An aesthetic physique isn’t all subjective.
You might have your own ideas about what is pleasing to the eye, but we have some shared human preferences that we enjoy. Aesthetic physiques are those that capture that all-too-human taste and look great as a result.
This article is going to cover what they are, why we love them, and how you can develop yours. All of this advice is appropriate for men and women alike – our bodies are different, but they work (mostly) the same.
Aesthetic physiques are usually defined by a few key factors:
These are the key factors we’re going to discuss. You can’t always change all of them – for example, maybe you have wide hips which will change your proportions. That’s fine: it’s not about some arbitrary “perfect” – just making the best of your body and looking and feeling better.
Proportion refers to the size and shape of different muscles and areas of the body relative to each other. For example, the V-taper or size of arms relative to your torso are aesthetic proportions – the better and more exaggerated they become, the more aesthetic you will look.
Aesthetic physiques are primarily about the relationship between the width of the shoulders and waist, the limbs and the torso, and then the silhouetting muscles (the lats, traps, and arms, e.g.).
There are obvious differences in what proportions we look for in men and women. Men are all about the shoulder-hip-waist ratio and an exaggerated delt and arm proportions. Many women aren’t interested in the same look, with more focus on the development of the quads and glutes. An exaggerated V-taper is a common goal for both sexes.
The main difference between an average and an aesthetic physique is what we do with it. Things like strength training help us develop the muscles and build out the natural shapes of the human body into something more defined.
Aesthetics – and all the things we listed above that make them up – come from looking capable. The human body looks best when it’s good at the things humans do: picking things up, moving bodyweight, and endurance.
Muscle is the most obvious way of changing your physique to look and perform better. Bigger muscles look great – fit, healthy, and capable – on men and women alike. They emphasise our natural traits and develop the other areas, like symmetry, balance, and proportion.
The things you eat and the exercise you do both affect your bodyfat levels. Eating appropriate amounts for your needs is how you control your weight – eating more than you use builds muscle (or fat, if you’re not exercising), and eating less than you use causes your body to burn fat.
Lower bodyfat levels allow the muscles – not the fat – to define your shape. This helps build better proportions and produces the impression of solidity, which is one of the most important aesthetics that comes from the combination of exercise and losing fat.
Whatever level of development and conditioning you’re aiming at, correcting imbalances to make sure both sides are well-developed is essential to aesthetics.
Humans like things that are symmetrical, and it plays into what we find aesthetic. The 21st century aesthetics “revolution” is heavily invested in building symmetry. You develop this with proper muscle gains and specifically an approach that focuses on building better posture and even development for both sides.
We don’t mean balancing on one foot – it’s all about the development of body parts together.
Aesthetics require you to build up your whole body evenly so that you don’t have “lagging” areas or noticeable weaknesses. This isn’t always simple – it can be a real challenge and we all have weaknesses – but working on them is key.
It’s not aesthetic to be the man who never trains his legs or the woman who neglects her upper body muscles for fear of looking ‘manly’. We become more aesthetic, and healthier, when we are strong all over and well-balanced humans!
Social media has a lot to do with our aesthetics. For many of us, it’s where we find the images of what fitness looks like – and the things we might want to look like.
Has social media changed what we think is aesthetic? Have our ideas around fitness and health changed because of how much we see? It’s not clear – we’ve always had fitness icons: Arnold Schwarzenegger and Flo Jo were selling us on aesthetics in the 70s and 80s.
Social media just means we can pick and choose which things to look at and be exposed to. We can choose what kind of aesthetics we want to aim at, which role models and content creators we pay attention to, and how we think about our own goals.
Women’s aesthetics have definitely seen a shift towards more lower body mass lately. We can’t ignore the glute revolution and just how trendy it has finally become to build big legs and a big booty – we’re living in the Sir Mix-a-Lot age and big butts are all the rage.
Meanwhile, men’s aesthetics are pretty much the same as they have ever been. This might just be women’s fitness catching up, now that it’s more popular, but it’s clear that male fitness is somewhere between Brad Pitt in Fight club and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Fitness isn’t new – but some of the ways we engage with it are. It’s interesting to see what kind of fitness models are taking the limelight and how they change what we look for and what we want to look like.
One more thing that hasn’t changed is how we train to develop an aesthetic physique…
Strength training with weights is popular for building an aesthetic physique because it works. Nothing is faster or more effective building muscle than lifting weights because it allows you to consistently load them and provide mechanical tension – which is how muscles grow.
Both men and women will respond beautifully to regular strength training. 3 sessions a week, for one hour each, is as little as it takes to get serious results – which is another reason it’s popular.
Bodyweight strength training – things like pull-ups, push-ups, core training, and other forms of bodyweight exercise – are great for aesthetics. Just like weight training, they develop the muscles, but specifically in muscles like the lats, chest, and shoulders – which are perfect for building the V-taper.
Bodyweight exercise can be a great way to build an aesthetic physique and is accessible to all experience levels. Some exercises like pull-ups can be hard for beginners but easier version – like inverted rows – are always possible.
Cardio – long bouts, HIIT, CrossFit, whatever you want to use – is exercise aimed at getting your heart rate up, improving your cardiorespiratory health, and burning fat.
Burning fat is the key for your physique. Being lean can be a great way to look better – it brings out your abs, improves your proportions, makes you look stronger and healthier. There’s a limit, of course, but we want to reduce excess bodyfat.
For men, aesthetic physiques are usually at around 6-12% bodyfat with muscle. For women, it’s usually around 5% higher (for hormonal health reasons) at around 10-22% bodyfat. These are healthy but definitely lean and are aesthetic in the “athletic physique” sense.
The way we build an aesthetic physique is doing things that are good for us. Diet and exercise make you look fit and healthy because you become fitter and healthier!
Set goals that are realistic for where you are right now and remember that consistency is the most important aspect. Regular training and smart diet will produce results – all you need to do is put in the time and keep going.
These benefits are available to us all – no matter where you’re starting from. Whether you have 200lbs to lose or 50lbs to gain, starting where you are right now and working on your habits will make all the difference.
We’re all working on ourselves and the time is going to pass anyway. Set goals that keep you motivated but you can achieve in a few months, and just keep turning up!