Roadmap to Ripped: A Complete Step by Step Guide to Going from Obese to Shredded, or Anywhere in Between

I’ve been wanting to write this article for a long time. 

I’ve written a lot of articles about the individual components of fat loss, but what follows is a complete step by step guide to fat loss for people at (nearly) any level, from morbidly obese to almost competition shredded. 

It’s broken down into sections based on your current level of body fat, plus a “start here” section.  So there’s a chapter for going from extremely obese to obese, one for going from obese to merely overweight, etc.  Each chapter is cumulative- that is, whatever body fat level you’re at, you need to do the stuff in that chapter in addition to, not instead of, the stuff in previous chapters.

Following this guide isn’t the only way to get lean.  There is no “one true path” to getting shredded.  You could do the things in this guide in different orders, or leave a few of them out and add others in.  This is simply what I’ve seen to work best for the majority of people. 

A word of advice: focus on implementing 1-3 new habits at a time.  This guide throws a lot of stuff at you, but you shouldn’t be trying to implement it all at once.  Start from the top.

This guide is just under 12,000 words, or 25 pages long.  You won’t be using it all at once, and will probably want to refer back to it often over the next few months, or even the next few years.  Go to this page and enter your email address to receive a PDF version of the guide.

With that said, let’s start from the beginning…

Part One: Start Here No Matter Your Body Type

1.  Don’t tell anyone you’re trying to lose weight yet

It’s tempting to tell friends and relatives about your plan to get into better shape.  You should resist this impulse, for a couple of reasons.

First, there mere act of telling people your plans can be gratifying.  It can give you the same good feelings that you would get from actually accomplishing your goals.  And I know that feeling good sounds like a good thing, but the problem is that since it makes you feel as though you’ve already succeeded, it saps your motivation to actually succeed.

Second, some people in your life will actively discourage you from losing weight.  They’ll try to push foods on you that don’t fit your diet.  They’ll shame you for working out so much.  They’ll suggest that your desire to lose weight may be unhealthy.  They’ll make you feel guilty for missing social events, or not drinking with them. 

Why would someone do this?  All kinds of reasons.  Maybe they’re afraid you’ll drift apart from them.  Maybe they honestly believe what they’re saying.  Or maybe they know that what you’re doing is good for you, and don’t want you to succeed because it makes them feel bad about themselves.

Regardless of their motives, the fact is that your friends are your friends because they like you the way you are now.  As such, they have a vested interest in you not changing.

So keep this to yourself for now.  Once you’ve been at it for a couple months and you’re at least ten pounds down, you can start to tell people who you know will be supportive- usually, that’s people who are in better shape than you and/or have encouraged you to get into fitness in the past. 

As for people who aren’t supportive of your fitness lifestyle, they’ll find out when they notice you’ve lost weight, but there’s no reason to ever go out of your way to tell them.

2.  Expect it to be difficult, and commit to persevering

When taking on a new challenge, there are four attitudes you can have towards it, depending on your motivation and expectation of difficulty.  Your motivation can be either high or low, and you can expect the challenge to be easy or hard.

If you expect the challenge to be hard and your motivation is low, you’ll procrastinate.  You’ll insist that you want to do it, but you’ll continually put it off until later.  Most likely you won’t be totally honest with yourself about your reasons for procrastinating either- instead of admitting that you’re scared, you’ll tell yourself you’re just too busy with other things right now.

If you expect the challenge to be easy and your motivation is low, you’ll half-ass it.  You’ll put in a little work, but never really commit to it.  When you don’t get the quick and easy results you expected, you’ll give up, most likely making some excuses about how you’ll give it another try someday.

If you expect the challenge to be easy and your motivation is high, you’ll dive right in with great enthusiasm.  Things will go well at first, and you’ll probably even have fun for the first few days.  But since you’re not anticipating difficulty, you’ll be unprepared for it when things inevitably get tough- which they will. 

Once the new program motivation wears off, and the difficulty sets in, and you have no real plan beyond relying on sheer enthusiasm and hoping things will be easy, you’ll give up.  You’ll be dejected, because unlike in those first two cases, you really had a lot of emotional energy invested in this.  What people usually do in this case is blame whatever program they were on and program-hop to a new one when they try again a few months later.

Finally, there are the people who are highly motivated, but expect things to be difficult.  They understand that things will be difficult, they’ll need a clear plan, and they’ll need to stick to that plan when things get tough.  If you’re in this group, you’ll consciously temper your initial enthusiasm to avoid blinding yourself to the challenges ahead.  You’ll anticipate those challenges, and when they come, you’ll be ready for them. 

Weight loss shouldn’t make you hate your life, and it shouldn’t require you to live in the gym or give up your favorite foods.  But it is hard, and there will be times when you aren’t having fun.

Be motivated, be enthusiastic, that’s great.  But expect this to be tough.  Promise yourself right now that there will be times when you don’t enjoy it, and times when you want to quit, and that when that happens, you’ll stick with it.

3. Start tracking your body fat percentage, not just your weight

Weight can mean a lot of things.  If you lose weight from one day to the next, that could mean you lose fat, or muscle, or water weight, or your stomach is just less full than it was when you weighed yourself the day before.

As a practical matter, I think most people should weigh themselves once a week.  Women might even want to weigh themselves once a month, timing that with their menstrual cycle, to control for water weight.

But just as important: you should be measuring how much fat and lean mass you have in your body, not just how much you weigh. 

The most effective ways to do this are through high-tech methods like DEXA, underwater hydrostatic weighing, and measuring heat production with a bod pod.  But these cost money and require an appointment.

On the other hand, the least effective measurement techniques are using a body fat scale, going off of weight, height and/or waist size alone, or just eyeballing it.

The most effective free methods are using body fat calipers, and anthropomorphic measurements, i.e. using a tape measure.  Since calipers take training and are highly prone to user error, we’ll go with the tape measure.

Get a tailor’s tape measure- you can find them in the sewing section of department stores like Target.  Use Casey Butt’s anthropometric body fat calculator– it’s the best I’ve found, and is highly regarded in the industry.  It measures a few different areas, so it accounts for different body shapes very effectively.

Always weigh and measure yourself first thing in the morning, on an empty stomach.  Let your stomach hang out naturally- don’t suck it in, nor puff it up.  Stand with your feet about 4 inches apart.  There will still be a lot of random day today variation, which is why I’m not a fan of daily weighing, but as long as you’re always weighing yourself under similar conditions, you can accurately track your fat loss on at least a week by week basis.

4.  Give up alcohol for the first month

You should give up alcohol for, at the very least, the first and last month of any fitness program.  This is standard industry practice, and I believe it’s a good idea on all programs, whether your goal is fat loss, mass gain, strength, or just about anything else.

For starters, alcohol has a lot of calories.  A gram of alcohol has seven calories, compared to four for carbs and protein or nine for fat.  So even a small glass of dry wine has at least 120 calories, and that’s without adding in any carbs (or, heaven forbid, fat, if you’re drinking piña coladas).  People also eat more, and consume more total calories, when they’re drinking.

Alcohol also has hormonal effects beyond just the calories.  It lowers your testosterone levels, impairs your sleep, reduces muscle protein synthesis, and promotes fat storage.  So despite what some of the If It Fits Your Macros crowd might have you believe, a hundred calories of alcohol is not just the same as a hundred calories of carbs.  Not even close.

Finally, it’s a discipline thing.  Giving up alcohol teaches you discipline, and once you’ve done it, the rest of the program seems easier by comparison.

You can start drinking again after the first month, at least until you’re within a month of your goal.  But if your weight loss ever stalls out, one of the first things you should do is stop drinking again.

5.  Count calories for your first month

Weight loss is ultimately a matter of calorie balance- you need to eat fewer calories than you consume.  If you don’t do that, nothing else you do is really going to help.  So obviously, you need to know how many calories you’re eating.

For the first month, count calories religiously.  I mean every little thing you put in your mouth, even if you have a couple of french fries from someone else’s plate.  At home, weigh your food on a scale.  Record everything immediately, not from memory.

Calorie counting is hard to do accurately, and it is mentally taxing.  Yet, it’s still worthwhile because it makes you realize how bad you are at estimating how much you eat, and forces you to become more mindful of what you eat.  Over time, you’ll become better at estimating calories.

After a month, you can keep counting calories if you find that effective and not too difficult, but there are other approaches to dieting, which I’ll talk about in a later section.

As for how many calories you should be eating, I again refer you to Casey Butt’s calculator.  I think it’s highly accurate assuming- and this is a big caveat- that the information you put into it is accurate.  It’s easy to overestimate how many calories you need if you either underestimate your body fat percentage or overestimate your activity level.

Based on the recommendations I’ll give later in this guide, obese and overweight people should select lightly active, healthy and fit people should select moderately active, and athletic people should select very active.  Extremely active should only ever be selected by pro/collegiate athletes, or people who are in good shape and hitting the gym 4+ times a week in addition to working a physically demanding job, like construction. 

Remember that weight loss is about 70% diet.  If your diet isn’t good, you won’t be able to lose weight by making up for that with exercise, supplements, or any kind of weird body hacks.

6.  If you don’t like to cook, start cooking food in bulk

If you enjoy cooking and do it at least once every day, you might be able to ignore this one.  Otherwise, here’s how you cook if you hate to cook.

Once or twice a week, cook 4-8 servings of food at once, eat one, and put the rest in a container in the fridge.  Any time you need something to eat, that container is your go-to until you’ve finished it.

There are two methods for quickly bulk prepping healthy food: stir-frying and slow-cooking.

To stir fry, get about a pound of meat, a pound of vegetables and a little bit of oil or butter.  Put the oil in a pan and heat it up, then throw the meat on and brown it on either side.  Then add in the vegetables and stir-fry them for a few minutes.  Simple.

To slow-cook, get about a pound of meat, two pounds of vegetables, and a pound of sweet potatoes or beans.  Put the beans on the bottom of the slow cooker, then the vegetables, and the meat on top.  Fill the slow cooker with water, turn it on and let it sit for a few hours.

Either way, put some salt and spices on the food after it’s done and you’ve got yourself a few pounds of tasty, healthy food.  Read my previous article on 12 healthy spices you should be cooking with.

7.  Start asking yourself “Is this worth it?” and “What will I do to make up for it?”

The worst way to think about fitness is to view everything as a moral issue.  Fat people aren’t bad people, eating junk food doesn’t make you lazy, and getting lean isn’t a matter of right and wrong.  This kind of thinking just makes you feel bad about yourself without providing any useful guidance.

Your thinking should be grounded in the practical.  Since diet and exercise aren’t moral issues, they should always be viewed in terms of whether what you’re doing supports your goals.  But you don’t need complicated if-then decision making rules either.  You just need one simple question.

When faced with a decision, ask yourself “Is this worth it?”  Given the goals you’re working towards, is it worth it to eat that brownie, cut your workout short, or stay out past your bedtime with friends?  Usually the answer will be no, but sometimes it will be yes.

When you do decide to give yourself a break and cheat on your program, you should also ask yourself the related question, “What will I do to make up for this?”  If you have that brownie, will you cut all the carbs out of your breakfast the next day?  If you cut your workout short, will you do a few minutes of bodyweight exercises at home later on? 

That question gets you thinking about the costs of breaking your program- it’s fun, but there are consequences, but those consequences might sometimes be worth it to you.   Asking both these questions gets you thinking about the real trade-offs involved in fitness, enabling you to make healthier, more rational decisions.

Part Two: From Extremely Obese to Obese

For the sake of this guide, let’s define extremely obese as over 30% body fat for men, and 35% for women. 

Being this overweight requires more than just not going to the gym and failing to count calories; it requires a sustained and sizable overeating habit, and usually also involves chronic lack of exercise.  In many cases it can also involves psychological issues such as stress-eating or food addiction. 

Most importantly, severe obesity is life-threatening.  It will kill you if you don’t fix it, and I want you to bear that in mind as you read this.  Fixing big problems requires taking massive and sustained action.

1. Get your doctor(s) involved

Talk to your doctor about your weight problem, and tell them you’re ready to do whatever it takes to fix it.  Get referred to a weight loss specialist.  Be brutally honest about your struggles, eating habits, level of exercise, and issues with food.

Fully acknowledge your problem and the role that your diet and lifestyle has played in it, and emphasize your commitment to change.  Most importantly, do whatever the doctors tell you to. 

The doctors will tell you stuff you really don’t want to hear.  Whatever you do, don’t snap at them or get defensive.  Doctors, at least in the U.S., are judged in part on patient satisfaction, which means they need you to like them.  If you don’t take kindly to constructive criticism, they may stop being honest with you, instead telling you what you want to hear (in stark opposition to what you need to hear) in order to keep you happy.

The doctors may want you to take weight loss drugs, or anti-diabetic drugs.  Again, do this if they tell you to, but understand that diet and exercise will still be needed to lose weight and keep it off.  Those drugs have unpleasant side effects, ranging from diarrhea to rapid heart beat and hyperthermia, so your goal should always be to get to a healthy weight as soon as you safely can so you can stop taking the drugs.

Also, if you have any kind of physiological issues at all, start seeing a psychiatrist about it.  Get it covered by insurance if you can- that should be possible since it’s connected to your weight. 

And yes, your psychological problems are connected to your weight, even if the connection isn’t obvious.  Maybe you’re not stress-eating, but trust me: if you’re fat and depressed, the two are related.  And it’s almost impossible to psycho-analyze yourself, so put your trust in a trained professional.

2.  Cut anyone out of your life who doesn’t support your weight loss

Yes, I do mean anyone, other than children who you’re legally obligated to take care of.  Friends, relatives, colleagues- if they try to stop you from losing weight, stand your ground.  If they keep at it, cut off contact with them, at least until you’re down to a healthy weight.

If that sounds extreme, let’s engage in a little thought experiment.  Prostate cancer runs in my family- my dad has had it, two of his three brothers have had it, and their dad had it.  The one brother who hasn’t had it is also the youngest, so he’s hardly in the clear yet.

All of which is to say that, barring some major technological advancements, I’m almost certain to get prostate cancer someday.  Now suppose that that happened, and I shared the news with my friends and told them I’m seeking treatment. 

But let’s suppose that one friend of mine urged me not to seek treatment.  Suppose he said that things like radiation, chemo and surgery are horrible for you, and I’d be ruining my health by getting them.  Suppose he said that I should just love my prostate the way it is, and stop trying to change it.  And suppose further that no matter how much I argued with him, this guy never gave up, that he kept trying to get me to stop treating my cancer for months and just would. not. let. it. go.

I would stop talking to that guy.  I would stop being friends with him.  You probably would too.  Who wants a friend why tries to get you killed?

Now here are some fun facts about prostate cancer: the death rate is about 3%, and that includes men who are uninsured and in terrible health to begin with.  It progresses so slowly- usually taking 20+ years- that you’re very likely to die of something else first even if you don’t treat it.  Yes, it is cancer, but all in all it’s not one of the worst things that could happen to a guy, and I’m not scared of it. 

The point being, if you’re extremely obese, that’s a bigger health problem than prostate cancer.  It will have a bigger impact on your quality of life, and likely kill you sooner, than prostate cancer ever would.  And anyone who tries to stop you from losing weight is at least as bad as someone who tells me not to get treated for cancer.

Put yourself first, and do what you need to do for your health.  Make the hard choice to cut out bad influences.  Maybe you can re-connect with them after you get healthy.  Then again, maybe you won’t want to. 

3.  Learn to deal with hunger

Some websites will tell you to never go hungry.  They’ll say to eat healthy, filling food whenever you’re hungry, because if you let yourself go hungry you’re likely to binge.

This advice is misguided, but wrong, at least for obese people.  While filling yourself up with low-calorie food is a good strategy, in practice you have to split the difference between doing that, and not eating every time you’re hungry.  Sorry, but you will have to put up with hunger sometimes. 

The “never go hungry” advice is predicated on the assumption that your body is sending you honest hunger signals that accurately reflect your nutritional needs. That is mostly true for people who aren’t overweight, but not for people who are.  Obesity causes your brain’s appetite-control mechanisms to go haywire, so you’ll feel hungry despite having no biological need for food.

Also, your body tends to try and stay the way it is, no matter what shape you’re in.  While listening to your body is good in many cases, losing weight is going to require sometimes ignoring those signals, at least for a few hours.

Also, remove the word “starving” from your dictionary.  People in North Korea are starving.  You’re just hungry. 

4.  Exercise, but avoid exercise that puts a lot of strain on your knees and ankles for now

Exercise burns calories, obviously.  And it helps you gain muscle, or at least prevent muscle loss during a deficit.  And contrary to popular opinion, it doesn’t necessarily make you hungrier- regular exercise improves appetite regulation and reduces hunger.

Being overweight puts you at a high risk of knee and ankle injuries.  Your body strengthens your joints as you gain weight, but there’s a limit to that, and obesity exceeds those limits.  With that in mind, avoid anything that will put a lot of stress on those joints, particularly high-speed movements. 

At the very least, you probably don’t want to be running or doing jump squats until you lose some of that weight.  I wouldn’t do barbell squats or jumprope either. 

Low-speed movements like leg presses and bodyweight squats are probably alright, but keep them towards the low-weight high-rep side of things.  Stop doing them if they give you any joint problems at all.

While free weights are generally superior to machines, you may want to focus on leg isolation machines like the leg curl, leg extension, and seated calf extension in order to avoid over-stressing those joints.

For cardio, choose low-impact stuff like swimming, rowing, cycling and stair machines.  As you lose weight you can start using elliptical machines, which are lower-impact than running but still higher-impact than stair machines.  Using a high incline and resistance, and lower speeds, will be helpful on any of these machines.

This isn’t an excuse not to work out, but work out smart and spare your joints.  And remember, your workouts can be imperfect, as long as your diet is good.

As you lose weight, knee and ankle strain will stop being an issue, and you’ll be able to incorporate a greater variety of exercises like lunges, jump squats, and standing calf extensions. 

5.  Eat your vegetables

Vegetables are really important.  And by vegetables I mean non-starchy vegetables like broccoli, squash and peppers, not starchy ones like potatoes.

Vegetables have fiber, vitamins and phytochemicals that your body really needs.  And from a fat loss standpoint, they’re your best friend because they’re very filling for how few calories they have.

So eat your vegetables.  The more the better, but make sure to eat them with at least two meals a day. 

6.  Drink a lot of water

Most people don’t drink enough water, and dehydration causes symptoms like low energy, brain fog, headache and mild depression.

But for our purposes, what’s really important here is that when you don’t drink enough water, your body can often misinterpret those thirst signals as hunger signals, causing you to overeat.  And on the flip side, drinking more water can blunt your hunger. 

The average woman needs at least half a gallon of water a day, while the average man needs three quarters of a gallon.  Consider those minimums; since it helps dull hunger, you should probably drink even more than that.

At the very least, drink a glass of water every two hours throughout the day, and drink a glass before- not during, but before- each meal to reduce your hunger. 

7.  Practice mindful eating

Stop mindless snacking right now.  No more sitting in front of the TV, popping stuff into your mouth without looking at it.

With every meal and snack you eat, and every beverage you drink, slow down your consumption process and take the time to really think about what you’re putting in your mouth.

Before you even start eating something, look it over,  Take in the colors, the shapes, the sizes.  Look at the ingredients and make sure you understand what’s actually in it.

While eating, slow down and focus on the experience.  Try to identify all of the different flavors and textures in it.

After a meal, stop and once again think about what you just ate, and what its nutritional content was.  If it was a healthy meal, take a few moments to reflect on how much you enjoyed it. 

8.  Get all the junk food out of your home

If there’s anything in your home that isn’t on your diet, get rid of it.  That means alcohol, sugared beverages, candy, donuts, and anything that might reasonably be described as junk food.

Yes, I know your diet probably allows occasional cheat meals, but “cheat foods” fall under the category of Things Not Allowed in the Home.  Force yourself to go out for cheat meals.

Just as with prepping food in bulk, the operative principle here is to make eating healthy, low-calorie food more convenient than eating unhealthy, high-calorie foods.

9.  Forget about gaining muscle for now

You probably want to both lose fat and gain muscle.  That’s cool.  But at this point, thinking about gaining muscle would be getting ahead of yourself. 

Consider that a) you wouldn’t even be able to see any new muscle under all that fat, and b) losing fat will do far more for your health than gaining muscle will.  It’s also impossible for you to really set a goal for muscle growth, since you don’t know what an extra few pounds of muscle will look like once you’ve lost that fat, nor how strong or athletic you’ll be.  You’ll be better able to refine your goal once you’re close to it.

It is possible to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time, but it only really makes sense to do so if you want to do both in nearly equal proportions.  If the amount of fat you want to lose is more than twice as much as the amount of muscle you want to gain, just focus on fat loss for now. 

Once you get down to the healthy body fat range, you can start eating more calories and adjusting your diet and exercise programming for body recomposition.

10.  Learn to recognize fatlogic

Fatlogic is a type of spurious logic that people use to excuse, justify or glorify obesity, and discourage others from losing weight.  Some classic examples:

Your weight has nothing to do with how much you eat.

I’m fat and I’m not sick right now, therefore I’m healthy.

Nothing we do matters- it’s all about genetics.

Any doctor who tells people to lose weight is a fat-shaming bully.

Diet’s don’t work- nobody can lose weight and keep it off.

People have a million and one of these excuses, and even if most of them sound ridiculous to you, the odds are that you make some of the less obviously stupid excuses.  To be clear, fatlogic is logic that keeps people fat, not logic used by fat people.  Skinny people say dumb shit too, while some overweight people resist the urge to make excuses.

The best way to shine a light on your own rationalizations is to see how silly they sound when other people make them.  One easy way to do that is to spend a few minutes reading through r/fatlogic, a reddit group dedicated to countering fatlogic. 

As a word of warning, that group has some bad ideas of it’s own- they’re dismissive of bullying, and tend to assume anyone who says fat loss is about more than just calories is only making excuses- but reading that subreddit is the fastest and surest way to purge the fatlogic from your own mind.

Part Three: From Moderately Obese to Healthy

We’ll define moderately obese as 29-35% body fat for women, and 24-30% for men.  At this stage, your weight is a health problem that will make you sick if it goes untreated.  However, you’re probably not in imminent danger of death, and you probably don’t have any major mobility problems due to your weight.

If this is your starting weight, and the heaviest you’ve ever been, your overeating is most likely due to mindless eating and lack of exercise, but not a more serious hormonal or psychological disorder.  It’s still worth talking to your doctor, but you probably won’t need drugs or other medical help to get down to a healthy weight.

1. Eat more slowly, and stop as soon as you’re not hungry

Start timing all of your meals and snacks.  Spend at least ten minutes eating every snack, and twenty minutes on every meal.

It can be hard to do this at first, especially if your meals are very small since you’re on a weight loss program.  There are two proven techniques for slowing down meals, eating less, and losing more weight.

First, chew your food more.  Specifically, chew every bite of food twenty times.  Yes, that’s a lot.  Yes, it helps a lot.

Second, finish your meals in thirds, with mid-meal breaks.  Eat one third of the meal, pause five minutes, at the second third, pause five minutes, then finish the meal.  Start with the vegetables, then the protein, and save the most carb-heavy portion for last.

2.  Practice intermittent fasting

Intermittent fasting has, in my opinion, developed too much of a mystique around it.  All it really means is not eating for more than the usual 12 hours or so, but no more than 36 hours.  And while recent research has debunked the notion that there’s some kind of hormonal magic to intermittent fasting, it’s still a great strategy for eating fewer calories overall, which is where its benefits actually come from. 

There are two types of fasting that will aid with fat loss: the morning fast and the whole-day fast.

To do a morning fast, also called a 16/8 fast, eat your last meal fairly early in the evening, say between six and nine.  Then skip breakfast the next day, and don’t eat until lunch.  That means you’ll have fasted for about sixteen hours.

To do a whole-day fast, you can eat your last meal at any point in the evening between five and ten.  But then the next day, don’t eat all day long.  For a 24-hour fast, break your fast by eating dinner that night at the same time as the night before.  For a 36-hour fast, don’t eat dinner on the fast day, and break your fast with breakfast the next day.

While people will talk about how fasting increases testosterone and growth hormone, or helps extend your lifespan, those are marginal benefits- the lifespan extension gets more substantial if you do longer fasts, but that’s a totally separate topic and not directly relevant to fat loss.  The main benefit of intermittent fasting is that you eat less.  Once you start doing it regularly you’ll learn to endure a little bit of hunger, and your body will actually down-regulate it’s hunger response, making it much easier to not overeat when you’re not fasting.

For overweight people or those who have never fasted before, I recommend doing a 24-hour fast at least once a month, and never more than once a week.  After a few weeks, you can start extending those fasts to 36 hours if you feel comfortable doing so, but don’t go longer than that.  The 16-hour fasts can be done every day if you want, but doing them just 1-3 times a week will be plenty for most people. 

In general, the more you tend to overeat, the more you’ll benefit from fasting.  As you get leaner, find it easier to eat well, and start wanting to build muscle at the same time as you lose fat, you may want to cut back on the fasting to ensure adequate caloric intake.  Find a level of fasting that works for you.

Also, you do want to eat a little bit before workouts, so this doesn’t combine well with morning workouts.  If you work out in the mornings you’ll want to either restrict your fasts to non-workout days, or begin them earlier the day before, sometime in the afternoon.

3.  Start attending a gym or exercise class, and have fun

Sign up for a gym membership and/or exercise class if you haven’t already, and attend on a regular basis.  And…that’s it.  For the time being, focus on just getting yourself into the gym, but don’t force yourself to work out to the point where you hate being there.

Actor and former NFL player Terry Crews describes this rule better than I ever can:

TREAT THE GYM LIKE A SPA.

Yes. It has to feel good. I tell people this a lot – go to the gym, and just sit there, and read a magazine, and then go home. And do this every day.

Go to the gym, don’t even work out. Just GO. Because the habit of going to the gym is more important than the work out. Because it doesn’t matter what you do. You can have fun – but as long as you’re having fun, you continue to do it.

But what happens is you get a trainer, your whole body is sore, you can’t feel your legs, and you’re not coming back the next day – you might not come back for a year!

I worked my way up to 2 hours a day. I ENJOY my workouts. They are my peace, my joy – I get my whole head together! I value that time more than my shower! And it really gets me together. But it’s a habit.

There are times when – I’m not even kidding – there are times when I”m in the middle of a work out, and actually woke up because i am so engrained with going to the gym and being there – it’s that much of a habit to me. The first thing I do in the morning is work out – I lay out my workout clothes the night before, and just hop in ’em.

So lay out your clothes, and go to the gym, and relax.

HaAHAHAH!

But sooner or later, you WILL work out.

At some point you will have to follow a well-designed exercise program, but you don’t need to push yourself that hard in the beginning.  For the first month or two, just focus on making it to the gym and having fun there.  If that means sitting in the hot tub, do it.  If that means taking a group fitness class- even something like Zumba that I’ve said bad things about before- do it.

The perfect is the enemy of the good.  Build the habit of going to the gym before you worry about having the perfect program.

4.  Include protein-dense food with at least two meals a day, including breakfast

On days when you aren’t fasting, eat at least 30 grams of protein with breakfast.  On ALL days, eat at least 20 grams of protein with every full meal, and include protein-dense foods with at least two of those meals.

What do I mean by protein-dense foods?  Mainly I mean lean sources of animal protein like chicken, lean beef, fish or eggs.  Fattier animal proteins like cheese or heavily marbled beef don’t quite make the cut.

If you’re vegetarian or vegan*, meat substitutes like tofu and tempeh will suffice, and are the only plant-based complete protein sources, i.e. those that have all the essential amino acids.  If you’re not eating them, you’ll need to mix a few different protein sources.

*For the record, I’m not a fan of vegetarianism.  Is it better than the standard American diet?  Hell yes.  Is it ideal?  The research suggests that a mostly plant-based diet is healthier than an entirely plant-based diet.  I’ll go into more detail in a future article, but for now I’ll leave it at that.

5.  Spend more time on your feet

Research has shown that people who sit down all day are far more likely to suffer from obesity, high cholesterol, sleep disturbances, and heart disease.  Spending more time on your feet aids in both weight loss and overall health.

Start increasing the amount of time you spend on your feet every day.  Take walks in the morning and evenings.  Alternate standing and sitting throughout the work day.

You’ll find that you’re more active and alert when you stand.  I alternate standing and sitting while I work, I write about twice as fast when standing vs sitting.  I would stand all day, if only my feet didn’t get sore.

Measure how much time you spend on your feet all day, and start increasing that number by one hour each month until you’re on your feet for eight hours a day, nearly every day. 

6.  Sleep at least seven hours a night in a dark room

Most people need between seven and nine hours of sleep per night, every night.  If you’re getting less than seven, you may feel alright, you may think you’ve adjusted to it, but the research says you haven’t.  Chronic under-sleeping will make you less intelligent, less happy, more prone to overeating, lower your sex drive, prevent you from building muscle and increase your risk of cancer.  Sleeping less than seven hours a night substantially raises the risk of obesity.  Getting at least seven hours a night will improve your hormonal balance- in particular, it will make your body produce less cortisol and more testosterone.

Long flights and occasional nights out at the club notwithstanding, you need to be getting at least seven hours of sleep every single night.  That means figure out what time you have to wake up the next morning, and go to bed at least seven hours before then.

Also, keep your bedroom as dark as possible.  Unplug or cover up anything that emits light, install blackout curtains, and wear a sleep mask- pull out all the stops here. 

7.  Consume fewer sugars and processed carbs

And by fewer, I mean cut your consumption by at least half.  The most reliable way to do this is to completely ban them from breakfast every day, and put limits on the rest of the day.

No sugars, or processed carbs such as bread or cereal at breakfast.  Even natural sugars like berries should be limited to ten grams at breakfast.

For the rest of the day, you’re allowed an amount of processed carbs no greater than the size of your hand, twice a day max. 

8.  Cut out all caloric beverages

And I do mean (almost) all- not so much as a splash of milk or creamer in your coffee.  No juice, no milk, no hot chocolate, no Gatorade.

The only two exceptions here are a protein shake no more than once a day (and make sure you’re not loading it with fat and sugar), and cheat meals.  You can have one or two cheat meals a week, and you can have a beer or two with those meals (after the first month), but don’t go overboard.  If you’re not losing fat, you need to cut back on this.

9.  Take a few supplements, but don’t go overboard

Don’t fall into the magic pill mentality and start taking a bunch of supplements thinking they’ll save you- they won’t.  Most fat burners are either totally ineffective or only marginally effective.

In fact, taking weight loss pills usually backfires and makes people fatter.  It’s not because the pills themselves make you fatter- to the best of my knowledge, none of them do- but because of a phenomenon called self-licensing.  Taking pills can seduce you into thinking you don’t need to work as hard, causing you to slack off on diet and exercise.  Resist the lure of the dark side!

Fat burning pills aren’t all that effective, and in fact they can’t be; if they were, they would cause you to overheat.  Caffeine can help burn fat, but any reasonable amount will only let you burn maybe a hundred calories a day, and you’ll definitely feel the heat.  I’m also not a big fan of multivitamins, as they tend to give you too much of some things and too little of others. 

That said, there are a few supplements that are indeed very helpful, and that I think most people should be taking.

Vitamin D has been proven to aid with muscle growth, weight loss, maintaining healthy levels of hormones such as testosterone, mental health, and longevity.  Take at least 2000 iu and no more than 5000 iu every morning, with a fat source such as fish oil.

Fish oil is a potent anti-inflammatory that aids in fat loss and brain health.  Take 4 grams a day if you’re overweight, and 2 grams a day if you’re not.  You can leave this out if you’re eating fish nearly every day.  Take it in a divided dose- half in the morning with your vitamin D, and half in the evening.

Chromium polynicotinate aids in fat loss by helping your body metabolize carbohydrates while also reducing carb cravings.  Take 200 mcg per day, with food.

Whey protein powder, if you’re making a daily protein shake.  Mix one serving with sugar-free almond milk, not with milk. 

Barlean’s chocolate silk greens powder, again if you’re doing protein shakes.  This contains a powerful mix of vitamins and other nutrients extracted from vegetables, and is the only greens powder I’ve tried that actually tastes good.

Creatine monohydrate.  Take 5 grams in the morning and 5 at night, mixed with water or your protein shake.  This enhances strength and muscle growth and greatly improves gym performance.  It will also cause a few pounds of water retention; don’t mistake that for fat gain.

Out of all of these recommendations, the vitamin D, fish oil and chromium are mandatory.  The Whey protein, greens powder and creatine are optional. And that’s all most people need.  Supplements are just that- supplements to diet and exercise. 

As a side note, if you want to learn more about supplements and understand what the scientific research says about them, start using examine.com to look up supplements you’re curious about.  It will save you a lot of time and money.

Part Four: From Healthy to Fit

We’ll define healthy but not particularly fit as 18-24% body fat for men, and 24-29% for women.  At this range, you’re in better shape than the average American and your weight probably isn’t causing you any health problems, although you would be healthier if it was lower.

Also, at this range you can start adjusting your programming for recomp- losing fat and gaining muscle at the same time- if you so desire.

1. Practice structured discipline in your diet

Here’s what I mean by structured discipline: instead of following the same rules with every meal, have a two, three, or four-tiered system for meals.  Some meals have extremely strict rules, others have guidelines, and still others have very loose rules.  Here’s a tiering system I use:

Tier 1: Set meals.  These are specific meals that I eat over and over again, and I know their exact nutritional content.  For instance, I know that three eggs scrambled with three ounces of 80% lean ground beef, half a tablespoon of butter and some spinach and mushrooms has 500 calories and 35 grams of protein.

Tier 2: Measured meals.  With these meals you count calories, and each measured meal needs to have calorie and macro (or at least protein) contents that fall within a set range.  For instance, you might decide that every weekday lunch needs to have 300-400 calories, 25-30 grams of protein, at least 10 grams of fat, and no more than 40 grams of carbs.

Tier 3: Flexible meals.  With these meals you don’t count calories precisely, but you do estimate them.  You also follow some guidelines about what to eat, and you eat slowly and mindfully.  For instance, you might say a flexible meal needs to contain at least 3 oz of protein, some vegetables, no sugar, and no more than 4 oz of carbs. Good for social meals. 

Tier 4: Cheat meals.  Self-explanatory, use sparingly. 

Depending on how strict you are, you might use all of these tiers or only two or three. If you like counting calories, cut out tier three.  Here’s a sample tier structure that I’ve used:

Breakfast: set meals.

Lunch: measured meals.

Dinner: flexible meals

One lunch or dinner per week: cheat meal.

2.   Start managing your stress

Stress raises cortisol.  Cortisol makes your body store more fat, particularly in the abdominal region.  Stress also drains your mental energy so you make bad decisions. 

Some stress is necessary, but high levels of chronic stress are bad for you, and at some point you have to cut down on stress in order to keep losing fat.

There are two approaches: preventing stress and managing it.  Prevention is preferable, but see above.  So you need to do both.

To manage stress, schedule time in your day to de-stress.  That can mean meditating, doing something relaxing, doing something exciting, jerking off, or any combination of those things really.  You have to figure out what works for you.

Prevention mens eliminating sources of stress.  That could mean finding a less stressful job, getting your finances in order, cutting stuff out of your schedule so you’re not so busy, becoming more organized, keeping your home cleaners- again, it’s really individual.

Unfortunately I can’t give a lot of specifics here since everyone is stressed out for different reasons, but do what you have to do to cut back on stress.  Your body will thank you.

3.   Lift weights 2-4 days a week

At this point you need to be lifting weights if you’re not doing that already.  Once you’re at a healthy weight, trying to lose more weight without any resistance training will cause you to lose muscle.  This is how people get skinny-fat- that is, skinny but with a high bodyfat percentage. 

You should be working every body part once or twice a week.  Each muscle should be worked with two or three different exercises and three to five sets of each exercise, per week. 

That could mean anywhere from forty to a hundred sets per week.  If you want to do fewer sets and get more bang for your buck, most of the exercises you use should be big compound movements like the squat and bench press, not small isolation movements like the biceps curl and iso-lateral raise. 

How many workouts that amounts to depends on how you split up the workload. 

Option one: You could do two or three whole-body workouts per week- meaning each workout works every part of your body, albeit not necessarily with all the volume it needs for the week.

Option two: split body, three or four days a week.  You could have a leg day, an upper-body pushing day, and an upper-body pulling day.  Or you could do back-biceps, chest-triceps, shoulders-forearms, and legs.

Regardless of how you split it up, aim for each workout to last 30-45 minutes.   

4.   Eat vegetables and protein-rich foods with every meal

Eat at least 20 grams of protein and one serving of fibrous, non-starchy vegetables with every meal.  Eat at least four servings of vegetables a day.

For your first meal of the day- whether that’s breakfast, or you skip breakfast and break your fast at lunch- eat at least 30 grams of protein.

Eat at least .6 grams of protein per pound of body weight, or 1.3 grams per kilo of body weight, per day.

5.   Get at least a little exercise every day

Every single day, you should be getting at least 5 minutes of resistance training or sprinting, or at least an hour of walking.  Or you could do a mix of the two- a half hour of walking and 2-3 minutes of bodyweight exercise.

This makes sure you’re hitting your slow-twitch muscles, helps maintain insulin sensitivity, and helps you sleep at night.

6.   Use cold exposure to burn more fat

We usually think of fat purely as a form of energy storage; it’s like our body’s fuel tank.  But fat isn’t metabolically inert, and it does a lot more than just store energy.  It produces hormones and enzymes like leptin and aromatase, cushions us from impacts, and heats our bodies.  It’s that last part that interests us.

Most fatty tissue is white adipose tissue, and it’s what you think of when you think of fat: energy storage.  But there’s also brown adipose tissue, and it serves a very different, almost polar opposite function.  Specifically, it produces heat, burning calories in the process. 

Babies have a lot of brown adipose tissue to keep them warm, but as we grow up most of it either dies off or turns into white adipose tissue.  Most, but not all.  Adults still have a little bit, mainly in their neck, upper back and shoulders.  But you know what’s cool?  Your body will grow more brown fat in response to cold temperatures, or let it turn into white fat if you never get cold.

That’s obviously ripe for exploitation, and exploit it we will!  There are at least four ways to make your body grow more brown fat and waste more energy as heat:

Keep your body cooler overall throughout the day, either by keeping the environment cooler or wearing less clothing.

Drink ice water, especially on an empty stomach.  To really get the most out of this, drink two glasses of ice water first thing in the morning, and then more ice water throughout the day.

Take cold showers.  Well, the entire shower doesn’t have to be cold, but at least of couple minutes of it do.  At the end of your shower, turn the temperature way down, as cold as you can tolerate, and aim the water at your upper back/shoulders/back of your neck.  Suffer through this for 2-3 minutes, then get out of the shower and dry off.

7.  Sleep on a highly regular schedule

Not only do you need to sleep at least 7 hours a night, but now you need to have a bedtime.  Decide on a one-hour window in which you’ll go to sleep every night- ten to eleven PM, for instance.  You need to go to sleep within this one-hour window at least five nights a week. 

Part Five: From Fit to Athletic

Athletes come in many shapes and sizes, but for the sake of this guide, let’s say that “fit” is 13-18% body fat for men, and 18-24% for women.

This is the point at which you start to be in noticeably better shape than most people, and are likely to get comments on it.  You’ll have very obvious muscle definition, but not visible abs.  It’s the upper range for most actors and actresses who are viewed as sex symbols.  15-16% is also around where I was when people started commenting that I looked “jacked.”

This is also the point at which things start to get genuinely hard.  You have to work out more than even most “fit” people, follow a very restrictive diet, and prioritize fitness over pretty much everything else. 

1. Lift weights 4-6 days a week

The principles are the same as before, but the volume and frequency has to go up.  Now you want to be hitting every muscle group 3-4 times a week, for 20-40 sets per muscle group per week.  That will add up to one or two hundred total sets per week.

As before, you can go split body or full-body.  If you do full-body workouts, they’ll need to be 40-60 minutes long.  Split-body workouts will be 30-45 minutes long. 

You’ll also want to add a little more variety to your workouts; using 3-4 different exercises for each muscle group will ensure adequate stimulation of every head and region of every muscle. 

Another way to add variety is to alternate the rep range- so for instance you might work you shoulders in the 3-5 rep range one day, and the 6-12 rep range another day. 

2.   Limit sugar and liquid calories to 2-3 meals per week

Don’t do this on an ad-hoc basis either; designate ahead of time which meals you’re allowed to have sugar and liquid calories with, and stick to that schedule.

ALL of these meals, with the exception of maybe one every two weeks, should be within 24 hours of your last workout.  That’s roughly the post-workout window in which your muscles are primed to snatch up excess glucose, which will mitigate- but not completely avoid- any fat gain from eating sugar.

Again, protein shakes are an exception, and you can have one per day. 

3.   Sleep at least 7.5 hours a night, at least 6 nights a week

Same as before, you need to be on a totally regular schedule here.  Pick a consistent wake-up time every morning, and a consistent bedtime that’s 8-9 hours before that.  Go to bed within the same one-hour window six nights a week.  You get one night a week to stay up late.

4.   Make fitness one of your top 2 priorities

If you’re an actual athlete- as in pro or college, not recreational- it has to be your top priority. Otherwise, fitness can come in second place to something else like your family, school, or career- but it has to be a close second.  You can’t be working full-time, taking care of children, and prioritizing both of those things over fitness if you want to get really athletic.

And making something a priority doesn’t just mean it’s important to you.  It means putting it before other things.  If fitness is a priority, that means you don’t skip workouts to go catch a movie.  It means you don’t have alcohol more than once a week, and even then you probably won’t have much.

To move beyond this level, you have to be extremely disciplined and make some hard choices, and you have to give up some flexibility in your diet and lifestyle. 

5.   Get some light exercise after (almost) every meal

Within 30 minutes after eating a meal, do one of the following: either a 5+ minute walk, or 1-2 minutes of bodyweight exercise.  This activates the GLUT-4 receptors in your muscles, allowing them to take up glucose in an insulin-independent manner.  In layman’s terms, it blunts the insulin response from the meal, making it less fattening.

So how do you do this if you’e eating out with friends?  Excuse yourself to the restroom, and do about 40 air squats and 40 wall push-ups inside one of the stalls.

You can get away with not doing this once in a while, but you should be doing it after at least 80% of your meals. 

6.  Do a mini-workout upon waking up every morning

Do a five-minute bodyweight workout every morning as soon as you get out of bed.  This takes some willpower, but it’s worth doing for a plethora of reasons:

It gets you out of bed so you can get the day off to a running start.

The exercise stimulates your nervous system just enough to prime it for the day, without significantly fatiguing it.

It burns a little fat. 

It provides some growth stimulus to your muscles, mainly the slow-twitch fibers which needs to be worked at high frequencies.  Doing this every day gives you the equivalent of an extra workout every week.

Here’s an example morning workout that you can start using right away:

Bulgarian split squats, 8-12 reps each leg

Plyometric push-ups, 6-10 reps

Side planks, 30-45 seconds each side

Alternating jump-lunges, 8-12 reps per side

Pike pushups, 12-15 reps

Front plank, 30-60 seconds

Mountain climbers, 20-30 reps

For more information about morning workouts, read this article.

7.  Favor free weights over machines

You can get into better than average shape using only machines, but to get into great shape you need to start optimizing your exercise selection.  Studies show that free weights produce superior gains in strength, mobility, and balance compared to machines.

Free weights are generally better than machines because they allow you to move the weight freely in three dimensions.  This requires you to stabilize the weight, so your smaller stabilizer muscles come into play, the demands on your peripheral nervous system are greater, and the training stimulus overall is enhanced.

Another advantage offered by the freedom of free weights is that they allow you to move in a way that is more natural to your body- you’re not forced into a set track whether your body wants to move that way or not.  This allows you to work your muscles they way they’re meant to be used, which not only tends to support greater muscle development, it can also be safer, provided you don’t load up with more weight than you can really lift.

For all of the same reasons why free weights are better than machines, dumbbells are also usually better than barbells.  They allow each hand to move independently for even more freedom.  That also means that your shoulders can rotate, which they can’t do with barbells- important because they tend to want to rotate internally when your hands are close to your body, and externally when your arms are extended.

Note that some machine exercises are still useful, particularly if they let you isolate a muscle that otherwise gets underworked.  They can also be useful if a free weight equivalent would make grip strength the limiting factor.  Calf raises are a prime example; free weight calf raises would require you to hold a couple of very heavy dumbbells, and your grip would give out long before your calves.

Also note that cable machines allow you to move freely in three dimensions, making them equivalent to free weights.  Not all cable machines are created equal though.  Machines with one cable are more or less equivalent to barbells, while those with two cables allow each hand to move independently, effectively being equivalent to dumbbells.

8.  Follow a calorie-cycling recomp diet

At this point you can’t really “cut” the way you would if you were overweight.  Instead, you need to be eating pretty close to maintenance, and unless you have all the muscle you’ll ever want, you should be eating to build muscle and lose fat at the same time.

What that means, diet-wise, is that calorie cycling becomes important.  The exact calorie counts will depend on your body composition goals and how frequent, long, and intense your workouts are.  A good starting point is to calculate your maintenance caloric intake, then eat 200 calories over on workout days, and 400-500 calories under on non-workout days. 

9. Work out in the later afternoon or early evening

There are several reasons to work out later in the day.  First, your core body temperature is highest in the early evening.  Second, your testosterone to cortisol ratio is at its highest in the evening, so you’re better able to recover in the evenings vs the mornings.  Third, working out later in the day means you’ll be sleeping soon after the workout, and sleep is also important for recovery.

As a practical guideline, somewhere between 3 and 8 PM is about right for most people, assuming your sleep time is somewhere around midnight to 8 AM. 

How big of a difference does this really make though?  As it turns out, a pretty big difference, and potentially a huge difference as you get more advanced.  In one study, bodybuilders training in the evening gained several times more mass than those training in the morning.  The evening training group also lost fat, while the morning training group gained fat.  Now this study had a small sample size- the actual magnitude of the difference is probably smaller than that- but still, it’s huge, particularly for people who are otherwise getting to the point of diminishing returns in their training.

Part Six: From Athletic to Shredded

Once you get to 12% body fat for men, or 20% for women, you’re definitely in the “athlete” range of body fat percentages, and getting well on your way to shredded, which I would put at below 8% for men or 16% for women.  At this level men will have clearly visible abs, and women will usually start to show some ab definition.  As you continue shedding fat, women will develop full ab definition while men will look dry and veiny. 

Most people don’t stay shredded year-round.  Physique competitors usually only get that lean for competitions, while recreational bros will get shredded for the summer.  This is really freaking hard you guys. 

1. Sleep 8 hours a night with near-perfect regularity

The more you exercise, the more sleep you need.  There’s also substantial evidence that very lean people need more sleep.  Combine these two factors, plus the need for consistency, and most people need to sleep about 8 hours a night, nearly every night, to get into elite condition.  Some need more, though it’s rarely a good idea to sleep more than 9 hours a night.  For the nightlife lovers- you can afford maybe one night of bad sleep every two weeks.

2.    Lift weights 6-7 days a week, maybe even twice a day

At this level, you’ll need to lift daily to achieve maximal gains, as the anabolic effect of each workout will only last 24 hours at the most.  For the most elite trainees, the anabolic window after a workout might even narrow to 12-16 hours. 

Some people may even benefit from splitting their daily workout into two smaller workouts.  Since you still want to be working out in the later afternoon or early evening, these workouts should be timed around the beginning and end of that window.  For instance, the first workout could be between 1-3 PM, and the second between 7-9 PM.   

3.    Be willing to miss a lot of social events

Between the time spent working out, cooking, and sleeping, and the need to do all of those things with near-perfect regularity, it’s hard to get around the fact that getting into really amazing shape requires a lot of social sacrifices.  You’ll skip happy hours to hit the gym.  You’ll miss dinners with friends because you’re busy doing meal prep.  Most of all, you’ll have to give up most late-night events in order to sleep, although you may be able to get around some of that by adjusting your sleep schedule.  Granted, that might involve sleeping from 4 AM to noon every day, but there are a few people who can make that work. 

4.    Remove almost all stress from your life

This doesn’t mean learn to deal with stress, it means remove it.  This will likely require making major changes in your life to minimize stress- picking a low-stress career, avoiding high-drama relationships, living frugally enough that you never have to worry about money.   This is one of those areas where, if you really want to excel at something, you may need to structure your life around it. 

5.    Limit cheat meals to once a week

Even once a week is pushing it- many people limit themselves to once every two weeks.  There’s a big caveat here though- as you get leaner and more active, you’ll be consuming more calories, and a greater proportion of those calories will probably be coming from carbs.  So while you’ll rarely eat out-and-out junk food at this point, your baseline diet- the stuff you eat when you’re not “cheating”- becomes more expansive.  You still need to eat a ton of vegetables- the carbs can’t displace those- but you can have a fair amount of bread, rice, potatoes, and the like. 

6.    Cook almost everything yourself

Having stuff cooked for you by a family member or personal chef might also work, as long as you watch what they’re doing enough to know what you’re eating.  The point is, you need full control over and awareness of the vast majority of what you eat.  That means eating out needs to be relatively rare, and when you do eat out it usually needs to be something conservative- high in vegetables and low in calories.

7.   Individualize your fitness plan

You probably started doing this earlier, but there’s absolutely no way around it now: your fitness plan needs to be totally individualized to you.  That includes the following:

  1. Planning training volume, frequency and variety for each individual muscle group based on that muscle group’s fiber type mix, level of development, and recovery speed.
  2. Incorporating autoregulation techniques (probably several of them) into your training.
  3. Planning macros and/or food rules based on your body’s specific response to different food types, rather than merely going off of body composition.
  4. Using self-experiments to figure out things like exactly which meals times work for you, how much sleep is ideal for you, etc.
  5. Using the set/rep/intensity scheme that elicits the best hormonal response from your body.

8.   If all else fails, you may need to take PED’s

At this level, even if you do everything right, it’s difficult- though by no means impossible- to get completely shredded without PEDs.  This depends on things like diet, exercise, sleep and stress, but also on things outside your control like genetics and muscle insertions. 

Many people at this level- maybe even most- are using drugs.  This includes anabolic agents like steroids and SARMs, nutrient partitioners like HGH, and cutting agents like clenbuterol, ephedra, thyroid hormones and DNP. 

All of these drugs are dangerous to varying degrees, but they all work.  Using them also gives you more leeway with the other items on this list- so you could get shredded without eliminating stress, or while sleeping only 7 hours a night, for instance. 

Take Your First Step on the Road to Ripped

Getting lean is a long, slow process, requiring a lot of hard work.  It’s easy to get intimidated or overwhelmed.  At the risk of repeating myself: focus on one to three new habits at a time, no more.  Work on them in the order in which they’re presented here, one step at a time.

Treat this article as a set of guidelines, not ironclad rules.  If you can make progress without following all of them, great.  If you follow this guide to the letter and you’re not making progress, you need to do adjust what you’re doing, plan and simple.  Usually, that means eating fewer calories.

Adopt a growth mindset. By that I mean, focus on building the right habits and becoming the kind of person who would be in great shape, not on end goals like losing 20 pounds. 

Got questions?  Join the discussion on Facebook.