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I have run across a number of exercise routines which claim individuals can lose weight and build muscle with very little exercise.

So, the question: Can an average person become ripped in three months using any exercise routine limited to an hour or less a week? TUT, or max-weight, or max-reps, or any other method?

For the purposes of my question and to reduce ambiguity:

  • Our "average person" here will be Joe. Joe is male, between the ages of 20-40, living in America, with a middle-class lifestyle. Our Average Joe does not exercise regularly, does not use steroids or supplements, is 5'10" tall, 175 lbs, with a BMI of 25. He has a desk job, where he works maybe 3 hours a day and wastes the other 5. He is white, speaks only English, has difficulty matching paint colors, can't dance, is single with no children, and attends a Christian denomination of your choice- but only on holidays. He is fully vaccinated including covid-19, but doesn't remember which vaccine he took because he doesn't care about the differences. He has no drug addictions, does not drink to excess, pays little attention to politics, has never been out of the country, and owns at least two tools he doesn't know how to use. He lives in a dingy apartment in some city somewhere, spends too much money on eating out, and likes to wear nostalgic t-shirts featuring the exact same characters you love (what a coincidence!) Also, he has one sock in his drawer without a match, and it has been that way for at least six years.
  • Diet changes are fine. No steroids, supplements, or drugs. Vitamin pills, protein bars, and even disgusting green smoothies are fine. A gaggle of professional nutritionists, dieticians, and trainers are not allowed
  • "Ripped" will mean visible muscle tone in the chest and abs, bicep bulge, and no large fatty deposits (for example, no love handles). Body builder veins not necessary, tearing belts with one's neck not necessary, leaping tall buildings not necessary
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    This is perilously close to spam, I don't think that was your intention though. Could you Identify a specific quote or claim? "Significant muscle" - what does that mean? If there's no clear claim then all we have left is a link to a commercial company, thus my concern about how this might be seen as spam. Jul 27 at 21:14
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    There's also SE.PhysicalFitness if you're more interested in a discussion of the issue.
    – Nat
    Jul 28 at 5:52
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    I realize this is the internet and skepticism here is a virtue, but this seems a bit harsh. I'm new to Skeptics, not new to SE, as anyone can see from my profile. I've edited the question, though I don't know how to quote a specific claim without linking to a product or commercial methodology, since books are products.
    – Taejang
    Jul 28 at 13:22
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    To be honest, I thought your question was fine. I've seen plenty of questions here along the lines of "I've come across product X. X's website says that it can do Y. I'm skeptical of this because Z. Can X do Y?" This is the first time I've seen such a question get accused of being spam or "an attempt to build backlinks" or such.
    – F1Krazy
    Jul 28 at 14:23
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    I planned to tidy up my answer below and add some references, but the question has changed significantly. I'll delete my answer for now and add a new one when I get a chance.
    – ewanc
    Jul 30 at 10:36
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Getting "ripped" (or synonym of your choice) is an effort in body recomposition. This usually involves building lean muscle mass and losing excess body fat, although not necessarily at the same time.

Building Muscle

Building significant amounts of muscle mass requires two main things:

Progressive overload in weight training means gradually increasing volume and/or intensity over time to keep challenging your muscles which will stimulate them to grow. This can be done by increasing weight, reps and/or frequency of training.

A calorie surplus means that your calorie intake should be greater than the calories required to maintain your current weight, plus the calories required to complete your workout. Weight training works by damaging the muscle fibre leading them to heal up stronger. So the additional calories are required to fuel the recovery and generation of muscle fibre.

Losing Body Fat

Losing excess body fat generally requires aerobic exercise and a calorie deficit. A calorie deficit means your calorie intake is less than the calories required to maintain your current weight, plus the calories required to complete your workout, which forces your body to burn fat for fuel.

Can You Build Muscle And Lose Fat At The Same Time?

Traditionally building muscle and losing fat are carried out in stages, e.g. a bulking stage where the focus is building as much muscle as quickly as possible, followed by a cutting stage where the focus is to lose fat as quickly as possible while maintaining as much muscle mass as possible. This is commonly known as a bulk and cut.

It can be possible to do both at the same time if you can monitor your diet very carefully, eating a high protein diet and hitting the sweet spot in total calorie intake such that your muscles can recover and grow without adding new body fat, and allowing your aerobic activity to burn existing fat. This is difficult to do and requires a high level of dedication, especially without the help of trainers and nutritionists. In fact it can be effectively a full time job to manage your nutrition and recovery, on top of your regular training time.

All of this takes time, both in terms of duration of exercise and in terms of length of time to achieve lasting results. There are no short cuts and you should be extremely wary of any diet/exercise program that promises that there are.

How Much Exercise Does It Take?

For a sedentary person with a low level of activity, if they start training they will experience "beginner gains" where for a short time they will achieve noticeable results as their body adjusts to the higher activity level. This will quickly decrease and the person will need to progressively overload to continue seeing results.

Outside of beginner gains, the nature of progressive overload means that in order to continue seeing results it takes more time and effort.

It has been found that it is possible to get some results with training a single day a week, but more frequency in training produces greater results, as long as adequate recovery time is allowed. So gaining a significant amount of muscle mass in a short space of time requires several training sessions per week.

Conclusion

It is certainly possible for someone with a low level of activity to see noticeable improvements in body composition in a relatively short amount of time when they start exercising, even a small amount of exercise per week. However this is relatively short lived and to get ripped requires dedication and consistent training, ideally several sessions per week, with a good diet for an extended period of time.

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    Please provide some references to support your claims.
    – Oddthinking
    Aug 1 at 19:10
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    Added some more references, more to come. Due to the amount of people trying to sell miracle workouts, diets and supplements it's difficult to find reliable sources. I've tried to only use sources that include scientific references, or the scientific references themselves.
    – ewanc
    Aug 3 at 13:36
  • This answer doesn't really address the "three months" thing, which by my reading was the main point of the question.
    – user4216
    Aug 5 at 19:06
  • @BenCrowell Agreed, but it answers it well enough that the three month part can be inferred, and I've completely given up on this question. Didn't want to leave it unanswered. Ewanc spent the time to put together a decent answer, so I didn't delete the question entirely
    – Taejang
    Aug 10 at 17:46
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    @ewanc I'm going to just leave it as is; anyone who finds it later can read the question, comments, and of course your answer, then take it as they will
    – Taejang
    Aug 12 at 13:14

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