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How I Got Ripped (and you can too!)

Urban Primalist
The Short Course

  1. Adopt primal lifestyle per Mark Sisson's Primal Blueprint
  2. Build muscle using sledgehammers and barbells
  3. Apply strict Leangains principles per rippedbody.jp until desired body composition achieved

There you go.  Now get cracking!

Eh? You want more detailed instructions? Perhaps a good story, a few pictures, a kick in the rear? A meticulous step-by-step guide you can follow like a mindless automaton? Well then! First you must send me your email address. Then a $2 application fee by wire transfer. After you have signed my 20-page consent form, I will put you on my waiting list for paid consultant services. The average wait is 18 months, but priority appointments are available for Hollywood celebrities and eccentric billionaires.

Haha, just kidding! I am giving you all this right now for free, courtesy of my lame web site that doesn't even have ads. We're all human beings and being lean and strong is your birthright. If I wanted your money, I'd mow your lawn.

What happened?

When I grew up, I became fat:

How I know my wife loves me for my inner beauty

Primal eating made me thin!  But I had no muscle:

Shaved bird mode (155 pounds)

Then I did a lot of cardio.  Big mistake.  Never do cardio:

After this 10K, I never ran for distance again

Then I finally started lifting and gained some muscle:

That's more like it

Then I did the things described in this article for 11 weeks:

A much better 155 pounds

At 5'9.5", I went from 176 pounds to 155 while raising my squat and deadlift work weights considerably.

Why do such a crazy thing?

First, evolution. Humans are clearly adapted for cycles of feast and famine. Getting shredded is all part of the genetic plan. You can't enjoy the feast without the famine.  Life is a lot better with a little hunger (not too much!)

Second, athletics. Lean people grow muscle more readily than fat people, and anything that accelerates that glacial process is welcome. Also, less adipose contributes to a better hormonal profile, including manliness/womanliness (less aromatization of testosterone) and greater tolerance for pigging out on carbs (insulin sensitivity).

Third, to make a better world.  How do you counter the diseases of civilization?  Words and logic only go so far.  But everyone responds to abs.  So let's show suffering people an alternative and help them realize it!  If you do this too, the entire human race could benefit.

Fourth, to control your reality.  Your hormones and habits of thought aren't just opinions.  They are the only reality you will ever know.  You want that feeling of falling in love?  Winning the lottery?  Perfect bliss in the infinite moment?  You can get it from a barbell.  And you can train those feelings to be even stronger than you can presently imagine.

If that's not enough for you, there is one final reason you must get ripped.  To see yourself naked.  You've never really done that until you've been lean.  There is surprising variation among individuals.  Aren't you curious?

How on earth...?

First, you must eat real human food.  You know, the kind of stuff our ancestors ate for millions of years before the invention of the Twinkie.  See also marksdailyapple.com.

Second, you must lift heavy weights.  Being lean without muscle is merely cadaverous, neither healthy nor aesthetic.

After several months of training (I took about a year) you will have a decent muscular foundation and will already have leaned out.  Then you can take it to the next level by following Leangains principles:

  1. Eat all meals within an eight-hour window (1pm and 9pm for example)
  2. Cycle macronutrients (training days low-fat, high-carb, small caloric surplus; rest days higher-fat, very-low-carb, moderate caloric deficit)
  3. Train reverse-pyramid style with maximum intensity but few sets, focusing on the Big Three
  4. Train only three days a week, and on the remaining four stick to walking, bodyweight motions, and carrying things around

Full disclosure, I got my macronutrient targets and some helpful tips for this diet from Andrew Morgan of rippedbody.jp.  If you want a truly experienced coach, consult the oracle himself.

There you are.  Now go forth and get ripped!

...what?  You're still here?  Jeez, you're killing me.


After a couple of weeks of fine tuning, I was soon eating the exact same thing every training day, and the exact same thing every rest day. It was working, after all, and keeping to the same food choices reduced uncontrollable variables.  (All foods are not utilized the same way, even if their macros are identical.)

I prepared all my meals the night before, so compliance was as easy as finishing what I had prepared and no more.  Never make eating decisions in a state of hunger!

The magic of Primal Leangains is maximum nutrient density - the greatest micronutrient bang for the macronutrient buck. This speeds progress and blunts hunger.

If you're looking for a solid resource on nutrition and supplements, I highly recommend examine.com.  Many of the concepts and nutrients in this article link to there.

Training day lunch:

Best! Bison! Ever!

One pound 96% lean ground grass-finished bison, baked in oven at 325F until medium-rare/medium (from Lindner Bison at the Santa Monica farmer's market)
WHY: This is what Apache hunters ate when they were the fittest people on the planet. Far tastier and more nutritious than traditional lean proteins like tuna and chicken breast.  Flavor with unrefined salt and your favorite spices.

2/3 of a raw red onion (from the Santa Monica farmer's market)
WHY: Alliums are incredible.  Many people in India live on nothing but onions and bread. The outer layers of onions are a great source of quercetin. This may create an odor offensive to unhealthy people.  Be patient and understanding with them.

Large head of broccoli, parboiled (from the Santa Monica farmer's market)
WHY: Broccoli has beneficial effects on blood glucose and anti-aromatase properties, along with a dizzying array of micronutrients.  Consume daily.

See you there!

Bunch of asparagus, parboiled (from the Santa Monica farmer’s market)
WHY:  It makes urination a multimedia experience.  It's also very nutritious and one of the tastier green vegetables.

OR half a bunch of red kale (from Whole Foods)
WHY:  Kale is the most nutrient-dense of all the leafy greens, especially the deeply pigmented varieties.  In many respects it's even better than broccoli.

Two bags frozen boreal wild blueberries (from Trader Joe’s)
WHY:  Berries are concentrated sources of antioxidants which control inflammation from intense training.  They are also relatively high-fructose and low-glycemic-index.  This makes them a good daytime carb source as they require little insulin.  Blueberry skins contain resveratrol and small, wild berries have the best skin-to-pulp ratio.  Resveratrol plus quercetin destroys fat cells. 
True story.

One bag frozen organic mixed berries (from Trader Joe’s)
WHY:  More berries, more phytonutrients.  Altogether this is a crap-ton of berries, about enough to fill a large mixing bowl.  People thought I was weird.  Maybe it is weird.  Who cares?

Training day dinner:

Half pound 96% lean ground grass-finished bison, baked in oven at 325F until medium-rare/medium (from Lindner Bison at the Santa Monica farmer's market)
WHY: Mr. and Mrs. Lindner are really nice people.

One bag of organic leafy greens
WHY: Doesn't matter what kind. Mix it up. Baby spinach, chard, kale, romaine, whatever. No iceberg lettuce, though; you may as well eat wet newspaper.

OR celery or cucumber
WHY: There's good stuff in these, although not a whole lot. We principally want a lot of fiber to slow down your digestion so that you're on a steady amino drip while you sleep and in the morning.

Count Shredula Cereal (maple quinoa)
WHY: I invented this recipe. IT IS THE MOST DELICIOUS FOOD YOU WILL EVER EAT. It is your reward for cheating death in the gym.  Seriously, you should send me money for this one, or at least let me mow your lawn.

Count Shredula is such an epic recipe that I made this video to help you enjoy it.

135g red quinoa, prepared according to package instructions (Trader Joe's)
WHY: Red quinoa falls into the category of “primal enough” and offers all the essential amino acids.  Red pigments signify exciting phytonutrients which is why we don’t go for the pale stuff.  These non-fiber carbohydrates are exclusively glucose which makes them ideal for spiking insulin (which we only want to do on the evenings of training days for obscure reasons).  It has an excellent micronutrient profile, particularly in minerals, as well as a nutty, maply flavor that combines well with the other ingredients.

Mix in 18g coconut butter (Artisana brand) while quinoa is still hot.
WHY: We don’t want to drop fat below 10-20% of calories or hormones may be impaired and the body will start
synthesizing its own fat.  However, medium chain triglycerides from coconuts are digested by the body at minimal enzymatic cost and are preferentially burned for energy rather than stored.

Mix in ¼ cup Grade B Maple Syrup while quinoa is still hot.
WHY: Maple syrup is magic and will someday be shown to cure cancer.  Best caloric sweetener out there.

Mix in two cups Unsweetened Vanilla Organic Almond Milk (365 brand from Whole Foods).  This cools the concoction.
WHY: This is the “milk” of the cereal.  There’s a lot of Vitamin E here, too, which is rare elsewhere in this diet.

Mix in 11g chocolate casein (from proteinfactory.com).  This clumps up into “marshmallows” and adds chocolate flavor.
WHY: Casein is the slow-releasing milk protein and helps prevent lean tissue catabolism overnight.  Protein Factory offers a nice flavor (when it's in stock) that will chocolatize the whole dish.  And you can’t have a hedonistic cereal without marshmallows.

Optional: add organic cinnamon
WHY: Cinnamon is an amazing antioxidant and regulator of blood glucose that also happens to taste fantastic.  This gives dish a cinnamon-roll flavor.  It is preferable to actual cinnamon rolls, I actually tested that.

Eat while watching Mythbusters with your children.
WHY: Explosions and Jamie Hyneman’s mustache are potent anabolic agents.

Now GO TO SLEEP.  Sleep is absolutely critical and ideally you would sleep until you could sleep no more.  If you start to get hungry after dinner, your body is actually warning you to go to sleep before you do something stupid.

Rest day lunch:

Two-thirds of an 840g wild salmon fillet, cooked at 275F until the fat bubbles up (from Santa Monica Farmer's Market)
WHY: Wild salmon has all the omega-3 you'll ever need and most of the micronutrients. Forget fish oil or krill oil supplements, this is the real deal. It's also incredibly tasty, especially the belly fat.

Two-thirds of a raw yellow onion:
WHY: More allium goodness, slightly different nutrition than a red onion, and slightly less offensive to your neighbors.

Large head of broccoli, parboiled (from the Santa Monica farmer's market)
WHY: Always eat broccoli.

Bunch of asparagus, parboiled (from the Santa Monica farmer's market)
WHY: Always multimedia urination.

Rest day dinner:

The remaining third of that 840g wild salmon fillet
WHY: If your salmon fillets fall short of 840g, baked organic eggs (30 minutes in the oven at 325F) and extra protein powder can make up the difference.

Bag of frozen organic strawberries (from Trader Joe's)
WHY: This is the entire non-green-veg carb portion for the day. I like to dip it in stevia powder and cinnamon (and casein, if you've got room in your macros) to make it more like a real dessert.

Don't forget to GO TO SLEEP!


Regarding diet, all you can do is follow the formula and wait.  This is the discipline of restraint: annoying, but necessary.

But regarding training, your efforts determine your destiny.  This is the discipline of exertion: terrifying and glorious!  Many people lift like they're doing their taxes.  Don't be that way!  Lift like you're fighting off a barbarian horde for the very survival of your people!

For best results, you must convince your body that if it doesn’t get stronger, it may die.  That might sound grim but believe me it's a lot more fun, especially as you get used to it.

Commercial gyms are not as effective as a home gym or a strength-training gym.  If you’re lifting as a matter of life and death, you are going to be making horrible noises and scaring the uninitiated.  Ideally you want to to get half-naked, scream, bleed, dance, and sing.  In other words, comport yourself like a real Homo Sapiens without annoying those who came to do cardio or look at themselves in the mirror.  Their goals are valid too.

All you typically need is a sledgehammer, a barbell with sufficient plates, and a squat stand.  A bench press, dip station, and chin-up bar are useful extras.

Our calorie-restricted training protocol follows the reverse pyramid approach.  Warm up with light volume at increasing weight.  Do your heaviest set, then a drop set where you reduce the weight, then a second drop set where you reduce the weight again (except on deadlifts where two sets is quite enough).  For each work set, you’re aiming for a certain rep range.  If you hit the top of the range, you raise that weight next week.  If you fall below the bottom of the range, you drop that weight next week..

Here’s a sample routine I used on this diet.  The linked videos show my technique.  Please note I am not an expert on form, and am always learning, although these obviously these were good enough to get results.


Deadlifts:  (never mind the comments :) )
195x5 (Romanian style for just this one set)
375x? (3-5)
350x? (4-6)

Paleo Pendlay Rows:
195x? (10-12)
185x? (8-10)
175x? (8-10)


225x? (6-8)
205x? (8-10)
195x? (10-12)

Power Clean and Press:
150x? (0-1)

(This one’s a little different; I just keep raising the weight and doing singles until I fail three times in a row.)

FRIDAY (Option 1, good for the early cut):

Bench Press:
175x? (4-6)
165x? (6-8)
155x? (8-10)

65x? (4-6)
45x? (4-6)
35x? (4-6)

FRIDAY (Option 2, good for the late cut or if you don’t have a bench and dip station):

Hammer Charges (6-10 intervals)
Low-intensity jog (20-30 minutes) (THIS IS THE ONLY CARDIO YOU ARE EVER ALLOWED TO DO)
Hammer Flurries (6-10 intervals) (This video has me doing them with a machete, but you get the idea)

(The hammer battle routine is spelled out in my article on Stubborn Hammer Protocol 2.0b.)

Crucial training tips:

Use stimulants.  Lots of people like coffee.  I personally like one serving of 1MR and one gram of L-Tyrosine, taken three times: at 60 minutes out, 40 minutes out, and 20 minutes out.  No, that isn’t primal, but the behavior it evokes certainly is.

Always train fasted.  This might be tough at first but stick with it and you’ll adapt.  Did your ancestors eat a bunch of food, and then go hunting?  No.  No they did not.

Take BCAAs.  10g, 10 minutes before the workout.  This is the Leangains sacrament.  Don’t ask, just do it.

Take video of all your sets.  I use my phone propped up against something.  This will help you analyze your form after the fact, because you are not going to be able to think about that while you are staring death in the face.  It will also motivate you to struggle just a bit harder, because when your efforts are being recorded that makes it somehow more real and meaningful, and you can prove to yourself later that yes, you really did do that.

If you reach the brink of unconsciousness; if you feel like you just narrowly missed getting hit by a train; if you are screaming or cursing involuntarily; if you forget how many reps you just did – you may be training with acceptable intensity.


This is how it broke down on this, my first diet.  My second diet actually never went past stage II:


Caloric restriction has just begun, but your metabolism hasn’t really noticed yet.  It’s charging ahead as if nothing had changed.  Hunger might be a little awkward at bedtime, especially on rest days, but when you wake up you’ll feel great.  Your workouts will be solid, possibly even better than before you restricted calories because you’ve got more catecholamines and less of a load on your digestive system.  You may feel like you’re leaving the gym with energy to spare.  Resist the urge to work out on your rest days.

Pounds will drop quickly, especially in the first week as you run down your glycogen stores.  Your body is torching through visceral fat with ease.  Waistline is closing in fast, but subcutaneous fat is pretty much untouched.  Use this time to establish good habits and be totally consistent with your food choices so you know what works.


Hormones are starting to flag.  You’re starting to feel relieved when your workouts are over.  You are no longer tempted to work out on your rest days.  You may hit a weight loss plateau – don’t worry about that, it’s normal to stall for a week or two at a time as your body hits various points of resistance.  Hunger is starting to get stronger, prompting your body to adapt to increasingly stubborn energy reserves.

Visceral fat is nearly gone and you're getting into the intramuscular and subcutaneous stuff.  You’re starting to see some muscular striations and vascularity, particularly in the shoulders and upper back.  Waistline is still dropping.  Hang in there – every day is a victory.  You’ve paid a lot of dues and you’re starting to reap the rewards.


Hormones are hitting the floor.  You still have energy in the morning, and you are possibly more psychotic than ever when you do work out.  But during the feeding period, you are exhausted.  You get cold easily.  Libido is absent.  You are overly serious -- even grumpy.  You are starting to feel real hunger, the kind our ancestors knew and feared.  The kind of hunger that will eventually drive a person to eat anything and undertake the most desperate of measures.  The kind of hunger that gave birth to modern man!

You’re out of visceral and intramuscular fat.  Your body is finally digging in to the stubborn stuff around your belly and lower back which, for some reason, it really does not want to give up.  Every pound lost is a real struggle now.  But on the other hand, every pound lost now is more visible than ever before.  You are finally becoming shredded!  Hold fast, this is what you came for!  Hold faaaaaast!


If you don't engineer a soft landing, you will eventually snap.  In the end, hunger is stronger than you.  I knew that point had arrived when I spent four hours lying awake at night unable to stop thinking about food.  A few days later I had to travel on business to a hotel without access to groceries.  It had been 11 ½ weeks – close enough.  I soon found myself eating HUGE amounts of food, almost uncontrollably, including things so very unprimal that I hadn’t touched the like for three years.

I snapped back massively over the next two weeks, gaining back almost every pound I had lost.  And I rediscovered in vivid detail why one should eat only primal foods, regardless of calorie restriction.  But this was not a total catastrophe; I was physically much stronger and, oddly, more vascular than ever before.  And it was an incredible learning experience.  Seriously, just experiencing survival levels of hunger will change your life.

Thus ended my first cut.  The following year, confident I could drop fat, I really went for broke and got as big as possible in a bid to gain strength.  I bloated up to 192 pounds and wondered if it had gone too far...


Parboiling.  Thanks to Chef Rachel for this technique which revolutionized my vegetable preparation:

1)      Raise water to boiling

2)      Add vegetables, cover until water is boiling again

3)      Immediately remove vegetables with tongs and drop in bowl of ice water

4)      When cool, remove and serve or refrigerate for later

You get the nutritional benefits of both raw AND cooked veg at the same time!  And the taste can’t be beat.  When you get used to it the broccoli tastes almost like a chewy milkshake.

Vegetable tea.  After parboiling, you’re left with a bowl of cold water and a bowl of hot water, both of which are loaded with micronutrients.  Pour the hot water into the cold water and stick it in the freezer.  Let it cool and maybe ice over.  Now you have iced vegetable tea, which is a great beverage for all hours of the day.  Not a single drop of vegetable goodness goes to waste, especially B vitamins which are essential for fat metabolism.  After over a year this "tea" has proven a keystone of my diet.

Midday sun exposure.  On training days, train outside if you can, as undressed as weather and local laws permit.  On rest days, go for a brisk walk for 10-15 minutes around noon.  Not only does this help with Vitamin D and other secosteroids, it will maintain your circadian rhythm and improve sleep, which is crucial.

Stay active during the fast.  This is your most energetic, productive time, and all the energy you use comes from fat reserves.  Don’t just sit in a chair.  At least bounce your legs.  Get up and move as much as you can, keep the circulation flowing and the fat burning.  Walking and bodyweight squats are great for this time.

Stay cold.  Maybe this is specific to my genetics but it's a huge help for me.  Eat cold food.  Take cold showers.  Drive with the windows down.  Drink lots of cold water.  Train your body to habitually heat itself.  Brown fat is a powerful ally.

100% compliance is the easiest way.  I may be in the minority, but it was easiest to stick to my diet being absolutely ruthless about measuring to the gram.  When I started getting approximate with my numbers towards the end, everything started to fall apart.  Think of it this way: the diet is not a suggestion, it is a precise alchemical formula for turning lead into gold.  Deviate from the formula and your lab will explode.

There you go, a complete guide to becoming ripped.  I hope it was worth what you paid for it.  Now are you actually going to go do this or what?

Email Timothy at this domain with questions, comments, lawn-mowing opportunities, and YOUR advice for ME.

All text copyright © 2010-2013 Timothy Williams