Is Getting Ripped Worth It?

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Answer by Andy Johns, Quora Growth PM

I think the most important point to be made about "being ripped" is that there is no physiological process known as getting ripped. You often hear guys at the gym ask each other, "What are you working on today?" Sometimes the response is "I'm focusing on Biceps and Triceps" if they are doing muscle group isolations. Sometimes they'll say they are "doing an all cardio day". But how many times have you also heard someone respond, "I'm just working on getting ripped. Trying to trim up a bit." In casual conversation that makes sense. Physiologically it has no foundation though.

So I think it is first important to clarify that there are two physiological processes that you can actually induce when you workout. When you exercise you are either gaining muscle or losing fat. People who want to get ripped are basically asking for a combination of muscle building exercises and fat burning exercises.

If we defined "getting ripped" correctly as a process of building muscle and losing fat then it becomes easier to point out the benefits of "getting ripped":

Benefits of muscle gain and/or fat loss
  • weight control - the amount of muscle mass that a person has significantly impacts the amount of calories they burn while at rest. In other words, the more muscle you have the more likely you are to not put on excess fat/weight since muscles consume a lot of calories while at rest.
  • injury prevention - as you get older you generally lose more muscle mass and become more physically unstable. It's common for elderly people to fall down doing everyday tasks such as using the stairs, getting out of a chair, or just stepping off of the curb. That's because of lacking muscle support that leads to less balance. It's not because grandma has been throwing back screwdrivers all morning.
  • strength - with more strength you're more capable of performing any sort of sport/activity such as going on a hike with your family/friends, spontaneously participating in sports, etc.
  • disease prevention - strength training can also help lower the risk of Osteoporosis, Heart Disease, Diabetes, Sleep Apnea, Arthritis and several other degenerative conditions
  • improved self esteem - there's no denying the value of having better self image in how it impacts your performance at work, personal relationships, and overall happiness

My experience getting "ripped"
While in college I worked several random jobs to pay my way through school. I exercised a lot and figured I could become a fitness trainer since $20 - $30/hr pay was great for a college kid and something I would enjoy doing. I took a few programs to get certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association and was well on my way to training people.

I also realized that I could combine that knowledge with decent writing skills and try to become a paid contributor of feature articles to health and fitness websites and magazines. You could make $1,000 - $2000 on a feature article in most respected websites/magazines. That's a lot for a college kid! After about 3 months of writing for free I eventually got paid on a per article basis. I began meeting more people in the fitness industry which was pretty easy to do since I was in Los Angeles. I eventually met a guy who ran a successful group fitness program throughout several Crunch gyms in southern California that focused on core strength. He invited me to be a fitness model in an abs informercial he was putting together since I was in pretty decent shape and he knew I could use some money.

At first I denied it because I didn't want to look ridiculous and it seemed completely out of character. But $2,000 for one day of work!?!? Hell, I was in! I had about 2 months of additional training time before the informercial shoot date so I decided to kick my training and diet into full gear. I ate only lean meats, eggs and vegetables 4 times a day. I exercised 6 days a week and often did double-days. I would lift weights for an hour in the afternoon and then swim for 30 minutes after weight training. I dropped down to just under 6% body fat and it looked awesome! However, I found myself getting weaker and weaker athletically speaking as my roadmap to getting ripped progressed. I was basically on a body builder's diet which was pretty much all protein and little-to-no carbohydrates. I found myself lifting less and less weight and being fatigued more quickly in the pool as my body fat dropped.

The infomercial shoot came around and I spent 14 hours in an old warehouse in downtown Los Angeles doing all sorts of crunches as a background model while the spokespeople for the exercise videos read their lines. It was fun because two of the co-hosts were actresses from Baywatch. After probably 3,000 sit ups while maintaining a goofy grin on my face the shooting was over and I went home for about a week of recovery. I wanted to laugh at myself for agreeing to get lubed up in vegetable oil and participate in something so Hollywood-esque, but it hurt too much to laugh so I laid in bed motionless until my laughter no longer resulted in whimpering.

What I can say about "getting ripped" in the look-at-me-I'm-so-ripped-and-good-looking sense is that it isn't worth it. It takes a ridiculous amount of work both in terms of adherence to a strict diet and a lot of exercise. Also, once you get to that point, then what? Stay ripped and miss out on eating a cookie every now and then? Screw that. I can also say that even though I looked very athletic I felt weaker than I was at my normal athletic shape when I was consuming plenty of carbohydrates, occasionally allowing my inner fat kid to come out and splurge on $15 of Taco Bell in one sitting (yet still exercising regularly).

What type of ripped are you aiming for?
When someone says "I want to be ripped" they typically mean they want to have some level of definition in that the shape and contours of your muscles are easily visible. Based on my own experience though I would say that there is a spectrum of physique types that can be categorized as ripped. Depending on the individual's mental model of what being ripped means, the desired physique that they would define as satisfactorily ripped can vary a bunch from one person to the next.

To use real-world examples I would define the spectrum of ripped on a scale of David Beckham to Lou Ferrigno.

David Beckham ripped
The David Beckham build is less muscular, somewhat slim, yet built for athletic performance that requires speed, skill and endurance. It's a desirable physique for many and could be described as ripped but also looks healthy. No, he isn't an intimidating beast of a man but he is athletic and can perform at a high level in professional sports.

Rob Gronkowski ripped
Another ripped physique is something like New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. It's muscular with clear definition but he doesn't look like a molded piece of beef jerky where you can see the muscle striations because his body fat is so low. He has more muscle mass than the Beckham look but is still a highly athletic build. Surely his female friend would describe him as ripped and pretty much everyone would look at him and think "that's an athlete!"

Lou Ferrigno ripped
Then on the far end of the ripped spectrum you have professional body builders like Lour Ferrigno, the original Incredible Hulk. He is incredibly ripped (likely down in the 2% body fat range) and very muscular. Yet the build and body composition isn't ideal for athletic performance. When body builders make it on stage for their performance they are actually at their weakest because they have gone through a period of excessive dehydration and fasting in order to optimize the ripped look. This not the ideal athletic build if you still want to have a performance-based build.

Parting thoughts
Consider what your goals are when you think about getting ripped. If you want to be an athlete then focus on doing sport-specific exercises that build key muscle groups necessary for that sport. A nice by-product of sport specific strength training is that you'll add more muscle which naturally helps you drop body fat since you have a higher metabolic rate while at rest. Mix in a bit of high intensity cardio (since high intensity cardio burns more absolute fat calories per minute of exercise than low intensity exercise) and you'll continue to shred the fat. Although I haven't spent enough time talking about it, your diet is probably the most important contributor toward getting ripped. I maybe increased my exercise duration and intensity by 10% during my 2 months trim down but managed to lose a significant amount of body fat largely due to changes in my diet. It absolutely helped though that I was highly active 6 days a week.

If your goal of being ripped is mostly because you want to look good at the beach then I'd say why not play sports and get a 2-for-1 deal? You won't be Lou Ferrigno ripped but you'll be fit and attractive. Besides most men/women I know don't like the molded piece of beef jerky look. They much prefer the naturally athletic/fit look.

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