We surveyed 423 women, asking them to rate varying degrees of muscularity and leanness in men, as well 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 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?
- What’s the most attractive overall body type?
Here are the survey results.
- The Survey
- The Most Attractive Degree of Muscularity
- The Most Attractive Degree of Leanness
- The Most Attractive Male Body Proportions
- Are Women Attracted to Men Who Take Steroids?
- Is it Better to Be Skinny or Skinny-Fat?
We surveyed over a thousand people, asking 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 most attractive. The bodies weren’t labelled or ordered. For example, we asked, “Which degree of muscularity do you find most attractive?” and showed them this spread:
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 their appearance 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 at the beach. Still, 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 the options attractive to 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 disadvantages, such as a lower degree of realism.
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. I drew the fourth body by tracing my own body.
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.” I’m labelling them now, when talking about the results.)
There were no votes for the skinny body type, and only 6% of women voted for the strongest body type. This aligns with our previous survey and 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.
To get to the bottom of the disparity, I spoke with Dr. Sell. After emailing back and forth with him a few times, I think there are a few possible reasons our survey shows a preference for athletic physique over extremely muscular ones:
- Women seem to assume 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 to reach their genetic muscular potential. It could be that the most muscular men in the stuy weren’t that muscular.
- Some men can reach degrees of muscularity that didn’t exist until recently. Until the 1940s, even world-class bodybuilders 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 men might be surprised that women aren’t picking the more muscular physiques: men prefer more muscular physiques than women. When we surveyed men on which body types they preferred, they preferred the more muscular “strong” body. This, too, aligns with the results of our previous survey and with 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. What’s interesting is that when we surveyed men about female bodies, a small percentage of guys preferred women with higher body-fat percentages. The obese woman got 20 votes (out of 1,072).
Some guys with good leanness genetics can maintain their general health and mood while having year-round abs (8–10% body fat). Mind you, that’s rare. Women preferred men closer to 13% body fat, which tends to be healthier and more sustainable for most guys. This aligns 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
Do Women Prefer Men With Bigger Upper or Lower Bodies?
The next thing I wanted to look at was upper-body vs lower-body proportions. Men commonly prioritize their chests, shoulders, arms, and upper backs over their legs. They want proportionally bigger upper bodies. Is that what women find most attractive?
A slight majority of women prefer a balanced, athletic body. Some women 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 at least somewhat misguided. (More on this in a second.)
The next spread showed a side angle comparing upper-body muscles against butt size. Most women rated the physique with the strongest butt as the most attractive.
Which Muscles Do Women Find Most Attractive?
Here’s where things get interesting. So far, the survey results suggest women prefer a balanced approach to building muscle. Women aren’t choosing bodies that have any special emphasis on the mirror muscles: the chest, arms, shoulders, and abs.
When we asked women which muscles men should emphasize, they chose arms, chest, shoulders, and abs, in that order. They chose the muscles men are notorious for prioritizing in the gym. Perhaps women do indeed prefer those muscles.
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 Cristiano Ronaldo has. When the average man thinks of big arms, he’s thinking of the 15-inch arms Brad Pitt had in Fight Club. And the average recreational bodybuilder is thinking of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 19-inch arms. Everyone agrees that muscular arms look great. They merely disagree about how big those muscular arms should be.
Are Women Attracted to Men With V-Taper Physiques?
Next, I wanted to test the idea that a v-taper is the most attractive male body shape. In attractiveness research, some studies compare men’s shoulder-to-waist ratios, whereas others compare men’s chest-to-waist ratios. But which matters more? The size of our shoulders or the size of our chests?
Two thirds of women chose the men with bigger chests over the men with bigger shoulders, even though having bigger shoulders has a larger impact on the v-taper of our silhouettes. Women are quite consistent with this preference, too. In other survey questions, they said the chest was 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.
Our v-taper seems to be a minor factor compared to overall muscularity. That makes sense. After all, our v-taper is merely a loose proxy for our muscularity (shoulders) relative to our leaness (waist).
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 improved my appearance, but my wife doesn’t seem to care. I was curious.
These results surprised me. Most attractiveness research shows more formidable men being rated as more attractive. A thicker neck is an important part of formidability, so I felt 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 was a very small majority. It didn’t win by nearly as much as I expected it to. 42% of women preferred men with thinner necks!
Are Women Attracted to Men 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.
79% of women said they wouldn’t date a man who took steroids. 21% said they might consider dating a guy who used steroids, but it was a major red flag. Out of the 423 women we surveyed, only two said it was attractive for a guy to stake steroids. That’s less than 0.5% of respondents. Overall, over 99.5% of women have at least a moderate preference against men who use steroids.
When we asked men what they thought of steroids, 72% said they preferred how natural lifters looked. (There’s a false assumption here. Steroids make achieving any degree of muscularity and leanness easier. Not all steroid users are bigger, leaner, or stronger than natural lifters.)
Furthermore, the physiques women rated as most attractive are naturally achievable, even for men with poor genetics. Even the bodies preferred by men are naturally achievable by most guys.
Is it Better to Be Skinny or Skinny-Fat?
The last thing I wanted to test was whether skinny or skinny-fat guys were more attractive. I wanted to test this because many of our clients worry that if they bulk aggressively, they’ll gain too much fat and wind up looking worse than when they started.
It turns out the vast majority of women preferred the skinny-fat body to the skinny body. Men had the same preference. 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.
On the other hand, if you’re worried about gaining fat, you can follow a good bulking program, eat a good bulking diet, and do a lean bulk, gaining weight more slowly. If you can do that, you can minimize fat gain, often to the point where it isn’t even noticeable.
Women tend to prefer men with fit, athletic bodies. They prefer men who are in much better shape than average but not as lean and strong as most men wish to be. Certainly not as muscular as most bodybuilders. Think of the bodies of soccer players, rugby players, and mixed martial artists.
Men, on the other hand, prefer leaner and more muscular physiques. Most men liked the look of defined abs. They also prefer a degree of muscularity at the upper limit of what’s realistically achievable as a natural lifter.
Overall, the most attractive male body type is one that’s strong, athletic, and healthy. Even better if that body also has nice arms and a muscular chest.
Alright, that’s it for now. If you want more muscle-building information, we have a free muscle-building newsletter. If you want a full workout and diet program, including a 5-month customizable full-body workout routine, a diet guide, a recipe book, and online coaching, check out our Bony to Beastly Program. Or, if you want a customizable intermediate muscle-building program, check out our Outlift Program.
Shane Duquette is the founder of Outlift, Bony to Beastly, and Bony to Bombshell, each with millions of readers. He's gained seventy pounds and has over a decade of experience helping more than ten thousand naturally thin people build muscle. He also has a degree in design, but those are inversely correlated with muscle growth.