Heck, first I had to be honest with myself. You see, I was never a good basketball player as a kid, but by the time I was a sophomore in high school, I realized that I was too thin. When we played basketball in gym class, my rail-thin physique made it difficult for me to establish position against the bigger guys. Something had to give. I was 15 years old when I saw King Leonidas kick a poor Persian messenger into a bottomless pit somewhere in Sparta. His physique commanded instant devotion and respect. Everything was just popping everywhere and demanding attention. It seemed like he could effortlessly compel the world to bow to his will. I was in the middle of my bucket of buttered popcorn when I said to myself, “this guy looks like someone that no one would want to mess with. One day, I will look like him.” So it was on that random Saturday afternoon in 2007 when I vowed to myself that I will one day go after the mountainous goal of replicating the tough, menacing, and dominant body of the Spartan king. Even though I had no gym membership and no desire to be a bodybuilder at the time, I knew that every workout from then on would have to be done with supreme focus, maximum intensity, and a severely high threshold to muscular pain. Subconsciously, I was already making an unshakable commitment. To get that warrior muscle and make my skin lay on top of hard-earned beef like a thin sheet of cellophane wrap, I had to be ripped and strong at the same time. I didn’t need the distinctive red cloak, the long hair, and the bronze shield, but the elusive condition where the body fat level is so low that strange muscular details start standing out in bold relief was absolutely necessary. I needed to look as a tight as a drum – dancing muscle striations, road-map vascularity, drum-tight skin, clearly defined separations between all muscles, a brutally intimidating set of 8-pack abs – all of it needed to be achieved in order to create a mind-blowing optical effect.
In 2007, I began firing up my different muscle fibers with a few sets of 20-rep push-ups after basketball games in the park. Then I joined Gold’s Gym – the rest is history. Sometime in June 2017, I reprogrammed my mind for success, so that instead of fighting my fear of fatigue and discomfort, I liberated myself from playing small and decided to go after my dream of becoming a fat-burning, muscle-building machine like Leonidas. I added a pinch of faith and motivation to a lethal cocktail of restlessness and frustration. Originally, I was only planning to get beach-ready for a trip to Bali. 8% to 10% would have sufficed, but things happened – things that made me want to work harder and strengthen my resolve in life. Like a Spartan boy who forces himself to sleep on a bed made of reeds to desensitize his body to pain, I began lifting heavier and running longer than ever before in order to attain insane conditioning. It took me years and a lot of bulk-shred-bulk cycles to burn every last ounce of fat off my body and give it the stamina to do all the things that I want it to do, but with hard work and dedication, you, too, can attain the physique you’ve always wanted. You can stay in a more comfortable zone and eat pizza with near reckless abandon, or you can choose to brave the near constant low-grade hunger and make hard work your wingman. The benefits go way beyond just looks. Everyone responds differently to the process of losing fat and getting ripped, but the foundation of your routine should be based on these universal rules:
1. Set a caloric deficit
The formula is simple. Losing body fat is all about calories in versus calories out. This is the harsh, sober truth. A calorie is a unit that measures energy. Calories in simply means eating food. Calories out, as complicated as the web can make it sound like, is simply the amount of energy that you expend. In order to lose body fat, you need to consume fewer calories than your body burns each day. I cannot stress this enough – if more calories leave your body than enter it, then you lose weight. You do not need to be a rocket scientist to understand the science of it: when you choose to eat a caloric deficit, the body declares a state of negative energy balance. In this state, weight is lost and fat stores are reduced. However, the body needs calories to carry out the usual chores that it needs to perform, like breathing, digesting, and, in a nutshell, existing. In order to carry out these tasks while in a state of energy deficit, the body then opts to burn its own body fat for energy. This is the only way for fat loss to take place. When the body is forced to find some other source of energy to burn when it’s starving, it targets the fat. There are many kinds of diets out there, but all of them are designed to put you in a caloric deficit. For example:
– Eating less rice means you’re eating less calories.
– Eating less chicken skin means you’re eating less calories.
– Eating less donuts means you’re eating less calories.
– Eating less hotdogs means you’re eating less calories.
– Eating less cereal means you’re eating less calories.
– For those doing intermittent fasting – not eating after 6:00 PM forces you to eat less calories.
If you’re serious about getting ripped, start eating less and cut the unnecessary junk out of your diet. Limit your intake of saturated fats and sugars, and fill your plate with lean sources of protein and low glycemic carbohydrates. The residents of ancient Greece never lived to see a Jollibee franchise, hear the words “diet” or get the opportunity to scrutinize food labels to search for preservatives. They are not for taste, but more as a source of fuel and recovery from the demands of training and war. The food rations doled out at their communal dining halls were always bland and slightly insufficient because the Spartan theory on food meant eating to be strong and healthy and not to over indulge. Peak fitness and performance is essential to be truly ripped, and the only way to sustain high energy levels all day long and train well is to eat a good balance of healthy food with no major overindulgence.
2. Go heavy on the weights
You need muscle in order to be ripped. It’s the fine line between lean and rock-hard. There is an enormous difference between weight loss and fat loss. The art of cutting is all about losing body fat without losing muscle mass. Essentially you need to remind your body over and over again that you are going to be lifting heavier and heavier weights even if your body is getting lighter, so it’ll have to respond with more muscle to handle the load even if it’s heading into starvation mode. Do not ever let your diet cannibalize your muscle. You have to deliberately damage your muscle fibers to promote growth. Bodybuilders aspire to carry a high level of muscle mass, a goal that requires a higher need for energy. As you may have guessed, setting a caloric deficit is totally counterproductive to the muscle-building process. Increased caloric consumption, specifically protein, is necessary to support muscle growth. Since you are already in a caloric deficit, the only way for you to maintain your hard-earned muscle mass is to go heavy in the weight room. The best bodies that ever existed were strong. The point isn’t to increase the reps or go easier on your workouts. Quite the opposite – a real cut, if done naturally and properly, should actually make your muscles look like mountains instead of flattening them out. Forget about soreness, low energy levels, the caloric deficiency, or the constantly decreasing weight. Channel your focus towards adding weight or at least maintaining the strength you had back when you were in a state of caloric surplus. I’ve also seen a lot of effort wasted in the pursuit of maintaining muscle size because of the misconception that high-rep training should go along with a low fat diet. The premise that “lighter weights define the muscle” is utterly dead wrong. Throw this notion right out the window and down the street. It’s a downright ridiculous excuse to give in to laziness and complacency. When getting down to low body fat levels, it helps to increase the frequency of your heavy workouts. The more often you beat up a muscle, the more you trigger it to grow. A successful workout should only be gauged by the concept of progression – the intensity of the cardio session and the heaviness of the weights that were moved. Spartan boys already knew their purpose in life early on: a lifelong dedication to military discipline and service to give their kingdom dominion over other Greek civilizations. Surrender in battle was the ultimate disgrace. Like a soldier, I had to be legendary for my professionalism, my intense physical and mental stamina, and my absolute dedication to everything I set out to achieve. There have been days when I dreaded lifting weights because of the very low carbohydrate diet. There have been days when I struggled to wake up due to the muscle soreness from the two-to-three-a-day workouts. There have been days when my eyes grew bleary from the intensity of the long workouts. But I knew that I had to soil my hands and acquire real mental toughness if I really wanted to reach a level of conditioning that I’ve never achieved before. So I moved forward and poured my lifeblood into emulating the physical prowess of a Spartan warrior.
3. Go hard on the cardio
If you’d rather just directly create your ideal caloric deficit and keep lifting heavy weights to burn fat, that’s fine. But I like my diet to be comprised solely of foods that I actually enjoy. I love eating house food every night – Sinigang, Beef Kaldareta, Callos, Katsudon, you name it. The only way to cruise through your journey towards a ripped body while eating all of the usual food you love to eat is to go hard on the cardio. Of course, it is still better to back up your cardio with an unstoppable nutritional strategy, but if you are like me (a.k.a. someone who wants to lose weight in the fastest way possible without having to surrender stuffed crust pizza, KFC, and the unlimited gravy), you need to put the cardio time in. When you consistently make the body work hard, its response is automatic and unavoidable: to get ripped and stay ripped. Along with the added caloric deficit, cardiovascular exercise will:
– Make more powerful the muscles involved in respiration, to assist lung function.
– Cultivate the total number of red blood cells in the body, to enable greater oxygen facilitation throughout the body.
– Invigorate the heart muscle, which will improve resting heart and pumping efficiency.
– Remove stress and tension, and promote healthy mental well-being.
– Improve circulation throughout all areas of the body all day long.
– Enhance self-esteem and provide endorphins, a natural pain and stress fighter.
Walking burns 400 calories per hour. Running, cycling, and swimming can burn up to 800 calories an hour. Rowing burns up to 840 calories per hour. Jumping rope can burn over 1000 calories per hour. If you do any of these exercises on an empty stomach, you’ll slaughter 300% more body fat. So do the math and imagine how much more food you can eat and how much more fat you can burn just by doing anything that raises your heart rate and makes you breathe heavy. Generally, it is better to keep your heart rate at 140-170 bpm (fat loss zone) – for the majority of your session. These cardio workouts will shoot your resting metabolism through the roof, therefore allowing you to burn maximum amounts of fat even while the body is at rest. Men need to have a body fat percentage below 10% to see their abs, while women need a body fat percentage below 12-14% to uncover theirs. Historical accounts tell of Spartan boys as being allowed no shoes, very few clothes, and being taught to take pride in enduring pain and hardship. They were trained to harden themselves to the elements, regardless of the conditions. This ultimately accomplished the ultimate goal of producing elite soldiers. To get down to 3% body fat, I had to run 10 to 15 kilometers every day for the past four months. Nothing worth doing is easy; however, no one ever drowned in sweat. It took dedication and a lot of hard work to get ultra-low body fat, but every second was worth it. Getting ripped is one of those things in which you have to learn to sacrifice before you can think about gain. It is a battle against all the critics in your head. Ask anyone who’s gone on such a journey and that person will tell you that there is more joy in the process of stepping out of one’s comfort zone than there is in looking at an esteemed body after one has achieved it. So put on your running shoes, take to the open road, and let your lungs carry you through. The deadly duo of honest strength training and cardiovascular exercise will melt fat off your waistline even if you slack off with your nutrition.
It doesn’t stop at the finish line. Getting lean is easier than getting ripped. Staying ripped is harder than getting ripped. You can have your donuts and eat it too and get lean. All it takes is some planning. But staying ripped is a less forgiving path. Getting ripped means going to war every day with your body, your mind, and your hunger tolerance levels. You have to learn how to deal with the tempting voice in your head that lingers around fooling your hungry self into ditching your supposedly insurmountable discipline. When you get ripped, you learn to live with the rebellious voice of your former undisicplined self. He’s the Riddler in your head that makes you rationalize that “your body really needs an extra piece of fried chicken for a refeed” and that if you don’t get to eat for another hour you’ll lose all your muscles. When staying ripped, the Riddler will have you thinking of a hot bowl of Ramen in the middle of a rainy afternoon or devouring thick chocolate chip pancakes like munchkins. The Riddler can even make you forget all the discipline you’ve built up. Last week, I found myself in a Jollibee eating fried chicken and shoveling French fries into my mouth at 5:00 AM, because I thought “my body could use the extra fat.” Then again, all cheat meals are showstoppers when you’ve worked hard enough for it. I’m smiling even as I relive the moment while I write. The journey is tough, but the joy in the grind is priceless and you can experience the fulfillment that such a feat holds only when you finally achieve the body you’ve always longed for.