If you’re a naturally skinny woman with naturally narrower hips, you might be wondering: is it even possible to get bigger hips? What’s all this talk about the waist-to-hip ratio? What’s the most attractive ratio? How can I improve my ratio naturally?
These are questions we get a lot. So inside this article, we’ll be talking about why so many women want to have wide hips with a small waist, what we can’t change, what we can change, and some action steps you can take today to quickly start adding inches to your hip measurement to immediately start improving your waist-to-hip ratio.
Bigger hips—compared to what?
First, we need to get on the same page. When we say “big hips,” what do we mean? Big compared to what?
We’re not talking about how big your hips are in objective measurement. And we aren’t even talking about how big or wide your hips are compared to other women.
When people talk about “big hips,” they’re usually intuitively talking about having wide hips compared to their waist.
Along with having strong shoulders, this contrast between waist and hip size creates the coveted “hourglass” body shape that women like Marilyn Monroe, Scarlett Johansson, Brigitte Bardot, and Beyoncé are famous for. But as you can see, Brigitte Bardot actually has fairly slender structure overall, including fairly small hips, it’s just that they’re large compared to her even smaller waist.
By this standard, a woman with a waist-to-hip ratio less or equal to 0.7 has wide hips.
To figure out your waist-to-hip ratio (WHR), start by measuring your waist circumference at its narrowest point and your hip circumference at its widest point, like so:
Then divide your waist circumference by your hip circumference, giving you your waist-to-hip ratio.
For example, let’s say we have a woman with a 26-inch waist and 31-inch hips. She would divide her waist measurement by her hip measurement (26/31) to get a ratio of 0.838, which is in the healthy range but won’t give her the appearance of having remarkably wide hips. However, she can further improve her health and appearance further by building up wider hips or by losing fat around her waist—or by doing both.
Why do so many women want wider hips?
So many women are looking to build bigger hips. So much so that it’s one of the most common questions we get, and it’s almost always listed as a main goal by members of our program. But why do so many women want big hips?
One hypothesis was that it was a cultural trend to want wider hips. There is some evidence that culture can shift our body-shape preferences, but these shifts are actually quite small. In fact, our natural instincts might be towards even more extreme proportions (study). This means that our current culture, with more people overweight, is subtly making us to prefer hips that are less wide because it looks more normal. So if anything, wide hips being desirable is biological, and our culture tends to downplay it.
A hypothesis with more research behind it is that wide hips are so attractive because they’re so healthy. They give a snapshot of a woman’s overall health, similar to how a shoulder-to-waist ratio give a snapshot of a man’s health. Having big hips with a small waist is a great sign of health. The better the ratio, the healthier the person looks.
You know this intuitively, and so you have a biological desire to build a better waist to hip proportion, either to improve your health, to become more attractive, or some combination of the two.
Wide Hips & Lean Waist = Verified Health
The ratio is signalling how much muscle a woman has. It’s signalling her genetics. It’s signalling healthy movement patterns or if she sits all day. It’s even signalling fertility health (study) and youthfulness (study).
Because of these massive health implications, even the World Health Organization (WHO) published a report on waist-to-hip ratio. Scientists think that a waist-to-hip ratio above 1.0 can fairly accurately indicate a woman’s cardiovascular health, if they have diabetes, and even if they’re at risk of getting certain cancers (report).
Side note: Interestingly, the WHO report also touches on ethnic differences in the waist-to-hip ratio. They reference three different studies finding that women of Asian descent naturally store more fat around the vital organs in their waist (visceral fat), and so they benefit from having even smaller waists (in terms of health) when compared against women of European, African and Middle-Eastern descent. This ensures that any unhealthy visceral fat is minimized. So if you’re of Asian descent, you should definitely aim to have lean waist, and thus a lower ratio than most averages.
This is why so many people find big hips and small waists in women so desirable, both in themselves and in others. They’re naturally drawn to those signals of health, youth and athleticism.
Of course, this also has a huge impact on attractiveness. Research has been pounding a loud drum saying that sexiness is simply conspicuous health. The more obvious your healthiness is, the sexier you’ll become. (We’ve written extensively about this in our controversial Bombshell Aesthetics article.) Of course, this all happens on a subconscious, intuitive level, and most people don’t realize they’re intuitively being attracted to health markers.
This intuition is staggeringly universal. Devendra Singh, a researcher and former professor of psychology from the University of Texas, said that these judgments of health and attractiveness are found in both men and women, from a diverse age range of 18–85, and span across the many different ethnic backgrounds studied (Afro-American, Mexican American, Euroamerican) (study). It spans across different periods of history as well. Researchers have studied sculptures made in ancient India, Africa, Egypt, and Greece that reflect the understanding that women had a much lower waist-to-hip ratio than men .
Some research has even found similar findings by looking back and studying the Miss Pageant competition from 1921 and onwards, as well as the issues of Playboy. Putting my own opinions about the Pageantry and Playboy aside, there’s some lessons we can learn from the research into them. For example, the lowest waist-hip-ratio found in Playboy was 0.529, the highest was 0.844 and the mean is 0.677 (study). This lines up perfectly with what the World Health Organization considers healthy.
And in another study, researchers discovered that women “suck in” their stomachs when trying to appear more attractive (study). This hints that women intuitively understand that their waist-hip-ratio affects how good they look.
Don’t Game The System
Having wide hips alongside a small waist is so desirable because it’s so healthy. Yes, you can try to game the system by focusing on surface-level solutions, such as getting butt implants, but people have great intuition when it comes to these indicators of health. According to one online poll, over half of the women surveyed edited their photos before posting to social media like Instagram (link & link).
But don’t do it! Something will often look “off” if you try to fix it at a surface level instead of on a deeper level. There’s much more to a healthy female shape than the waist/hip ratio (study), and people can tell when somethings off and often prefer the natural body. So it’s best to do it the genuine way—by focusing on exercise, diet and sleep.
The Best Waist-to-Hip Ratio
Now that we’ve covered why having big hips that contrast well against your waist is so desirable, we can talk about what the best ratios are.
Regarding health, there’s a lot of evidence that a ratio of 0.7 is the most coveted (study), and looks more healthy and attractive to both men and women (study). And in 2010, the first study was published showing that a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.7 activates men’s neural reward centre’s in their brains (study).
Unfortunately, a 0.7 ratio isn’t the final be-all answer. It’s a bit more complicated than that.
But first, two things are more or less agreed upon:
- the healthiest body composition is the sexiest body composition
- a remarkably low waist-to-hip ratio is jaw-droppingly attractive. (study)
But here’s where things get complicated: not all women have the same bone structure. Some women have a broader bone structure, others have a thinner bone structure. Some women develop an hourglass figure during puberty due to their bone structure or body fat storage patterns… but many don’t. Hourglass figures look stereotypically feminine, but they’re actually one of the rarer body types. Most women with hourglass figures had to deliberately develop those curves with exercise and diet.
This means that it’s possible to be totally healthy, with a good balance of muscle mass and body fat, but to haver a bone structure that makes it way harder to get the ideal WHR. For example, here’s a woman who’s lean, strong and healthy yet has a structurally wider waist:
It’s also possible to have the ideal ratio while being medically underweight or overweight. For example, here’s a woman who’s underweight, with a very small amount of muscle mass and strength, but she still has the ideal waist-to-hip ratio:
So if this is really all about health, are the genuinely healthy people the most attractive? Or is it the people who just have genetically curvier body proportions?
Some studies show that proportions matter most, whether or not that person is healthy (study). Other studies show that it’s more attractive to have a healthy weight and a relatively lean waist regardless of what waist-to-hip ratio that happens to result in. (study).
Based on the evidence, we would argue that you should aim to get the best of both worlds. If you have naturally smaller hips, build extra muscle to round them out and get curvier proportions. You’ll get the added benefit of that muscle too, and muscle is one of the most underrated health markers right now (study). Having a butt that’s “too” strong or “too” athletic or “too” round isn’t a real thing. A strong butt is great for your health, it reduces lower back pain, reduces your risk of injury, increases your athleticism, and it will be great for your appearance.
But how do you do that?
Bad News First: We can’t change the bone structure of our hips
If you haven’t guessed yet, we can’t change our bone structure. Bone structure is almost entirely determined by your genetics. And once your hips are finished growing, that’s it. Because your potential is in your genetics, the female pelvic shapes are already starting to widen compared to males as early as 26 weeks in gestation (study)!
Interestingly, it does seem like the shape of your hips can modestly adapt to the activity and stress you put on them as a kid. According to this study, women who are more active growing up are more likely to develop the heart-shaped hip structure that’s more common men. 24% of the women had that heart-shaped hip, while the majority of women had a more rounded hip shape (study).
Some rare women are blessed with remarkable genetics, with naturally broad hip bones and a tinier waist. Women with genetics like these won’t need to build up as much muscle in their hips in order to boost their attractiveness.
An example of this is the vegan model Renee Somerfield, who was part of a recent ad campaign that was criticized for body shaming because those critics considered her natural body shape too “unrealistic.” Despite the irony of body-shaming someone they claim is body-shaming others, she has a healthy body weight in terms of BMI and she said she exercises 4–5 times a week.
Now The Good News: How You Can Improve Your Waist-to-Hip Ratio
The good news is that every woman can improve their proportions by building up the muscles around their hips while keeping a lean waist.
Check out Aomi, who’s graciously allowed us to share her transformation. She gained 3″ on her hips while doing our Bony to Bombshell program, which put her ratio even better than the 0.7 target.
How to Get A Better Waist-to-Hip Ratio
Get A Bigger Butt & Keep Your Waist Lean
Many women with great genetics and who eat well store their fat in their hips. They might also be more naturally muscular. But on our site, we’re committed to helping naturally skinny “ectomorph” women build muscle. So if that’s you, the chances are that you’ll need to focus on building more muscle, not just trimming off extra belly fat.
How To Get A Bigger Butt
The 4 Muscle-Growth Principles
Scientific research has revealed a lot about building muscle. We know that to build muscle you need to encourage your muscles to grow stronger by stressing them (lifting weights is the most effective approach), you need to eat enough protein (about 1 gram per pound bodyweight per day is ideal), and in order to gain weight, and you need to eat enough calories above and beyond what you normally eat (about 250 extra calories per day will yield about 0.5 pounds of weight gain each week). You also need enough quality sleep to allow your body to recover and grow.
Building bigger hips is all about balancing those four muscle-building principles. You could be doing the world’s best butt workout, but if you aren’t eating enough protein and calories, your body won’t have the extra building blocks it needs to grow.
And vice versa. If you eat the best muscle-building diet, but you’re not sufficiently stressing your muscles, you’ll just gain fat. Or if you’re stressing your muscles enough but not in the right places, you’ll wind up only growing those specific areas.
Want to grow your butt? Then Train Like It
No amount of cardio will help you build bigger hips. This is because cardio is designed to help you develop better cardiovascular fitness, not to build muscle in your hips.
The best way to get better at a specific thing is to train at that specific thing. This is called training specificity, and it’s something beginners don’t often consider. If you want to run faster, all the bench pressing in the world won’t help, you’ll make better progress if you practice running. Similarly, if you want to build a killer butt, all the yoga in the world won’t help with that—yoga’s best adaptation is better diaphragmatic control.
Anyways, when it comes to building bigger hips, we’re talking about building bigger muscles. You should be doing a bodybuilding program, i.e., a program specifically designed to help you build up a bigger, stronger body. And that bodybuilding program should be one that puts extra emphasis on your hips, since that’s where you most want to grow.
Most exercise programs don’t have that goal in mind. Even though building big hips is so universally appealing, many women in today’s society are coming at this from the other angle: they have naturally big hips and they already have enough muscle… but need to work hard at shrinking their waists.
Even most weightlifting programs focus on either strength (StrongLifts, Starting Strength, etc) or on fitness (CrossFit, P90X, Sweat, Insanity, Spin, Body Pump) rather than on muscle size. And then they aren’t meant for your hips. While you might get some glute gains, they’ll be lackluster because you’re leaving so much opportunity on the table.
So what workout programs are good for building bigger hips?
For the best overall muscle size development, you want a program that focuses more on bodybuilding. Ironically, because of recent research developments, the best “bodybuilding” programs are actually a mix of both bodybuilding and strength training, which has been nicknamed “powerbuilding.”
Then you want a program that is designed specifically for women (e.g. the right exercises, has higher rep ranges, more overall volume, shorter rest times, and relies less on upper body strength). Then that woman’s program should put special emphasis on your hips, which is in all likelihood—since you’re reading this article—what you’re most keen on developing. Our Bony to Bombshell program is an example of a powerbuilding weight gain program for women with a heavy emphasis on the hips and butt, as you can see with Ioulia:
Your Glutes Must Become Strong & Athletic For Them To Be Bigger & Rounder
To get the roundest, fullest, and most aesthetic butt, there are no shortcuts. You will need to build genuinely strong and athletic hips.
Strong hips aren’t just for show, and your training needs to reflect that. Aside from being more attractive, strong and athletic hips are also versatile. For optimal shape, size and roundness, you need to work your hip muscles through a large range of motion and using a wide variety of exercises that hit all the various muscles, and all the various fibres in those muscles.
Understanding Your Glutes: The Maximus, Medius & Minimus
This is the largest and strongest of the glutes and has the most potential to grow. It’s main job is to help to move the hips forward. This is the glute that would get most worked when doing squats/deadlift and you’re thrusting your hips forward to stand back up. The maximus can also help to rotate the thigh and move the leg away from the body.
Because the maximus is to large, for the best shape it’s best to try and use a variety of exercises to hit both the upper and lower fibres of it.
The Medius & Minimus:
These 2 muscles mainly help to move the leg away from your body, but can also help rotate the leg (think of Elvis Presley.)
All 3 muscles together contribute to these 4 fundamental motions:
Motion #1: Hip Extension
It looks like: Swinging your leg back behind you
Exercise Example: Bird Dog
Motion #2: Hip External Rotation
It looks like: Rotating your hips outwards
Exercise Example: Clamshell
Motion #3: Hip Transverse Abduction
It looks like: Lifting your leg away from your body
Exercise Example: Side Leg Raise
Motion #4: Posterior Pelvic Tilt
It looks like: Your tailbone comes down as your hips move forward like a thrust motion
Example Exercise: Hip Thrust
Now you can see the problem with just doing squats or deadlifts for a big butt. Those exercises don’t incorporate and build strength in every motion the butt is capable of.
Why range of motion (ROM) & form matters when it comes to growth
Let’s say you’re a beginner and want to try doing the hip thrust. You watch a Youtube video and their hips dip pretty low at the bottom of the movement. So you try and do that too. But to get that extra range of motion, you let your pelvis disconnect from your ribs to get it lower.
On the surface it looks like a big range of motion, but the range came from your lower back—not from your hips.
The range of motion didn’t come only from the hips, but rather your back. Aside from setting yourself up for back pain, that means that your hip wasn’t stimulated as much as it could have been, so your butt won’t look as full or develop as much strength.
A good solution for this would be to keep solid form throughout, even if it means you don’t go as low at first. Then add in some warm-up and mobility drills that help you gradually improve the range of motion in your hips. Week after week, as your butt grows, you’ll gain more range in the hips which will improve the shape of your butt.
Why pelvis position matters when it comes to building up your glutes
If your pelvis is rotated forward and externally, this is called anterior pelvic tilt (we affectionately call it ecto-belly). This can make it harder for your
The forward, externally rotated pelvis leads to the bigger, upper glutes being turned “off” since they can’t be used in that position. Not only that but this forward position of the pelvis also changes how your body moves side to side. So you’ll be using muscles like your TFL and quads (front of thighs) to move side to side instead of the glutes. This compensation pattern could lead to hip dip (covered later.) The forward pelvis also compromises the way you rotate your legs, leading to less glute activation with rotation on exercises like the clamshell.
How do you fix this?
Well, you’ll need to get your pelvis back to the position it should ideally be in. This is called neutral pelvis. If you’re interested in these kinds of advanced topics, Marco walks you through a key exercise, the 90/90 Hip Lift with Knee Squeeze and how it works here:
The Best Exercises For Getting a Bigger Butt
Okay, so what exercises should we do to hit all 3 glutes well?
You’ll want to include a variety of movements. Vertical movements like the deadlift/squats, horizontal movements like the glute bridge and hip thrust, and rotational movements like the clamshells and external rotations.
Dr. Contreras, the foremost researcher in this field, considers these the top muscle-building lifts for the glutes. He admits that much more research is still needed to determine which exercises are truly the best, but searching for the best exercise isn’t really the best approach anyway. It’s better to focus on a variety of lifts that are proven to be effective than it is to focus on finding the single “best” exercise.
Single Leg Hip Thrust
Cable Pull Through
Make sure you don’t go too high, and be sure to really feel it in your glutes—not your back.
Band Standing External Rotation
Glute Training Details You Need to Know
How heavy should I lift?
Muscles respond well to both heavy (5 or fewer reps before your muscles give out) and lighter weights (20 or more reps before your muscles give out). Your glutes are no exception. You should use a blend of heavy compound lifts, lighter compound lifts, and extra isolation work to help grow your butt optimally.
How often can you train your glutes?
We recommend training them 3x each week. You can also train all of your other muscles during those same workouts. No need to only do glute exercises. For the meat of your training session, you should have 1 day with less reps (2-5) so that you can go real heavy, 1 medium day, and 1 lighter weight day with a lot more reps. Then that can be followed up with additional isolation work.
What about squats?
Squats aren’t that great for building up a remarkable butt. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t be squatting. You absolutely should be. Squats are great for developing your overall strength and athleticism, it’s just that they’re not the best when it comes to specifically building up wider hips, especially if your hips are naturally smaller to begin with. They will help you in other ways, so they’re critical to include in your program, but you shouldn’t rely on them to help you build up bigger glutes.
However, one tip you can use to make your squats hit your butt a bit more is to stand a bit wider with your toes pointing outward, always making sure your knees don’t collapse inwards and that they stay over your second toe as you drop into the squat. Even then, the squat will still primarily target the fronts of your thighs (quads).
A better full-body strength exercise for building up bigger glutes is the conventional deadlift or Romanian deadlift, since you’ll be doing a deeper and fuller hip movement. It will also work the rest of your posterior chain (spinal erectors, back, hamstrings, etc.)
The takeaway message here is that your program should include squats and deadlifts, but that it should also include other lifts specifically designed to focus on building up a bigger butt and wider hips.
Glute Bridges Versus Hip Thrusts. Which one wins?
When it comes to adding in lifts to build up wider hips, the glute bridge and hip thrust will be your go-to exercises.
According to studies, hip thrusts activate more of your glutes compared to a glute bridge. So someone might ask, “why would you ever do a glute bridge? It’s inferior at activating the glutes.” They might also add, “Plus, you just talked about this range of motion stuff, and the glute bridge has less range of motion than the hip thrust.”
Still, we include the glute bridge in our own program for a few reasons. Why?
The first reason is progression. Many women don’t have the core control to do the hip thrust without disconnecting their ribs from their pelvis. That means they’ll probably feel a lot of pain in their back instead of a burn in their glutes. This increases the risk of pain and won’t stimulate the glutes properly.
So we teach a simpler progression first: the glute bridge. This allows someone to roll the weight over their hips, get into position, and just push. Simple. And over time their form will get more locked in, allowing them to progress to the hip thrust.
The second reason that glute bridges can be helpful is that because the exercise uses a smaller range of motion, you can load them up with a much heavier weight. This means that you can glute bridge far more weight than you can hip thrust. This can be an excellent way to supplement your training with some safe ultra-heavy lifting. Powerlifters use this trick all the time by doing partial squats, rack pulls, etc.
The third reason is that even compared to hip thrusts, glute bridges are far better at taking the thighs (quads and hamstrings) out of the picture. So even though it might activate less of the glutes objectively per rep compared to hip thrusts, it also isolates the glutes better. Since building wider hips is all about proportions, it helps to have an exercise that grows the hips and only the hips, allowing you to boost that aspect of your proportions.
The takeaway here is that there’s a place for both glute bridges and hip thrusts in your training program whether you’re a beginner or an advanced lifter (or somewhere in between).
Whew! We know for sure that you’ve got more than enough information on what it takes to build bigger hips that not only make you healthier, but look super remarkable. If you ever want a proven system to start putting this into action, check out our Bony to Bombshell program here.
Here’s the recap of the main points of the article.
- Big hips and a lean waist = healthy
- Take your waist and hip measurement and divide them to get your waist-to-hip ratio
- Aim for 0.7 for a healthy and attractive benchmark.
- You can’t change your bone structure, but you can change your ratio by building up a bigger butt or shrinking your waist—or both
- To get a bigger butt, you must build new muscle
- Eat enough protein and calories to support muscle-building
- Do glute specific training for optimal results
- Train every movement
- Hip Extension
- Hip External Rotation
- Hip Transverse Abduction
- Posterior Pelvic Tilt
- Work on expanding your range of motion for the best shape
- Textbook form will allow you to hit the right muscles, the right way
- Get your pelvis into a neutral position, so your workouts are effective
- Use a variety of exercises that use your glutes in vertical, horizontal, and rotational movements
- Do compound and isolation exercises
- Lift heavy for less reps
- Lift light with more reps
- Use both hip thrusts and glute bridges
- Train your glutes 3x a week so they’re always growing
Want even more help building up your hips? Sign up below and immediately get our glute and hip-building troubleshooting mini-guide, our free gift to you. The guide also includes a a cheatsheet of this article so you can reference the main points quickly.