Best Practices for Getting Ripped and Killing it (in the gym)

how to get rippedI was talking to my friend Filip the other day (he’s the guy in the image).

We were discussing some of the mindsets and best practices behind getting ripped and having great gym workouts. Or as I call it — the philosophy of rippedness.

It was surprising, for us both, to notice how similar the core ideas of our gym-ideologies are.

In this article I’ve summarized some of our main ideas and practical tips.

Both Filip and I got ripped pretty fast after having set out to achieve that goal. He did it in just 1,5 years, while it took me roughly 2 years.

Actually, I think Filip had the fastest physical transformation I have ever seen. When we were 17-19, and still in high school (gymnasiet, as it’s called in Sweden) he went from looking like a little kid to looking like an Adonis.

The strangest part is that he didn’t even eat very healthy food. I thought it was unfair.

So I would tease him and say that he took steroids. This made him angry, as it discredited his hard work (I feel a little bad now). He worked out nearly every day at the time.

How his transformation happened so quickly, and how he grew so strong (he bench presses nearly 2x his bodyweight), was an enigma to me and many others at the time. We were extremely uninformed about fitness and nutrition.

We thought we couldn’t build muscle unless we ate lots of tiny meals all the time and, the idea of fasting would never have struck us as intelligent back in those days.

Anyway, despite my insinuations, Filip did not take steroids and never has. He’s just freakishly focused.

I’ve been to the gym with Filip a bunch of times and I’ve never seen anyone with more RAW intensity.

I’ve asked him lots of times what goes on in his head during workouts. He hasn’t been able to give me any detailed answer, as it seems like most of what he does, he does unconsciously — he just gets into this intense flow state.

So I asked him to think it over for a few days and pay extra attention what he does.

He did that — and these are the things he came up with. . .

Filip’s Advice for Killing it in the Gym

#1 Think of NOTHING when you do a set

Filip refers to this as mindfulness:

When I do a set I let go of all my thoughts and focus completely on the muscle I am working. To really feel your muscles and to be able to contract them as tightly as you possibly can when you lift is the most important thing in the gym, in my opinion. It can be hard to focus on just ONE muscle, and letting go of everything else, but I think mindfulness (in general) is a good way to practice what I call “entering a specific muscle”.

I think it takes a while for a “newbie” to learn how to really consciously FEEL his or her muscles.

I strongly concur with this. Most people I see in the gym are mindlessly going through the motions — there’s no intent in what they’re doing. No force of will behind the movements. They don’t want to face the pain.

#2 Always do drop sets.

For example, say I’m doing shoulder press with 30 kg dumbbells, I’ll drop down to 17,5 kg dumbbells after I’m too tired to do another set on the 30 kg ones. That way I am able to push out more reps than I would have otherwise.

A drop set is when you start with a heavy weight and do as many repetitions as you can with it until you reach failure. After reaching failure you immediately use a less heavy weight (I like to drop down to 50 % of the heavy weight) and lift until failure again.

#3 Failure trumps form

When you get tired — and reach failure — it’s more important that you try for another rep, even if it’s shitty form, than it is that you give up.

Try not to use a spotter (unless you’re lifting really heavy), because if you do that then you’ll KNOW that you can lift that weight, and that’s not mentally challenging or risky enough for you. You want to put yourself in a position where it’s EAT OR BE EATEN, where the reptile part of your brain takes over and you’re forced to lift that weight. As opposed to half-heartedly lifting the weight with assistance from a spotter.

Obviously, this is for big boys only.

#4 Flex after workouts

I think it’s a very good idea to flex your body as hard as you can after a workout to see the results; try to see different parts of your body that can be improved, and think about how this might be done best.

I also like to think about — and visualize myself — working out as I go about my day.

#5 Some muscles you have to SLAUGHTER. . .

. . .  Such as calves.

For those muscles you have to go over a certain threshold to reach great results. I’m not sure where this threshold is, but I can feel that when I pass that threshold, the muscle feels very different, it’s as if you have to put it through a serious beating before it understands that it’s supposed to grow!

Interpretation: What he means by that is that you need to do a lot more sets than you are initially comfortable with.

In my opinion these are the muscles that must be “slaughtered”:

Thanks for the tips, Filip!

I realize some these tips may seem like total bro-science. Nonetheless I stand by their value. These things work great for me and Filip — and, hopefully they will work well for you too.

Also, so-called science related to working out or bodybuilding is usually not the most trustworthy sort of science. Self-experimentation is much most important, as people have different bodies.

Now, let’s get into my advice.

Ludvig’s Mental Principles for Killing it in the Gym

#1 Create a powerful pre-workout ritual

I’ve thoroughly explained my strategy for becoming addicted to working out.

But here’s a recap:

  1. Create positive associations with working out
  2. Use operant conditioning by tying a reward to working out
  3. Listen to good music and do other things that put you in an upbeat mood

When done together you’ll create an addictive (positive) feedback loop which should effortlessly put you into flow.

#2 Use contrast bias to lift more/heavier weights (than you would otherwise be able to)

gym contrast bias

Contrast bias displayed visually.

Contrast bias is the reason your brain does not evaluate things objectively, but always in relation to something else. A good example being how contrasting colors stand out.

You’re using contrast bias to your advantage in the gym when you:

  • Do lighter drop-sets after your original set (Example: original set = 30 kg dumbbells | drop-set = 20 kg)
  • Do pyramid sets (Example: 50 kg, 75 kg, 100 kg, 75 kg, 50 kg)

Contrast bias is the reason why doing a drop-set of several lighter repetitions is easier than doing one more repetition with the heavy weight. Physically speaking, this may be just as hard, but mentally it is perceived as easier by your brain.

I say it all the time, but it bears repeating: The mental aspect of gym-going is probably more important than the physical aspect. Mind over matter.

#3 Belief is importantalways stretch it

Henry Ford said that “Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right,” and when it comes to working out or lifting weights in the gym, I find this to be the case most of the time. 

It is rare that I can lift more (repetitions) or heavier (weight) than I believe I can. I think Filip’s idea of not using a spotter — “eat or be eaten” — so that you feel less secure, works by the same logic.

So what I do every workout is that I try to do a little more than I believe I can do, whether that means doing a few more reps or setting a new 1 rep maximum record. I always try to break records and usually I succeed.

If I’m out running and I’m almost home and I feel like I can barely make it, I’ll force myself to go around the block one more time before coming home.

Real-life example of #2 and #3:

Some time ago I broke my record in deadlift. I tried to do one rep on 200 kg and failed twice. On my third try I succeeded. My next set I did 3 repetitions on 190 kg, with a short rest in between each lift.

Question: Why was it harder for me deadlift 200 kg once than it was for me to do 3 reps on 190 kg?

1) Because of contrast bias:

Had I started with 210 kg (and failed) I would perhaps have made the 200 kg lift on my first try instead. Dropping down from 200 kg to 190 kg creates a mental contrast which makes the brain perceive it as easier.

2) Because of belief:

I have done 190 kg deadlifts many times. I know in my mind that I can do it because I’ve easily done it before.

I had never successfully done a 200 kg deadlift before — so, of course I did not feel confident I could do it. There was a mental barrier to overcome.

#4 Use incremental change to break records and increase motivation

It is easier and often better to change things a little bit at a time — incrementally — than it is to make big sudden changes. There are many reasons for this. . .

. . .Where a major reason is motivation.

When you break a record or outdo yourself you get lightning-fast positive feedback that motivates you. Motivation in turn is incredibly important and you should consider it a scarce resource (like time and energy).

By stepping up your workouts incrementally you’ll receive more total motivation than you will compared to if you made just one big sudden step.

A person who is new to the gym and has a maximum potential of 100 kg in bench press (that he does not know of) is better off increasing his record many times over by 2,5-5 kg at a time, compared to if he were to do it once at 70 kg and then one more time at 100 kg. Make sense?

gym workout changes2

Real-life example of #3  (belief) and #4 (incremental change):

I try to stretch my belief so that it becomes “logical” for me to be able to do something. For example, recently I did 4 slow repetitions of dumbbell bench press with 47,5 kg. But at the same time I had never done a single repetition of 100 kg normal bench press. This angered me.

So I told myself I should easily be able to do one repetition of 110 kg bench press. . .

. . .But not immediately.

Instead, I got there incrementally — by breaking my record a little at a time over 2 weeks. 100 kg one workout. 102,5 kg the next time, followed by 105 kg, followed by 107.5 kg, and finally 110 kg the last one. This does two positive things for me:

  1. Makes me happier (more motivated)
  2. Gives me a stronger belief (because it is based in more repetitions)

#6 Speed up your recovery time and stay focused

Warren Buffett says that even if you have really high IQ, without being rational you won’t be able reach your intellectual potential.

The same principle holds true when you’re lifting.

You may have the physical potential to do a 200 kg deadlift, but if your mental focus is off you probably won’t be able to lift more than 170 kg that day. And to stay mentally focused you need to relax.

Here’s how I do that:

  1. I make sure I am breathing properly — into my stomach, not my chest
  2. Before doing a heavy lift I shake my body to loosen up, exhale and relax my muscles (this looks weird, but it works)
  3. I check my pulse by holding my hand over my stomach.

Checking my pulse also acts as a way to gauge my awareness level and it calms me down, because my mind has learned to associate it with relaxing.

#7 Using “power moves” to boost your state

This one is a little bit wacky, but it also works.

(Warning: People may think you’re a retard.)

“Power moves” are physical movements that boost your motivation and, with practice, can put you in flow state. They work by two principles:

  1. Association and repetition
  2. By affecting your physiology (this is why power posing works)

I like to use certain power moves in combination with my pre-workout ritual. They help me go from being rational and logic to putting me in a meditative state where I’m focusing on my body and not thinking so much. The more you practice, through repetition, the better it gets. I like to:

  • Use power posing and put my hands above my head (I do this while running as well when I’m really tired and feel like quitting)
  • Rhythmic movement to whatever music I am listening to
  • Flexing my body as hard as I can (ABF — always be flexing!)

#8 Create and use a “lock-in” move

A lock-in move is like an upgrade to power moves. I like to do it right before challenging lifts or after breaking a record.

There are two reasons why you want to do them:

  1. Get extra motivation
  2. Lock-in this moment in your memory

I know what you’re thinking: What does memory have to do with working out or lifting weights in the gym?

A lot actually — because it builds your belief.

The more emotional intensity and detail you can add to a memory, the better you will remember it. The better you remember something the more you believe it and the more confident you get.

So — each time you do something you’re proud about in the gym you want to “lock-in” that moment.

I do this by making a clap, that’s my lock-in move.

Again, this is for big boys only. Most people don’t dare to do this, and risk looking weird.

Maybe you don’t like clapping your hands as much as I do. But the trick here is not in the specific movement, it’s about how it makes you feel.

Try out different movements and see which ones make you feel the most powerful.

If you’re clueless about what power moves you can use. . .

. . .Here’s some inspiration:


Or check this video after 4 min 22 sec.

Do you have any best practices or mental tips related to working out?

Photo credit: Wikipedia


  1. I’ve been doing for a while now it’s 30 crunches 30 cross wrenches 20 leg raises 30 bicycle crunches 20heal touches 20 Superman and a one minute plank also two and a half mile and a 40 times each arm on a25 pound wait i just need to check my diet but is good.

  2. How long time did it take for Filip to get ripped from starting to work out? How many Years are behind the picture at top?

  3. Hey Ludvig!
    Some great tips here. I definitely agree with Filips #1 point. I’ve recently stopped listening to music in the gym so that I can really concentrate on each rep. I also think the incremental changes is very true. This was at the heart of my success with the 5×5 programme.Having a new challenge every time you go to the gym is very motivating. Hope you are well!

  4. Best practices for KILLING. Hehe.

    Jokes aside, here are my 3 big ideas from this..

    1. Focus on “the rep” & mindfulness
    2 Cut music for inspiration
    3 drop sets

    Thx for the Mind Matrix ebook. I read it yesterday and a few of those tools seem really useful. I set up GA immediately etc as per your recommendation.

  5. Do you use protein powder? and what is your opinion on using supplements?are they needed?

  6. I would like to add one more – work out around people who you aspire to look like AND people you seek to impress.

    In college, the sheer fact that I was surrounded by athletes, gym rats, and attractive women was a huge pump up during my workouts. It made a huge difference.

    Now I workout around many feeble seniors and obese people – and I’ve lost about 50 lbs of muscle since then. Slowly gaining it back, but it’s definitely harder than before.

  7. I wouldnt call it bro science. These are some insightful ideas compared to what is usually being regurgitated as far as BB and lifting go.

  8. George Costanza says

    I already knew most of this stuff from having read your other articles, the one about winner effect especially. I want new tips/content, I think you should focus more on that.

  9. Hi Ludvig,

    Thanks for the great tips!!! I will try to slowly include them in my gym activity. 4 months back, I was overweight. Now I reduced around 20 pounds and look normal. Even though lower part of body reduced quickly, I still have fat in my upper part of my body especially in my stomach. Can you please tell me an effective way to reduce it?

    • I lost 24 kg a few years ago. Having gone from obese to healthy i think I have the answers for you. To answer your question simply:

      1) Area specific exercises don’t work: You can’t lose weight in just one place, you lose it everywhere. I know this might confuse you because it goes against everything you might have read on the internet and from what you’ve been told, but take my word for it.

      2) The reason you feel you are losing disproportionate fat loss in different areas is because you are also losing muscle.

      3) You will save much more time and effort, if you focus not on “I must lose this fat” but on “I must become healthy”. I made this mistake. Focus on strength training only. You will not only gain more muscle, but you will also lose more fat (than if you did cardio).

      4) Calories are important but you must make sure you eat good calories. Correct grams of protein, correct grams of cabs and correct grams of fat.
      You must be on a significant calorific deficit to lose fat. And because you are indian like me Chances you are probably eating too many carbs. Indian diets were originally designed around a farming lifestyle (too much rice, chappathi etc). If you live a city lifestyle, you will have to reconsider everything you eat.

      5) Keep things simple. Ludvig’s routine is a bit more advanced and might be a lot to handle at the stage you are at.

      To keep it simple, I would strongly recommend do the following:

      Exercise: Stronglifts 5×5.. Go to their website and follow every step they say exactly (except their diet). Follow everything except the diet.

      Food: Find out how many calories you need to eat, how many grams of carbs, fat, protein everyday.

      Once you get to an OK health level, then you can come back here and learn about intermittent fasting and flow state workout. Don’t confuse yourself at this stage. Hope this helps :)

      • Hi Shaun,

        Thanks for the detailed response. Yes. I used to have lot of carbs in my diet and I reduced it to 25% now which helped me in reducing my weight. I went through Stronglifts 5×5 site and it seems to be very useful. I will add their exercises to my gym routine :)

        I think you maybe right in saying I am losing muscle. I lost a lot of mass around my thighs. Let me try compound exercises and track the progress.

    • Nice job on doing that Kanagu!

      Shaun’s advice is good, I agree with it. Focus on diet and compound lifts and you should be good in a couple of months.

      I don’t have too much experience with weight loss. I used to have (a lot of) trouble gaining weight up til I was 20. Then I bulked up ca 15 kg in 6 months, mostly by eating like crazy (and not too healthy).

      I then effortlessly lost most of that weight over 2 months when I started doing intermittent fasting. If you’re not fasting I would recommend you start. It takes about 2-4 week to adapt, but after that you stop being hungry. I currently only eat once per day. This is nice because it saves a lot of time.

      Your gravatar looks cool.

      • Hi

        Nice article as always, Ludvig.

        On the topic of intermittent fasting, I came by this abstract from a recently published study in Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (december issue), this is the conlusion:

        “An 8-hour eating and 16-hour fasting day resulted in a decrease in fat mass as well as weight for the Intermittent Fasting plus Resistance Training group when compared to the Resistance Training only group. On the other hand no differences were found between the Resistance Training only group and Intermittent Fasting group, hinting to that intermittent fasting alone may not be affective in decreasing body fat percent. However, when paired with resistance training, lean mass can be retained and/or enhanced while decreasing body fat, thus enhancing body composition”

        Source: Effects of intermittent fasting on markers of body composition and mood state. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2014, 11(Suppl 1):P25 (1 December 2014)


      • Sure Ludvig. I will try to do more compound lifts and monitor my diet.

        I will read your posts on intermittent fasts and will start include them in my lifestyle. I think that will be helpful to me since it will allow me to do more things during that time.

        Thanks for liking for gravatar. I like Nolan’s batman version. Batman is a kind of character who appeals to me very much :)

  10. Filips techniques seem very down-to-earth and make total sense to me as I go about my exercise in a very similar way. Except maybe not with as much “raw focus” ;) but what I mean is that I just lift and don’t plan much.

    Ludvig your techniques/best practices are actually really freaking interesting. You really know a lot about psychology & mindset and that sort of stuff – it’s fascinating man. Do you know any good book for learning things like this?

    • Benny,

      “Do you know any good book for learning things like this?”

      –Not really. These are my own ideas taken from eclectic readings, experimented with, and found useful. When I finish BOOH (my own book) it will have a bunch of practical tips and real life situations for applying ideas like this, and not just in the gym.

  11. Kyle Hoopes says

    Personally I plan out my workout with a progressive overload system before heading off to the gym; however there are times where I will change things up.

    A huge tip–before engaging into the set, always add an extra rep to what your mind wants to settle for. It will make the difference between staying stagnant and reaching that PR you want to hit.

  12. Sounds good Ludvig! Will be trying the pointers out today :) Have a nice one!

  13. Good post Ludvig. I like how you’ve always got new, useful, and real things to say.

    Comments on Filip’s tips:

    #1: Concentration on each rep individually is indeed very important. One of the pitfalls I’ve encountered in the past is that even counting reps is a distraction. When you know you’re going to do at least ten reps, your focus is at least partly on getting to the tenth rep, and it’s hard to put total effort into the others. My strategy is to go to failure, however many reps that may be, and adjust the weight on the next set or the next workout in order to get closer to my target (usually 8-10).

    #2: Drop sets are great but there are scores of other techniques you can use to get the same intensity, and it’s good to change things up sometimes especially if you are “stuck”. Also it’s not good to always exercise to maximum intensity, unless you are always fully recovered between workouts.

    #3 Cheating on form is a good way to “force” one or two more reps, if you don’t get so sloppy that you hurt yourself. If you are going to true failure without a spotter, you will /need/ to cheat on form to get out from under the bar. But it’s important to keep your form strict until you reach true failure. If you’re not sure at what point your muscles failed, or if you’re able to do more than one or at most two reps after failure, you need to concentrate more on keeping perfect form /as long as possible/.

    #5: The wrists and the stomach are not muscles; I am guessing that forearm muscles and abs are meant. Some muscles do seem to need extra abuse in order to grow, but which ones seems to be an individual matter. I find that my forearms and triceps both respond better than my biceps, for instance.

    Comments on Ludvig’s tips:

    #2: Contrast bias may be part of the reason it’s sometimes only possible to make progress by making major changes in your routine. It works in lots of situations, not just weightlifting.

    #3: Pushing yourself past your “believed” limits is fine up to a point, but the human body does have real limits and sooner or later you will *know* what they are. You will not benefit from going past your real limits.

    #4: Incremental change, yes, but I’m always amused by programs that promise improvements of X% over Y months, regardless of starting conditions. If you could really guarantee a 20% increase in your bench press in 12 weeks, what would happen if you did the 12 week program over and over for five years? So where are all the 10-ton bench pressers?

    • Great comment as usual Abgrund.

      ” But it’s important to keep your form strict until you reach true failure.”


      “The wrists and the stomach are not muscles”

      –Doh – my bad.

      ” Contrast bias may be part of the reason it’s sometimes only possible to make progress by making major changes in your routine. It works in lots of situations, not just weightlifting.”

      — Good point. I will think about this some more for Breaking out of Homeostasis.

  14. The first vid,28 -32 sec:
    “C’MOOOON, GIVE IT UP FOR ME!!!” (Raising his arm and pointing dominantly!)

    Haha Steve Ballmer is awesome.

    The second vid, 3:40-3:45:
    (Points at guy, energetically slaps his hand, screams and ignores the other guy)

    also second vid, 3:57-3:59 :
    (Power posing –> “I AM THE KING OF THE COLLISEUM!”)

  15. I don’t lift weights, I use just bodyweight exercises, but my progress is constant. And incremental.
    From 14 to 45 chin-ups. It took sometimes a week to gain 1 rep, sometimes a month. The contuity of this process deeply installed in my mind the bleieve, that I always can do better.

    #8 is cool. I’ll do that with my next record.

  16. Great. Inspirational.

    FYI: Focusing on every single repetition and the mindful contact with the specific muscle is a practice called “the rep”.

    Many people just do their “sets” or even full “sessions” (typically crossfitters and people attending group classes), whereas the ‘big boys’ focus on each single rep. When I found “The Rep” in a muscle magazine (BTW, don’t read those. I don’t anymore) back in 1995, it really changed things for me. Workouts became more painful and more intense, and I progressed faster.

    Rep and form are the most important factors for gaining MUSCLE STRENGTH.

    If MUSCLE VOLUME is more important than strength, use lower weights, more repetitions, less rest. In addition cheating (poor form) can be used in order to reach a more complete failure (alternatively use drop sets to get there)

    A couple of things I wouldn’t agree with:

    Never “always” do anything in the gym. You need variation for true progress. Always doing dropsets, or always doing them too often only means you will become overtrained – perhaps ripped but never reaching your full potential in terms of muscle mass or strength.

    Regarding cheating or trying to trick your mind into lifting more… I just tore my left hamstring this Saturday ( on a 385.5 lb deadlift that I “knew” i could handle. Unfortunately my body couldn’t…

    Final note: Remember that there are very few TRUTHS in bodybuilding. As Ludvig states, this is just something that worked for him and Filip and might not for you.

    However, if you eat reasonably well and train hard (sweat, hard breathing and moderate pain are good cues) at least 2-3 hours a week, and VARY your training according to a handful of established formulas, I am sure you will find YOUR way within a couple of years. And Ludvig’s formula is certainly not a bad place to start.

    • Great comment Mikael, also inspirational.

      “whereas the ‘big boys’ focus on each single rep”


      I agree with what you’re saying about the importance of VARIATION. I’ve written about it in two other gym-based articles. The reason I said “always” is because it’s supposed to be best practices :)

      I hope you’ll recover from the injury ASAP.

  17. Nice post!

    I always feel sad when I see pictures like the one @ the top :( But that’s why clothes were invented :D

    How do you feel about using the stimulation of music to help you get into a “flow” state? I love thumping music for work (and I know lots of others do too) — you seem to prefer silence.

    Do you have any experience / recommendations with either way?

    Thanks for the continued updates!!!!


  18. I’ve gotto ask……………………..
    …………………… do you even lift? ;D

    I’m joking of course, but i must ask a cliche annoying standard question, out of sheer curiosity, what is your current squat, deadlift and bench for 4-5 reps range? (to Ludvig that is)

  19. Awesome tips from both of u. Btw how can I get abs on the side of the stomach? I am pretty skinny but i eat healthy

    • Hi! The muscles you are refering to are called obliques. Both me and Ludvig have had somewhat of an obsession with training them, but they are, atleast according to me quite hard to work out. Anyway, i found that the best way for me to pinpoint the obliques is an exercise called the ”wood chopper”.
      Watch this video!

    • I agree with Filip, they are hard to work out at first.

      I like to do my own version of side situps. I do them very slowly and contract my core as hard as I can while I keep a hand clasping my head – this helps me contract the entire obliques section.

      • I’m relatively new to weightlifting, but do you guys not find that when you do target muscle group exercises, the muscles go away quickly, when you stop the workout for over a week?

        With compound exercises I find I dont really lose those muscles even if I havent been to the gym for 3 months. I can resume the workout almost at the same weight. single mucle group exercises I find I have to restart at a much lower weight. But I guess it doesn’t make logical sense so perhaps its psychological

    • Anon, I think the muscles you are talking about on the “side of the stomach” are the serratus anterior – they are prominent in the picture of Filip. What you actually see is the lower part of the muscle, near where it attaches to the ribs. The upper end attaches to the shoulder blade. The main function of the serratus anterior muscles is to rotate your scapula (shoulder blade) so that your arm is able to reach over your head. Thus they are exercised by lifting or supporting heavy weights with your elbows higher than your shoulders, for example locking out a military press (especially with a narrow grip).

      However, like abs, obliques, and other small muscles, they will never get really huge. If you want them to be visible, the most important thing is to keep your body fat down.

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