Friends don’t let friends skip leg day, or so the saying goes…
Small legs, chicken legs, the triumphant retort of any one to any body with a good bench or built upper body…
But is it justified?
Legs are important to sports performance and good physique, not to mention your long term health (A smaller thigh circumference is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular and coronary heart diseases in both men and women) but what’s an appropriate ratio?
After all, you know me, I’m all about ratios 😉
Well, let’s look at the research. We can look at the body shape of top level athletes to figure out what is a reasonable thigh size. I’m going to focus on men just to simplify the process a bit.
Let’s start with a study examining 30 competitive male middle-weight power lifters who average 38 years old, with a height of around 5’9” and weight of around 190 pounds with a percent body fat of 13%.
Their average squat was 470 pounds, average bench was 315 pounds and average Dead lift was 505 pounds, so these guys were pretty strong to say the least (I’m guessing these were competition numbers so probably not ‘raw’).
On average these men had thighs with a circumference of 24 inches.
Their hips had a circumference of 39-40 inches, giving a thigh to hip ratio of 60-62% (thighs were 60-62% of hip circumference)
Next let’s look at elite cricket fast bowlers, athletes that are typically much taller and leaner than a power lifter…
Here we have men who are 6’2” and around 193 pounds, these guys were younger than the power lifters averaging 24 years old. Their thighs were 24 inches and their hips were 39-40 inches. So roughly the same size as the power lifters, only stretched out over 5 more inches of height.
Again a thigh to hip ratio of 60-62%
We can also look at a group of elite Australian road cyclists who were roughly 23 years old. These cyclists were 5’10″ with a thigh measurement of 24.5 inches. Unfortunately they didn’t measure hip circumference or body fat, but at least we know that we’re falling into the 24 ‘ish’ range in men who are 5’10” and based on their sport of choice we would assume to have well developed thigh muscles.
Next we can look at Elite male alpine skiers. These men were 5’11 and 190 pounds, 27 years old and 16% body fat. Average thigh here was 25.4 inches. This is the biggest so far, but it is worth noting that this data set also had some of the heavier and fatter men we’ve seen studied with one man having 26 inch thighs, but also being 6’5” 225 pounds and over 20% body fat. Still, we’re getting a good idea of thigh size in elite athletes of different shapes and sizes.
Finally we have a stronger and larger group of male power lifters. These guys had an average squat of 570 pounds, and were also shorter (5’7”) heavier (average 210 pounds) and fatter (average 16% body fat) then the previous group.
These men had 41 inch hips and 25.7 inch thighs for a hip to thigh ratio of just a bit over 62.5%
Based on these findings it seems that a hip to thigh ratio of just about the golden ratio, where your thighs at their widest point are 61.8% of your hip circumference seems to be possible, and judging by pictures of pro-athletes such as rugby and football players also very aesthetic.
Also we can see that generally a well built man between the heights of 5’7″ and 6’2” with lower levels of body fat (around 10%) can have a target of thighs that are roughly 24-26 inches in circumference. Granted there are always exceptions to the rule, but if you are worried about the size of your legs, this is a good bench mark to use.
However, it should be noted that it may not be the maximal circumference that makes a thigh appear big or small… it might be the lower circumference more towards the knee.
In research looking at rugby players who were 21 years old, 5’11 and 195 pounds, the average thigh at it’s widest point was 24.5 inches in circumference, at mid thigh (mid way between the knee cap and hip) the thigh was 22 inches, and bottom of the thigh, down near the knee was 16.5 inches… so it may be this ‘right above the knee measurement’ that biases us towards thinking a thigh is big or small.
So even if you are 5’10” and have 25 inch thighs at their largest, they may still look ‘smallish’ if the majority of the mass is up closer to your butt as opposed to down by your knee.
Also, it seems that the thigh is viewed relative to your hips and waist, so big butt or big waist (either by being overweight or muscular imbalance) will make you thigh look smaller by comparison.