When you consider that bodybuilding is all about exceptional physiques—whether aesthetically pleasing or freakishly shocking—it’s remarkable how normal the best male bodybuilders have been in regards to one physical quality: height. Yes, there have been Davids and Goliaths. The late Franco Columbu won the Olympia twice at only 5’5”, and Lou Ferrigno, at 6’5”, was likely on his way to the top before he left stages to Hulk out. But we’re talking ancient history, four decades ago.

what is a good height for bodybuilding
1993 Mr. Olympia: 6’5″ Lou Ferrigno & 4’10” Flavio Baccianini

Of the last 39 Mr. Olympia contests, all but three Sandow trophies have been carried home by a bodybuilder who stood between 5’9” and 5’11”.* Normal. Mostly, shorter guys have been relegated to runner-up or, in more recent years, the 212 division. Where are the shorter or taller guys? They’ve emerged in more recent years. We’ll get to that. Meanwhile, take out your tape measure. Let’s dive into the numbers to see if there’s an optimal bodybuilding height.


First, let’s be clear. There are a wide spectrum of male bodybuilding contests around the globe. Most amateur events have height or weight classes, and the IFBB Pro League has featured a 212 or, before that, 202 class since 2008, which serves as a de facto division for shorter guys. The Mr. Olympia also had two weight divisions, with 200 lbs. as the dividing line, from 1974-79. (Lightweights won four of six overall titles during that span.) All of which is to say there have always been a multitude of shows where shorter/lighter bodybuilders can shine. And, in fact, in amateur contests, typically about 2/3rds of the competitors are under 198 lbs. (90 kg) and, therefore, usually under 5’8″.


That said, it’s the IFBB Pro League open division where guys of any height or weight clash on the same stages. And the pinnacle is the Mr. Olympia. Here’s the numbers.

• Heights of the 17 Mr. O winners range from 5’5” Franco Columbu to 6’1½” Arnold Schwarzenegger.

what is a good height for bodybuilding
1973 Mr. Olympia: Serge Nubret, Franco Columbu, Arnold Schwarzenegger

• The average height of Mr. Olympia winners, computed for each of the 56 contests, is (almost precisely):  5’10” (178 cm.)

• That number is also virtually the same over the past 39 years. In the modern era, Mr. O champs have settled into the 5’9” to 5’11” range. Of the first seven Mr. O’s, six were out of that range. That was then, this is now. Since 1983, only 5’6” Dexter Jackson, 5’8” Brandon Curry, and 5’6″ Hadi Choopan have been under 5’9” or over 5’11”.

• Throughout the entire history, the shorter champs have been one-timers or two-timers. Of the eight Olympia winners with at least three titles, none have been under 5’9”.

• Second place is a different story. In 21 of the 58 Mr. Olympias, a man 5’7″ or under has been runner-up, and 12 different bodybuilders have done so. This happened in all but one Olympia in the ’80s. But this too has become less common lately; only four of the last 25 runner-ups have been 5’7″ or less, including Derek Lunsford last year.

• The average American adult man is just barely over 5’9”, and 25% of American men are in that Olympia-winning sweet spot from 5’9” to 5’11”. Worldwide the average adult male is 5’7″, but it’s reasonable to assume the American standard prevails at the Mr. Olympia. The last Olympia not held in the U.S.A. was 1992.


what is a good height for bodybuilding
5’5″ Lenda Murray winning the 2002 Ms. Olympia / Bill Dobbins

Because the standards have changed so dramatically since the first contest in 1980, and there are now so many divisions, the Ms. Olympia is more difficult to calculate.

• Nevertheless, just focusing on the bodybuilding title, there have been 39 Ms. O winners. Their heights range from 5’3″ to 5’9″.

• Four women have won a whopping 29 of the the 39 titles, and their average height is 5’7″ (167 cm). This is significantly more than the American female average of 5’4″ but not abnormally so.


When it comes to the Mr. Olympia, the numbers are remarkably consistent. A male height that is average to slightly above (in America) has been optimal for bodybuilding success in open divisions. It’s aesthetically pleasing. Observers don’t recognize it as unusually short or tall. It also provides a large enough skeleton for a Mr. O to carry a lot of lean muscle (now 240-300 lbs.) without appearing stocky, as shorter, heavy competitors often do. On the other hand, the skeleton is not so large that a man is unable to fully fill it out and he looks lanky or unbalanced, as is often the case with men over 6′. No one over 6’2″ has ever won an IFBB Pro League show.

So, 5’9″ to 5’11” has been the optimum bodybuilding height.

However, in 2019, for only the second time in history (other time: 1981), everyone in the Mr. Olympia top five was under 5’9”. And in 2022, four out of five were. The top three were: Hadi Choopan (5’7″), Derek Lunsford (5’6″), and Nick Walker (5’7″). And on the other end of the spectrum, 6’1″ Samson Dauda just won the 2023 Arnold Classic, and 6’2″ Andrew Jacked has also emerged as a probable Mr. Olympia contender.

what is a good height for bodybuilding
5’7″ Hadi Choopan winning the 2022 Mr. Olympia. / Mr Olympia

These aren’t rules. It’s all subjective. We look forward to someone shorter or taller moving the “You must be this height” sign lower or higher. That’s because bodybuilding is never about being average, always about being exceptional.

* Though Big Ramy’s height is listed as anywhere from 5’9″ to 6′, we projected it at 5’11”.

See also: GIANT KILLERS: A Short History of Short Bodybuilders and Tallest Bodybuilders Ever