Is your health in danger? It’s difficult to make health/disease-risk assessments (notably cardiovascular and obesity-related diseases) on a national or international scale. The best tests are usually the most expensive and time consuming, require trained professionals to run them and are the least accessible. As a result, several decades of research and millions of dollars have been spent to try to come up with easier tests to help people assess their risk of disease and mortality (read: death).

Body Mass Index (BMI) is one of the most widely used measurements. You can calculate your BMI with the following equation: BMI=Your weight in kilograms divided by your height in meters squared.

BMI Classifications:

<18.5: Underweight

18.5-24.9: Average

25.0-29.9: Overweight

>30: Obese

Going Beyond BMI

While this is a reasonable measure for the general population, it is limited by the fact that it can’t account for muscle mass. This means a very muscular person may be categorized as overweight or obese, but have a low percentage of body fat. As an example, a faculty member at University of Massachusetts at Amherst recently told us that Jerry Rice, in his prime, was categorized as overweight, despite maintaining 3%-4% body fat.

Waist-to-Hip Ratio

The waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) is another easily measured assessment of body composition. Simply put, this involves using a tape measure to assess the circumference of your waist (defined as the thinnest part of your torso), and your hip (defined as the widest part of your rear), and dividing your waist circumference by your hip circumference. For men, an absolute waist circumference of >102cm, and a WHR of greater than 0.9 are indicative of central obesity, which is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

For the visual thinkers, people are generally classified as having a more pear- or apple-shaped body. These delicious classifications are an oversimplification of the complexities of various physical builds, but they provide a decent way to visually assess weight distribution. As you can imagine, those with a higher WHR will have a more apple-shaped figure; this apple-shaped figure is also indicative of central obesity and cardiovascular disease risk.

Waist-to-Shoulder Ratio

If the pure benefit of a longer life and lower risk of cardiovascular disease aren’t enough for you, consider for a moment that a waist-to-shoulder ratio (WSR) of 0.75 is typically considered attractive by the opposite sex. While the WSR is somewhat determined by your anatomical make-up, it is definitely modifiable through training. Whether you’re after a chiseled physique or minimizing your WSR, the primary training goals are the same: lose body fat and improve muscular strength. In the case of minimizing your WSR, the key will be to build a back and shoulders made of iron.

Improve Your Ratios

In an upcoming article, we’ll walk you through some of the best exercises to accomplish this goal. You won’t want to miss it — our No. 1 exercise for slapping mass and strength onto your back may surprise you.

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