Illustration showing varying degrees of muscularity that women rated for attractiveness.

Survey Results: What Degree of Leanness & Muscularity Do Women Find Most Attractive?

We surveyed 423 women, asking them to rate varying degrees of muscularity and leanness in men, as well as asking them about their favourite muscle groups and ideal proportions. In this article, we’ll go over the results:

  • What’s the most attractive amount of muscle for a man to build?
  • Do women prefer more muscular upper bodies or lower bodies?
  • What muscle proportions do women find most attractive?
  • What’s the most attractive body-fat percentage?
  • Which muscles do women find most attractive?
  • Does neck size affect our appearance?

Here are the survey results.

Illustration showing a lean, muscular bodybuilder and an athletic, healthy man.

The Survey

We surveyed over a thousand people, asking them about which physiques they preferred. We focused entirely on mutable traits, such as muscle mass, muscle proportions, and body-fat percentage. We weren’t interested in things like height, bone structure, or muscle insertions, given that there’s nothing we can do with that information anyway.

In this article, we’re focusing on which bodies the 423 straight women rated as being most attractive. The bodies weren’t labelled or ordered. For example, we asked, “Which degree of muscularity do you find most attractive?” and then showed them this spread:

Illustration showing a spread from our attractiveness survey.

Note that we specialize in helping skinny people build muscle. Most women who filled out our survey are thin, exercise, and eat well. 76% of them are American, and 82% are between the ages of 18 and 39. This doesn’t line up perfectly with the general population. It could be, for instance, that because the average woman is heavier, she prefers heavier men.

Another limitation is that when men gauge their muscularity, they pose, making themselves look as lean and muscular as possible. Presumably, women aren’t judging men in their most muscular poses; they’re judging them based on how they look in everyday situations. Guys who look “too” muscular when pumped up posing with their shirts off might look ideal in a t-shirt. Guys with chiselled abs in the bathroom mirror might have a flat stomach when they’re on the beach. Still, I think we can get an idea of what kind of look women find most attractive.

We didn’t ask women to select all attractive bodies; we asked them to select the body they found most attractive. For all we know, women might have found all of the options attractive, just in varying degrees.

These are illustrations, not photographs. This is common with attractiveness studies, and it comes with some advantages, such as keeping all of the factors constant except for the one being voted on. However, it also comes with some disadvantages, such as a lower degree of realism.

Photo of Shane Duquette superimposed on the "strong" body type.

To test the accuracy of these illustrations, I had my wife guess which degree of muscularity lined up with mine. She said that I looked most like “Body 4.” She was right. “Body 4” is a tracing of mine, with the pose and symmetry slightly adjusted and the chest shrunk down a bit.

The Most Attractive Degree of Muscularity

When we asked women which degree of muscularity they were most attracted to, there was a fairly even split between the “athletic” and “strong” body types, with 51% of women voting for the athletic build and 43% voting for the strong build. (Note that I didn’t label the bodies in the survey. Women chose “body 1.” But I’m labelling them now to make it easier to talk about the results.)

Illustration showing varying degrees of male muscularity.

There were no votes for the skinny body type, and only 6% of women voted for the strongest body type. This lines up with our previous survey and with attractiveness research overall (study). However, there’s one notable exception. In this study by Dr. Sell et al., there was a linear relationship between strength and attractiveness. The stronger a man was, the more muscular he looked, and the more attractive he was rated. According to Dr. Sell’s results, we’d expect the most muscular man to be the most attractive.

There are a few possible explanations for why women chose the physiques that weren’t maximally muscular:

  • Women seem to assume that very muscular men are vain. But if the man isn’t vain, that assumption would disappear upon getting to know him, removing the disadvantage. Plus, when looking at shirtless dudes posing in trunks, they may appear especially vain, exacerbating the stigma.
  • The dominant evolutionary explanation for why women prefer stronger men is that stronger men tend to be more formidable—better at fighting and protecting resources. But if we look at top mixed martial artists, they aren’t anywhere near as muscular as top bodybuilders.
  • Dr. Sell’s study was done on college students. It’s unlikely that any of the guys in the sample had outlier muscle-building genetics, making them substantially less muscular than top fitness influencers. Plus, college men haven’t had enough time yet to reach their genetic muscular potential. It could be that the most muscular men in the stuy weren’t that muscular.
  • Some men are able to reach degrees of muscularity that didn’t exist up until recently. Up until the 1940’s, even the best bodybuilders in the world paled in comparison to modern natural bodybuilders, let alone the guys on SARMs, steroids, or TRT. There’s no evolved preference for bodies that didn’t exist in the past.

Finally, there’s another reason that men might be surprised that women aren’t picking the more muscular physiques: men prefer more muscular physiques than women do. When we surveyed men on which body they preferred, they preferred the more muscular “strong” body. Again, this lines up with the results of our previous survey as well as attractiveness research overall.

The Most Attractive Degree of Leanness

When we asked women what body-fat percentage they found most attractive, 58% chose the body with a flat stomach, and 39% chose the body with abs. The average man is overweight, but only 3% of women chose that body-fat percentage. 0% chose the obese body.

Illustration showing varying body-fat percentages in men.

Some guys with favourable genetics can maintain their general health and mood while having year-round abs (8–10% body fat). Still, it’s somewhat rare, and it’s common to run into issues such as low testosterone, fatigue, and perpetual hunger when trying to maintain a low body-fat percentage. Women preferred men closer to 13% body fat, which is still much leaner than average but tends to be healthier and more sustainable. This aligns well with our previous survey results and the overall body of research (study).

Men had a strong preference for having a lower body-fat percentage, with 74% of men saying they preferred the body with abs. So once again, men want a more extreme physique than women prefer.

The Most Attractive Male Body Proportions

Upper-Body vs Lower-Body Proportions

The next thing I wanted to look at was upper-body vs lower-body proportions. It’s common for men to prioritize their chests, shoulders, arms, and upper backs, building proportionally bigger upper bodies. But is that what women actually find most attractive?

Illustration showing upper-body vs leg proportions in men.

It seems that a slight majority of women prefer a balanced, athletic body. Some women, though, prefer when extra attention is given to either the lower or upper body. Nothing crazy here, but perhaps it hints that putting extra work into our upper bodies is misguided. (More on this in a second.)

Illustration showing that women rated men with bigger butts as being more attractive.

The next spread showed a side angle, this time comparing upper-body muscles against butt size. 55% of women rated the physique with the strongest butt as the most attractive. 38% chose the physique with a larger upper body and a slightly smaller butt.

Which Muscles Should Men Prioritize?

Here’s where things get interesting. The above photos suggest that women prefer a balanced approach to building muscle, right? It doesn’t look like women are choosing bodies that have any special emphasis on the mirror muscles: the chest, arms, shoulders, and abs… right?

Survey results showing which muscles women rated as being the most attractive on men.

When we asked women which muscles men should give the most emphasis, they chose arms first, then chest, then shoulders, and then abs. These are the exact muscles that men are notorious for prioritizing in the gym, and they line up exactly with what women say they prefer.

The thing is, women prefer a lesser degree of muscularity than men. When women think of “big” arms, they’re thinking of the 14-inch arms that Cristiano Ronaldo has. When the average man thinks of big arms, he’s thinking of the 15-inch arms that Brad Pitt had in Fight Club. And the average recreational bodybuilder is thinking of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 19-inch arms. Everyone is in agreement that having big arms and a big chest looks great, it’s just people disagree about how big we need to build those muscles.

Shoulders vs Chest

The other thing I noticed in attractiveness research was that some studies used the shoulder-to-waist ratio as the most important aspect of attractiveness, whereas others used the chest-to-waist ratio. We compared them against one another.

Illustration comparing shoulder-to-waist ratio against chest-to-waist ratio.

2/3rds of women chose the bigger chest over the bigger shoulders, even though having bigger shoulders has a larger impact on the v-taper of the silhouette. There’s quite a lot of consistency here, too. Women said the chest is one of the best muscles to prioritize (after arms), they listed push-ups as the best exercise for improving our physiques, and they chose the illustration of the man with the bigger chest.

It seems that when guys prefer the bench press and biceps curls, their preference lines up fairly well with what women prefer. Again, it’s just that men want to build a more muscular physique than women prefer. It’s a difference of degree, not proportions.

The Ideal Neck Size

This specific question is the main reason I wanted to do this survey. I couldn’t find any research on how neck size impacts attractiveness, nor about how big our necks need to be to look good. I have a naturally thin neck, and I’ve recently added a couple of inches to it. I feel like it’s had a great effect on my appearance, but my wife doesn’t seem to care. I was curious.

Illustration showing the most attractive male neck size as rated by women.

These results surprised me. It seems that most attractiveness research points to more formidable men being rated as more attractive. Having a thicker neck is an important part of formidability, so I had a feeling the athletic neck would be rated as the most attractive. And it was. It was rated as most attractive by 53% of women. But it didn’t win by as much as I expected it to. 42% of women preferred men with thinner necks!

Will Women Date Guys Who Take Steroids?

When we surveyed our male audience, 9% said they were considering taking steroids to help them build muscle. When looking at the most popular fitness and bodybuilding influencers on Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube, many are taking performance-enhancing drugs, ranging from steroids to TRT to SARMs.

Survey question asking whether women will date guys who take steroids.

79% of women said if a man took steroids, they wouldn’t date him. 20% said it was unattractive, but they might still consider dating him. Out of the 423 women we surveyed, only two said it was attractive for a guy to stake steroids. Overall, over 99.5% of women have at least a moderate preference against men who take steroids.

72% of men said they preferred how natural lifters looked. (This answer is somewhat incorrect. Steroids make achieving any degree of muscularity and leanness easier. For instance, some guys use steroids or TRT so that they can get shredded without suffering from the symptoms of low testosterone. Plus, not all steroid users are bigger, leaner, or stronger than natural lifters.)

Also, all of the physiques rated as most attractive to women don’t require steroids to achieve, even for men with poor genetics. Even the bodies rated as ideal by men are naturally achievable by most guys.

Skinny vs Skinny Fat

The last thing I wanted to test was whether skinny or skinny-fat guys were at a greater disadvantage. I wanted to test this because many of our skinny clients are worried that if they do a poor job of bulking up, all they’ll gain is fat, and so they’ll wind up with a worse physique than when they started.

Illustration comparing skinny and skinny-fat bodies.

It turns out the vast majority of women preferred the skinny-fat body to the skinny body. When we asked men which body they preferred, they too preferred the skinny-fat physique. So even if a bulk goes disastrously off the rails, resulting in almost pure fat gain, it can still improve our appearance, both in the eyes of men and women.

This lines up with my own experience. As a skinny guy, I was teased all the time. But after a failed bulking attempt where I got a bit doughy, I became more similar to the average guy, and far fewer people bugged me about it.

Summary

Women tend to prefer men with fit, athletic bodies. These ideal male bodies are significantly leaner and stronger than average, but not as lean and strong as most men wish to be, and certainly not as muscular as most bodybuilders. Think of the bodies of soccer players, rugby players, and mixed martial artists.

Illustration showing the bodies rated as most attractive by women and ideal by men.

Men, on the other hand, prefer leaner and more muscular physiques. Most men preferred abs, which isn’t necessarily ideal for our health and is often tough to maintain year-round. Men also prefer a degree of muscularity at the upper limit of what’s realistically achievable as a natural lifter.

Overall, though, the bodies that women find most attractive are similar to the bodies that men want to have, even down to the muscle proportions that men tend to emphasize in the gym: arms, chest, shoulders, and abs.

Alright. That does it for now. If you want more muscle-building information, we have a free bulking newsletter for skinny guys. If you want a full foundational bulking program, including a 5-month full-body workout routine, diet guide, recipe book, and online coaching, check out our Bony to Beastly Bulking Program. Or, if you want a customizable intermediate bulking program, check out our Outlift Program.

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 over ten thousand skinny people bulk up.

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13 Comments

  1. Tim S on September 10, 2021 at 1:43 pm

    Hey! Love the article. Well written and informative. Thanks for that read!

  2. Neil Santos on September 10, 2021 at 3:39 pm

    Exceptional article. Thank you for the results (and analysis) of the survey!

  3. Phil on September 10, 2021 at 4:22 pm

    One thought about the “THE MOST ATTRACTIVE DEGREE OF MUSCULARITY” and why women don’t prefer maximum muscle. I think women unconsciously associate large muscles with other high-testosterone traits, like agression. My wife HATES the look of bodybuilders, but one of the things my wife said first attracted her to me was my “kind face”. I would guess evolutionarily, women are attracted to men who men who can protect them, but too much aggression also makes for wife-beaters. Some women probably are more toward the I’m-attracted-to-power-that-might-kill-me and some are closer to he-looks-safe-to-me.

    • Shane Duquette on September 10, 2021 at 4:39 pm

      Hey Phil, yes! My guess is that you’ve got it right. It seems the middle-ground is ideal on average, but, as you said, different women favour different degrees of masculinity, muscularity, leanness, and formidability.

  4. Shauqse Lijiye on September 11, 2021 at 2:42 am

    This was great! Will you do surveys for women-attractiveness too? straight and gay? That would be so cool (and needed)!

    • Shane Duquette on September 11, 2021 at 7:02 am

      Hey Shauqse, thank you so much!

      We’re thinking of doing one for women, yeah. I’ve already got the illustrations done 🙂

  5. Alan on September 11, 2021 at 6:20 am

    Thank-you so much for all the hard work in conducting and analysing the study. Your dedication and passion really shines through!

    In terms of informing your programs, the above information seems like it would be invaluable. Are you looking to inform future programs/adjust current ones based on this information?

    Keep up the amazing work!

    • Shane Duquette on September 11, 2021 at 7:10 am

      My pleasure Alan, thank you! And yes, totally! We want to learn what our audience is aiming for so we can better align our programming with their goals (the male responses). And if a client’s goal is to build an attractive physique, have the knowledge to help them build it (the female responses).

      Another thing we might want to do is slim down my illustrations a bit. Our avatar/mascot illustration is more muscular than what guys want.

  6. AB on September 12, 2021 at 10:47 am

    Hey Shane this was a great article and it’s really cool that you are probably the first person to look at the attractiveness of different neck sizes with a fairly large sample size!

    I have a question though regarding what the weight/dimensions mean to be in the Athletic or Strong category? For example is someone at 6 foot, athletic or strong at like 175Ibs given they are lean? Or is a given neck size athletic if it doesn’t look too skinny?

    I think you have touched on this stuff in the past with your older articles but would you draw similar comparisons/conclusions here?

    • Shane Duquette on September 12, 2021 at 6:45 pm

      Thank you, AB!

      You’re right, yeah. We cover the most attractive/aesthetic body weight in our aesthetics article. It seems that women prefer a BMI of 24.5, so for someone who’s 6 foot, his most attractive weight is 180 pounds with a flat stomach. Men would think he looks better at 190 pounds with abs, so maybe an extra 15–20 pounds of muscle.

      For neck size, I think the idea is to build a neck that’s strong but not musclebound. For that same 6-foot guy, I’d guess a neck circumference of 15–16 inches at the narrowest point would be great.

      • AB on September 13, 2021 at 10:33 am

        Thanks I appreciate the feedback, and it’s cool to see you are still updating past articles with new info!

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