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How To Get Ripped & Cut: Definitive Guide

By Marc Perry / February 19, 2019

While I spend most of my time educating people about sustainable approaches to getting a lean, strong, healthy physique, I do have an interest in the extreme of body transformation, or how to get ripped.

There is a massive amount of confusion about how to get a ripped physique. It’s not about a specific exercise program, or diet as many would have you believe, and it’s not magic.

I wanted to create this guide for you as an honest, no B.S. resource so you can understand the key elements to help you achieve a ripped, cut physique.

Why should you listen to me?

I’ve achieved a ripped physique (photos on this page are of me) and helped guys with even “bad” genetics get ripped too. I’m constantly trying new workouts, reading the latest and greatest research on nutrition and exercise, and speaking with natural bodybuilders, nutritionists, personal trainers, and anyone else with a keen interest in physique transformation.

So here’s a definitive guide to getting a ripped physique that I’ve been wanting to share with you. I hope you enjoy it.

How Ripped is Ripped?

The term ripped is used to describe a very low body fat level relative to one’s bodyweight, which creates an appearance of clearly visible striations of muscle and separation between muscles.

What is the body fat level you need to get ripped?

In my opinion, anything under 7% body fat for a man is ripped. For more information on body fat percentages, check out Body Fat Percentage Chart: How Lean Should You Be?

Are You Sure You Want to Get Ripped?

When I present the information you are about to learn to a client interested in getting ripped, that initial interest usually subsides. Getting ripped is an extreme pursuit that requires extreme focus and dedication. There is no way around it. In addition, getting too ripped comes with health concerns. I’ve achieved around 3.5% body fat once in my life, and while I was very happy with how my body looked, my face was extremely gaunt and it looked like I was starving to death. I’m taking a wild guess that wasn’t very healthy.

So not only does getting ripped take a ridiculous amount of effort and discipline, but the extreme is that it may not be healthy either. For me, I can maintain 6-7% body fat while feeling great and looking healthy, but it’s still walking a tight rope.

Finally, the whole idea of an extreme physique opens up a can of worms regarding body image. I’ve gotten ripped as a hobby, out of curiosity, and I really like the look, but I hope you don’t feel any more, or less of a man if you do, or do not achieve a ripped physique.

Get Ripped Step #1: Overcome the Mental “Weight” Hurdle

One of the most frequent questions I get from guys is, “I want to get ripped, but I want to stay the same weight. What do I do?”

This question tells me many guys (1) may not understand the basic arithmetic of getting ripped, (2) are too concerned about the scale and not body fat percentage, which is what it’s all about and (3) overestimate how much muscle weight they can naturally add to their frames (See: How Much Muscle Can You Gain Naturally?). Sadly, too many guys are doomed from the start!

Let me give you an example:

Let’s say there’s a guy Mike who weighs 180lb at 15% body fat and he wants to get ripped. What does Mike need to weigh in order to get a ripped physique (6% body fat), assuming he keeps the same amount of muscle?

The chart below shows you the basic arithmetic assuming Mike loses only fat without losing any muscle. You can also use the Ideal Body Weight Formula to arrive at the desired weight as well:

The Answer: 163lb

Most guys with a few years of lifting experience have an LBM (a.k.a. lean body mass – everything in your body besides fat, including bone, blood, organs, and muscle) of 145lb. How do I know? Well, because I have data on tons of clients and it’s the magic number for the amount of muscle on the average guy who is 5’10, or 5’11”. If you have 145lb of LBM, that would imply you would need to get your body weight into the 150’s to look truly ripped. In the 2 photos on this page, I weighed 165llb with an LBM of 155lb, which is above normal LBM for my height because I’ve lifted for many years.

The build most guys want (it’s like the standard of ripped) is looking like Brad Pitt in Fight Club. From what I’ve read, he was 155lb for that role. To hammer this discussion home, even a natural bodybuilder (no steroids) at contest time is around 175lb, and that’s a bodybuilder! If you don’t want to look like a bodybuilder, but want a less bulky physique, you must overcome the mental weight hurdle. Again, it’s just basic arithmetic.

If you are having trouble overcoming the mental weight hurdle, when you take a step back to think about it, you are simply losing all the fat on your body without losing any muscle. The leaner you become, the more defined and muscular you become as well, which makes you look bigger. So the first step towards getting ripped is understanding the arithmetic, dispelling any myths of gaining muscle you may believe, and focusing on losing as much body fat as possible while retaining your LBM.

Get Ripped Step #2: Create Your Nutrition Spreadsheet

Losing fat without losing muscle (the key to getting ripped of course) is primarily a nutritional challenge.

The Energy Balance Equation – a scientifically proven fact – states that if you eat less calories than you burn, you will lose weight. If you eat more calories than you burn, you will gain weight. If you would like to learn more about target calorie intake, you can check out this article (See: How many calories should you eat to lose weight?).

The leaner you become, the trickier this energy balance. Fat can be very stubborn, so you really have to nail the target calories you are eating. Can you get ripped without tracking your calories? Possibly. But every serious physique competitor in the world knows EXACTLY what they put into their bodies, which includes:

1) Number of Calories (most important)
2) Macronutrient Breakdown (protein, carbs, and fat grams) of each meal/snack and each day
3) Timing of Calories (when the calories are eaten, a controversial topic like everything else)

As in the sample nutrition spreadsheet above, the nutrition spreadsheet you create will have the grams of protein, carbs, and fat and total calories for each food item in each meal and snack. Then, you create percentage breakdowns of protein, carbs, and fat for each day, which is called the macronutrient breakdown. Depending on who you ask, you will get wildly different breakdowns of what is optimal for fat loss.

Some believe the protein, carb, fat breakdown respectively should be 40%, 40%, 20% (high carb, low fat) some believe 30%, 20%, 50% (low carb, high fat), and others 30%, 50%, 20% (moderate carb, low fat). You can manipulate the carbs and fat that you eat, but I would recommend relatively more protein because research has shown a high protein diet is very effective at helping control hunger.

I personally create one spreadsheet, but feel free to create a few. I strongly prefer creating a spreadsheet over counting calories all the time, which is just too tedious. Once you are ripped, you don’t need this spreadsheet anymore, nor do you need to count calories. But I will emphasize if you are serious about getting ripped, this spreadsheet will prevent you from spinning your wheels.

Get Ripped Step #3: Choose Your Strength Training Method

While every fitness program with an infomercial is going to tell you their system is the best (P90x for example), I can tell you the truth about all these various exercise methods. They are overrated.

Here’s the truth:

You can get ripped powerlifting

You can get ripped doing circuit workouts

You can get ripped using bodybuilding workouts

You can get ripped doing bodyweight lifting workouts

You can get ripped doing kettlebell workouts

Do you know what all these workouts have in common? They are all based on strength training. Strength training is the key (in combination with ample protein intake) to help you retain your muscle as you are shedding fat.

What specific type of strength training should you do? Do what you can sustain is the simple answer. They all work. At Builtlean, we developed our strength circuitsTM method, which is a very efficient way to get both cardio and strength benefits in a short workout. This method focuses on compound movements involving large muscle groups that are combined into circuits. In addition, depending on your results, you may have to create more progression in your workouts to shed the extra layer of fat. This strength circuitsTM method combined with progression is the foundation of my 12-Week Body Transformation Program.

Remember that getting ripped is primarily a nutritional challenge, so strength training is secondary, but still essential.

Get Ripped Variable #1: Carbohydrates

What you see all the time is “nutrition” experts pontificating about the right number of carbohydrates to eat, and what types of carbohydrates are allowed. I want to impress upon you the deep flaws with the “one size fits all” approach to nutrition. Everyone is different. We all respond differently to food.

What I’ve found is that carbohydrates is a variable in the getting ripped equation, which depends on your genetics. Some people (myself included) can control hunger and calorie intake much better on a moderate carbohydrate, even high carbohydrate diet, while others drop fat like it’s going out of style with a lower carb approach.

The delicate balance is that for some, eating too many carbs can encourage overeating and limit fat loss potential. On the other hand, too few carbohydrates may have you dropping hard earned muscle, which is obviously undesirable. I’ve tried the more extreme Paleo/Ketogenic low carb diets in the past and I was extremely hungry all the time and my results were disappointing.

If you have carried excess weight your entire life, my guess is lower carb may be effective, but this is a variable you ultimately have to play with.

Get Ripped Variable #2: Cardiovascular Activity

Similar to the amount of carbohydrates you eat, the amount of cardio you complete to lose the excess fat depends on your genetics. I don’t have to do any cardio to drop body fat, but some people must hit the cardio hard to get rid of that last layer of fat. If you are busy, HIIT cardio is very effective at helping you burn more calories and drop body fat.

While I didn’t cover all the minutiae for how to get ripped, if you focus on the key elements I outline above, you will be able to achieve the very rare “ripped” physique.


  • Sean says:

    Hey marc hope all is well. I am 20 180lbs, and i want to achieve the cut slim look. I have been working out pretty consistently last semester of college then Christmas break came and i indulged a little. Then this past month i began to take it much more seriously. I started to run often now its on and off depending on my school work load. i go to the gym monday-friday for about 1-2 hours doing various workouts from different sites. my diet is somewhat ok but i find myself still eating a bit more then a should. Within the past month i have gained a bit of definition on my arms and chest but abs is taking long then i had expected and i want to slim my thighs. Do i have to cut back more on what i eat and focus more on cardio? any tips, suggestions, or criticisms is much appreciate. I work at hollister and after seeing some of the guys stand in the front of the store shirtless I am very determined to get that physique not for that position but to better myself and my heath thank you.

    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      @Sean - Sounds like you have a reasonable plan. You are doing plenty of exercise, so as I mention in the article, I would focus on nutrition and continuing to lose fat without losing muscle which will help bring out more definition in your chest and abs. You are close to the promised land my friend, just need to keep pushing forward with the strict eating and you will get the body you want.

  • Joel Meler says:

    Hey thanks on everything, and i read your guide. i feel like your someone who really knows what hes talking about. Is there a way i could communicate with you more efficiently and faster, like email or something.

    Thank you, appreciate it.

    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      @Joel Meler - Thanks for your comment. Due to the volume of emails and comments I receive, it's not possible to answer a specific situation in depth. You can contact me here regarding setting up a 30 minute coaching call if you are interested. In the future, I may not be able to even answer comments anymore as the volume is becoming too significant across my entire site!

  • Danny says:

    Hi there, I have been carb cycling for a few weeks to lose the last few pounds of fat over my abs, and I got pretty ripped by the end of it. Now I want to just eat a balanced nutritious diet without worrying about carbs, and after 2 days I have gained a tiny bit of fat back. Could this be because my metabolism had slowed down? And it will just take some time for it to speed back up? I don't want to worry about carbs anymore, so I hope I can burn it back off.

    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      @Danny - Welcome to the "I want to stay ripped without ruining my life with strict dieting" club. I've been a member for the last few years. My guess is what you are experiencing is increased water retention. When you go low carb, it flushes out water which give you a striated look. When you take the carbs back up, your muscles appear fuller and larger, but you sacrifice that extra ripped look. It's a pain in the butt, but it is what it is. I want to discuss this stuff in another post, but getting that ripped look of guys on the magazine is nearly impossible without severe water depletion, and that is if you are already very lean. Not only that, they usually pumped up before the shoot. So stay lean is great, but getting that unnatural ripped look for long periods of time is well, unnatural.

  • Domenique says:

    Hi Marc, Thanks for the great info. Im 1.57m and weigh 53.5kg. I follow intermittent fasting approach with a 40-30-30 split between protein carbs and fats on a training day with 1350 calories and 50-20-30 split on non training days with 1200 calories. I just recently started weight training 5 days a week and do cardio about 4 days a week, 30 mins. Should I up my cardio? Currently i dont do cardio on leg days - which is twice a week - my legs and glutes need serious toning all round, abs are getting there and arms as well. Since Im on intermittent fasting I prefer to do my weight training and cardio in the evening, does cardio after weight training 'eat' into muscle?

    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      Domenique - Yep, if only we could spot reduce, that would be awesome! I'm sure you've come across LeanGains if you are into Intermittent Fasting, which I think is a viable way to get ripped, but not my preference. Martin's got a lot of resources over there. Seems like you have two questions:

      1) Should I up my cardio? - This usually does not make that big of a difference, but couldn't hurt as long as your strength levels are not decreasing and you are not losing muscle.

      2) Does cardio after weight training ‘eat’ into muscle - It depends. If you have a long, grueling workout, I would pay attention to pre and post workout nutrition, with an emphasis on pre and workout nutrition. You may even consider sipping on a protein shake during your workout, or some food in between strength and cardio if you are worried about muscle loss. Several proponents of intermittent fasting (if I'm not mistaken) recommend consuming as much as 10-20 grams of BCAA's before a workout to help prevent muscle breakdown.

      One last thing, you didn't include how long it's been, or if you have even stopped getting results. If you are experiencing roughly 0.5-1lb of fat loss per week without losing strength, you're doing great - so whatever you are doing is working.

  • Domenique says:

    forgot to say Im at 14.7% bf but still need to tone and honestly think I could possibly get to 11% bf or lower to look lean all over. If only we could spot reduce ....

  • Alexandru says:

    Glad to see someone addressing this question. Our Registered Dietitians get this one quite often.

  • Mustafa says:

    Hey thanks for the true picture of getting ripped ,I was doing some mistakes before and now I have the key ...thanks again

    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      @Mustafa - Happy it was helpful for you!

  • Suzanne says:

    Was wondering if anyone could shed some light on what my body is going through? Do crossfit exercise then added in some 10k runs! Was only eating roughly around 1000 calories a day for about 6 month, now I have started retaining fluid and whenever I exercise I can feel my legs and thighs puffing up!! Have now started eating 1600 calories a day, carbs and protein included. What has happened to me? I was wondering if it was down to a VLC diet how long will it take my body to get back to normal??

    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      @Suzanne - If you have been very low carb, it sounds like you "puffing up" is simply water filling up your muscles. Carbs contain a water molecules in their chemical structure, so as you increase carb intake after depleting glycogen in your body, the increased carbs suck into your muscles, which also increases water retention. The good thing is that your muscles appear "fuller" and you should have more energy/endurance. The bad thing aesthetically is that you won't look quite as lean because of the water retention. If you experience any unusual symptoms, I would see your doctor right away to look into this issue further! In terms of getting your body back to "normal", which I take to mean replete with glycogen, it should happen right away, but this is a question for a registered dietitian with experience in sports nutrition.

  • Mariona says:

    Hello Marc. This article is very much appreciated. I still don't have a clear idea of what my macronutrient breakdown should be. Young woman 5'7" 124lbs, at 20%body fat. What macronutrient breakdown would you recommend ? 40%protein 40%carb 20%fat ?
    Thank you for the article, the knowledge and your time.

  • Shannon Myers says:

    I'm a 5'5" 120 female. I want to get ripped and I know I need or I'm going to have to eat a lot more than I do. That is the hardest part for me I have a reflex, celiac and lactose sensitivity. Would your program work for me?

    • Kristin says:

      The BuiltLean Transformation nutrition plan is based primarily on unprocessed, whole food ingredients, and each ingredient includes suggestions on alternatives so that you can easily modify the recipes to suit your dietary needs. A lot of the recipes are already gluten- and lactose-free, and the recipes that include these ingredients can be adjusted. Also, we're always here to help you adjust the recipes to meet your preferences. If you ever have questions, or need help, we're more than happy to offer answers and advice. Does that answer your question?
      -Kristin, BuiltLean Coach & Managing Editor