How to Get Ripped: 18 Rules

Burn Fat and Transform Your Body

It’s that time of year again, isn’t it? The weather is heating up, and you want to look your best since more skin will be showing. That means shedding the body fat you put on over the fall and winter months. Since it can be a confusing process for many of us, FitnessRx for Men online has your back. Here are 18 rules to help you transform that soft winter body into a summer hardbody!

Do Your Cardio

To those of you who think you can shed large amounts of body fat without doing any cardio, I have two words for you: good luck! Few of us are fans of huffing and puffing away, running or climbing and getting nowhere. We lift weights because we wanted to pump iron and add muscle. Cardio was never part of the plan. But if you want to clearly see all those muscles, you will need to get very lean. Diet alone will only do so much for you. It’s the combination of a strict diet and cardio that makes it possible to see all that definition and clear cuts. With all the options available using nothing other than earbuds and your smartphone, you have access to any music in existence, YouTube videos, movies and podcasts. Find something that gets you moving, or at least distracts you from the repetitious nature of cardiovascular exercise. How much to do? That all depends on factors like how much fat you are carrying, how much time you are allocating to lose that fat, and your individual metabolism. Some people can get away with as little as three 20-minute sessions per week. Others may find they won’t see the fat-loss results they are after without two hours a day. Most people fall somewhere in that spectrum.

Don’t Do Wimpy Cardio

All cardiovascular exercise is not created equal. You have probably seen obese people who walk around malls or the local park for their so-called cardio. Granted, some activity is better than none, but very low-intensity cardio simply doesn’t burn many calories. Those obese people will still be obese if you happen to see them a month, a year, or 10 years from now unless they step things up. If you’ve ever seen NBC’s “The Biggest Loser,” you know how different the outcome is when those same people are forced to work brutally hard over the course of the 30-week season. Contestants typically lose 10 to 30 pounds per week, and the greatest weight loss was achieved by Michael Ventrella, who dropped a whopping 264 pounds in season nine. They have been known to go to extremes such as running a full marathon as part of their cardio regimen! The lesson here is that your cardio needs to have some effort and intensity behind it to burn substantial calories. You need to get your breathing and your heart rate up there and break a real sweat. You can warm up to a steady rate that’s challenging, or the method many prefer, HIIT style, wherein you alternate periods of all-out sprints with more moderately paced recovery periods.

Do Create a Caloric Deficit

There was an amusing series of memes that made their way around social media that all listed popular diets on the left side, such as keto, Paleo, intermittent fasting, Caveman, Weight Watchers, Atkins, South Beach, IIFYM, etc. In the middle column was a brief summary describing the diet, as in “How It Works.” On the right column, we learn “Why It Works,” and the answer was the same for all – by creating a caloric deficit. It’s simple math. If you want to lose fat, you need to expend more calories than you take in. Since most of us would rather not feel hungry all the time, we increase our caloric expenditure via cardio. But make no mistake, it’s not enough to eat clean. You could eat nothing but grilled chicken breasts, egg whites, white fish, rice, sweet potatoes and vegetables and still not lose one ounce of body fat if you are still taking in more calories than you burn. Granted, clean foods like that don’t pack the calories like junk food and fast food, but the rule can’t be argued. Losing fat comes down to calories in versus calories out.

Don’t Estimate Calories in Your Head

If you want to be certain as to how many calories you’re eating every day, and you do, you can’t leave it to guessing and estimating. You will need to weigh or measure everything and keep track of the totals. Luckily, you live in the year 2021, and there are thousands of apps, many of them free and all easy to use, that you can download right to your smartphone. I find that most people underestimate how many calories they are eating, and it often ties directly into underestimating portion sizes. You might think you’re only eating a cup of rice with three of your daily meals, only to measure out an actual cup and see that you’re eating nearly two cups! Not much else needs to be said here. It’s a bit of extra time and effort to keep track of your calories, but it’s the only way to be sure.

Do Get a Coach if You Need One

Many of us, especially men, have this idea that we should “know it all” when it comes to training and nutrition, and are thus hesitant to seek out advice or guidance. Not only is there no shame in getting help from someone with more knowledge and experience than yourself, but you should be embarrassed to continue going about things the wrong way out of some macho pride. If you wanted to learn how to drive a race car, you would hire a teacher. If you wanted to improve your golf swing, you would find someone who could fix your form. There are plenty of people out there today who can analyze your diet, figure out what you need to change, and set you on the path to getting ripped. Unless you know you have a real handle on that stuff yourself, it would behoove you to enlist their services.

Don’t Hire Just Anyone Claiming to Be a Coach

The Internet and social media are wonderful tools and resources, but they have also made it easy for anyone to claim to be an expert. They may have zero credentials, or in many cases even fabricate degrees and certifications to lure potential clients. I’ve heard plenty of stories about the guy or girl who does one contest, maybe not even placing well, and suddenly is soliciting meal plans and contest-prep coaching services. I have seen posts from people as young as 17 offering meal plans! You need to vet anyone before you send them a dime. Look for testimonials from satisfied clients who you can verify as being real people and contact them to make sure they actually worked with that coach and got those results. Otherwise, you could end up paying someone who knows less about nutrition and supplementation than you do!

Do Use the Scale as a Guide

When you are on any type of weight- or fat-loss journey, the scale is one of several valuable tools you should gauge your progress on, along with the mirror and some form of body fat testing. If you do the whole fat-loss thing right, you should drop an average of 1 to 2 pounds a week, depending on how heavy you were to begin with and how long you are allowing yourself to reach that ripped condition you’re after. If you’ve been in great shape before, you can even have a specific target weight to aim for. Competitive physique athletes know what weight they look their best at, and in many cases have to make a certain weight to compete in their chosen weight class or division. If the weight on your scale isn’t budging for more than a week or 10 days, you are probably still eating too much, not doing enough cardio, or both.

Don’t Worry About Keeping Your Weight Up

One way the scale can become your worst enemy when cutting is when you stubbornly insist on not allowing yourself to get below some arbitrary number you have in your head where you “feel small.” I have known plenty of competitors who started a contest diet with a specific goal weight in mind. Let’s say they were 270 pounds and believed they would be ripped at 245-250. They got to that weight only to find that they were still nowhere near contest condition. The smart ones kept pushing their prep and competed in shape, even if it meant they wound up at 225. The fools decided to come in “big and full,” at 250, assuming their size and shape would make up for lack of condition. You know what we call that? Fourth callout! Don’t let the scale keep you from getting sliced and diced. When you’re ripped, you look so much more impressive anyway. 

Do Use the Mirror

Any time I ever got really shredded, people would ask me what my body fat percentage was. They often seemed puzzled when I responded, “I have no idea, I go by the mirror.” What I meant by that was that bodybuilding, the division I have competed in since 1989, is a purely visual sport. I have seen people who swore up and down they just had their body fat tested at some ridiculously low number, as in 3% to 4%. I would look them up and down and many times, they were not lean enough to impress anyone on a stage of competitive physique athletes. Maybe their test was inaccurate? At any rate, the mirror will tell you if your abs are clear blocks, or if they still have a blurry layer of fat obscuring their full glory. The mirror will show you when you have deep muscle separations and sharp striations. Body fat testing is a fine tool to keep you on track, but never forget that what matters most is what you look like.

Don’t Believe Everything You See in the Mirror

While the mirror can be quite useful, there are many of us who are unable to see what it really shows. The most common delusion is to see ourselves as much leaner than we truly are, often achieved by finding just the right mirror at just the right time of day when the light is most flattering. There is a famous mirror in the back of the big “first room” in Gold’s Venice that was always complimentary, but especially about an hour before sunset. Everybody looked ripped then! Others simply lack the ability to see themselves objectively, either seeing more or less body fat than is actually there. If that’s you, I highly suggest taking “progress pictures” in the same place, with a flash. When you look ripped with the flash on, trust me brother, you are lean AF!

Do Employ Refeeds or Even Cheat Meals if Needed

There are circumstances that legitimately call for refeeds or cheat meals. To clarify the distinction, a refeed is a clean meal or meals simply with larger portion sizes, while a cheat meal consists of items that are otherwise forbidden while dieting. These come into play when someone happens to be ahead of schedule and leaning out too fast, or when their metabolism has ground to a halt due to being on lowered calories for too long. The second scenario is far more common than the first, since losing body fat doesn’t come quickly or easily for most of us. Typically, if you fit into that category, you wouldn’t have ever accumulated much body fat in the first place as you’re a naturally lean person. Since it’s difficult to be objective about these matters and to know if or when they are needed, this is one time when a seasoned prep coach comes in handy.

Don’t Assume You Need Refeeds or Cheat Meals

Many people these days are under the impression that refeeds and cheat meals are always part of the dieting process. I can tell you as someone who has followed this sport since 1987 that neither term even existed in the old days. If you could go back in time to the pros of that era and ask them about cheat meals, they would have given you a puzzled look and ask you why someone would intentionally cheat on their diet. Refeeds and cheat meals have become a sort of reward for compliance to a diet, a special treat for being a good boy or girl. That never made sense to me, as it’s essentially giving permission to break from the plan. To me it points more toward the general lack of discipline and sense of entitlement that marks today’s society. Asking a person to adhere 100 percent to a strict diet for 12 or 16 weeks is simply outrageous! Yet to achieve outstanding condition and a very low body fat, you will have to suffer. You will be hungry much of the time. You will have cravings for the foods you can’t eat. You will be tired and cranky. Suck it up, buttercup!

Do Try to Make Your Food Tasty

Dieting is no easy task, but it can be miserable if all your meals are bland and tasteless. Furthermore, certain foods like chicken breast and tilapia can become a true chore to choke down day after day, especially if you prepare them plain and they get dried out and tough from cooking in mass quantities and storing refrigerated for a few days. This is where even a little effort and creativity can make your life so much more bearable. There are plenty of seasonings and spices to add flavor, as well as low-sugar marinades. Two seasonings that have saved many dieters are Adobo and Mrs. Dash. You don’t have to be a trained chef to use items like this to literally spice up your diet foods.

Don’t Assume All Your Meals Should Be Delicious

I still recall one guy’s comment on a Facebook post in which he said he had no problem eating clean, “but the food must always be absolutely delicious.” I realize I just told you to try and make your diet food taste better, but it’s a completely unrealistic and unreasonable expectation to have it be as satisfying as a pepperoni pizza or a Five Guys double cheeseburger and a sack of their fries. We as humans have evolved to crave sugar, fat and salt, the things that nourished us and kept us alive longer in times of food scarcity that were the reality for our hunter/gatherer ancestors in the Paleolithic era. Obese people are addicted to those “comfort foods” that provide that rush of sugar, salt and fat. Don’t expect or assume you can duplicate that quite exactly with diet foods, no matter how much of a culinary wiz you might be. 

Do Try to Preserve Your Muscle Mass

Regular people, or “civilians” as I sometimes jokingly refer to them as – people who do not compete in any type of physique contest or train for one – often only care about losing scale weight. They will crash diet and skip meals to see numbers that make them feel they are achieving their goal of fat loss. Severely restricting calories as many do will result in an almost equal loss of body fat and lean muscle tissue. This is even more likely to happen for them, since they don’t weight train in the first place. As a serious weight trainer, that outcome should be unacceptable and not even a viable option. You worked damn hard to build that muscle, why would you ever want to lose it if you didn’t have to? This is where the tactics like keeping a food log and body composition testing come into play. You must endeavor to find that “sweet spot” of caloric restriction that permits you to shed body fat while still retaining your muscle mass. Otherwise you may very well end up “skinny-fat” instead of a ripped, muscular god.

Don’t Try to Gain Muscle Mass

Another highly unrealistic expectation many trainers hold is to continue building muscle mass while losing significant amounts of body fat. Can it be done? Yes, but for the most part only with the assistance of a wide and dangerous cocktail of steroids, human growth hormone and drugs used to burn fat. If you’re a drug-free athlete, just forget about building muscle while getting ripped. Your odds of being cast as the next Spider Man are better. Instead, accept that holding on to as much of your lean muscle tissue as possible is the best you can hope for.

Do Be Patient and Expect the Occasional Plateau

Many assume that fat loss should follow a linear progression wherein the rate remains perfectly steady. Anyone who has dieted, especially for a contest, knows this is a fantasy. Most of us will lose the majority of fat in the earliest stages of the diet, after which the process slows down. An unfortunate pattern that is almost universal is that the leaner you get, the tougher it gets to get any leaner than that. We are literally fighting our bodies and the built-in survival mechanisms that have allowed our species to survive and endure ice ages and famines. Body fat stores kept our ancestors alive for spans of weeks when there simply was little or nothing to eat. Don’t be alarmed when your fat loss stagnates for anywhere from a few days to closer to two weeks. Trust the process and stay the course. You will be astonished to find that often after your weight not budging for six to 10 days, you wake up one day suddenly 3 pounds lighter and looking much sharper. It’s crazy, but this is how it works.

Finally, I can’t stress enough how critical it is that you establish and adhere to a deadline for your fat-loss journey. You could set your deadline around something like the Fourth of July, your birthday, or a trip where you will be flaunting your shredded physique in swim trunks. Without a deadline, you have no sense of urgency and zero accountability. Do you know how many people state they “want to get in shape,” yet never follow through? If you’ve ever read, watched or listened to any self-help or motivational material, you know nearly all of them emphasize the importance of setting very clear and specific goals. You must do this if you hope to have any chance of success. Set the date you need to be in shape by, promise yourself to stick to it, and get to work!

Ron Harris

Ron Harris got his start in the bodybuilding industry during the eight years he worked in Los Angeles as Associate Producer for ESPN’s “American Muscle Magazine” show in the 1990s. Since 1992 he has published nearly 5,000 articles in bodybuilding and fitness magazines, making him the most prolific bodybuilding writer ever. Ron has been training since the age of 14 and competing as a bodybuilder since 1989. He lives with his wife and two children in the Boston area., Instagram: ronharrismuscle

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