Should you do intermittent fasting to get ripped?
Are HIIT workouts the best to get really shredded?
There’s a lot of confusion about how to get a ripped body.
You don’t need a specific exercise program or diet, and it doesn’t require any drugs or supplements.
I created this guide for you as an honest, no B.S. resource so you can understand the key elements to achieve a ripped, cut physique.
Why Should You Listen To Me?
I’m the founder of BuiltLean, which empowers busy professional men to be lean & healthy for life.
For over a decade, I’ve helped men worldwide get lean & healthy bodies. I’ve also helped men go beyond lean to ripped, even guys with “bad” genetics!
I’ve achieved a ripped body several times in the last 15 years, and it’s now how I look all the time. The photos on this page are of me.
I’m constantly testing new workouts, reading the latest research on nutrition and exercise, and speaking with natural bodybuilders, nutritionists, personal trainers, and anyone with a keen interest in body transformation.
So here’s a definitive guide to getting a ripped body that I’ve wanted to share with you. I hope you enjoy it.
What Does “Ripped” Really Mean?
The term “ripped” is used to describe a low body fat percentage, which creates visible striations of muscle and separation between muscles.
What body fat percentage do you need to be ripped?
I think anything under 7% body fat for a man is ripped and for a woman 12%.
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 tell a client who wants to get ripped what it takes, his interest usually subsides.
Getting ripped is an extreme pursuit that requires intense focus and dedication.
In addition, getting too ripped comes with health concerns. I’ve achieved around 3.5% body fat in my life, and while I was thrilled with how my body looked, my face looked very gaunt and 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. I can maintain 6-7% body fat while feeling great and looking healthy, but it’s still walking a tightrope.
Finally, the idea of a ripped physique opens up a can of worms regarding body image. I hope you don’t feel any more or less of a man if you do or do not achieve a ripped physique.
Step 1 – Overcome the Mental “Weight” Hurdle
Guys always ask me, “I want to get ripped, but I want to stay the same weight. What do I do?”
This question highlights some common mistakes:
- Don’t understand the basic arithmetic of getting ripped
- Too concerned about the scale and not body fat percentage, which is what it’s all about.
- Overestimate how much muscle they can gain naturally (See: How Much Muscle Can You Gain Naturally?).
Sadly, too many guys are doomed from the start!
Let me give you an example:
Mike weighs 180 lb with 15% body fat and wants to get ripped.
What does Mike weight at 6% body fat assuming he keeps the same muscle mass?
The chart below has 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 is that Mike needs to drop to 163 pounds from 180 to get down to 6% body fat, assuming he loses 0 pounds of muscle.
Most guys with a few years of lifting experience have a lean body mass of around 145lb. Lean body mass is everything in your body besides fat, including bone, blood, organs, and muscle.
How do I know? Well, because I have data on clients, it’s the magic number for the average guy who is 5’10, or 5’11”.
If you have 145 lb of lean body mass, you need to get your body weight into the 150s to look ripped.
In the 2 photos on this page, I weighed 165 lb with a lean body mass of 155 lb, which is above average for my height because I’ve lifted for many years.
The build most guys want (like the standard of ripped) is looking like Brad Pitt in Fight Club.
From what I’ve read, he was 155 lb for that role. To hammer this discussion home, even a natural bodybuilder (no steroids) at contest time is around 175 lb, and that’s a bodybuilder!
You must overcome the mental weight hurdle if you don’t want to look like a bodybuilder but want a less bulky physique. Again, it’s just basic arithmetic.
When you take a step back to think about it, you’re simply losing all your body fat without losing any muscle.
The leaner you become, the more defined and muscular you become, which makes you look bigger.
So the first step to getting ripped is overcoming false beliefs about how much you should weigh.
Step 2: Create Your Nutrition Spreadsheet
Losing fat without losing muscle – the key to getting ripped – is a nutritional challenge.
The energy balance equation – a fact based on the law of thermodynamics – states that if you eat fewer calories than you burn, you will lose weight. If you eat more calories than you burn, you will gain weight.
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 have to nail the target calories.
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:
- Number of calories
- Macronutrient breakdown of calories (protein, carbs, and fat)
- Timing of calories
Your nutrition spreadsheet will have protein, carbs, fat, and calories for each food item in each meal and snack.
Then, you create the protein, carbs, and fat percentage for each day, called the macronutrient breakdown. Depending on who you ask, you will get wildly different breakdowns of what is optimal for fat loss.
So what should the macronutrient ratio be?
Some people believe the ideal protein, carb, & fat breakdown should be 40%, 40%, 20% (high carb, low fat), 30%, 20%, 50% (low carb, high fat), or 30%, 50%, 20% (moderate carb, low fat).
The percentage breakdown isn’t essential, but sticking with eating fewer calories matters most.
I create meals for one day in my spreadsheet but feel free to create more. 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.
Step 3 – Choose Your Strength Training Method
While every trainer will tell you their system is the best, 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 shed fat.
Remember that getting ripped is primarily a nutritional challenge, so strength training is secondary but still essential.
Get Ripped Variable #1: Carbohydrates
You hear nutrition experts talking about the “right” number and types of carbs. I want to impress upon you the deep flaws of the “one size fits all” approach to nutrition.
Everyone is different. We all respond differently to food.
I’ve found that carbs are 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. In contrast, 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.
My results were disappointing, and I was always hungry on a ketogenic low-carb diet.
Lower carb may be effective if you have carried excess weight your entire life, but you ultimately have to play with it.
Get Ripped Variable #2: Cardiovascular Activity
Like the number of carbs you eat, the amount of cardio 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.
I didn’t cover all the minutiae of how to get ripped, which can be distracting.
If you focus on the fundamental principles outlined above, you will achieve the rare “ripped” body.