When is a Man’s Chest Considered Big?

Size Matters…Right?

It’s no secret that men are obsessed with size. In fact, men are so obsessed that we are constantly comparing ourselves to other men that we meet on the street, bar, gym, locker room, even office. “Is this guy taller than me? Stronger? Could I take him if I had too?” and other thoughts enter our minds. To most of us bigger, taller, stronger, and even longer, is almost always better. Just listen to any sports cast for proof of this. At some point you’ll learn the basic physical stats of almost every player whether it’s basketball, football or even golf.

When that man is a bodybuilder the size that matters most to him, outside of the bedroom or locker room at least, is his arms. As is evident by the popularity of my earlier post When is a Man’s Arm Considered Big which has had literally thousands of views. I’ll go out on a limb and say that he next size he’s concerned with is his chest or more specifically the width/circumference of the upper torso (shoulders/back/pecs). After all, arms are often hidden by sleeves but a wide back and a thick chest is evident even in bulky clothing.

Average Chest Size?

Not an average sized chest.
You don’t need a chest shelf like Arnold in his prime to appear big. But it sure doesn’t hurt!
This may be the closest I ever got to having the “big chest” look.

Which leads us to the question – how big is the average man’s chest?

I thought this would be an easy question to answer by simply doing a little research and seeing what size shirts were the most popular. I was wrong. It turns out that there is some variation among clothing manufacturer’s as to how they determine shirt size. For example one company’s “large” may fit a 42″ (106.68 cm) – 44″ (111.76 cm) chest but another’s “large” is only 40″ (101.6cm) – 42″ (106.68 cm).

However, I did discover that almost everyone out there agrees that the most popular shirt sizes are large and medium. So I made an arbitrary decision based on the sizes that Hanes (the t-shirt and underwear people) use that a Large shirt fits up to a 44″ (111.76cm) chest. Using the approximate percentages of sales from several companies I determined that about 30% of all men (in the USA at least) wear a large shirt and, depending on whose sales you go by, between 65% and 80% of all men wear shirts that suggest a chest circumference of 44″ (111.76cm) or less.

So, the quick answer is that most men have a chest which does not exceed 44″ (111.76cm). You can consider your chest large if you exceed this measurement.

End of story, right? Not so fast bucko!

Does Size Matter?

While it’s true that your chest is big if you have more than 44″ (111.76cm) that may not matter if your waist is also close to the same size or worse is even larger than your chest. It should be obvious but, just in case, today – especially in the USA and other “western” nations – there is an obesity epidemic. So a lot of men have big chests because of bodyfat and a big chest with a big belly underneath it is just not impressive. You may be strong but you are not going to look like it (sadly, I fall into this category). People will see the gut and think “fat.” So if you want your chest to really stand out you need to keep the waist tight and bodyfat low.

So at what point does the chest start to look big? Well, again, the clothing industry gives us a clue. Most shirts and suits are designed for men who have what is known as a “drop” of less than 8″ (20.32cm). That is to say that their waist is between 0 and 8 inches smaller than their chest. A drop of anything over 8″ (20.32cm) is considered an athletic cut. So that’s our basic answer.

However, in my opinion and observation at least, this 8″ drop is just a starting point. To get that classic V shape (or X shape as it’s described now – don’t skip leg day) I think you need at least a 10″ (20.54cm) drop or larger. Sadly, this is easier said than done but certainly a goal to strive for.

The Final Verdict

Unfortunately, unlike arms or even legs, which can essentially hold their own in terms of size and visual impact, you really can’t consider the chest without looking at the entire torso. A big chest with weak shoulders just looks…odd. Big chest with big belly as I’ve already said just looks fat. Of course you can’t have a strong chest without a strong back. You really need to focus on developing all upper body parts to get that muscular well-built look that we all want.

The good news is that there really isn’t a magic number – even though you’ll find plenty of articles concerning the fabled “golden ratio” and “perfect proportions.” One I really like by John Romaniello on T-Nation is linked at the bottom of this blog by the way.

Clothes Make the Man

Since I’ve been talking about clothes so much I should also mention that they play an important part in displaying your work in the gym. Most men won’t admit that they really don’t need a large shirt or XL shirt and end up hiding their chests under a layer of cloth that flaps like a tent awning in the breeze. You’ll look much better and bigger with a shirt that actually fits. So put the ego size aside and maybe try a size smaller to see how it looks. Warning – this only works with a solid chest and a flat stomach. If you don’t have both you risk showing off bulges and sags that you’d rather have hidden. Trust me on this…I won’t say how I know, but I know.

To Sum it All Up

Even if you can’t manage a 10″ (20.54cm) drop just having a flat stomach a few inches smaller than your waist will really set your physique apart from most men today. So when they size you up they’ll realize who the bigger man is (unless alcohol is involved then all bets are off).

And isn’t that what we all want in the end?

Here’s an article on T Nation that better explains the “golden” ratio.
Timo Eherer (@newteemo on Instagram) demonstrates the importance of a proper fitting shirt to show off the chest (and arm!) gains. A baggy shirt will make you look smaller and hide your hard work in the gym. Note how the width of his delts contributes to a classic pec “shelf” and the overall size of his chest.

Photo Credit: Timo Eherer – used with permisson.
Bryce Gambler demonstrates the dramatic effect of a relatively wide upper body (44 inches/111.76 cm) and a small waist (32 inches/81.28 cm). A 12 inch/30.5 cm “drop.” Note that Bryce is about 6’4″ (1.93m) but doesn’t have that “lanky” look many tall men have – because he paid attention to developing his complete torso.


Photo Credit: Bryce Gambler – used with permission.

All photos by David P. Wahr unless otherwise noted in which case the original artist retains all rights. Otherwise photos and words @copyright by David P. Wahr

2 thoughts on “When is a Man’s Chest Considered Big?

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