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What Is a Large Body Frame?

By Lisa O'Meara
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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A big frame body is a distinct type of body structure that stands out. Characterized by a larger skeletal structure, individuals with a big frame often appear taller and broader, a feature that can be misinterpreted as excess weight. However, body frame size and body fat are distinct aspects of physical composition. 

Body frame size can be assessed using wrist circumference relative to height, providing a more accurate health assessment than weight alone. While diet and exercise can influence body mass, the size of one's skeleton is largely immutable. It's essential to recognize that a person with a big frame can maintain a healthy BMI and be in excellent physical condition without necessarily appearing slender. Health professionals emphasize that the focus should be on overall well-being rather than just size or weight, underscoring the importance of a balanced lifestyle over cosmetic attributes.

Wrist Measurements

Whether or not a person has a large frame isn’t usually a matter of precise science, and the term doesn’t have an exact definition. Still, there are a few informal ways of figuring out whether a large person is big because of excess weight or big because of bone structure. One of the quickest is for a person to wrap his or her thumb and longest finger around the wrist. If the two fingers do not touch, that person could have a large frame, while someone whose fingers overlap could be considered small framed. Actually measuring the wrist is usually a bit more accurate, and when this number is combined with a person’s height the results are often pretty easy to quantify.

Sex and height become factors when using wrist measurements to determine body frame size. If a woman under 5 feet 2 inches (about 155 cm) tall has a wrist over 5.75 inches (about 146 mm) around, then her body frame may be considered large, but a woman over 5 feet 5 inches (about 163 cm) tall might not be thought to have a large frame unless her wrist was over 6.5 inches (about 165 mm) around. A man over 5 feet 5 inches (about 163 cm) tall with a large body frame would generally have a wrist circumference of over 7.5 inches (191 mm).

Elbow Width

Another measurement that can help determine a person's body frame size is elbow width, which is taken by bending the elbow and holding the forearm up to form a 90° angle. On either side of the elbow, a protruding bone can be located and it is the distance between these bones that makes up the person's elbow width. A 5 foot (about 150 cm) tall woman with an elbow width of more than 2.5 inches (about 64 mm) is usually considered large framed, although a 6 foot (about 180 cm) tall woman would need to have an elbow width over 2.75 inches (about 70 mm) before she fell into the large range. Taking sex into consideration, a 6 foot (about 180 cm) tall man with an elbow width of over 3.125 inches (about 79 mm) may have a large frame.

BMI Calculations and Adjustments

Most medical professionals and health care providers pay the most attention to patient BMI. A person can be well within the healthy range while still looking big if he or she has a large body frame.

BMI is typically calculated by measuring weight in relation to height. It can be a good general benchmark for health particularly when looking at large sectors of society or general age demographics, but it does not take into consideration that people have different body frames. A person with a large body frame may have a slightly higher BMI than that someone of the same height and basic physique who has a smaller frame because his or her bone mass will necessarily be greater.

In most cases the BMI will still give a general indication of a person’s health, but the higher number can be discouraging. Some experts factor frame in with the BMI to calculate a more realistic “ideal” or “healthy” weight range. Generally, a person with a large frame can determine this range by using the BMI and then adding 10 percent to that number.

What Frames Say About Healthy Weight

Despite what many cultural and societal messages about weight and “ideal” body types, most health care providers stress that the most important thing is that people are healthy. Having a healthy weight is not usually the same thing as looking thin and svelte. People with large frames can be toned, fit, and healthier than others who are smaller, even though their body shape may not fit the mold of what society considers desirable.

How To Dress a Large Body Frame

Whether you are the owner of a small, medium, or large body frame, there is one overarching rule that applies to everyone. It is also the most important tip to help you look good and feel confident in your clothing. 

The one rule to remember for the rest of your life is this: buy and wear clothes that actually fit your body.

Common Misconceptions

A common misconception people have about styling a larger frame is that baggy, oversized clothing will help disguise or hide their figure. However, this idea is the opposite of the truth. Clothes that are too big will instead add visual weight to a frame. They can also tend to look sloppy and not put together.

A less common but still present misconception is that too-small clothing will visually shrink a large body frame. This idea is also false. Garments that are too tight can hug the body in ways that highlight every bump and bulge.

In addition, it’s also not usually comfortable to squeeze one’s body into a shirt or pants that don’t fit them properly. If you’re not comfortable in your outfit, it’s more difficult to feel confident about your looks. 

Properly Fitting Clothing

Clothing that fits properly is neither too big nor too small. It flatters the body, skimming and smoothing your frame. If you have the budget and the resources, it’s never a bad idea to expand or overhaul your closet to assemble a wardrobe of clothes that fit the figure you have instead of the one you would like.

If you are self-conscious of your large body frame, you may want to steer clear of bulky garments such as thick wool sweaters or puffy jackets. This type of clothing will make your body appear larger and not necessarily flatter your figure.

You might be thinking to yourself: what about colors and patterns? The most critical rule here is to wear what you personally like and feel good. Aside from that, dark colors and more muted patterns and prints tend to look good. 

Can You Change the Size of Your Frame? 

For better or for worse, it is not possible to increase or decrease the size of your body frame. Gaining and losing weight have to do with the increase and loss of fat and muscle mass. When you see body type transformations related to weight gain and loss, these changes do not affect your skeleton itself. 

More than anything, bone size and whether you have a large, medium, or small body frame are related to your genetics. In several scientific studies performed in the last few years, researchers have concluded that genetics play a more significant role in body type than previously thought.

These new studies have shown that your DNA can determine up to 80% of your body shape and how you carry weight on your frame. This statistic means that even though lifestyle choices and environmental factors can still play a role in how your body looks, they take a backseat to hereditary factors from your parents.

One of the few times you will see changes in body frames is in cases of paralysis or severe malnourishment. In total or partial paralysis of a limb, it is common to see muscle atrophy (shrinking) and a loss of bone density. Lack of calcium in a person’s diet can also contribute to a decrease in bone size.

What Is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis is a medical condition that causes bones to become weak and brittle. The human body constantly loses and replaces bone cells. Typically, these processes work together to maintain mass. In this disease, however, bone replacement does not keep up with bone depletion.

Osteoporosis mainly occurs in older individuals and is a prevalent condition affecting millions of Americans yearly. Breaking a bone is often one of the first noticeable symptoms of this disease. 

While osteoporosis does cause bones to weaken and bone mass to decrease, it does not change the size of an individual’s body frame because bone size and density are not the same. When bones lose density due to osteoporosis, they essentially develop more holes in their structure which causes them to weaken. The overall size of the bone, however, mostly remains the same. 

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Discussion Comments
By anon962740 — On Jul 25, 2014

I have been large framed my entire life. I have some muscle, but I still need to work out more. After all, muscle weight more that fat.

As a female, I could only go a from a size 16 to size 14 at most. I can't fit in a size 12 unless my bones shrunk! I would have to be the perfect model slim stick for even size 13.

I had a friend in the military who said he couldn't get the all fat off of his stomach either.

I roll my eyes at the BMIs I get. I'm supposedly obese. I'm overweight, but not obese. I'm not blind that I have extra fat. When my body had a lot of muscle, the BMI still told me I was almost obese!

By anon299623 — On Oct 25, 2012

I think this is a great article and provides excellent information. I have a huge body frame and weigh more than all the guys in my grade by about 60 pounds. But I'm not anywhere close to fat though, but I didn't think that. After reading this article, it made sense. I squat 400 and I'm 15.

By Bakersdozen — On May 22, 2011

Many people are surprised to hear that you can be short and have a large body framed body! That's exactly my situation, and I am tired of explaining that no amount of dieting is going to change that.

I find it a little challenging to buy clothes which will flatter and fit well, but I'm sure that's not much different for people with other body types.

By MissMuffet — On May 20, 2011

Thanks for including so much easy to read information in this article. I am going to use some of it when I go for my yearly medical next week.

Last time I was told to lose weight because my BMI was too high for my height. I knew that this was unfair but was stuck for evidence to dispute it.

By Valencia — On May 18, 2011

I was a heavy child and teenager, and came to dread meeting relatives at weddings or other social gatherings. If I had a dollar for every time someone tried to excuse my size by saying I must be 'large boned' I'd be rich!

It was only when I shed the weight that it became obvious I didn't have a big body frame. I just ate too much and didn't move enough to justify the calories!

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