So what does it really take to get ripped?

For anyone interested in “aesthetic bodybuilding” (or just looking fetching in your board shorts) getting ripped is the ultimate goal. It’s fascinating and daunting, not to mention grossly misunderstood.

In my last post, I threw a stiff jab at a common myth in the diet and fitness industry: that being “ripped” is just a slightly more challenging extension of being lean.

Fact is, for most folks getting ripped is a totally different ballpark, a different league, perhaps even a different sport. One filled with debilitating insecurity, festering food issues, and dangerous, guilt driven practices cloaked as commitment or being hardcore.

My original intent with this post was to bring the darkness back into the light. Give my eight readers some practical yet healthy tips to help them shuffle at least closer towards a ripped-to-shreds version of themselves, without losing their minds or their morals in the process.

There was one small problem.

Unlike a lot of hucksters in the fitness industry that pontificate on whatever happens to be trending on Yahoo that day, I happen to be heavily invested in this subject.

I coach a lot of people trying to get lean or ripped, or at least considering it. I’m also neck deep in the process myself – because it makes me a better, more empathetic coach and because in this field personal experience is, and will always be, your most valued teacher.


So let me tell you, getting ripped is much more than some magic macro count or test of will.

It’s a cold, forensic audit of your entire being – your physical, mental, emotional, even spiritual sides. And before you scoff and surf over to RippedAndJacked dot com, hear me out.

There are some epiphanies here that were literally 25 years in the making.

I’m Only Human

Saying human beings are complex is an understatement.

We’re sophisticated and primal; intelligent yet easily herded; empathetic yet self-centered.

So when something as complicated as changing our body gets reduced to just physical instructions (eat this, not that) I throw a challenge flag.

The physical is key of course, but you can’t forget the other three parts of the human parallelogram – emotional, mental, and spiritual.

The mind and body aren’t mere roommates. It’s all connected. You can lower your respiration by meditating. You can increase your heart rate by remembering a traumatic experience.

A simple memory can trigger a long suppressed food craving. The sooner you respect how powerful this connection is, the better your results will be.

The physical stuff is the sizzle. It’s the to-do list, the “actionable” tips (and in the magazines often requires a trip to the supplement store). Next post is going to be just that — a stack of helpful get ripped tips, some that I learned just this year.

Just understand, any tips are basically useless until you embrace the other three areas covered here.

It’s the same as buying gas for your car yet being clueless how the motor works. You can still drive to work every day and maybe even beat the boss to the office, but if your car suddenly stops working you won’t be able to diagnose the problem, much less fix it.

Point being, you’ll get much more out of the magic macros and “one cool fat loss trick” type of fare when you see how it all ties in together.


Here comes the big, fat, over the top, break the internet like Kim Kardashian’s backside bullet point of the day:

Forget nutrition or training or even genetics. Mental engagement is the most important part of getting ripped, lean, muscular, and likely even getting rich (though I am still working on that one).

Five or ten years ago I would’ve scoffed at this.

“Sure that’s important, but you still gotta have knowledge.”

Forget knowledge. Most of you “know” enough!

But no significant change is possible without exceptional focus. And in the getting ripped game, this means becoming obsessed with perfecting the process, not the goal.

However, that’s heresy in an industry built on 12-week transformations, 20-week contest preps, and cereal box psychology tactics like pasting your favorite physique pro’s photoshopped image onto the refrigerator.

I’m telling you, forget the “give your goal a deadline and it becomes real” rubbish.

That type of thinking is counterproductive for all but the most experienced. Because the body has its own timetable, one that you probably don’t understand and certainly don’t know how to effectively control.

And in this field, it’s when we THINK that we have control over of our bodies that we do the most long term harm.

The date approaches and we realize we’re behind. So we try to cram or play “catch-up.”

We press. We do more cardio, eat less carbs, or start practicing voodoo. All of which could’ve been avoided if we just made the “deadline” an “assessment & possible end date.”

Was the goal achieved?

If yes, great. On to the next phase.

If not, verify compliance, adjust the plan accordingly, and continue.

For this reason, one of the first things I ask when a client writes in with “I wanna look like X in 12 weeks” is:

“What’s more important to you – achieving your goal safely and sustainably or meeting this deadline, come hell or high water?”

How they answer determines whether I want to even consider working with them. I can’t speak out against what I see as a problem and at the same time get paid to contribute to it.

Take my client Bill here:


This is month 9 or 10 of his “12 week transformation.”

He had some work challenges and at times needed to ease back on the throttle. So we made his goal a moving target that he continues to work towards by focusing on the process, not the end outcome.

It’s taken a while I guess – longer than the muscle comics all say it should – but look at the guy. He’s yoked! You think he’s complaining?

Pursuing excellence in the execution of the small yet crucial daily tasks is the key to the mental game. It’s not learning more or doing more or adding more complexity. It’s performing the core fundamentals at the highest degree of excellence possible.

I like to remember that famous Bruce Lee quote: “I fear not the man who has practiced 10000 kicks once. I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10000 times.”

Start practicing.


Feelings have no place in getting ripped.

I mean, fuck your feelings. This is supposed to be a “battle,” a war. And if there’s no crying in baseball; there sure as shit is no whining in hardcore dieting.

All emotions derive from our two “mother” emotions, fear and love.

From fear we get anxiety, anger, distrust, and loneliness. From love we get joy, excitement, and gratitude. And these emotions never “go anywhere.” At best you can suppress them, either through force of will or through drugs and alcohol.

The thing is, when you’re dieting and pushing your body well past its comfort zone, willpower becomes even more finite and our level of control even more strained.

I can’t tell you how many “strong willed” people I’ve seen blow their diet because work stress suddenly became unbearable, or a trip back home turned into a week of comfort foods. They failed to appreciate the power of their emotions, and the stress of the dieting process exposed them.

So what can you do?

You need to develop a little humility.

Own your emotions, your weaknesses. Maybe there are certain foods that used to comfort you as a kid that you just can’t have in the house when you’re dieting? So get rid of them. It doesn’t make you weak or delicate — it means you’re humble and aware, and also pragmatic.


To be healthy we need to have a spiritual life. By this I don’t mean belong to an organized religion – we need to have values that we live by and strive to achieve.

A life devoid of values needs more and more superficial reinforcement – cars, clothes, empty compliments, and other trappings to keep the sense of emptiness at bay.

Getting ripped is difficult and consuming. It’s also incredibly selfish.

While there are things about getting in shape that make you a better, more capable human being, there isn’t a single benefit to getting ripped that just getting lean doesn’t address as well.

None. Zero. Not one health marker.

The only thing getting ripped shows is an even greater level of discipline and mastery, and possibly obsession.

And for many it doesn’t jive with their values. It’s too selfish. As such when the going gets tough (and it always gets tough) they short circuit. The end goal they set in a moment of insecurity — I wanna look better than Betsy at our high school reunion — doesn’t compare to going for ice cream with the kids. So the goal gets dropped.

The trick is to make the goal bigger than you.

I call it “finding your why.”

Yesterday I did a client consult with a 45-year old father of seven that has already lost a bunch of bodyfat.

What did it for him was his son heading to South America for two years of humanitarian work. It made him so incredibly proud that he wanted to accomplish something in return that would make his son proud of him.

So he cleaned up his diet and the weight basically flew off. “It was easy,” he said.

Of course it was easy. That’s one hell of a why!

I’ve been to places where fitness is a pipe dream, and it always stokes my fire way more than the faux motivation of being around a bunch of fellow jacked bros.

Haiti taught me how having the time to fill my brain with useless “info” on getting lean and jacked and healthy is such an incredible blessing. It’s something that just doesn’t make the cut when your other worries are finding food or getting kidnapped or shot.


I don’t take my privilege for granted – I’m aware that I won the lottery, and try to cultivate a bit of genuine gratitude every day. I focus on how this makes me a better coach and writer and human being, and yes, a better “physique athlete.”

Because that’s my why.

Why I was put here, in a healthy body, in a safe country, with everything I ever needed and even a few things I really wanted too.

Not so I can help myself. So I can help you.

That’s my why.

What’s yours?

I realize most want the physical stuff, the exact combination of calories and cardio and sets and reps required to get “ripped.” I promise, next post will have at least some of what you crave.

But I also stress that if your goal is to get ripped (and especially help others get ripped) then what you really “need” is what you just skimmed through.

The actual details are just that – details. The icing on the cake.

Without the rest of the recipe, it’s all just sugar coating.