I’ve cooked up a number of articles on our site, MuayThaiPros.com, that ultimately help give you the tools to lose weight by yourself without having to pay a trainer, subscribe to some fancy diet program, or shell out cash for some gizmo that never delivers.
In this article, we are going to go into detail on how exactly to get ripped. And before we begin, I want to start of shooting straight: abs are made in the kitchen, NOT in the gym. I don’t care how many ab crunches you do, how many deadlifts you perform, or how many (insert favorite gym exercise here) you do. Getting ripped is primary a nutritional challenge NOT a physical challenge. That means you are going to need to master your stomach much more than you master your muscles.
There’s a good deal of background information you are going to need to be familiar with, such as how to lose weight, how to count calories for weight loss, how to count macros for weight loss, and how to count meal calories.
So if you haven’t, it would benefit you to first read those articles before tackling this one.
So Why Take My Advice Anyways?
If it matters (and it should to you), I’m not just some internet keyboard warrior giving fitness, nutrition, and weight-loss advice I never follow. In the world of internet anonymity where anyone can say anything about everything, I feel it’s important to give some sort of credentials.
First off, I’m not a qualified nutritionist. Nor do I have a college degree in sports nutrition or anything like that — something you always see plastered over any fitness site by internet marketers tying to lend more credibility to their sales pitch, so you buy their eBook or Get Ripped in 7 days flat program or whatever.
Rather nutrition is a very serious hobby of mine; I’ve spent years playing around with my own body, and I’m fanatical about reading into the latest research about fitness, nutrition, and weight loss. I don’t claim to know everything, but I do know enough to achieve results myself and help other people achieve results should they follow it. I’ve been both fat and ripped and know what it’s like being on both sides of the fence.
I’m also serious about fitness and sports, having done MMA for years and currently living and training Muay Thai full time up in Thailand at a Muay Thai camp the past two and a half years. So all the sports nutrition I give, I can personally verify I have tested on myself when training and fighting Muay Thai matches here.
All the information here works and is FREE (no, you don’t need to buy my
$999.99 now $29.99 book on how to get ripped in only 3 days). I enjoy helping people transform their bodies and achieve results they never thought they could — that’s why I write these articles.
You can check out some of my own transformational photos to see.
And as proof, I present my own photographs comparing I was about 20%-22% bodyfat to my current 6% bodyfat.
Here’s another example of someone who has taken my advice and transformed themselves over a year:
The Definition of Ripped
Before you make a goal of “getting ripped,” it’s a good idea to define exactly what ripped means? The term can mean different things depending on WHO you ask.
In general, “ripped” refers to achieving a low bodyfat level, which most people consider around the 10 percent bodyfat level. Of course, among the fitness crowd, there are varying categories of ripped. It’s likely that the average person will consider you “ripped”, “cut”, “lean” around ten percent while the fitness crowd/bodybuilding crowd might, in fact, call 6-7 percent “ripped” and 10 percent as “lean.”
- 12-14% bodyfat on a male (depending on the amount of muscle present — if you, as a man, have a bigger natural frame with muscle on it, your abs will likely show more at a higher bodyfat level than someone with a more slender build (say an Asian build) will generally show the faint outline of 4 abs.
- Generally, a male at 10% bodyfat will show the outline of a full six pack when flexing and muscle separation in major muscle groups like biceps and triceps.
- Around 8%, a six pack will be visible without any major flexing, and some vascularity will be present (veins running up sides of arms, on biceps, etc.).
- At around 6%-7% bodyfat on a man, abs will be very cut, veins will appear on the abs, shoulders, and a great deal of distinction between shoulder muscles, biceps, etc. I personally consider 7% and below very ripped for a male, but this definition is completely open to interpretation depending on what your perspective.
- Competitive bodybuilders achieve a 3% to 4% bodyfat level for very short periods of time for contents; this level of bodyfat is not maintainable and furthermore, not at all a healthy bodyfat level (the human body needs at least 2% bodyfat to function).
Why Achieve The Ripped Look?
Before you embark on what amounts to a very tough (both physically and mentally) journey to become ripped, you should ask yourself “why” first? If you are trying to get ripped to attract more women, I’m going to straight out say that you will likely be disappointed with the results. If attracting women is your primary concern for getting ripped, then you might want to consider working on other aspects of your life, not just a six pack.
Personally, I like the aesthetics of a ripped physique; I like the challenge of achieving and maintaining it (made even more even so that it’s tough for most people to achieve and maintain). But that’s just me. The bottom line is whether you are “ripped” or not doesn’t make a difference to who you are as a man (or women).
There is a danger here as well that the pursuit of achieving a certain body type can develop into a body image complex.
The Pros of “Being Ripped”
*If you are in a competitive sport with weight classes (Muay Thai, Boxing, MMA, etc.), a higher muscle-to-weight ratio advantage. In fact, at the higher levels of any sport, participants are generally as lean as possible to maintain a competitive advantage or at the very least not be at a competitive disadvantage, strength-wise. Let me put it like this: if you compete in a sport like Muay Thai and you don’t have a six-pack, and you are fighting people your weight class that do, you are doing yourself a disfavor by fighting people who have a competitive advantage with a higher muscle to weight ratio than you!
*You look good naked
*You consume more calories for your weight (more lean muscle mass per weight = greater calorie burning)
*It’s easier to put on lean muscle should you go on calorie surplus because of hormonal advantages in this state
The Cons of “Being Ripped”
*You must always be conscious of your calorie intake
*You can’t party/enjoy life as much because of diet issues
*Your immune system functions are lowered; easier to get sick, especially at lower bodyfat levels
*Your strength will likely go down (you won’t be able to lift was much, weight-wise) and won’t increase, especially if you are on a calorie deficit
*If you are on a long time caloric deficit and not at maintenance, you may find your endurance, stamina, and strength degrade
The Bottom Line: Aesthetic or Functional?
The bottom line is that to determine how ripped you want to be; you need to ask yourself what for. If it’s aesthetics and NOT performance (sports), then you could go for very low body fat levels and do so by cutting your calories quite a bit.
However, if you want to be low bodyfat for a competitive advantage at sports (say to reach a lower weight class but with more muscle for your weight), you are going to have to juggle how low bodyfat you can be, how low bodyfat you can maintain, how long you have to get ripped, and how your performance might be affected.
If it’s for performance, you might need to lose weight slower by having LESS of a calorie deficit as you need those calories to train.
At the end of the day, you are going to have to be at a caloric deficit to lose weight and get ripped and a long time deficit while training an intense sport can lead to loss of stamina, chronic fatigue, and a whole number of other negative side effects.
It is my personal experience with Muay Thai that going on a calorie deficit for a long time to achieve a ripped state can lead to less stamina and strength. If you are doing a lot of cardio, your body simply needs calories and works better at a maintenance or calorie surplus than a deficit.
Step 1: Figure out Your Target Weight
I’ve you’ve never been ripped before, and you don’t know your actual weight you will be when you achieve a six pack, you will likely need to lose more weight than you think you need to. I remember when I first wanted to get ripped I was about 170lbs (at 5”8) at about 22 percent bodyfat and I figured I could be ripped at about 155. It was a reality check for me when in fact the weight at which the outline of my six pack first started appearing was about 143-145lbs. And I had to go much lower in fact to get below a 10% level of ripped.
This means you (especially if you are a male) are going to have to come to an understanding with some possible mental hurdles you may have regarding your weight. Most guys want “size, bodymass” and it can be disheartening, mentally, if you have to go below a certain weight to achieve a ripped look. Often this weight might be a figure that you may feel is “too small.”
Here are a couple misunderstandings I’ve found that most guys (and this, in my experience, is mostly a MALE issue, not female one) seem to have when it comes to getting ripped:
- You often have to lose far more weight than you might initially think to get the ripped look
- How you look depends on your bodyfat level, not what weight scale says
- There is a genetic limit on how much muscle you can pack on your frame and most underestimate it
- The lower bodyfat you go, the more muscle (and strength), you often end up losing
Just to keep things in perspective, is what The American Council on Exercise provides as the following ranges for body-fat percentage:
Let’s give an example here. If you are a 175lb male who’s about 15% bodyfat, it’s likely to reach a “ripped” state you’ll need to reach around 155lbs to reach a bodyfat percentage of about 10%. How do I know this?
Well besides experience working with my own body and working with other people who have lost weight, there is a basic formula for this that’s pretty accurate. It’s called the Lean Body Mass (LBM) formula. Lean Body Mass means everything in your body that’s not fat. This includes muscle, organs, blood, bone, etc.
Lean Body Mass (LMB) = Body Weight – (Body Weight x Body Fat)
So let’s take a hypothetical average male, John, who is 180lbs and 20 percent bodyfat and plug his values into this formula.
180lbs – (180lbs x .20) = 144lbs.
So according to our LBM formula, John has a body mass of 144lbs and 36lbs of fat assuming his current bodyfat is 20 percent and current weight is 180lbs.
By our definition of “ripped” at a minimum of 10 percent bodyfat, let’s plug the values back into the formula. Assuming John does NOT lose any muscle when cutting his weight (and this is tricky though mostly if you do the right things when cutting weight), we keep john’s lean muscle mass value at 144lbs.
So John’s weight at 10% bodyfat, assuming he did NOT lose any muscle at all when cutting down from his original weight of 180lbs IS: 144/(1-.10) = 160lbs. And by the same formula, John’s weight at say 6% bodyfat would be: 144/(1-.06) = 153lbs.
So to summarize things, John who at 180lbs and a bodyfat of 20% (which by most means give him a rather average body type these days – not ripped or athletic but certainly not by any means obese) would need to cut weight to 160lbs to see a six pack and to get really ripped, go all the way down to 153lbs.
Now for those who consider 153lbs “too light” to be a man (and this sort of logic is common among “brahs” that frequent bodybuilder forums), keep in mind that aesthetically you will look a lot “bigger” than your weight because the way your muscles look at this weight. People will think you are 10-20lbs heavier than you really are because you “look” muscular.
Not if you simply cannot get over the mental hurdle of being a lighter weight (on the scale) than you are comfortable with, then you might need to consider a routine that involves bulking up then cutting off the fat. I personally don’t like this method, but plenty of others are fine with going on a calorie surplus for months, adding both muscle and fat to their frame, then come summer time, shedding off the fat while keeping as much muscle as possible.
How Long Does it Take to Get Ripped?
This entirely depends on your current bodyfat level and your target bodyfat level you want to achieve. A pound of fat is roughly 3500 calories and on a caloric deficit of -500 a day, you can theoretically lose 1lb of fat per 7 days on a deficit. In reality, this figure can be more at higher bodyfat levels but as you get lower bodyfat, you’ll lose much less.
But assuming we stick to the 3500 calories a week figure and ignore the real-world complications of losing less weight the lower you go, we can do a quick calculation for our man John, who’s 180lbs at 20 percent bodyfat.
The formula is simply:
Current Bodyweight – Target Weight at Target Bodyfat Level
We established that John had 36lbs of fat and 144lbs of lean mass. For John to achieve a 10 percent bodyfat level, we just use the LBM formula to find his target weight to be 10%: 180lbs IS: 144/(1-.10) = 160lbs
We then simple take his current weight of 180lbs and subtract his target weight of 160lbs from it, giving us a total of 20lbs of fat loss to achieve 10% bodyfat. Now if John sticks to -500 calorie a day deficit and it takes 7 days to create a 3500 calorie deficit and one pound of fat is 3500 calories, then it will take 20x7days = 140 days (4.5 months) for John to cut down from 20% bodyfat to 10% bodyfat.
What About that BMI Index Thing?
Another standard way (sic) of determining someone’s weight and their “health” position on that weight is to look at their BMI. However, this is not a very accurate method as it does NOT take in the bodyfat level of the individual. So you can have someone at height, weight, and age with a high bodyfat with the exact same BMI as someone who has a very low bodyfat (high lean muscle to fat ratio). As such, we don’t use BMI to predict your idea weight here.
Step 2: Come Up With a Meal Plan / Macronutrient Plan To Reach Your Target Goal
Once you figure out your target bodyfat percentage goals and the required weight it will take to get there, the next step is to come up with a daily meal plan profile so you can reach this.
To lose weight, the fundamental law of weight loss comes into play: You must eat less calories than you burn.
If you eat less calories than your body burns, you will lose weight. If you eat more calories than your body burns, you will gain weight. So you need to adjust your caloric intake to achieve a calorie deficit.
This can be achieved the following three ways or a mix of all three:
- Substitute food choices (change what you eat)
- Eat Less Food
- Move More (cardio)
We’ve written a comprehensive article on exactly how to calculate your calories for weight loss that you should read if you want to figure out your calorie deficit (also see: how to calculate macronutrients for weight loss).
To break the weight loss problem down a bit more there are really three factors that affect weight loss:
- Number of Calories
- Macronutrient Profiles of those calories
- Meal Timing
By far, the first point (calories) is the most important for losing weight in general. But if you want to get ripped, the other 2 factors become more important; this is truer the lower bodyfat you go as getting rid of stubborn bodyfat (sub 10 percent bodyfat) such as around the lower abs can be particularly difficult to get rid of for most people without resorting to special tactics just as cardio, meal timing strategies (intermittent fasting for example), and highly controlled diets (low carbs, for example).
Losing Weight vs. Getting Ripped
I’ve already written about this extensively in my How to Lose Weight article, but the basic steps will be:
- Figure out your daily calorie intake for weight loss
- Come up with a meal plan to reach that weight loss goal
- Make sure you are counting meal calories/meal macros so you are reaching your daily goal
- Track your progress and readjust (every 2 weeks) if needed.
Now the difference here in this article is we are specifically talking about getting RIPPED, not just losing weight. The basic premise is the same (you must achieve a caloric deficit to lose weight etc.). However, the main difference between “just losing weight” and “getting ripped” is that it requires a great more deal of effort and discipline to get down to the ripped state of things than to just simply lose a few pounds. You can lose a few pounds without too much effort. But it can take a substantial amount of effort to get a six pack and you have to really control your diet and calorie intake.
Basically, your body adapts to your weight loss strategies and begins to fight you. The more bodyfat you lose and the leaner you get, the more of a fight your body puts up to get that fat. The bottom line is that your body does not care about the aesthetics of being low bodyfat; it WANTS to maintain a certain fat level (which is NOT the ripped state) because this traditionally provided an evolutionary advantage. Quite simply, for the human race in general, being fat was a better survival strategy than being ripped.
Abs Are Made in the Kitchen NOT in the Gym
Getting ripped takes some serious dedication – not only in the gym but in the kitchen. If you are too lazy to track your calories and pick out food based on a proper macronutrient profile, then you will likely achieve half-assed results
Keep in mind that if you just want to lose weight, calories are king and the heavier you are you might just be able to blindly lose weight just by adjusting your calories to a deficit and ignoring everything else. But if you want to lose weight and retain the maximum amount of muscle or even gain strength/muscle while on a calorific deficit, then you are going to need to pay attention to your macronutrient profile. This is even MORE important if you are trying to get to low bodyfat levels because as you get to lower bodyfat levels, the fat becomes more and more stubborn to lose.
Macronutrients, if you don’t know what they are, are simply the materials that make up our food that our body recognizes and processes.
These are broken down into:
So to get ripped, you are going to want to pay close attention to your macronutrient profiles. Let me give an example why this is important. Say you don’t keep your protein levels high when you cut weight. Well, you may find that because you lack enough protein while on a calorie deficit, your body starts eating your muscle instead of ONLY fat. And after your cut you end up slender, NOT muscularly ripped. Another example might be you reach around the 10% bodyfat level then find you just can’t seem to lose that last bit of stubborn fat around your lower abs. By looking at your macros and dramatically reducing your carb intake, you may find you can remove that stubborn fat.
Can you get ripped without worrying about macronutrients? Sure, especially if you are training a cardio intensive sport like Muay Thai where you may be maintaining a regular caloric deficit due to the sheer amount of cardio you do. But you can achieve faster results while maintaining more muscle while cutting IF you do pay attention. And if you want to go into the single bodyfat digits, then you are likely going to have to know exactly what you are putting into your body, the macros, and the calories.
Now personally, I like to calculate my caloric requirements for weight loss based on a macronutrient plan rather than just looking only at the calories. This allows me to put together a more targeted daily meal plan. Yes, I know it sounds like a pain, but it’s a necessary evil if you want to get ripped. And once you get used to it, it’s not so bad!
If you want to figure out how to put together a macro-nutrient meal plan, then read our How To Calculate Macros for Weight Loss article then come back to this section. Everything you need to know on the subject is there.
Step 3: Strength Train (to Maintain Muscle While Losing Mostly Fat)
You want to follow a strength training routine if you are trying to get ripped? Why? The short version is because lifting weights will help you retain muscle while shedding fat. If you lose weight and don’t strength train, you WILL lose both muscle and fat.
There are a number of different strength training routines to choose from. Some might be better than others, depending on your personal goals and body type. The bottom line is that ANY strength training routine can be effective; some might be better than others, but they will all work. Keep in mind Strength Training is not the same as bodybuilding, though both involve resistance training.
Strength Training aims to increase your strength by lifting heavy weights. Bodybuilding aims to increase muscle mass size (not pure strength). Strength Training, however, can enhance sport performance (see our Will Strength Training improve Muay Thai article and Strength Training for Muay Thai) while Bodybuilding will not.
I absolutely recommend you read our Strength Training 101 article on how to get started with a Strength Training regimen.
Personally, I’m a big believer in lifting heavy, keeping lifting to big compound lifts that stress heavy weights and low reps at most 3x a week. My personal recommendation is to use break your workouts into 3x a week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday), keep lifts to compound ones, and your reps between 4-6, 3 work sets.
Here’s the exact breakdown: http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/randy2.htm
However, you can do a higher volume, lower weight routine and still see good results on a cut. The bottom line is that if you start regularly lifting any sort of weights with a full body workout every week, your body will keep muscle while shedding fat if you are on a deficit.
That means you can still get ripped while doing any of the following:
- Crossfit Cardio Workouts
- Strength Training
- Bodyweight Exercises
- Powerlifting Routines
If you have your diet down right, you can get ripped no matter what sort of strength training routine you pick. Heck, you can still get ripped even without lifting weights (though your results for SURE won’t be as impressive — so we don’t recommend this!).
I’m not going to say some strength training methods are NOT more efficient than others and won’t allow you to keep more muscle while you cut, but getting ripped is mostly a nutritional challenge and NOT a strength training challenge; no matter how hard you lift or how fancy your strength training routine is, you won’t get ripped if you don’t have the nutritional aspect down to a tee.
A Final Word On Getting Ripped
Getting ripped, contrary to the common (uninformed) idea floating around on TV and online infomercials is a nutritional challenge more than it is a weight lifting, ab-crunching challenge. If you don’t follow a caloric deficit each and every day till you reach a 10% or lower bodyfat level, you won’t see your abs and you won’t have that ripped look.
There are a number of reasons why both men and women might want to achieve a ripped look. And believe me, it’s not an easy feat to achieve. But everyone can do it, with enough discipline. Once you have achieved it however, it’s MUCH less work to maintain a lower bodyfat level (generally 7% – 10%) than it is to actually get there.
Other Factors That May Be Important to Getting Ripped
The Lower you Go, The Harder It Gets: Getting to single digit bodyfat is a lot harder than getting to 10% bodyfat. In my own experience, it’s easier to go from 15% bodyfat to 10% bodyfat than it is to go from 10% to 6%. As stated in the article above, this is because your body adapts to your weight loss and pulls a bunch of metabolic tricks on you to keep the fat it has. This includes slowing your metabolism down, lowering your natural body movement during the day to scrimp on calories (called NEET), and increasing appetite levels.
Don’t Cut Too Many Calories: You can totally screw up your metabolism if your caloric deficit is too high. Common convention is to cut 500 calories a day, a figure which doesn’t deprive your body of too many calories. If you cut too many calories, your body can go into starvation mode, of which one nasty effect is your base metabolism can drop up to 40 percent. You also have to look at how much your weigh. If you are a 200lb man with a requirement of 2500 calories a day to lose weight, then 500 calories is a 20 percent deficit. But if you are a 150lb man with a caloric requirement of 1800 calories, 500 calorie a day deficit would be a 35% decrease in calories.
I’ve found, based on experience, that it’s better to look keep your deficit between 10 – 30 percent rather than to apply a broad -500 deficit. The leaner and lighter you are, you’ll want to be more towards to lower end of the deficit while the heavier and higher bodyfat you are, you can scale towards the higher end without little side effects.
Keep Protein High: No matter what sort of meal plan you have, you want to keep protein very high. High protein in your diet increases your satiety (feeling of being full). It will also help you maintain muscle even while you are on a caloric deficit.
You Must Adjust for Calorie Creep: You can’t calculate your weight loss at a certain number of calories without readjusting those calories even lower at a certain point. The less you weigh, the less calories you will need. Also, the lower bodyfat you go, the more your body will try and maintain your fat levels!
Low Carb? Maybe: A popular diet these days is “The Low Carb Diet” or some variation of it. This basically means you restrict your carbohydrates to very low or moderate amounts; the idea here is that it helps you burn more fat. Some people respond very well to this while other people find themselves lethargic and hungry. It’s debatable as to whether low carb + high fat diets are more actually effective than regular high carb + low fat diets but the lower amount of carbs in your diet do mean your body sheds a lot of it’s water weight resulting in a leaner look (1 gram of carbs sucks in 4 grams of water) and cutting out carbs from your diet automatically makes it easier to maintain a lower calories as starchy and sugar carbs are a major source of calories.
Cardio: Cardio is typically unpopular in bodybuilding circles because too much cardio can result in muscle catabolism. However, if you are trying to get rid of stubborn bodyfat in which the actual fat is structurally different than regular fat cells (for example, that last bit of fat around your lower abs or back, if you are below 10% bodyfat), cardio can help burn that fat away. Cardio is crucial to develop a strong cardiovascular system which you need if you train a a sport.
Intermittent Fasting: A meal timing strategy where you fast anywhere between 14-16 hours between your last meal of the day and your first meal of the day. You lift weights in a fasted state. This diet has recently become very popular the past couple years and has been proven to be very effective for losing weight fast, especially for losing stubborn fat and getting to very low bodyfat levels. This is the diet/lifestyle I personally follow and I can verify it works. It’s not for everyone, however. Make sure you read our Introduction to Intermittent Fasting article.