A lean, ripped look takes serious gym time and dietary dedication. How much progress you make in four weeks depends on the state of your physique when you begin your dedicated training program and dietary regimen. There's no shortcut to getting ripped muscles, either. Starving yourself only means you lose muscle you've worked hard for, so settle for a long-term program that will deliver for four weeks and beyond.
The ripped appearance you're after comes from changing your body composition -- or decreasing the proportion of fat in relation to lean muscle mass. A leaner body shows off muscle detail. In addition to losing fat, you want to build muscle mass so that you look powerful, not emaciated. While everyone is different, the ripped appearance tends to show up on men when your body fat percentage is at or below 7 percent, explains certified personal trainer Marc Percy on the Built Lean website. Women naturally carry a bit more fat than men, so a percentage of between 8 and 12 percent gives them a ripped look.
Hit the Weights
To get ripped muscles you have to commit time to building them. Almost any type of strength-training routine that uses heavy weights and a low set of repetitions will help you get shredded; this includes barbells, dumbbells, machines, kettlebells and body-weight exercises. To build muscle size, you'll need to do three to six sets of eight to 12 repetitions of compound exercises -- those that work multiple joint sites at once. With barbells or dumbbells, this may mean squats, deadlifts, lunges, chest presses, rows and military presses. Using kettlebells means you can add in swings and clean and presses. On weight machines, you may emphasize moves such as leg presses, cable flyes and lat pulldowns. Use a resistance level that makes you feel completely spent by the last one to three repetitions.
Perform a total body workout three times per week, meaning you include exercises that work both the upper and lower body on nonconsecutive days. Alternatively, commit to four or five days of weight training per week and split your routine up into muscle groups. You still need to give each muscle group at least 48 hours between workouts. For example, you might work back and biceps on Mondays; legs on Tuesdays; chest and triceps on Wednesdays; rest on Thursday; shoulders and abs on Fridays; and either take the weekend off or repeat a few muscle groups on Saturday.
Leaning Out with Cardio
Strategically planned cardiovascular exercise helps you lean out. You don't want to be running for hours on end, as this tends to burn off your lean muscle mass and prevent you from getting the ripped appearance. Instead, emphasize high-intensity interval training which can involve short bouts -- lasting 30 to 120 seconds -- of all-out cardio exercise, such as sprints, followed by equally short bouts of recovery exercise.
In the Journal of Obesity in 2011, metabolic researcher Stephen H. Boutcher contends that HIIT is most effective when it comes to changing body composition and fat loss because it changes the way your body uses hormones and how your skeletal muscles oxidize fat. Aim for just three HITT sessions lasting 20 to 30 minutes per week on nonconsecutive days.
If you have a significant amount of fat to lose, you will benefit from doing 20 to 60 minutes of cardio on two or three additional days during the week. This cardio could be jogging, rowing, cycling, swimming or another mode that raises your heart rate to 60 to 70 percent of your max and helps you burn calories.
To lose fat, you do need to create a caloric deficit, or consume fewer calories than you use regularly. You need to be careful, though, and not create such a huge deficit that your metabolism slows in response and burns off the lean muscle tissue you're working hard at building. Aim for a shortfall of no more than 500 calories per day. This ensures you aren't starving your body too much.
You'll also want to consume enough protein to support muscle growth; the International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends approximately 0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day for strength-training athletes.
Consume a serving of this protein -- 20 to 30 grams -- immediately after strength-training workouts to take advantage of your muscles' need for repair and recovery. At other meals, pair lean proteins -- such as flank steak, white fish and chicken breast -- with quality whole grains and colorful, fresh produce. Consider eating five to six mini meals per day to keep your metabolism stoked and stave off hunger. In four weeks, you can look forward to losing several pounds of fat and revealing more muscle definition.