What do we mean by “The Male Physique”

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What do we mean by “The Male Physique”?

For our workshop on Tying the Masculine Physique we refer to the body shape rather than the genetics. Sometimes it is hard to understand exactly what is meant by the term “gender”, and how it differs from the closely related term “sex”. The World Health Organisation offers guidance which is very useful1

Sex refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women.

Gender refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women.

To put it another way:

Male and female are sex categories, while masculine and feminine are gender categories.

Aspects of sex will not vary substantially between different human societies, while aspects of gender may vary greatly.

In humans, biological sex is determined by five factors present at birth: the presence or absence of a Y chromosome, the type of gonads (ovaries or testes), the sex hormones, the internal reproductive anatomy (such as the uterus in females), and the external genitalia. People with mixed sex factors are intersex. People whose internal experience differ from their biological sex are transgender or transsexual.

Some examples of sex characteristics :

  • Women menstruate while men do not
  • Men have testicles while women do not
  • Men generally have more dense bones than women
  • Women are generally shorter than men

Some examples of gender characteristics :

  • In most countries women earn less money than men for similar work
  • In most countries men are more likely to commit suicide than women (China being the exception where rates are roughly equal)
  • In Saudi Arabia men are allowed to drive cars while women are not
  • In most of the world, women do more housework than men

Sex differences generally refer to traits that are sexually dimorphic (different between the sexes). Such differences are hypothesized to be products of the evolutionary process of sexual selection2,3. In contrast, the term gender differences refers to average group differences between males and females in traits that are sexually monomorphic and presumed to be due primarily to differential socialization ie influenced by society’s gender roles.

Gender identity refers to one’s preferred social role, regardless of biological sex.

Indirect sex differences are general differences as quantified by empirical data and statistical analysis ie things that can be measured on a scale. Most differing characteristics will conform to a bell-curve (i.e., normal) distribution which can be broadly described by the mean (peak distribution) and standard deviation (indicator of size of range). Often only the mean or mean difference between sexes is given in examples which may not be true of all individuals. If all that sounds a bit complicated then more simply an example would be that most males are taller and stronger than most females4, but an individual female could be taller and/or stronger than an individual male. This should be borne in mind for the examples given in this handout and it is impossible to make any assertions that will be true in absolutely all circumstances.

Masculine Body Types


Figure 1: Body Shapes


An ectomorph is a generally skinny guy. Ectos have a light build with small joints and lean muscle. Usually ectomorphs have long thin limbs with stringy muscles. They can be both very tall and very short – it’s the proportion of the limbs to the torso that matters. Ectomorph shoulders tend to be thin with little width. Petite FTM individuals are often short stature ectomorphs.


A mesomorph has a large bone structure, large muscles and a naturally athletic physique. They find it quite easy to gain and lose weight. They are naturally strong due to favourable muscle bulk vs weight distribution. They are generally rectangular in body shape.


The endomorph body type is solid and generally soft. Endomorphs gain fat very easily. Endo’s are usually of a shorter build with thick arms and legs. Muscles are strong, especially the upper legs. Endomorphs find they are naturally strong in leg exercises like the squat and can have muscular upper arms, but consequently tend not to be particularly flexible.

A Combination of Body Types

These body types aren’t set in stone. In fact, most guys have a combination of two body types. These combinations are either ectomorph/mesomorph or mesomorph/endomorph.

Differences in body shape from feminine to masculine

Broad shoulders and expanded chest (masculine)

Widening of the shoulders occurs as part of the male pubertal process. Expansion of the ribcage is caused by the effects of testosterone during puberty or via the use of testosterone supplements in FTM individuals. Masculine body types generally have broad shoulders and expanded chests, but remember that the ectomorph group tend to have narrow shoulders.

Wide hips (feminine)

Widening of the hip bones occurs as part of the female pubertal process and oestrogens (the predominant sex hormones in females) causes a widening of the pelvis as a part of sexual differentiation. Hence females generally have wider hips, permitting childbirth. Because the female pelvis is flatter, more rounded and proportionally larger, the head of the foetus may pass during childbirth. The sacrum in females is shorter and wider, and also directed more toward the rear. This sometimes affects walking style, resulting in hip sway. The upper limbs in females have an outward angulation (carrying angle) at the elbow level to accommodate the wider pelvis. After puberty, female hips are generally wider than female shoulders; males exhibit the opposite configuration. Not everyone follows this stereotypical pattern of secondary sex characteristics. Both male and female hormones are present in the human body, and though only one of them is predominant in an adult, the other hormone has effects on body’s shape to some extent. It is not usual for a MTF or FTM individual to be able to alter their hip shape significantly with the use of hormonal treatments alone after puberty has occurred.

Fat distribution, muscles and tissues

Females generally store fat in buttocks, hips and thighs due to effect of oestrogen, while males store fat around the belly area. The feminine body shape is therefore most commonly that of a waist that is narrower than the hips at a greater ratio than is found in the masculine type. Body shape is affected by body fat distribution, which is correlated to current levels of sex hormones. Fat distribution can be changed by exercise and hormonal therapies whereas skeletal factors cannot. Oestrogen increases fat storage in the body which results in more fat stored in the female body. Body fat percentage recommendations are higher for females. Males have less subcutaneous fat in their faces due to the effects of testosterone; testosterone also generally reduces fat by aiding fast metabolism. Males generally deposit fat around waists and abdomens (producing an “apple shape”) due to the relative lack of oestrogen.

Testosterone helps build and maintain muscles through exercise. On average, physiological males have around 10 times more testosterone than physiological females. Masculine body types tend to have more prominent muscle structure, particularly the latissimus dorsi, trapezius, pectoral muscles) as well as biceps and triceps in the arms and quadriceps and hamstrings in the thighs.

Females have enlarged breasts due to functional mammary glands, which develop from puberty onward due to the effects of oestrogen. Mammary glands do not contain muscle tissue. The shape of female breasts is affected by age, genetic factors, and body weight. Males do not normally have significant mammary tissue but it can become enlarged in certain medical conditions and in those who are overweight.

Differences in range of motion between feminine and masculine body types

Shoulder movements

In a general study of shoulder movements female subjects had a significantly greater range of motion than male subjects for all motions measured5. Dominant arms (the arm used most for tasks such as writing) displayed significantly greater external rotation than non-dominant, regardless of whether the arm was abducted or adducted at the time of measurement. However, non-dominant shoulders demonstrated significantly greater internal rotation and extension than dominant. No significant differences were found between dominant and non-dominant sides for forward elevation or abduction.


Figure 2 (Left) Shoulder abduction and external rotation. (Right) Shoulder adduction and internal rotation.


1WHO programme: Gender, women and health – http://www.who.int/gender/whatisgender/en/

2Mealey, L. (2000). Sex differences. NY: Academic Press.

3 Geary, D. C. (2009) Male, Female: The Evolution of Human Sex Differences. Washtington, D.C.: American Psychological Association

4Gustafsson A & Lindenfors P (2004). “Human size evolution: no allometric relationship between male and female stature”. Journal of Human Evolution 47 (4): 253–266.

5 Barnes CJ1, Van Steyn SJ, Fischer RA The effects of age, sex, and shoulder dominance on range of motion of the shoulder. J Shoulder Elbow Surg. 2001 May-Jun;10(3):242-6.


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