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Wednesday August 15, 2018

How to Go From Regular to Ripped

Written by Ivan Blazquez

Ivan Blazquez - Ripped!

By Ivan Blazquez, M.Ed, B.S., ACSM, NGA Pro Natural Bodybuilder, Triathlete


This article will teach the fundamentals of getting cut and ripped. While usage of the slang terms "ripped" and "cut" can be arbitrary, the main idea is to get one to lose bodyfat while sustaining and building lean and hard muscle. While the bodybuilding world seems to continue to delineate body type with seasons (bulk season vs. contest season), I have always believed that the best approach is to look at this as a lifestyle. Furthermore, I believe that looking at this as a lifestyle will appeal and ultimately apply to a wider audience. In fact, this article is being written for the everyday person who wants to shape-up and see some serious change and progress. The fundamentals to getting ripped involve aerobic exercise, resistance training, nutritious/healthy eating, quality sleep, yoga/stretching and being overall physically-active.

Aerobic Exercise

Something I tell my clients is that aerobic exercise is king and resistance training is queen. It does not take that long to build muscle, but it does take longer to burn fat. Now of course everyone is different, but for most, burning the bodyfat, particularly around the waist/abs for men is hardest. Ideally, if getting cut/ripped is the goal, aerobic exercise should be done 3-5 days/wk for 20-45 minutes. Now of course, there are different ways to doing this based on one's lifestyle. For example, even accumulating 30-minutes of aerobic exercise (i.e. 10-min in the morning, 10-min at lunch and 10-min in the evening OR 15-min in the morning and 15-min in the evening) in the day is just as effective as doing 30-minutes straight. Every minute counts, so do what it takes to accumulate the 20-45 minutes 3-5 days/wk. Now while continuous aerobic exercise is good, interval training is even better. In fact, I would say interval training is potent at burning bodyfat. Try to incorporate 1-2 high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts per week. This could include taking a spin class or doing an interval workout class (i.e. bodypump). There are many reasons for this aerobic exercise recommendation.

1) Heart-Health: Aerobic exercise strengthens the most important muscle in the body, the heart. It acts as a plumber would and cleans out the pipes (via blood vessels and arteries).

2) Better Mood: Improvement in oxygen flow and brain function. Cardio can lead to feelings of enlightenment, joy, contentment and euphoria. Not to mention, it is a great stress-buster!

3) Burns Bodyfat: Aerobic exercise is good alone, but when combined with resistance training, it is excellent at improving the ratio of muscle-to-fat.

Now for those who do more than 45-minutes of cardio (i.e. 60-90 minutes), this is ok to do just so long as one is not overdoing it. In fact, 60-90 minutes may be necessary for overweight and/or obese individuals looking to lose weight or sustain weight loss. For those few who are in the small minority of individuals who have the genetic make-up to put on muscle size fast, this recommendation should NOT be exempt. While these individuals look super human, they indeed are human. Unfortuntately, I have heard quite a few fellow bodybuilding competitors who have this natural propensity towards bigger muscles state that they do not do much or any cardio for that matter. While one may marvel at this, the reality is, this approach does not and will not work for the majority of people. Furthermore, this approach actually goes against typical and common recommendations made for basic human health.  As a fitness professional, no matter how great or good the person looks and feels, aerobic exercise is an essential part to any good and balanced exercise program. As aforementioned, the duration will vary because everyone is different, but aerobic exercise should be an integral part of one's exercise program.

Ivan Blazquez - Preacher CurlResistance Training

While aerobic exercise is essential, resistance training is crucial if getting cut/ripped is the goal. Resistance training pushes the muscle against the skin, which leads to a tighter and leaner look. It doesn't take rocket science to have a good weight training program. For most, I would recommend at least 2 days/wk of weight lifting. Start with the basic exercises, learn them, experience them and appreciate the benefits they will bring.

Basic Exercises:

  • Chest press - Works the chest, front shoulders and back of arms.
  • Lat pulldown - Works the lats mainly and the upper/midback muscles
  • Row - Works the upper/midback muscles mainly and the lats.
  • Leg press and/or Squat  - Works the entire lowerbody muscles.
  • Shoulder press and/or Upright row - Works the shoulders mainly.
  • Arm curl - Works the biceps.
  • Rope pressdown - Works the triceps.
  • Leg extension - Works the quadriceps.
  • Leg curl - Works the hamstrings.
  • Calf raise - Works the calves.
  • Ab crunch -  Works the abs.
  • Birddog - Works the lowerback.
  • External rotation - Works the rotator cuff in the shoulder.

For those who are intermediate-to-advanced, the key to getting cut/ripped is varying load and volume workouts. Also, employment of split-routines is a very popular way to intensify the weight training workouts. When less muscle groups are worked per workout, the intensity increases since more work is being done by each muscle group. For instance, working chest and back on monday and legs on wednesday allow more work to be done since more sets and reps will be completed per workout for each muscle group. One can lift weights 2-4 days/wk depending on recovery capacity and individuality. The majority of the workouts should incorporate 8-15 repetitions for most exercises. Employment of various intensifier techniques can be used such as, drop sets, partials, negatives, peak contractions, super sets, etc. What these intensifier techniques do is accelerate the body's metabolic rate by inducing fatigue. In order to get to fatigue, energy is expended and calories are burned. As simple as that sounds, that is the key to getting cut/ripped. A quick way to check intensity of a weight training workout is to monitor heart rate. While heart rate will vary according to age, typically a pulse of greater than 120 beats per minute (bpm) indicates a good workout. A pulse around 130-150 indicates an intense weight workout. Now typically the pulse should be checked right after a set. An easy way to find what exercises burn the most calories is to correlate heart rate to the exercise. This is where purchasing and/or using a heart rate monitor can come in handy.

A good weight training workout should last anywhere from 20-45 minutes. It does not take much to have a great weight training workout. The cut/ripped effect from weight training comes from a combination of stimulating the fast-twitch muscle fibers and also stimulating the slow-twitch muscle fibers. All muscle fibers should be worked for a complete and balanced resistance training program. As aforementioned, 8-15 repetitions for most exercises and workouts, while on heavier days, 5-6 repetitions is effective. Since everyone is different, it is difficult to give a recommendation on heavier lifting days, but a common-sense approach would be to limit heavy lifting days to once per week or once every couple of weeks per muscle group. But really, it is up to the individual and essentially, 8-15 repetitions is an optimal range for producing excellent results for anyone.

Something I can tell right off the bat is whether a person needs to be doing more cardio, weights or both. In many cases, cardio will need to increase while weight training will need to become more effective. It is amazing how many people I see on a daily basis that could use some assistance in technique but also exercise variety. For instance, technique is a big one but so is monotony of routines. I see often times people get stuck in a rut because they are doing the same routines over and over, instead of changing things up every 4-6 weeks. Typically making adjustments in technique will lead to more calories burned since many people cheat their way out of getting that significant exercise response through fatigue and overload of the targetted muscle group(s). Specifically, knowing what bodypart(s) to be aware of that are prevalent in cheating for each exercise movement and also knowing how to counter these cheating tendencies to correctly place the exercise stress on the intended muscle group(s). Not only does this encourage good posture but it also creates a better balanced body through avoidance of unwanted compensations during a weight training exercise.


Natural Bodybuilder Ivan Blazquez - side chest poseThere are so many diets out there, but the one thing I've done is took the best and left the rest. A sensible nutrition plan is simply about eating the good carbs, proteins and fats. There is certainly more to be learned and more new diets will continue to emerge, but the approach I've found to be tried and true is to keep it simple. Eating wholesome foods is key. Eating out is a  big factor that causes many weight loss efforts to be unsuccessful. No matter how much I ask the waiter/waitress for dressing on the side, baked, hold the butter, etc etc., the calories are likely to be higher than if it I prepared it myself. While restaurants are getting better about providing healthy choices, they are still way behind and unfortunately the demand of high-fat, salty and sugary tasting foods are to blame. An easy way to rectify this is to eat out less and eat in more. The human body is very complex and incredible. I am finding that we actually need less food to function at an optimal level than we think. For the everyday person, a key to dietary success is eating nutrient-dense and quality foods. However, I will take it a step further. Many claim healthier foods cost more and/or do not taste the same. Well of course they will not taste the same as unhealthier options, but that does not mean they won't taste good either. Healthier foods are also not as expensive, in fact, they actually can be cheaper in many cases. For instance, a lot of the produce (i.e. fruits and veggies) is quite inexpensive. However, for the argument of unhealthy food being cheaper, it's been said that, "you get what you pay for." Junkfood is certainly not going to be expensive since it is essentially junk. The ideal approach to eating is that food should be healthy most of the time and it should serve a purpose. This really does not require as much thought as may be expected. Here are some sample meals I've found were easy to make and convenient requiring little preparation.

 Breakfast Option:

Bowl of oatmeal, 1 raw organic carrot and 1 banana.

Tasty Oatmeal recipe:

1-1 1/2 cup(s) of Old-fashioned oats

Handful of almonds and blueberries

1/2 red apple diced

1 tsp of raw honey or other sweetener (i.e. yacon syrup, brown rice syrup, etc.)

1 tsp flaxmeal

1/4-1/2 scoop of whey or plant-protein (i.e. brown rice and pea protein mixture)

Dash of cinnamon

Cooking--> Simply boil a cup of water. This will take 3-5 minutes tops. Pour desired amount boiled water into bowl (less water for thicker texture, more water for thinner texture).

 Lunch Option:

Salmon sandwich and sliced cantaloupe.

Salmon recipe:

Buy a premade salmon salad (if available, this saves time and is very convenient) or make recipe yourself using a food processor. The spread should last 2-3 days. If in doubt (i.e. smells or looks bad, throw out).

1 canned salmon

3-4 celery stalks

1 boiled egg

2-3 tbsp of mayonaise (I usually use Smartbalance mayonaise)

1-2 cloves of garlic

2 slices of whole wheat bread or gluten-free bread

Cooking--> Allot 10-15 minutes to prepare the spread and this will allow one to eat for lunch 2-3 days in a row without having to worry what's for lunch. Simply spoon salmon spread between 2 slices of toasted bread.

 Dinner Option:

 Shrimp stir-fry, kale salad or caesar salad, 1/2 grapefruit, 1/2 baked potatoe or sweet potatoe.

 Shrimp Stir-Fry recipe:

1 bag of frozen salad or small shrimp

1 bottle of red wine vinegar

1 bottle of dijon or grey poupon mustard

1 bottle of extra virgin olive oil or olive oil cooking spray

1 onion

1 bag of green peas

Cooking--> Use salad or small size shrimp. I usually just buy the frozen precooked bag. Cut one slice of onion and fill a bowl of green peas. With the onion, simply dice it into small pieces. Microwave green peas for 30-45 seconds or until tender and warm. For shrimp, take a handful or more and thaw them out in a strainer over running water for 1-2 minutes until thawed out. Then coat cooking pan with olive oil cooking spray or use 1-2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil. Then toss a handful or more in the pan to lightly sauteed, add onions in as well. A simple seasoning for the shrimp-onion mixture is to add a little sea salt or kelp salt (kelp is a low sodium alternative), black pepper, 1 tsp of red wine vinegar and 2-tsp of dijon or grey poupon mustard. Mix shrimp, onion and marinade around in pan for 3-5 minutes. Simply top green peas with the shrimp-onion stir-fry and enjoy!

Other side items:

Kale recipe--> An easy kale salad recipe is fill a bowl of raw kale and just tear it up with your hands. Then add 2-3 tsp of hummus (your favorite variety), sprinkle with cayenne pepper and sesame seeds.

Baked potatoe or sweet potatoe recipe--> Simply bake 2 potatoes for 60-minutes at 375-400 degrees. Once soft throughout, cut each and half and you now have 1/2 baked potatoe for 4-days. Simply store remainder in refridgerator. I simply add a little black pepper and sea salt or kelp salt and 1 tsp of smart balance butter. If really pressed for time, microwave cook the baked potatoe. Remember to poke a few holes in the potatoe as well. For the sweet potatoe, I simply cook them the same as potatoes, but add cinnamon, 1 tsp of brown sugar or agave syrup and 1 tsp smart balance butter.

Snack Options:

Handful of almonds and purple or red grapes

1 Banana and brazil nuts

Red apple with almond butter and cinnamon

Goji berries and sliced or slivered almonds

Small yogurt with nuts and berries.


Ideally, 6-8 hours of sleep is adequate. Not much to it than listening to one's body and being flexible about unforeseen changes (i.e. late night, weekends, time-change, etc.). It's ok to sleep a little less or a little more every now and then, this is part of life. But, ideally, gravitating towards that happy medium of 6-8 hours is optimal. In fact, once one begins to see improvement in fitness level, sleep will become more deep, meaning better overally quality of sleep. However, for those who sometimes struggle with getting a good night's sleep, here are some things I've found useful and helpful.

Natural sleep enhancers:

We've all heard exercise and food is medicine. Well, there is a reason for these sayings. Exercise has a natural innoculant and tranquilizing effect on the body. The key is to obviously challenge oneself and experience overload in some fashion whether it be sweating, feeling the burn or just feeling tired after the workout. Sleep like other aspects of physiology are in a lot of ways hormone-based. Some of the key hormones I here of are serotonin, melatonin and tryptophan. Without getting into specific detail, each serves a specific purpose and when in the right balance, a good night of sleep is inevitable. So exercise is probably the best thing one can do to improve sleep. Nutritionally, I'd suspect foods high in tryptophan would be of benefit. Typically, foods that promote a calming effect such as higher protein foods (since L-tryptophan is an amino acid), green leafy vegetables and herbal teas. In particular of the herbal teas, chamomile and passionflower tea. For me, nothing beats sipping on a nice warm cup of chamomile tea in the evening. Stretching, in particular, yoga can also aid in sleep since it enhances relaxation. These are just a few of the natural ways to improve sleep, but there are plenty more out there.


Too often stretching gets pushed aside since it is typically slow and relaxing. However, as in everything, it is important to incorporate balance. Stretching is certainly no exception. A general recommendation would be to stretch 2-3 days a week and preferably on the days of exercise. Ideally, stretching can be done after a workout or even before depending on the goal of the workout. One should stretch each major muscle group for 20-30 seconds at least 2-3 times. An easier way to incorporate stretching is through the learning of some of the basic yoga poses. What makes yoga unique is that each pose stretches a lot of muscles at once making it very time-friendly, which is something many people aspire towards. Some of the easiest post-workout stretches I do include downward dog, upward dog,  and child's pose. Then I can stretch a few major muscle groups like chest, shoulders, biceps, triceps, quads and hamstrings. I also stretch the shoulder and hip rotators, two muscle groups many people are not aware of and do not stretch for that matter. However, I have found that when stretching these two important muscle groups, less orthopedic problems tend to occur in the upper and lowerbody. I typically show various stretches for these two important muscle groups to my clients as a way to encourage a balanced exercise program.

Ivan Blazquez - back double biceps posePhysically-Active

I've read many of those studies that mention the effects of hormones on fat-loss such as insulin, glucagon, ghrelin, leptin, etc. However, I've come to one simple conclusion, if we don't burn more calories then we take in, we will gain weight. That being said, being physically active is more than just burning calories, it can be a social occasion or an opportunity to network. On weekends, I like to ride my bike outdoors on a bike path. The scenery outdoors on a sunny spring day or morning is amazing and will never cease to amaze. Just getting closer to nature and enjoying the cool breeze as I ride at a comfortable and enjoyable pace. Other activities I've enjoyed are rock-climbing at an indoor gym or just going out for a stroll in the park or lake. The one thing that comes to mind in regard to physical activity is NEAT. This stands for non-exercise activity thermogenesis. Essentially, any kind of movement of your body will elicit greater calorie burn than just sitting and watching television. Common sense and obvious yes, but still not enough to get some people off the couch. Even getting up to walk around the house every other commercial is better than nothing and trust me, it will add up in the end. There is no way of knowing whether that 1 or 20-extra calories burned today could be the difference between being a size 32 or 31 in pants. Yes you worked out hard all week, but sometimes just being active on the weekends or weekdays for that matter, and keeping things moving could be all the difference needed to break a weight-loss plateau. But once an ideal or desirable weight is achieved, this is not even half the battle. The hardest part is keeping it off and this is where being physically-active overall will lead to weight-loss and/or fat-loss success.


  • Perform cardio 3-5 days per week 20-60 minutes and 1-2 of those workouts should include some form of interval
  • training.
  • Do resistance training 2-3 days per week 20-40 minutes performing 8-10 exercises for major muscle groups. For
  • more experienced lifters, a split-routine where upper and lowerbody are rotated is recommended. Try to do
  • the resistance training on non-consecutive days to allow rest and recovery for each worked muscle group.
  • Try to eat a fruit or vegetable at every meal. Eat more fruits and vegetables in general. Chose unrefined starchy
  • carbohydrates such as brown rice, legumes and tubers. Chose healthier fats such as olive oil, avocado, nuts,
  • seeds, etc. Chose lean proteins such as poultry, natural-state soyfoods (i.e. tofu, tempeh, edamame beans, etc.),
  • grass-fed beef, fish and seafood. Good quality protein powders are ok as well
  • Exercise good to sleep good. Make an effort to challenge yourself sufficiently. If you are not getting the desired
  • results, consider hiring a personal trainer to help get you on back on track. Personal trainers can help ensure a
  • workout will be challenging and many times, different.
  • Incorporate stretching 2-3 days per week. This could be 10-20 minutes post-workout or taking a yoga class on an
  • off or easy day.
  • Be physically-active. Park a little further in the parking space at work, take the stairs, get up to change the channel
  • instead of using the remote control, do 10 push-ups, 10 chair squats and 10 jumping jacks during the commercials,
  • do stomach vacuums in traffic, squeeze a stress ball, etc.

The reason a lot struggle with getting cut or defined is because of time. If one is learning, such as learning a few new things from this article, then time will be on one's side. Like the saying goes, "All good things take time," so does seeing results in one's physique and fitness level. Keep learning, growing and trying new ideas, recipes and exercise routines. Since everyone is different, it is important to find what works best for you. These were just a few of the things that have worked for me, but they happen to also encompass a common-sense and realistic approach in that exercise and eating right are necessary.

Thanks for reading, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Fitness Writer Ivan BlazquezCopyright:

The information provided in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not serve as a replacement to care provided by your own personal health care team or physician. The author does not render or provide medical advice, and no individual should make any medical decisions or change their health behavior based on information provided here. Reliance on any information provided by the author is solely at your own risk. The author accepts no responsibility for materials contained in the article and will not be liable for any direct, indirect, consequential, special, exemplary, or other damages arising from the use of information contained in this or other publications. Copyright Ivan Blazquez, 2011. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder and author of this publication.

Oliver, GD, Stone, AJ, Wyman, JW, Blazquez, IN. (2012). Muscle activation of the torso during the modified razor curl hamstring exercise, International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, 7(1), 49-57.


0 #2 Ivan31 2011-03-30 15:06
I do not come out and specifically recommend more frequent, smaller meals, but I do allude to it though with snack options. There will always be something missed in an article, and this may be one of many that was missed. But honestly, I think smaller meals are good, but sometimes overrated or stated. I think the quality of food, portion size and exercise are important. Eating 6-8 meals is not going to make dramatic change. I'd say 3-5 is adequate for most ppl, 4-6 is a little better, but let's be practical, sometimes ppl just don't have that kind of time. So therefore, quality of food and portion size becomes more relevant since many ppl do have better control of the quality of food rather than the frequency of feeding. Just my thoughts.
0 #1 David Sudarsky 2011-03-23 23:38
Did I miss the recommendation to eat more frequent, smaller meals, or is that recommendation not to be found in this article?

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