If you have low body fat and drop to do a quick set of push-ups, you'll get an impressive, short-term pump in your chest and arms. But if you want to get truly ripped — with muscle size and definition that'll last well beyond that short-term pump — you need to take a more strategic approach.
Unfortunately, there's no one-size-fits-all answer to, "How long does it take to get ripped?" Your results will vary according to numerous factors, chief among them your genetic makeup and where you're starting from in terms of body composition and muscle mass. But if you take a methodical approach, you can make steady progress toward healthy results, including that ripped, muscular body you want.
Defining a Ripped Body
No matter your gender or your age, if you want to create a ripped body, two things need to happen: You need to increase your muscle mass and decrease your body fat. The latter is important, because you can have the biggest muscles in the world — but if they're covered by a blanket of subcutaneous (under the skin) body fat, nobody will see them.
That's part of why the time it takes to see results depends so much on where you're starting from. If you don't have much muscle mass or carry too much body fat to show off your muscles, you can make great progress and create impressive results — it'll just take a little longer to reach the finish line than it will for someone who already started with big muscles, low body fat or both.
Just to make things a little more complicated, the exact definition of "ripped" is pretty subjective. To one person it might mean huge muscles and almost no body fat, while another might be looking for a leaner body with impressive muscle definition. That's all the more reason to take a minute and clearly define your personal goals in more specific terms, and then map out a strategy for getting there.
Read more: How to Build Muscle Without Supplements
Your Get-Ripped Strategy
There are three components to your strategy for building a ripped body: Strength-training, fat-burning and nutrition. Your general strength-training strategy should be as follows:
- Strength-training every major muscle group at least twice a week
- Rest each muscle group for at least 48 hours before you subject it to another intense strength-training workout
- Work to failure with proper form
Why lift at least twice a week? There are a couple of good reasons to support that. First, you'll be meeting the standards set by the Department of Health and Human Services for maintaining a healthy body. Second, in a systematic review and meta-analysis published in the November 2016 issue of the New Zealand journal Sports Medicine, researchers determined that doing resistance training twice a week offered superior hypertrophy — that is, muscle growth — to training once a week.
There's currently no convincing scientific proof that training three times a week gives you better outcomes than lifting twice a week. In fact, the muscle-building process happens between workouts, not during the workouts themselves — so in this case, you can't strictly assume that more workouts are always better.
What you can do, however, is increase the number of sets in your twice-weekly weightlifting workouts as your body adapts to the challenge. As shown in a systematic review published in a July 2016 issue of the Journal of Sports Sciences, the more weightlifting sets you do, the more muscular hypertrophy you can look forward to.
Finally, aim to work to fatigue with proper form when possible. As the American Council on Exercise points out, there are two ways to stimulate the muscle growth process: One is with the mechanical damage caused to your muscles by an intense strength-training workout. The other is by reaching metabolic fatigue, or working your muscle to the point where it's briefly out of the fuel it needs to contract.
Obviously, maintaining proper form and safe lifting techniques should be your highest priority here — but the point is that you won't get big muscles by just looking at weights. You have to pick them up and use them.
Read more: 10 Ways to Reduce Body Fat Percentage Fast
Body Fat and Nutrition
If you're going to show off your new muscles, you need reasonably low body fat — but that doesn't mean you should go on a crash diet. Quite the opposite, in fact. Your body can't build new muscle, or even keep itself heavy, unless you're giving it the appropriate nutrients and enough fuel to burn in the form of calories.
Having a concrete measurement of your current body fat levels — and where you want to get — will really help you. The American Council on Exercise provides a list of body fat norms: Both men and women, they note, need at least 2 to 5 percent body fat (men) or 10 to 13 percent body fat (women) for essential, healthy function. An athletic body will typically have 6 to 13 percent body fat (men) or 14 to 20 percent body fat (women). And a generally "fit" body, for men, means 14 to 17 percent body fat, and 21 to 24 percent body fat for women.
Bodybuilders bring themselves down to the lowest possible percentage of body fat in advance of competitions. But they don't walk around like that every day, and neither should you. Instead, set your sights on either the fit or athletic percentages already described. You get there by consistently creating a caloric deficit, or burning more calories than you take in.
But wait — your muscles can't grow without proper nutrition. That's part of why it's important to aim for a modest calorie deficit and a healthy rate of weight loss — usually no more than 1 to 2 pounds per week, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends. For most people, hitting a calorie deficit of 500 calories per day will put you on track for losing about a pound a week.
At the same time, you must take in enough protein for muscle growth. In June 2017, the International Society of Sports Nutrition released a statement in its own publication, the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, noting that for most exercisers, a daily protein intake of 1.4 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight is enough for muscle maintenance and growth.
However, there is an exception for bodybuilders and other strength-trained individuals who are cutting calories but want to maintain muscle mass. In that case, the ISSN notes, an increased daily protein intake of 2.3 to 3.1 grams per kilogram of body weight may be necessary.
What about the other macronutrients? This is a subject of heated controversy between experts, and good reason to consult a sports nutritionist if you're really serious about hitting a low body fat percentage.
But in general, you can't go wrong with the overall macronutrient balance laid out by the Department of Health and Human Services, which recommends having 10 to 35 percent of your daily calories from protein (which accommodates the "typical" protein intake described by the ISSN); 45 to 65 percent of your calories from carbohydrates; and 20 to 35 percent of your calories from dietary fat.
Your end results won't be instant — but if you create a sustainable program you're capable of sticking with to slim down excess body fat and build more muscle, you'll see that ripped body in the mirror sooner than you expect.
- American Council on Exercise: "Percent Body Fat Calculator"
- Sports Medicine: "Effects of Resistance Training Frequency on Measures of Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis"
- Journal of Sports Sciences: "Dose-Response Relationship Between Weekly Resistance Training Volume and Increases in Muscle Mass: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis"
- American Council on Exercise: "7 Techniques for Promoting Muscle Growth"
- Health.gov: "Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Healthy Weight"
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: "International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Protein and Exercise"
- Health.gov: "Nutritional Goals for Age-Sex Groups Based on Dietary Reference Intakes and Dietary Guidelines Recommendations"