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Lean machineForget the He-Man complex. The hottest body right now? One that is lean and toned
The night before his photo shoot with Urban, personal trainer Chris Cheng sent this writer a text message.
'On diet now. Hungry n thirsty :( hope tmr will come faster,' he wrote in mock agony.
The 33-year-old had lived on a diet of boiled egg whites, chicken breast, sweet potatoes and broccoli for three days to look his best for the camera.
Looking perfect is serious business for fitness buffs like Mr Cheng. But what makes the ideal male body today depends on who you ask.
The one thing experts agree on is that lean is in.
Take the toned torso of the model on the giant Abercrombie & Fitch (A&F) ad outside Knightsbridge that caused a stir earlier this year. Or those of the around 40 A&F hunks who have been parading outside the store for the past week before it opened yesterday.
Dr Tan Ying Chien, consultant plastic surgeon of The Sloane Clinic Plastic Surgery Centre, thinks the A&F physique is perfect.
'It is lean and the body musculature is well-defined, yet not overdeveloped,' he explains.
A quarter of the male clients at his Novena practice seek body sculpting procedures, which rank as the third most popular aesthetic treatment among men at his clinic, after eyelid surgeries and nose jobs.
Among the popular fixes in body sculpting are liposuction and the removal of man boobs. Prices start from $4,500 for liposuction.
While Hollywood fitness trainer Ramona Braganza finds it hard to define the perfect male physique, she also thinks the model in the A&F ad comes close to meeting the current gold standard in Tinseltown.
Ms Braganza, who has trained heart-throbs such as Ryan Reynolds and Bradley Cooper, says via e-mail message: 'When male stars take off their shirts, do they have similar body types? No. Some are tall with long torsos and some are shorter with thicker torsos. They do have something in common though: They all have a proportionate weight-to-height ratio, making them look ideal.'
But Mr Clay Rogers, an American who developed a workout system called The Hollywood Physique For Men last year, feels the A&F model still needs some work in the shoulders in order to be deemed ideal.
The 28-year-old spent three years uncovering the secrets to Hollywood celebrities' quick physical transformations and has about 650 followers on his fitness programme which lasts as few as 13 weeks.
In an e-mail interview, he says: 'The real magic is in developing a 1.6:1 ratio between shoulder width and waist width. The body in that ad is very close to the Hollywood Physique but not quite there. Its major issue is that it shows very little development of shoulder width, which is the key to creating a universally desirable male body.'
While opinions may differ on the exact maths behind a beautiful body, the He-Man physique of bodybuilders such as Arnold Schwarzenegger is definitely outdated.
Mr Ben Salter, fitness manager of the Pure Fitness gym chain, says men are going for 'well-sculpted muscles which are not overly bulky'.
Mr Vincent Ng, a former actor and founder of the Wufang Singapore School of Martial Arts who wrote the 2006 fitness book, Ten: A Lean And Sculpted Body In Ten Weeks, agrees that the bulky look is passe.
'We are not living in an era of alpha male kingdoms where muscles rule,' says Mr Ng, who sold more than 10,000 copies of his book before releasing a second edition last year. 'But proportion matters. Most people in the gym tend to focus on training only their upper bodies, which is wrong.'
The physical statistics of models today also reflect the general trend towards leaner physiques.
At local agency Upfront Models, for instance, director Watson Tan says the average measurements of male models, in inches, are 40-30-38 for the chest, waist and hips, compared to a beefier measurement of 42-34-40 in 1990.
'The lean look is in now because it looks healthier and gives the body more definition,' says Mr Tan.
The women seem to agree too.
In a recent poll of 1,204 women by Myprotein.com, a leading online sports nutrition site in Britain, 69 per cent said they preferred a man with a lean build. The women ranked Daniel Craig's pecs, Taylor Lautner's shoulders, Rafael Nadal's arms, Ryan Reynolds' abs and Frank Lampard's legs as perfect body parts.
In contrast, more than half of the 1,510 men in the same poll regarded the brawny arms of actor Vin Diesel and the big legs of rugby player Jonny Wilkinson as ideal.
While women are naturally programmed to prefer strong companions who can protect them, Mr Rogers thinks the reason women turn away from overdeveloped muscles is that they look unnatural.
'Ryan Reynolds represents exactly the features we're hard-wired to find attractive and be drawn to - a proportionate body with an extremely wide set of shoulders and a broad chest - for survival purposes,' he says.
'An overly muscular bodybuilder basically signals to our brain, 'This guy benefits us in no way at all, therefore we won't find him attractive'.'
While toned hunks have always been featured on the covers of the local edition of Men's Health magazine, its editor, Mr Sherwin Chua, says they also reflect deeper attributes.
'Our cover guy represents the pillars of the magazine. He is the smart guy who enjoys life and who cares about his body, mind and soul. So it's more than just about his physique; it's also about his energy and vibe.'
Ms Braganza has some sound advice: 'Whether you are a male or female and in Hollywood or not, it is about maintaining health first and foremost.'
HOW TO GET A RIPPED BODY
Divide your workout schedule such that it is made up of 30 per cent cardiovascular exercises and
70 per cent strength training.
To get muscle definition, first bring your total body fat level to at least 15 per cent.
Cardiovascular exercises such as swimming and running help you to lose weight. Do these at least three times a week for at least half an hour each time.
For strength training with weights, focus on all muscle groups rather than overworking one body part, such as the chest. You want your body to be proportionate.
To tone your muscles, stick to lighter weights - something you can handle for at least 20 repetitions - but with longer sets.
Strengthen your core with abdominal exercises to improve your stability and agility. Instead of just doing crunches, vary your ab workout to tackle all muscles in your abdominals.
Diet plays a big part too.
Have five small meals a day to keep your metabolism working. Stick to a diet low in fat but high in protein, carbohydrates and fibre.
Complex carbohydrates found in brown rice and oats also keep you feeling full longer so you will not overeat.
~ JASON CHEE, founder of Bodies Gym, and VINCENT NG, former wushu world champion