If you envy the physiques of male and female fitness models in magazines and on Instagram, you may have decided to try to get ripped muscles yourself. The first thing you should know about getting ripped is that it's not easy. It takes hard work and dedication, a low body-fat percentage and often rigid diet and lifestyle changes. It also takes a commitment to spending a lot of time exercising. How much time depends on your diet and your body type.
How much exercise you need to get ripped depends on many factors, including your current body-fat percentage, your diet and genetics.
What It Takes to Get Ripped
Being ripped is mostly about having a low body-fat percentage and well-defined muscle mass. Subcutaneous fat makes up the layer between your skin and your muscle. The less subcutaneous fat you have, the easier it is to see the muscles underneath.
If you're really serious about getting ripped, have your body fat tested. To get that chiseled look, men generally need to get their body-fat percentage below 10 percent body fat and women need to get below 20 percent, according to fitness expert and author Mike Matthews.
Know Your Body Type
Most people need to burn fat to get ripped; however, a few may already be lean but need to increase their muscle mass. This is a key determinant of how much exercise you need to do and the type of diet you need to consume. There are three general body types:
Ectomorph: Skinny, fast metabolism, with trouble gaining weight and putting on muscle. Ectomorphs need to do more weightlifting and less cardio and need to eat a lot more calories.
Mesomorph: Naturally athletic physique and the easiest body type to get ripped. Mesomorphs require a mix of cardio and strength training and need to watch calorie intake due to tendency toward gaining fat.
Endomorph: Tendency to be overweight with slow metabolism. Endomorphs find it difficult to lose fat and need a stricter diet and more cardio.
Which body type are you? All body types can get muscular and ripped with the right diet and exercise plan.
How to Burn Fat
To reduce your body-fat percentage, you need to burn body fat. Body fat is stored energy or calories you've consumed that your body hasn't been able to use and is saving for later — just in case. Reducing your intake of calories and tapping into the stored fat for your energy needs will help you gradually get ripped.
This is called creating a calorie deficit — when your calorie expenditure exceeds your calorie intake. Creating this calorie deficit means finding the right balance between the calories you consume through your diet and the calories you burn through exercise.
Diet Is Key
You want to know how much you need to exercise, but the first thing you need to know is that your diet is critical. It may be even more important than how much you exercise, especially if your current diet isn't as healthy as it should be.
You can't "out-exercise" a bad diet. If you're eating lots of processed, high-calorie junk foods and sugar, you will not get ripped no matter how much you exercise. A healthy diet to get ripped includes:
- Fresh vegetables
- Small amounts of low-sugar fruits, such as berries
- Whole grains
- Lean meat and fish
- Beans, tofu and other vegetarian protein sources
- Healthy fats from nuts and seeds
Cleaning up your diet and controlling your calorie intake will offset the amount of exercise you need to do to get ripped. You'll still need to exercise, of course, but not as much as you would eating an unhealthy diet.
Getting the right calorie balance and macros — carbs, protein and fat — is crucial for getting a ripped body. It can also be complex and require some trial and error. If you can afford it, a few sessions with a personal trainer or sports nutritionist can help you figure out a good starting point, and you can dial it in on your own from there.
The Right Amount of Cardio
If you have a lot of fat to lose, you're going to need to do a good amount of cardio. Cardio exercise burns calories while you're doing it to deepen the calorie deficit and dig into fat stores. However, you might not need to do as much cardio as you think.
According to Matthews, doing extensive bouts of cardio exercise can put a lot of stress on the body. Doing too much cardio when you're in a caloric deficit can lead to fatigue, burnout and overtraining. You're not likely to stick to a fat-loss exercise plan that has you doing six hours of cardio or more each week.
Matthews suggests doing high-intensity interval training (HIIT) instead of longer bouts of steady-state cardio. Three to four sessions of 30 minutes each, including warmup and cool-down, could be enough to get you where you want to be. This is because HIIT can burn the same amount of calories as long-duration, steady-state cardio in less time, according to the American Council on Exercise.
HIIT also has metabolic benefits. Intense exercise puts more stress on the body. In the period after an HIIT session, your body is trying to return to its pre-exercise state. This takes energy, in the form of calories, and your metabolism receives a boost — more so than after less intense cardio. This metabolic boost can last up to 48 hours, according to doctors Chantal A. Vella and Len Kravitz of the University of New Mexico.
Leave Time for Strength Training
Reducing your calorie intake and doing cardiovascular exercise can lead to a loss of muscle; but your goal when getting ripped is to build muscle. Along with a high-protein intake, strength training will help you retain muscle mass as you lose fat. If you're an ectomorph, strength training, in combination with a high-calorie diet, is the only way to naturally gain muscle.
Having more muscle mass also increases your resting metabolism so you can burn more fat. Muscle mass takes more energy for your body to build and maintain, comprising about 20 percent of your total daily energy expenditure, according to Paige Kinucan and Dr. Len Kravitz of the University of New Mexico. Fat accounts for only 5 percent.
If you need to lose fat, building muscle is key. If you're skinny, building muscle is also key.
Best Workout to Get Ripped
There are many ideas about which workout is best for getting ripped. Generally, it involves a total-body, strength-training routine that is challenging enough to encourage hypertrophy, or muscle growth. It also needs to be progressively more challenging to promote continued muscle growth.
According to fitness and fat loss expert Marc Perry, it doesn't really matter what type of strength training you do as long as it fits the above criteria. Perry says any type of workout, from circuit training to powerlifting, can help you get ripped.
How much you need to train really depends on your lifestyle. According to Matthews, even one or two days is enough to help you build muscle and lose fat. However, more is better. Aim to do a total-body workout two to three times per week. You can also split it up into lower-body and upper-body days, training your upper body twice per week and your lower body twice per week.
Circuit training and superset workouts, in which you do exercises back-to-back instead of resting between sets, are considerably more time efficient. You can also combine your cardio with strength training, doing challenging circuits that include intervals of pulse-boosting moves like sprints and jumping rope.
- WebMD: The Truth About Fat
- Muscle for Life: The “Secret” to Losing Your Face Fat and Double Chin
- Center for Wellness Without Borders: The Three Somatotypes
- Muscle for Life: How to Lose Body Fat and Not Muscle
- American Council on Exercise: Steady State vs. Interval Training: Which One Is Best for Your Clients?
- University of New Mexico: Exercise After-Burn: Research Update
- University of New Mexico: Controversies in Metabolism
- Built Lean: How to Get Ripped & Cut: Definitive Guide