How Long Does It Take To Get Ripped?

Portrait of muscular woman working out with heavy dumbbells on bench in modern gym, flexing and pumping arm muscles

Key Points

  • Ripped is in the eye of the beholder, and your personal definition differs from others.

  • Your body wants homeostasis, so push yourself to achieve your desired physique.

  • Consider your starting point and how much time you're willing to invest.

You’re familiar with Newton’s third law, right? It’s the one about every action having an equal but opposite reaction. Whenever you’re at an office for a meeting and you lift one of those metallic balls on that enticing Newton’s cradle sitting on the desk, you’re witnessing this law. The metallic ball clicks, and the one on the far side moves in response. 

But what does that have to do with the question to which everyone wants an answer: How long does it take to get ripped?

Before understanding, you need clarification. What is “ripped?” Everyone has a different definition of what this means, but no matter what the definition is, there's one commonality throughout each: There's a measure of fat loss you need to achieve your goal, and it takes some time to get there.

Defining Ripped

A ripped physique requires you to rid yourself of extra body fat, so you can define “ripped" as a visibly muscular physique that shows off the precious slabs of muscle you're building. 

Having defined it, you're probably already lifting and have been working on building muscle for a while. If that doesn’t describe where you are in your fitness journey, spend some time on that step and come back to finish this. 

Ripped man works out on cable machine

Metabolic Adaptation 

The key to getting shredded is to diet so that you lose body fat and thereby reveal layers of muscle underneath. 

If you’ve tried this before, you witnessed another interesting phenomenon in the steps. You “ate clean” and lost weight, but somewhere along the way, your progress stopped. You freaked out, got upset, maybe cried a little, and wondered what was wrong with you.

After that, you pulled yourself together and tried everything you could think of to keep the fat loss train rolling. You might have been successful, too — until it happened again.

The common term for this occurrence is a "plateau," and while plateaus seem like the wrench in your tire spokes, they’re actually great. When you plateau, it means your body is functioning as it should. Your body doesn’t want you to lose weight. Your body doesn’t want to gain weight, either. It wants to stay where it is. It’s used to it, and it’s comfortable.

Reducing your calories means that you’re not taking in the same amount of energy from food that you once were. For your body to keep doing the workouts, the swing dancing, and your intimate activities at the same level as before, it has to pull the energy from somewhere. 

It just so happens that your body fat is a reservoir of energy just waiting to be tapped.

Your body fat levels determine the length of time you can keep the process up before hitting a plateau. For example, someone can comfortably diet with 25 percent body fat for a while, but if you have 11 percent body fat, you have a smaller energy reserve, and as such, you’ll reach the plateau sooner rather than later.

It goes without saying that the closer you are to the plateau, the more dieting will be rough because your body wants homeostasis. It doesn’t want you to get ripped. 

Fun fact: the same thing happens when you intentionally gain muscle mass. This process is called “metabolic adaptation.”

Ripped woman lifts barbell

NEAT, Right?

Notice the letters in “NEAT.” Not just a clever segue, NEAT stands for “Non-exercise activity thermogenesis.” Thermogenesis refers to the act of burning fat, and non-exercise activity is exactly what it sounds like. Doing the laundry, your nervous tics, and your restless legs all fall into this category. 

Along with NEAT, you have your basal metabolic rate (BMR) factoring into your energy expenditure. Think of your BMR as “existence calories.” Your respiratory, circulatory, excretory systems, and more all need energy to function so you can exist. 

In addition to your NEAT, there’s everything else you do: exercise, work, cook, laundry, and dog walks. Add your BMR, your NEAT, and your exercise activity together, and you get your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). 

If your diet is yielding no weight loss or weight gain, then you are fueling and expelling energy equal to your TDEE. To lose fat, take in fewer calories than your TDEE. This results in weight loss.

Yes, all that information sounds technical, and yes, you still want to know how long it takes to get ripped. Knowing the process informs the answer, thereby allowing you to make an informed choice. 

Why does this stuff matter? Because calories are energy, and you use energy. It’s all related. If you clean your diet up to the point where you eat fewer calories, you will lose fat. However, your NEAT will go down. The energy levels you need to engage in tough workouts will decrease. Your body does this to conserve the energy it has because it craves homeostasis

Ripped female athlete with hands on her hips

TDEE: The Numbers Game of Getting Cut 

There are myriad calculators out there to help you figure out your TDEE. From there, base your caloric intake on your TDEE. Once you figure that out, figure out your intake. 

Tweak your diet accordingly. Protein and carbohydrates have four calories in every gram, and fats have nine calories per gram. Alcohol has seven calories per gram. 

Speaking of alcohol, the first thing you need to do is reevaluate your relationship with it if you want to get that physique you dream about. That doesn’t mean you need to give up drinking entirely. It does mean, however, that getting tanked every weekend and having two glasses of wine every night needs to cease.

In addition to cutting calories by drinking less, your body also functions better since it’s not spending hours and energy processing alcohol. In short, alcohol is a toxin. When you ingest it, your body stops doing other things, like fat burning, to take care of the alcohol.

Your next step is to swap out some foods. Only you know what diet is best for you, but, likely, some of the "fun" stuff you like to eat is an addictive combination of carbs and fats
(think: fries, chips, battered cheese curds). That combination tastes so good and makes you want to eat lots of unhealthy foods as often as possible. 

You don’t need to give them up. However, you do need to prioritize nutrients. Think of an apple compared to a doughnut. Go ahead, look up the nutrition facts. In general, foods with more nutrients have fewer calories. Plus, they have more fiber. As a bonus, fiber keeps you full and helps your bowels move well, and additionally, lowers your cholesterol. Those are the foods you need to prioritize, along with lean proteins. 

Why the emphasis on lean protein? Four ounces of boneless, skinless chicken breasts yield 123 calories. A four-ounce cut of ribeye steak has about 310 calories, primarily from the extra fat. 

If you prioritize lean proteins and fibrous foods, you'll go a long way toward your goal physique without having to try too hard. 

Ripped athletes train at kickboxing

The Answer, Finally

The question of the hour: How long does it take to get ripped?

It’s hard to say. If you make the modifications above while exercising, you can lose anywhere from a half pound to one or two pounds a week when you start. That number depends on your current body fat level. That number also decreases over time. Why? Remember the discussion about plateauing? It’s a normal thing, and it means your body is working the way it should. 

If you diet for a period, and you hit a plateau after losing some body fat, you’re on the right track. If you reach that plateau and you look in the mirror and say “Damn, I look good,” congratulations! You’re set. All you have to do is keep up the disciplined behavior and you’ll maintain the physique. 

Remember, there’s a reason for the cliche, “It’s a lifestyle.” It means if you want to stay fit, you can’t go back to getting tanked every weekend and drinking several glasses of wine every night after you achieve the look you want.

What if you’re not satisfied once you reach the first plateau? Repeat the process. Remember all the ways to expend energy you read about earlier? You must tweak those, and you have options. 

Increase Exercise Activity

The easiest way to increase your exercise activity is to up your step count by walking. Yes, it really is just that simple! Walking is also a good outlet to recover and it’s not taxing, which is important when you’re in a deficit of calories.

Man hangs from pull-up bar in flexed position

Decrease Food Intake

Decreasing your food intake essentially means cutting out even more calorically dense foods. Just don’t do this as the first line of defense to bust through the plateau. 

Take Time To Rest

Take an occasional break and loosen up the food restriction just a bit. This doesn’t mean gorge on cookies and doughnuts every day, and it doesn’t mean stop exercising. 

In practice, this can look like having dessert once or twice a week and lightening the load on the heavy lifting. It won’t look much different than what you’re already doing, and that’s the point! There are a lot of benefits to taking occasional dietary breaks — even if the benefits are mostly psychological and not physiological. 

That’s it. You have to expend more energy than you’re taking in, and so many things factor into that. But once you repeat the process, you’ll hit another plateau. 

Ripped man takes a break after jumping rope

It's Easier on Paper

Figuring out how long it takes to get ripped is easier on paper than in practice. Ask yourself how long you’re willing to go through this process, for starters. Also, ask yourself if you’re willing to endure a certain level of discomfort. And if you are, is it worth it? 

What about the other people in your life? Is it worth it to put your friends and loved ones through this as well? How might their lives look different because of your pursuit? Throughout this process, you’ll be eschewing social events — likely because many of them involve alcohol — and you don’t want to put your results in peril. This may affect some of your relationships.

Success is dependent upon compliance. Some days, you go off your plan. You might miss a workout. You eat too many fun foods or have a few too many drinks one weekend. To quote Jeff Goldblum’s character in Jurassic Park, “Life finds a way.” And so it is when you’re working to achieve a goal. 

Many setbacks are minor so long as you’re consistent, and consistency isn’t doing the same thing all the time without failure. Quite the opposite! Consistency is doing that which leads you to your goal in such a way that you can still see yourself doing it years later, setbacks and all. 

Master trainer for the American Council on Exercise Jonathan Ross encourages his clients to remember:

"The pace and amount of change must be big enough to make a real and lasting difference and keep you motivated, but it must be small enough to be manageable and realistic. This is different for everyone, which is why knowing exactly what to do and when can be so challenging."

Are you willing to deal with any or all of those possibilities to get shredded? That’s for you to decide. 

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