, with good upper-lower balance, as I believe he comes at this from the fitness model perspective, right? I’m sure we’d change a whole slew of things, some changes based on Marco’s expertise and our training philosophy, and other changes based on the research that’s come out in the past eight years… but I think you’ll get good results with it. The main thing I’d be wary of is a restrictive diet. I don’t know how he is with nutrition, but restrictive diets are common, and it can really make a bulk needlessly harder. So just in case, here’s our approach to a bulking diet so that you can compare and contrast:

      https://bonytobeastly.com/how-to-eat-more-calories/

      However, while I have nothing bad to say about Delmonte, and while fully acknowledging my bias, I really do believe that our program is the best one on the market for skinny guys trying to build muscle. At the very least, hop on the newsletter (top right corner of the site) to get the free newsletter series. I think you’ll get some good value from it as you get back into building muscle 🙂

      Good luck, man!

  22. Steve S on July 12, 2018 at 8:56 am

    I believe you that your program is the best, you guys definitely know your stuff. I wish I had the money to “upgrade.”
    The tough thing with Vince’s program has been the compound lifts. I’ve already adjusted to the “starter” lifts you suggest, and it is perfect. I wish I knew about goblet squats 7 years ago.

  23. Steven S on August 28, 2018 at 3:27 pm

    Just want to drop you guys a note and say thanks again for all of the info you put on your blog. I am up 10 pounds during these last 6 weeks. My chest is growing (for the first time ever, so thanks for the tips on modifying chest presses), my legs are filling out my slim fit pants, I’m feeling confident deadlifting, I’m using the heaviest dumbbell for goblet squats so I’ll be switching over to real squats soon, and all thanks to what I’ve read here.

  24. lkjslkdfjsidjfnsil on November 28, 2018 at 3:07 pm

    This is a lot of very subjective thinking, selective framing (“here’s Arnold and here’s Phil Heath, doesn’t arnold look better? therefore legs aren’t as important”) and I disagree with your opinions on a lot of this. It’s fine that you have those opinions on legs but I would just want readers to know that it’s really just your opinion and the body shape you are advocating isn’t “better” than one with bigger legs. To me it feels like a lot of the wording in your articles targets the insecurities of straight men. Not as much as something like sixpackshortcuts (god I hate them) and your articles are still fun to read.

    On a related note, it’s weird that your website seems to cater only to straight guys from what I’ve seen, always talking about what women like in men, when the gym has historically been such a gay domain. I guess a straight guy wouldn’t really have that perspective (I’m guessing you’re straight) but I just think it’s funny how you always talk about what women would want from my body and how I can best attract women, which I and many other potential readers don’t care about at all

    • Shane Duquette on November 28, 2018 at 5:07 pm

      Hey lazzilmasselassil, that’s a good point.

      First of all, I agree that this is one of our most subjective articles. But we aren’t trying to target insecurities, just trying to figure out what goals we may wish to strive for. I think that’s one of the coolest things about lifting—we have plenty of control over the bodies that we build. People can decide what they want and then build it.

      Third, when writing these articles, we’re niche in some ways but mainstream in others. So, for example, we write specifically for hardgainers/ectomorphs, which is an extremely niche audience. We also write in English, which again cuts out most people in the world. We also write for men, which cuts out half the population. At that point, though, we just try to write about what our audience is interested in. Most of our articles are based off of questions that we get asked over and over again. Although, unavoidably, our own experiences and biases are often expressed on some level or another.

      We’ve had one gay member express the same concern as you—that a lot of our articles about attractiveness seem to be written from a straight perspective… and that’s true, so we worked with him one-on-one in the community to help him accomplish his own specific goals. We’ve had a similar concern brought up by an Arab member who said that all of our diet articles assume that the reader is eating a Western diet, so he created a thread in the community with some diet strategies for other guys living in the Middle East. Recently we had a blind member point out that our program relies on videos and illustrations that he cannot see, so we wrote descriptions of the exercises and illustrations for him.

      This is all to say that our articles might not all be relevant to all of us, but we’re game to help every naturally skinny guy build muscle. If a member’s concerns aren’t addressed in our articles, we’ll gladly work with them one on one. That’s why we offer coaching in the community—because we’re all at least a little bit different from one another.

      So, anyway, getting to the interesting part now, I’d love to hear your perspective on this. How do you find that sexual orientation affects the body proportions we should aim for?

      • lskjdflsdkjdlfksjsl on December 3, 2018 at 12:55 am

        Thanks for responding.

        I don’t know how sexual orientation affects the proportions people aim for. It’s pretty hard to analyze IMO. In the gay community your body is really tightly linked to your value in the “sexual marketplace” for a lot of reasons, many of which are specific to LGBT people. There are also a lot of different “cultures” of body types. They even get their own names, like twink, twunk (hunk + twink, basically a buff twink), bear, otter, and more. Body image in the gay community is a weird thing sometimes. It’s not really something I could really get that deep into in just a comment but if you are curious to get a perspective there are many articles (and books I’m sure) about it and maybe I could look some up. Guys who like bears aren’t gonna be impressed by a small waist/chest ratio for example. I don’t know specifically how our preferences differ from those of straight women–we certainly seem to categorize and label men’s body types more than women do. But in general, a lean, muscular physique is most commonly considered to be attractive among gay men–or, at least, it’s gonna get you the most attention. (which, hey, might mean it’s a market worth exploring for somebody like you)
        My point wasn’t so much that gay men don’t usually value the same proportions–it was more about how your articles always seem to assume all the guys reading your pages want to attract women. And to be honest, that’s fine, gay guys are used to it and you don’t have to include gay men when talking about what guys want to attract. It’s not like you have to write about how to get guys, your website and brand definitely are successful already and I’m not saying it’s offensive to only ever talk about attracting women. But at the same time, it’s like…..would it really hurt to add two words “or men” every once in a while.

        I’ll rescind what I said about you said about targeting the insecurities of straight men–I don’t really get that impression from your articles tbh. It seems like that’s more just a natural and obvious question a blog like yours is trying to answer (though…sometimes I think you talk about women’s taste in men like it’s completely unanimous…just a bit). There are definitely a lot of fitness companies that do target sexual insecurities, and I don’t think you are one of them. Six pack shortcuts is the kind of company I’m thinking of (IDK if they are still as bad about it now as they were when mike chang was in charge of that company)

        I think my first post was kind of muddling three things I was trying to say:
        the first–I don’t really think there’s a single “ideal legs proportion”
        the second–only ever talking about attracting women as the goal
        the third–taking advantage of guys’ insecurities, which yeah I don’t think you are really doing

        Best wishes

  25. Andre Masters on December 3, 2018 at 3:59 pm

    I’ve been training for a long time and I’ve tried lots of different exercise routines such as circuit training, freeletics, gymnastics, callisthenics, running and free weights, all with some marginal success in various (different) ways but consistently, I trained legs because (in my opinion) small, thin and weak legs look ridiculous. Every gym has the traditional ‘skip all leg days’ advocate who wears a minimal thread vest with tracksuit trousers (never shorts) and struts around like he’s lost his horse. There are many (too many) in the callisthenics community too because ‘heavy legs’ are a hindrance and impact their ability to swing around but they look like they’re hobbling around on withered matchsticks or 11-year-old girlie baguettes.
    It’s also a proven fact that training large muscle groups together improves overall growth and strength whilst helping to burn calories and reduce body fat so hitting the squat rack is a win-win situation.

    • Shane Duquette on November 7, 2019 at 8:41 am

      Hey Andrew, I hear ya about callisthenics not being very good at building the legs. You’re not going to get killer quads and glutes by doing chin-ups and planches. I’m not recommending that.

      I squat 2–3 times per week and deadlift 1–2 times per week, my legs have grown a phenomenal amount since I started lifting, I’m squatting over 300 and deadlifting over 400.

      But not all of my workouts start with 3–5 sets of squats. And I don’t spend any time doing calf raises, leg extensions, leg presses, split squats, lunges, or really any accessory exercises for my legs. Instead, you’ll find me doing pec deck flyes, lateral raises, curls, and extensions.

      I’m not arguing against leg training, I’m just saying that a lot of programs put too much emphasis on it. And note that there are sections talking about the benefits of training legs and the harms of skipping leg day.

      As for squats improving upper-body growth, eh, I wouldn’t call it proven. There are a couple of studies showing that there might be a benefit, but also studies showing that there might not be. Besides, you’ve got to consider the opportunity cost. Will doing 3 extra sets of squats boost your overall growth more than doing 3 extra sets of the muscles you’re trying to grow? Probably not.

      But again, not arguing that you shouldn’t squat. Just talking about finding a balance of lower and upper-body training that suits your goals.

  26. Kompass on January 12, 2019 at 2:34 pm

    Aesthetics are hugely (and I mean, HUGELY) subjective, that should go without saying, and the fact that your article relies so much on it and emphasizes it to such an extent is worrisome. I, for one, find this body type the most “attractive” out of the ones shown:
    i.imgur.com/k1gTwkv.png
    Decently sized upper body, very strong lower body. Again, a preference.

    That said, I generally think people should be more lower body-focused than they are – especially men, since, as you’ve rightfully pointed out, men neglect lower body a lot more often than women – that’s what I’ve noticed anyway. That can’t be a good thing, can it?

    With aesthetics out of the way though, *functionally* most people will benefit a lot more from stronger legs in today’s society. What use would we get out of big arms? We spend most of our days typing, holding small gadgets, generally not doing anything that requires much strength from our arms. Big, strong legs, however, will be of benefit to almost anyone. We still run, go up the stairs, have to lift a couch/box/other somewhat heavy objects occasionally.

    And the part about pant size just cracked me up. Is that really a problem? I mean if is, tailors are still a thing. It’s as if you’re trying to find every little excuse to discourage people from training legs thoroughly. Laughable.

    Same with the part about capping out. You don’t need to go to 500. You don’t even need to increase the weight to begin with to keep getting the benefits. You can increase the reps instead (which is actually a good thing for mass), decrease resting intervals, switch to something else entirely (e.g. lunges). Again, sounds like an excuse.

    • Shane Duquette on January 16, 2019 at 10:02 am

      Aesthetics are subjective, yeah, and we’re always clear about that. However, many guys want to build more of a universally aesthetic physique. Someone could build a physique that’s aesthetic to 80% of people instead of 20%, say.

      Is neglecting the lower body a good thing? Not usually, no. I mean, some small percentage of people might prefer that aesthetic, but that’s rare. And keep in mind that we’re not recommending that people neglect their lower bodies.

      Functionally, will people really benefit from a proportionally stronger lower body? I’m not sure. I can deadlift about 405, squat around 315, bench around 265, overhead press around 175, do a chin-up with an extra 100 pounds or so. That makes my upper body proportionally much stronger than my lower body, but it’s still my upper body that’s my limiting factor in most of my day-to-day demands.

      I recently moved into a house on the fifth and sixth floors of a building with no elevator. Among other things, I carried 1,000 pounds of gym equipment up to the sixth floor. I had to pick each load based on what my biceps and grip could handle. Carrying 135 pounds of weight plates up sixth floors is no problem for my legs given how light it is compared to my squat and deadlift. But my fingers and biceps would get tired. My traps, too. So even with a proportionally stronger upper body that’s still what was bottlenecking my strength.

      The appliances we bought (fridge, laundry, dishwasher) came with free installation, which meant the delivery guys carried them up the stairs. Their legs had no issues, but before making it up even the first flight of stairs, their arm and lower back strength failed. They went back to the truck and got harnesses so that they could bear the load on their legs without their upper bodies failing. Their legs were strong enough to carry the appliances up five floors—and these weren’t lifters—but their upper bodies weren’t strong enough to make it up even a single flight of stairs.

      When carrying around my 5-month-old son, my biceps will get tired sometimes but never my legs.

      When carrying our groceries on the 20-minute walk home from the store, it’s my grip and traps that get tired.

      If you haven’t run into the pant issue, you’re making me wonder if you train your legs. To see what I mean, here’s a photo of me wearing some new pants. As you can see, the thighs are too tight for me to lift my legs all the way up, making it difficult to go up stairs, and there’s a good 5 extra inches around the waist, meaning that when I belt them, there’s a ton of loose fabric folded underneath the belt. And again, my legs aren’t even that big. Can I bring these to a tailor? Yes. Will that fix all of the issues? Not really. My tailors have told me that it’s very easy to tailor the bottoms of the legs to be shorter or more tapered, but very difficult to change the entire shape of the waist/butt/thighs to be more athletic. And having to bring every new pair of pants to a tailor is a bit of a hassle anyway.

      As for making excuses, I don’t know about you, but I love the big lower body lifts. I’m stoked to be working towards a 5-plate deadlift. I can’t wait to get a 4-plate squat. Those are two of the funnest lifts. But I have a feeling that it’s not going to make my day-to-day life easier because I already have a surplus of lower body strength. I’m not sure it will make me look better, either. It’s definitely going to make buying pants even harder. The whole reason I’m doing it is for the love of those lifts.

      I would argue that people make excuses not to train their legs because they’re more excited about getting big arms, chests, backs, shoulders. So why is it more exciting to build a bigger upper body? My guess is that because most guys intuitively know that bulking up those areas will make them look better / improve their day-to-day strength.

      • Kompass on January 17, 2019 at 11:35 am

        You put a lot of emphasis on the grip, and how your fingers were getting tired in those situations. And sure, I agree with that. Grip strength is important and often overlooked. But it’s not what I was referring to when saying upper body (and I’m pretty certain it’s not what you were referring to either).. it’s not going to contribute to your aesthetics. Furthermore, lower body exercises such as deadlifts (especially rdls) are actually really good for grip strength, so it’s another point toward focusing on those.

        I never said my pants haven’t got too tight since I started to focus on leg training. They have. I had to go up multiple sizes when shopping, and that usually means the waist part will be too loose. However, I am happy to have such a problem. In fact, I’d be kinda sad if my pants *weren’t* getting too tight around my thighs/calves (that would mean they’re too small) or if the waist were where the tight feeling was (that would mean I’m overweight). It’s just one of those good “problems” to have. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me.

        “My guess is that because most guys intuitively know that bulking up those areas will make them look better / improve their day-to-day strength.”
        1. Do you they *know it* or do they simply believe it/have been preconditioned to think that way?
        2. Could it also be the fact that it’s *a lot* easier than training lower body? – which was my point.

        • Shane Duquette on January 17, 2019 at 2:35 pm

          Grip strength is a part of upper body strength. I definitely include it as part of upper body strength. Developing certain types of grip strength will indeed improve our aesthetics by giving us burlier forearms. But I was primarily making an argument for this aspect of upper body strength often bottlenecking our overall strength—an argument for lifters often having a surplus of lower body strength and a lack of upper body strength.

          Deadlifts are a full-body exercise. Deadlifts improving our grip is an example of them also being a good upper-body exercise. Same idea with deadlifts improving our trap and spinal erector strength.

          I used to wear a size-small shirt that was loose around my arms and tight around my torso. Now I wear a size large shirt that’s tighter around my arms but looser around my waist. It’s not totally ideal, but it doesn’t impair movement. (I also love having a bigger shirt size. I’m so stoked to be wearing large shirts.) The problem with big thighs in tight pants is that it can become hard to lift my legs up high enough to, say, go up stairs two at a time. It’s annoying to have these capable legs that are being crippled by pants not fitting properly. Obviously there are workarounds. I live in Cancun, so most days I’m wearing cut-off jean shorts. No problem there. But still, pants are a pain when you have an athletic build. That issue only gets more pronounced the more you bulk up your legs.

          Can someone like Alan Thrall even wear pants? His legs might be too epic. He might have progressed past the ability to wear pants. I’m not sure.

          I don’t think it’s easier to train your upper body. You can build pretty big legs with just squats, RDLs, and a couple accessory movements. Building a big upper body is way harder—bench press, overhead press, chin-ups, and rows are required just to get the bare minimum movement patterns down. Personally, I feel more tired after a set of weighted chin-ups than a set of heavy squats. Deadlifts are usually more fatiguing than squats, and that’s largely due to more upper body involvement. And then we get into the challenge of people often having stubborn chests or arms, and needing to pile on a ton of volume in order to get consistent growth. I think it’s easier to move up a pant size than it is to move up a shirt size.

          I don’t want to get too bogged down on which is more difficult, though. I think guys are willing to do difficult exercises so long as they see a worthwhile reward. The bench press is more difficult than calf raises. But which lift are guys more excited to do? Same deal with rows being more challenging than leg curls, or overhead pressses being more challenging than leg extensions. I don’t think it’s a difficulty thing, or you’d see guys going for the easiest variations for every body part. But that’s not what we see.

          As for guys being preconditioned to think of upper bodies as being more important, yeah. I think that’s true. I grew up hearing that Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt in Fight Club) had the most badass physique ever. I go to the look at the photo and his legs aren’t even in it. The most badass physique is just an upper body. Nowadays you’ll hear the same thing about Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, say, or Christian Bale as Batman/American Psycho. Again, these are just upper bodies.

          Who’s on the cover of Men’s Health this month? I don’t know, but I bet it’s just his upper body.

          What about on Cosmopolitan? It might be a woman’s upper body, but I bet her hips and legs are in there too.

          If you just look at research on which male physiques women find the most attractive, though, you’ll find a lot of studies showing that having broad shoulders and a narrow waist is the most attractive, others showing that having a wide upper body (measured around the chest) compared to a small waist is the most attractive, others showing that having a muscular shoulder girdle is the best predictor of attractiveness, etc, etc. Leg muscularity isn’t anywhere to be seen. It’s just not as significant a factor.

          Is that because of nature or nurture? I don’t know. Probably both, but I don’t think we can really say for certain. I don’t think it really matters whether it’s preconditioned (nurture) or hardwired in (nature), though. I bet it’s a fair mix of both, but either way, all that matters is the world we live in, you know?

          I’m really enjoying this argument, by the way. And I’m listening to what you’re saying. I’m pushing back against your ideas because I want to test them, but I really am listening and taking them into consideration. Thank you. Your comments are great 🙂

      • Kompass on January 17, 2019 at 11:54 am

        And since we’re talking about tight pants, why not talk about tight upper body clothing? It’s the same thing. Shirts/t-shirts will get too tight around chest and arms. So why is that even an argument?

        • Shane Duquette on November 7, 2019 at 8:32 am

          That can happen. As I moved from a size small up to a size large t-shirt to accommodate my growing chest, shoulders and upper arms, the waist on my shirts gradually got baggier.

          We’ve written about that as well, but even then, it’s not as big of an issue. First, there are no mobility issues from having tight t-shirt sleeves. Second, it’s not all that difficult to find slim-fit or athletic-fit shirts. Third, most shirts are designed with fairly big arms by default. And finally, it doesn’t look all that bad.

          • kompassorpigo+bodytobeastly@gmail.com on November 11, 2019 at 11:53 pm

            First of all, there are no mobility issues from having tight pants. If there are, buy better pants and shop at better places. Second, it’s not all that difficult to find tapered or athletic-fit jeans/pants/trousers/shorts. Third, most pants are designed with fairly big legs by default. Finally, it looks very good.
            See how this works? Your entire article could be replaced with “This is my very subjective opinion”.



          • Shane Duquette on November 12, 2019 at 10:08 am

            What specific pants are you wearing, in what waist size, and to fit what waist, butt, and thigh measurements? And how much can you squat and deadlift?

            I wonder if we’re disagreeing because we’re wearing radically different styles of pants (such as leggings or elephant pants), have totally different proportions (such as smaller legs or a bigger waist), or have very different levels of lower-body size/strength.

            I mean, I’ve shown you a picture of my wearing regular-fit pants. The waist is several inches too big and I can’t even lift my legs high enough to comfortably go up the stairs. Yes, I could start wearing leggings or track pants, but that’s not my ideal situation.

            As for pants being loose by default, yeah, absolutely. However, that’s because the average person is overweight, so it doesn’t help. I’m not looking for big-legged pants with a 40-inch waist. I would need big-leg pants with a 30-inch waist. That’s absolutely not the default.

            I’m sure it’s possible to find jeans/slacks that suit people with athletic builds. I can’t find those pants in most stores, though. More of a special-order thing, right?

            As for mobility with pants, it’s quite a bit different from something like a t-shirt. A t-shirt stretches quite freely, most pants do not. If your arms too big for a t-shirt, the worst that’s going to happen is that your sleeves will look tight.

            As for this entire article being subjective, you’re disagreeing with the tiny part about it being hard to buy pants. And I don’t even think that part is all that subjective.

            Keep in mind that I’m still enthusiastically building bigger and stronger legs. I bring my pants to a tailor. That’s fine. I’m just pointing it out as a possible concern. I’m not sure the average person wants to trade an extra 100 pounds on their squat for never being able to buy Levi’s jeans again.



          • kompassorpigo+bodytobeastly@gmail.com on November 19, 2019 at 2:06 pm

            I wear chinos, denim (both tapered and both usually tailored), at the gym I usually wear tighter sweatpants or joggers. There are stretchy versions of all of these, so I’m having trouble understanding how you’re having difficulty lifting your legs.

            I squat around 120kg x 12 reps atm. Deadlift is a little lower than that. I usually go for a higher volume and never do PRs or go below 8 reps, so I don’t know how much I can squat for 1 RM.

            “As for this entire article being subjective, you’re disagreeing with the tiny part about it being hard to buy pants. And I don’t even think that part is all that subjective.”

            I disagree with the general message of this article, not just the pants part.



          • Shane Duquette on November 20, 2019 at 8:53 am

            Well, if you’re getting all of your pants tailored, I think that explains it, then.



  27. Jonathan F.V. on February 11, 2019 at 5:02 pm

    Cool, that’s interesting stuff! I found this article looking at proportional size for legs, and I’m trying to balance out my physique, and I like your approach on this. Also, I thought it was interesting that my measurements were almost exactly dead on with your example for Greek aesthetics. All my numbers were the same (I have a 30″ waist), but my shoulders and arms are a bit bigger (49.5″ and 15.5″) than your example, and it makes sense since I’m an upper body dominant athlete. Also, I’m 5’5″, so it surely gives a different look than if I were a 5’10” guy. But I do want to get bigger and stronger legs, still. I want to get a 405 lbs squat (high bar, ATG). As an ex-gymnast and currently hand balancer/acrobat, my legs are very much under trained compared to my upper body. I still train my upper body predominantly, but I now squat and stiff leg deadlift/good morning six days out of 10 (I have 10 days training weeks, 9 days on, 1 day off), and train my upper body every single day.

    All in all, I think I’d look fine if I can keep a 30″ waist but build my thighs to 24-25″, my arms to 16-16.5″ and my shoulders to 50-51″. I want bigger and stronger legs, but I always planned to keep my upper body proportionally bigger/specialized for gymnastics-type performance. If I gain some weight in my legs, sure, some movements like planches, Malteses and levers will get more difficult. But I’ll get bigger and rounder delts to compensate if I keep hammering the upper body strength, and that’s only going to make me look more impressive on stage. And honestly, not only do I not want weaknesses, but I want to be a powerful athlete, all around. Do I need a 400+ lbs squat as a gymnast? Nope. But could I make use of it for performing as a porter (someone who carries and throws people around in circuses) if a job asks for it? Hell yeah. And I’m also chasing a 225+ lbs strict overhead press anyway, so for sure my shoulders are bound to get bigger.

    As for an ideal physique… I prefer the physique of a guy like Franco Columbu to Frank Zane’s. Or take your example of a guy who trains the legs wholeheartedly… And give him a bigger, thicker upper body to still make him more upper body dominant.

    • Shane Duquette on February 18, 2019 at 7:02 pm

      I’ve heard some guys talk about how shorter guys need to be especially wary about increasing their leg size for fear of having an even harder time fitting into pants, and also for fear of creating the optical illusion that their legs are even shorter. That might depend on your body proportions, though, and also on what you want to look like.

      You’re right that Franco Columbo looks like a total badass, and he does indeed have pretty stocky legs, just an even bigger upper body. Jeff Nippard is a great natural example of that, too. He’s a short guy, around your height, with huge legs that are still completely dwarfed by his upper body. Looks absolutely awesome.

  28. Richard on February 27, 2019 at 12:43 am

    What do you think about my stats?
    5’8″ 12%bf
    Waist 29 in
    Hips 33 1/2 in
    Thighs 21 in
    Shoulders 45 1/2 in
    Arms 14 in
    I still feel as if my legs are a bit undersized but it may have to do with my calves which are 13 in. My ankle measures in at 8in. I hate wearing shorts for this reason. I’m considering training calves everyday. Any advice you could offer would be appreciated, thanks for the great article.

  29. […] Emphasis on the big 3 lifts: The problem with putting so much emphasis on the squat, deadlift, and bench press is that it prioritizes lower-body growth. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but having proportionally bigger legs and glutes compared to your upper body will tend to make you l…. […]

  30. […] the sake of argument, though, let’s say that you aren’t trying to build big legs. Let’s say that you only care about bulking up your upper body. In that case, does it matter […]

  31. […] most guys are mainly interested in bulking up their upper bodies, that’s not a bad way to bulk up. You’ll have versatile legs, a strong heart, and a […]

  32. […] to emphasize shoulder growth. In fact, many lifting programs are heavily weighted towards bulking up your lower body. Bulking down, so to […]

  33. The "Big 5" Approach to Bulking – Outlift on September 20, 2019 at 8:58 pm

    […] would become a limiting factor outside of the gym, that our bench press would lag behind, and that our proportions would become more pear-like. Now, don’t me wrong, it’s don’t have any prejudice against pears. In fact, some […]

  34. […] There’s too little upper-body development. I’ll need to write a whole separate article about this, but the idea of building an aesthetic physique largely hinges on developing the type of strength that helped us survive as we evolved. It’s the type of strength that allows us to wrestle, fight, and wield weapons. You could certainly argue that we’ve evolved past needing that kind of strength, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s the kind of strength that women find the most attractive and that other men consider the most impressive. (Oddly enough, leg size is largely irrelevant to aesthetics.) […]

  35. Why Ectomorphs Should Lift a Little Differently on September 22, 2019 at 6:33 pm

    […] Now, don’t get me wrong. That approach of improving leverage while minimizing range of motion is perfect for powerlifting. The downside is that instead of building up a bigger back, powerlifters build up a bigger lower body. […]

  36. William Minerva on November 6, 2019 at 8:14 pm

    Does the ideal bicep size refer to when it’s flexed or relaxed?

    • Shane Duquette on November 7, 2019 at 8:26 am

      Flexed and measured at the biggest point. Always assume flexed when someone talks about a “biceps” measurement. The relaxed measurement would usually be called upper-arm circumference, and even then, they’d probably specify “relaxed.” But that’s not nearly as common.

      • William Minerva on November 8, 2019 at 3:24 am

        Thanks!

  37. CT on January 24, 2020 at 7:10 pm

    I think building anything past what will keep you healthy is dumb if it isn’t required for your life style.

    • Shane Duquette on February 8, 2020 at 7:27 am

      Why not for the fun of it or because it looks cool?

  38. […] your legs with hearty compound lifts. It’s okay if you spend most of your time training your upper body, but a good training program will involve at least a minimalist approach to lower-body training, […]

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