How Long Does It Take To Get Muscle Definition [Updated 2023]
How long does it take to get muscle definition, or as many would say in the popular vernacular, how long does it take to get ripped? Unlike the 80’s and early 1990’s, few today would list their fitness goals as getting bigger muscles, instead the trend is towards increasing muscle definition, and one of the most common questions I am asked in my profession as a top New York City personal trainer is how long does it take to get muscle definition and a well-defined or ripped physique? It’s a challenging question to answer, as the time frame required depends on many individual factors. Firstly, muscle definition and getting ripped isn’t possible without muscles, and building enough muscle so as to attain a chiseled look can take a long time depending on genetics, age and fitness levels. The truly motivated can lose as much as 50 lbs of fat in 6-12 months, but it can take even the most dedicated adult decades of hard work to gain 20lbs of muscle. Secondly, muscle definition and being ripped is dependent on lowered body fat percentages, and how lean and ripped you can be and how long it will take you there is highly individual. That said, the time required is seldom a short-term prospect for the average man or woman. Especially if they are just starting out. In this article I am going to give you a no-nonsense and no holds barred overview of how long and how much it will take the average man or woman to go from one state of muscular definition to another without drugs. I will also help you identify what’s realistic and what isn’t as it’s important to know whether or not your goals are feasible without the use of performance enhancing drugs.
You can determine how long it will take you to get muscle definition by following these four simple steps:
Identify your current state of muscular definition.
Make an assessment as to what is realistically attainable, (don’t use images of men and women who most likely are chemically enhanced as examples).
Identify the state of muscle definition you would like to attain.
Based on your current state, body type and fitness history assess how long it might take you.
Why Popular Figures May Not Be The Best Examples Of Realistic Muscle Definition
Before delving into how long and what it takes to achieve certain levels of muscle definition, I would be remiss if I did not address the unfortunately widespread problem of drug use. Actors, celebrities and social media mavens often go from looking like everyone else to being ripped and well-muscled versions of themselves seemingly overnight. The average person should never use them as benchmarks since this can only be accomplished by using performance enhancing drugs. Though most insist that “hard work and protein shakes” are responsible for their rapid transformations, the prevalence of drug use among these groups isn’t conjecture. Having worked with and alongside some of the most genetically gifted drug free male and female professional bodybuilders over the past several decades, I can clearly identify what the human body can achieve after years of dedicated and professionally guided effort. That said, it is physically impossible for anyone to start a training program and within a few months look as good as, if not better than an elite natural athlete who has been training for years. Truly natural and lifetime drug free athletes are not widely popular on social media, nor are their events widely covered as they are not the freak based spectacles that spark greater public interest and sell more products. Consequently, it is hard for most people to have a good grasp of what is realistic without drugs.
Enhancement of the human body sells in all industries, from personal trainers who use their look to get clients to the boy or girl who wants to be famous on social media and make some cash doing so. Many turn to drugs as a quick and easy alternative knowing that as long as they stay within certain limits, their drug use would not be detected by the general public. Most mistakenly associate the use of performance enhancing drugs with the oversized and somewhat monstrous looking male and female bodybuilders commonly seen in the magazines. However, many users are not interested in getting too much bigger, just defined and developed enough to sport the highly prized look that most people, (bereft of a popular drug free frame of reference), perceive as appearing natural. In actuality, drug use among non-tested professional bodybuilders, physique, figure and bikini competitors is ubiquitous and has been since the 1960’s. Drugs make it possible to achieve remarkable degrees of muscle definition while retaining size and fullness that even the most hardworking and genetically gifted natural athlete could never hope to attain. Even the “softer look” of today’s untested bikini and figure competitors comes from what is termed “mild steroid use.” Which consists of a cocktail that includes clenbuterol, ephedra and thyroid medication for extreme fat burning, the anabolic steroid Anavar for enhanced muscle mass and removal of sex specific fat pockets, and diuretics for water removal. Some might add human growth hormone for the paper-thin skinned look and sadly, this is what is considered “mild use.” The uninformed almost never suspect that the petite girl with sensational abs and legs could be using an absurd amount of drugs as she does not fit into the stereotypical image of a drug user. The same applies to male athletes, actors and celebrities who use just enough for a more “beach bod” look and we should not be surprised in a society where taking pills is a cultural norm. And in circumstances where the individual is able to either make money or increase their social status as a result. Some turn to drugs because they don’t have the knowledge required to attain significant muscular definition as there is no science based nutritional protocols to help you get a six pack. Others simply don’t want the hassle of having to follow a strict diet. Steroids and thyroid medications do a spectacular job of allowing the user to lose body fat and preserve lean muscle mass while eating poorly. As such, these drugs are immensely popular among the “in shape” partying crowd who them to cover up bad dietary practices.
Realistic Muscle Definition Assessment: Identifying Drug Use In Men
Since most men and women in the quest for muscle definition will look to a particular athlete or individual as their example of desired leanness and muscularity, it is imperative that we are able to identify drug use with some consistency. Especially given the increased credibility that comes from claiming to be natural and the fact that so many popular personalities either omit their drug use or deny it outright. Further muddying the waters is the fact that past steroid use, even for brief cycles, create long term changes in muscle density, size and potential fat loss. Therefore, someone who used drugs in the past but kept on training will ALWAYS have a look that they would not have been able to attain had they been drug free for their entire lives. A fact made clear by the late Dan Duchaine, arguably the father of modern steroid usage.
One way of determining who is truly natural is by comparing Fat Free Mass Index (FFMI). In 1995, researchers compared the Fat Free Mass of tested anabolic steroid users to that of the Fat Free Mass of lifetime drug free athletes. As a control, they used a sample of 20 Mr. America winners from what is generally considered the pre-steroid era from 1939-1959. Their findings were that the that steroid users in the study can have FFMI values as high as 32 occurring. However, in non-steroid users an FFMI of roughly 25 represents the natural limit for the average man, with those with exceptional genetics achieving FFMIs of no more than 26-27 and so anyone exhibiting a FFMI over 27 would be suspect. The researchers admit that this was a preliminary screening, and many have challenged the science behind the study. However, other surveys back it up and even the top modern natural bodybuilding champions, doing everything possible to maximize their lean muscle mass while reducing their body fat don’t surpass the FFMI limit of 27.
Human genetics has not changed since the 1930’s and no amount of training or nutrition seems to make it possible to surpass these values without drugs. Using myself as an example, in my current condition at a height of 6 feet and weighing 203lbs with at an estimated 6-7% body fat, I have an FFMI value of 25.6. Placing me in the higher range but to give some perspective, I don’t look like any of today’s untested competitors and I would have to gain 15 additional of muscle (while somehow maintaining 6% body fat) for a FFMI value of 28! A feat that would be impossible for someone who has been training for almost 30 years, no matter how hard I tried! The FFMI values also pan out for colleagues and clients whose lifetime drug free status I can personally vouch for and as a coach, former competitor and natural bodybuilding judge who has been in the business for most of my adult life, I see them as being very credible. And I have yet to find any truly natural competitor who I know that disputes these numbers.
As such, it would be a good practice to plug in the numbers of an individual whose look you might want to emulate, as it may give some insight as to the possibility of your being able to attain a similar appearance. The formula is (fat-free body mass in kg.) x (height in meters)-2, with a correction of 6.3 x (1.80 m – height) to normalize the values to the height of a 1.8-m man. You can use the Fat Free Mass Index calculator below and the most difficult part would be to estimate body fat and I have an easy visual reference guide that can help provide a ballpark estimate here- Body Fat Comparisons For Men and Women.
Fat Free Mass Calculator for Men & Women
If you don’t want to do the math you can click here for a Fat Free Mass calculator.
18 – slight build with low muscle mass
20 – average muscle mass
22 – distinctly muscular
>22 – not normally achieved without weight training
25-26 – the upper limit of naturally achievable muscularity without anabolic steroids and performance enhancing drugs
A value over 27 is considered unattainable without the use of anabolic steroids
13 – low musculature
15 – average musculature
17 – distinctly muscular
22 – the upper limit of naturally achievable muscularity without anabolic steroids and performance enhancing drugs
Realistic Muscle Definition Assessment: Identifying Drug Use In Women
For women, it can be more difficult as you cannot simply extrapolate these FFMI values for females. For fear of overly masculinizing effects, some limit their drug use to “only” drugs designed to accelerate body fat loss while preserving muscle mass and as we mentioned before, can appear natural to the casual observer. That said, women naturally have much fewer muscle cells in their upper bodies compared to men. Thus, it is simply not possible for a woman with very low body fat to have exceptionally dense muscle mass in the deltoid and upper chest areas, rivaling that of male natural athletes without drug use. Other obvious signs such as thick defined biceps and triceps are also suspect but so are overly defined and developed hamstring and glute muscles. As are deep abdominals that are excessively thick and devoid of any trace of body fat. There are other obvious signs such as deepened voice and facial hair and other less obvious ones such as a very poor diet while maintaining an exceptionally low overall body fat percentage.
Muscle Definition Differences In Potential Due to Body Types
Muscle definition is often thought of as singular look and most invariably associate it with the physical appearance of the man or woman who they subjectively believe to epitomize the “ideal look.” However, there are very large variations when it comes to a body’s degree of apparent muscle definition and what one might perceive as the ultimate level of muscle definition, might look “fat” to someone else. As far as how long it takes to get from one state to another, it is impossible to give an exact time frame since so many factors such as genetics, fat distribution, age, gender, medication, as well as the individual’s diet, age, level of training experience, dietary adherence, coaching, training program and intensity all can make huge differences in how long it takes to get from one state to another. Different body types also play a part in the amount of time it takes to achieve a significant degree of muscle definition. In the 1950’s, William Herbert Sheldon characterized bodies into three types, ectomorph, endomorph and mesomorph, categories that make it easier for us today to identify differences in body structure, muscle mass and fat distribution. Ectomorphs are naturally lean with long limbs. Shoulders are narrow with small joints and a small waist. These men and women tend to have a hard time gaining muscle mass and “seem” to be able to eat whatever they want without getting fat.
Ectomorphs generally have an easier time achieving and maintaining the higher levels of muscle definition but have a harder time building enough muscle to look impressive at lower body fat percentages. Endomorphs are almost the exact opposite. They naturally carry more body fat with shorter limbs. Shoulder and hip width is greater than that of ectomorphs and mesomorphs and while they can easily build muscle mass, they struggle to lose body fat and must be spot on with their diet to transition from one state of muscle definition to another. Mesomorphs are comparably medium, with what many would consider to be “ideal” proportions of limbs, broad shoulders and medium waists. Blessed with naturally higher muscle mass, and relatively moderate body fat, they tend to have an easier time building muscle and seeing muscle definition but tend to have to work hard at keeping body fat levels low as they age. Making things a little more complicated is that few people fall squarely into any of these three groups throughout their lives. Some do but most of us tend to have tendencies of more than one category. Especially as you get older and or change your appearance through diet, physical activity or the lack of it thereof. See my article Why People Store Fat Differently)
The 7 States Of Apparent Muscle Definition
The 7 States of apparent definition do not necessarily correspond with body fat percentages, as water retention, individual fat deposits, skin tone and muscle development all play a part in how you look. So much so that two people of the same gender and the same measured body fat percentages can look a million miles apart in terms of their apparent muscle definition. Thus, the label “Apparent” States of Muscle Definition and it’s one of the (many) reasons I never integrated body fat testing as a benchmark for my clients, who could not care less about what their numbers are while standing in front of the mirror as what matters is how they look! When doing a self assessment it might be a good idea to have someone else do it for you as those in the lower ranges tend to underestimate their degree of leanness and keep in mind that even for the most genetically gifted, no one ever seems to go from one state to another fast enough!
That said, here are the 7 States based on a combination of bodybuilding terms and commonly used descriptions.
State 7: Shredded & Ultra Shredded
Bear in mind that it can take a long time and a considerable amount of work, (think months to years), to move up in the Seven States of apparent muscle definition, but you can drop down from one to another very, very quickly (think hours to days). For example, it can take two to three months of training and dieting for some people to go from being Defined to Ripped. However, two or three of the wrong meals can set you back big time and you can go back to just being Cut within 24 hours! It’s that involved and the degree of sacrifice, hard work and discipline required to go from one state to another increases EXPONENTIALLY as you get leaner. Most strong willed and determined men and women with proper instruction can go from being Athletic & Toned to Cut, but it takes a lot, lot more to get Defined and not everyone can realistically get there. If you are Defined , it takes so much more to get Ripped, and it can feel like you have to donate both of your kidneys at the same time to get Shredded or Ultra Shredded, states that even the hardest training and strictest of dieters might never achieve, and if you do make it that far, the look tends last a days to a few hours at most!
Descriptions of the 7 States of Apparent Muscle Definition
Muscle Definition State 1: No Shape
What Does It Look Like?
Endomorphs and mesomorphs have a round appearance with a prominent or slightly protruding abdomen and a layer of fat covering most of your body.
Ectomorphs might appear thin, but thin with no visible muscle mass and the skinny fat look.
You don’t look like you work out and there is no real muscle tone to your arms and chest areas.
Men might have a significant amount of fat in their abdominal area, spilling over into what we commonly refer to as “love handles.”
Women at this state have fat deposits in the lower abdominal area and behind the legs.
Facial features appear rounded and their might be some fat deposits in the chin area.
Different body types can present differently at this stage and the look of most female fashion and runway models today falls into this category. A look that many Western women find to be desirable. Most body types though present with the classic slightly protruding abdomen and flabby arms and even the ectomorphs tend to look like this as they get older. (Which is why you seldom see runway models over a certain age.) If you are starting out at this stage, don’t despair as it’s where most people find themselves at some point in their lives if they are not overly active or didn’t continue to be active and mindful of their diets as they got older. The good news is that any addition of exercise and proper dietary practices tends to yield immediate results in terms of better long term health outcomes, the scale, the way your clothes fit and most importantly, how you feel!
On average a loss of 10% of your body weight will get you to being either Lightly Toned or Athletic, assuming you are not seriously overweight. Time wise this can take anywhere from 3-6 months with ectomorphs usually falling on the faster side and mesomorphs and endomorphs on the other end of the scale. If you were significantly overweight, it might require a loss of about 15-20% and it might take 6 months to a year as you will have more to lose. The best part about this transition is that you will see differences in the mirror very rapidly and continue to see visible progress in all areas except the ones where you have the most fat deposits, as those are last to go. However, in my experience everyone who works hard can get to the next stage.
Muscle Definition State 2: Full or Lightly Toned
- At this stage you look like you do workout, but you still have a smooth appearance due to the presence of subcutaneous fat and water.
- Facial features still look somewhat rounded but there are no fat deposits in the chin and neck area.
- Your muscles feel firm and they seem to be just about to peek through layers of fat and water.
- Your arms, shoulders, back and chest muscles all have some semblance of muscle tone.
- Lines in the muscles of the lower body are not quite visible, but legs have a shapely appearance and good muscle tone.
- Male endomorphs and mesomorphs have a strong appearance, like a football player while ectomorphs appear to have a more “normal looking weight.”
- Female endomorphs and mesomorphs are typically described as looking “healthy” and “thick” while female ectomorphs appear to be at a more “normal looking” weight.
- You can pull in your abdominal muscles and look okay, but when you release there is some distention, even though you can feel your abs underneath.
- You look better now with clothes off than you do with clothes on but still not to the point where you look great in photographs wearing swimwear.
- A tan and the proper lighting makes you look much more defined.
At this point you look very different from someone who does not work out and it might surprise you to note that many bodybuilders, figure and bikini athletes find themselves in this state during their offseason if they bulk up. (A practice I would not recommend). At this stage, tightening up your diet a bit can often lead to major changes within the span of only a few weeks, as a loss of about 10-15lbs, (most of it being water weight), will usually be enough to get you to the next stage, especially if you were in great shape at one point in time. Some are quite happy to maintain this look, and it is a sizeable accomplishment if you started off being out of shape. Ectomorphs can often go from being Lightly Toned to Athletic in about 6 weeks, while endomorphs and mesomorphs can take 2-3 months to get there if they were not lean at some point in the past. It’s a bit harder to go from being Lightly Toned to Athletic and Toned, but most are able to do so if they put their mind to it.
Muscle Definition State 3: Athletic & Toned
- Your midsection is where you see the most difference- with a loss of about 1-2 inches around your waist from the Full or Lightly Toned State.
- Your abdominal region now has a flat appearance without having to suck in your tummy, but you might have a bit of a fold when you sit down or bend over.
- Your upper abdominals are now visible, although your lower abdominals might not yet be fully defined.
- The loss of subcutaneous fat and water allows for some degree of definition and muscle separation, thus making you look far more muscular and fit than someone in the Lightly Toned state.
- Facial features are no longer rounded in both sexes and men start to see the beginning of some degree of vascularity in their forearms.
- Legs have lines in them and for women, both front and back of the legs have a firm and uniform appearance.
- In the gym you look best right after working out with a pump, especially with overhead lighting.
- In flat light, like at the beach or under fluorescent light, much of your definition seems to wash out.
This state is characterized by having a moderate to low amount of body fat and subcutaneous water over most of your body that creates the effect of “rounding off” your muscles into an aesthetically pleasing look. This is the degree of muscle definition most male models have and most commercial fitness models, a look highly sought after by both men and women. When viewed from a distance, everything looks impressive and you certainly look better with your clothes off than you do when wearing clothes. That said, you might observe that you don’t look as good in certain forms of light, and there may be certain clothing styles that are more flattering than others. This is the state that most people starting out strive towards, a flat abdominal area and lines clearly visible on some parts of their body. However, in 28 years of working with clients, the overwhelming majority want to be even leaner when they do attain this rather impressive milestone.
At this state however, especially for endomorphs and some mesomorphs, your body’s inherent propensity to maintain what it perceives as a healthy level of body fat begin to be at odds with your muscle definition goals. As such, while it can take some work to get to this state from being Lightly Toned if you were not lean to begin with, or at some point in the past, getting to the next state is quite a leap for most. Women can lose as much as 10 lbs while at a state of being Athletic & Toned and still not transition to the next state and men can lose as much as 15 lbs and still see much difference in their overall muscle definition. To get to the Cut State, your diet and training has to be 100% on point in for all but the very young and the genetically gifted, and depending on where you started and your body type, this could another 1-2 months, if you are ectomorphic or were in great shape to begin with. Endomorphs and some mesomorphs might need another 4-6 months to get cut depending as this is the state that encompasses a very large range in terms of muscle definition.
Muscle Definition State 4: Cut
- The shoulders, back and arm muscles are noticeably low in body fat, making them seem to pop out.
- Upper abdominals are clearly showing with a hint of lower abdominal definition in certain lighting and angles.
- When sitting down lower abdominals are not as visible.
- Prominent lines in the leg area with some separation in the quadriceps area and the beginnings of a line or two in the hamstring area.
- Facial features are beginning to have a bit of a hardness, with hints of cheekbones and a more pronounced jawline.
- From a distance you look amazing with clothing off, but from 10 feet or closer not as much as the body parts that are not as defined draw more attention.
- In men, veins are clearly visible in the forearm area and in the bicep regions and their might be some hints of vascularity in the shoulders and chest when pumped.
- At this point you look remarkable when you are in the gym from certain angles and when you have a pump, especially with overhead lighting.
- With clothing on, it is obvious that you do indeed spend some time working hard at the gym and paying attention to what you eat.
Men look great shirtless and women look great in photographs highlighting their upper bodies, but even though you look better with your clothes off, rather than on, there are still some body parts that are not completely defined. A contrast that has the effect of making you look less impressive with all of your clothes off, as the viewers eyes will tend to be drawn towards the body parts that are not as defined as the others. This is the state attained by bodybuilders back in the 1940’s to 1960’s and some commercial male fitness models will be at this level.
Without significant muscle mass you will not be able to get to this state, and since building muscle takes time, it can be years before this degree of muscle definition is achievable. Ectomorphs have the hardest time building muscle and so while they might lose body fat easily, it will still take them a while to have enough muscle to look impressive at this stage, but when they do the look is rather aesthetically pleasing. Mesomorphs with naturally higher muscle mass appear very impressive at this stage, especially in certain lighting, whereas endomorphs usually have more body parts that are not as defined.
That said, for most people, this is as defined as they are going to get without venturing into the land of 100% commitment to what and how much you eat, in addition to being spot on with your training. At this level and beyond an experienced coach can make a tremendous difference as a not doing everything right might make it impossible to realize this and other levels, and it’s not information you can simply get from a magazine or online, since everyone needs a very individual approach. That said, in my experience, most people are content enough with how they look at this state and it’s quite an accomplishment for an endomorph or someone who started out being completely out of shape.
The problem with getting to the next state is that genetics, age and how out of shape you were to begin with can be a huge barrier as the next stage calls for every muscle group to be clearly defined. This degree of muscle definition is also a product of having a certain degree of muscle mass, which can take years to build in addition to removing a sizeable amount of visible fat from all parts of the upper and lower body. Gender differences rears its head here as it is much harder for a woman to go from being Cut to Separated & Defined than it is for men due to their greater muscle mass, and some endomorphs might never be able to remove enough subcutaneous fat in certain parts of their body enough to qualify as being Separated & Defined. As such, it is difficult to give an estimate as to how long it takes to go from this stage to the next as it can vary greatly from months to years. Keeping in mind that uncontrollable elements such as genetic fat distribution, loose skin and metabolic dysfunction might make it difficult if not impossible to achieve the next states.
- Minimal amount of fat and water which allows for each muscle group to be clearly defined.
- Every muscle group stands out from the other with the grooves separating them easily visible.
- Abdominals are all visible and the individual muscles groups of the legs can be seen.
- Cheekbones are very prominent.
- The rounded muscle look starts to fade somewhat for both men and women.
- Some vascularity is visible in the abdominal area and lower body.
- When sitting down there is a slight folding in the lower abdominal area.
- You look great in the gym from most angles, although if you do have lesser developed muscle groups they will stand out.
- You look exceptional under most forms of lighting except for flat fluorescent lighting and the diffused lighting conditions you would normally have at the beach, which tend to wash out your definition somewhat.
- With a tan you look very good in person and on camera both from far away and close up.
- Women look very much smaller and men might lose a significant amount of “size” making them look small in clothes, but very impressive with clothes off.
- At this stage, some see a reduction in overall strength and energy levels are slightly lower than normal.
This is the look of the more muscular male and female fitness models and it’s a look that gets a considerable amount of attention on social media, if you have a well-balanced physique as any disparities in muscle development make themselves very apparent on camera at this stage. Achieving a physique with each body part being well developed and defined is the definition of bodybuilding and this look is thought of by most as being the highest degree of muscle definition that they would ever wish to achieve. Proof positive that the negativity toward the word bodybuilding is more towards the current look of competitors rather than the activity itself.
Getting to a point where every muscle group clearly stands out is an accomplishment to say the least, especially with the midsection quadriceps, hamstring and glute areas. While gender specific hormonal responses to body fat mobilization make it easier for men, it can still take years for both men and women to go from being Cut to Separated/Defined as removal of stubborn pockets of fat in the midsection, legs, glutes and back areas can require a severe reduction in overall body fat to the single digits for endomorphs and some mesomorphs. For all but the most ectomorphic females, this state will also require a reduction in body fat to at least below 15% and even at that point there is no guarantee that there won’t be a bit of fat obscuring parts of the midsection and the legs Even if every other muscle group stands out, if only one does not stand out, you are not Separated & Defined but Cut.
On another level, it takes time for skin to be stretched taut enough to show this degree of muscle definition and if you lost quite a lot of weight, these layers of skin can take years to go away and sometimes might not be possible to be removed without surgical intervention. (See my article Dealing With Loose Skin.) The older you are, the longer it takes for your skin to adapt to the weight loss required to get to this state, which is why it is a major achievement for anyone over the age of 30, becoming even more exemplary with each passing decade as someone who is young and thin to begin with doesn’t have to deal with this issue.
That said, men and women who have achieved this level of definition in the past can go from being Full & Lightly Toned to Separated & Defined in as little as 2-6 months which is quite a contrast to those who can spend years trying to get there for the first time. It bears noting that at this stage you will look very much smaller in clothes, which most women simply adore, but men not as much as they are often disturbed by the fact that they are not as big and imposing with their clothes on. Even though they look ridiculously impressive now with their clothes off. (Which is why men at this stage and lower tend to almost always find an excuse to take their shirts off!)
Muscle Definition State 6: Ripped
Striations are visible on all muscle groups with minimal water and fat throughout the body
In clothing men and women look very small compared to what they would have looked like at the Lightly Toned or Athletic level, which tends to prompt men to take every opportunity to take off their shirts, as the transformation is remarkable.
Cheekbones are very prominent, to the point where some who knew you in heavier states might think you look a little sick.
All abdominal muscles clearly stand out, with the lower abs being visible with some degree of vascularity.
Sitting down abs look the same as when you are standing up.
From a distance you look extremely impressive, and up close you still look rather defined but not quite as much as from 20 feet way or more.
In the gym you stand out as every muscle jumps to life with any movement, especially when pumped.
At the beach or under flat fluorescent lighting your muscles wash slightly but you still look impressive.
With a deep and dark tan, you look impressive under just about any lighting condition and from almost every angle.
This is the look sported by most competing bodybuilders and (these days) figure competitors, as it is too extreme for commercial models. At this point, you are very lean and look very small in regular clothes. However, when clothes are removed there is a stunning transformation, as the effect of having all of your muscles prominently defined creates the illusion of making you appear much bigger than you really are. For example, many are surprised at how small natural female bodybuilders are when seen in person as to get to this level of definition you really have to drop down to the point where it feels like you are about to disappear! This condition is required today as a minimum to win bodybuilding and physique related competitions and someone in a Cut or Separated state can look almost out of shape in comparison. As a rule, endomorphs have the most difficulty attaining and maintaining this look and some mesomorphs can also struggle with getting to that next step of muscle definition. Ectomorphs have the opposite problem as they can begin losing sizeable amounts of muscle mass if the level of austere dieting required to reach this stage is sustained for too long.
This degree of muscle definition and beyond where body fat levels are usually at or under 6% for men and at or around 10-12% for women is not sustainable and such low body fat is unhealthy. Fat is an important precursor for estrogen production, and at these levels and below women begin having problems with ovulation and bone loss, the same symptoms experienced by post menopausal women. Especially if they are doing large amounts of cardio while over training and consuming an ultra low calorie diet. Breast tissue, in the absence of estrogen and fat will also shrink. Men and women can experience lethargy, compromised immune systems, joint pain, increased bruising, insomnia, increased susceptibility to viral and bacterial infections, anemia, lowered blood pressure and serious depression. Men also will see testosterone levels plummet and will also exhibit the same symptoms of males of a very advanced age, making this and all further states of muscular definition temporary at best as it is extremely unhealthy, even though ironically this look is commonly used in advertising to sell health products!
Unless you are competing or doing a photoshoot, there is no reason why the average man or woman would want to subject themselves to the draconian dieting required to get to this state, and it can only be sustained for days to weeks at a time. Even healthy eating out at restaurants becomes impossible as everything has to be precisely regulated. Carbohydrate and sodium intakes have to be completely within your control and just one wrong meal or stressful event can take you from being Ripped to Separated & Defined within a matter of minutes! Moreover, being this defined can trigger hormones designed to prevent you from starving. And so you will have enormous and often uncontrollable cues to begin refeeding as your body struggles to return to a state of normalcy. This is why most men and women in magazine cover shape one day can look completely different within a week, even to the point where they appear slightly overweight as those hormonal cues brought on by drastic practices can lead to bingeing and dysfunctional eating patterns. It’s even more perilous for women, who can have lifelong problems losing weight if their diet and exercise routine is excessive and their body fat drops too quickly. This look can be attained without having these rebound side effects by taking months if not a year to slowly lower your body fat to these levels, but this is an almost lost art as everyone wants to get defined quickly. Rapid body fat loss can also lead to amenorrhea and menstrual irregularities, which may persist long after the period of extreme dieting. However, as ridiculously lean as this state might be you would still have another 5-6 lbs. to lose to get to the ultimate levels of definition, which is Shredded and Ultra-Shredded. How long that would take is unclear as most serious athletes never make it that far as not everyone can attain that degree of definition.
State 7: Shredded & Ultra Shredded
- Every muscle jumps out creating the illusion that you have no skin whatsoever.
- Vascularity is everywhere, plainly visible in the legs, lower abdominal area, arms and chest.
- Glutes have visible striations, triceps and quadriceps muscles have cross striations that look like little feathers.
- With clothes on, you look scary, eyes are sunken in, cheeks are gaunt and facial muscles seem to flex when you speak or chew.
- Friends and family might think you have taken ill and stopped training as you are much smaller.
- With clothes off, it’s a remarkable transformation as the extreme definition can create the illusion that you look bigger than you were before you started dieting.
- In the gym, you look ridiculously defined and it’s hard for people to look away from the display of all of the muscles standing out.
- Even without a pump every muscle seems to flex and striate as you move.
- From a distance you look impressive, and up close you look just as if not more impressive.
- In any light and at any angle, you look unmistakably impressive, even flat fluorescent light and the light at the beach.
- Weaker body parts seem to melt away as the overall effect of your physique is such that everything just looks remarkable to the average bystander as the definition on all muscle groups creates the visual illusion of everything being well developed.
- At this stage, most members of the general public would say that the look is too extreme.
- A lot of weight has been lost, with men at least 30 lbs or more lighter than they were when they were Lightly Toned or Athletic & Toned.
- Women are about 20 lbs lighter than they would have been when they were Lightly Toned or Athletic & Toned.
There is one more very rarely seen state of definition, Ultra Shredded (which some call Sliced), where all of the properties of being Shredded apply but skin looks to be non-existent, there are cross striations in the glute muscles and veins look like ropes wrapped around muscles. Both are transient stages last a set number of hours at most and the slightest change in water, stress or food will make it fade away in minutes! While being Cut is the Holy Grail for most regular folks, standing next to someone who is Shredded, can make a Cut person look like they need to go to the gym! The lines and extreme muscle definition also have the effect of evening out weaker body parts and so many competitors strive for this look as it helps give them a competitive edge by masking muscle and symmetry discrepancies.
These stages are a niche look that only a very small number of advanced natural competitors are able to achieve. Attaining this look naturally requires not only a reduction in body fat, but mastery of your unique body chemistry through a manipulation of calories, water levels, sodium and carbohydrate intake to dehydrate the body while still achieving a full muscled and paper thin skinned look. It goes without saying that it is also dangerously unhealthy. From personal experience, I can honestly say that it is a bit of a contradiction as you feel absolutely miserable, yet everyone is complimenting you on how fantastic you look and photographers are lining up to shoot with you. It’s hard to appreciate though as everything hurts, you feel cold no matter how warm it is and there is a longing to eat and be done with it all! All of the deleterious effects of extremely low body fat are present in addition to dangerously low fluid levels, as you have to be severely dehydrated to achieve this look.
In my experience, those who are able to exhibit this degree of muscularity tend to be natural ectomorphs, who were underweight at some point. It gives a bit of an edge as starting out without any real fat deposits is quite an advantage. That said, I have personally worked with endomorphs, (both male and female) who over the course of several years were able to attain this look (drug free) though consistency and a remarkable amount of dedication. I hope this article helped shed some light on the subject of how long it might take you to achieve your desired state of muscle definition, but do keep in mind that there is no increase in overall health outcomes from dropping down to the lower states. And that studies all conclude that at the end of the day, true health is based more on what you can do and not what you look like.
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