The No BS Guide to Building Lean Muscle (2023)

The No BS Guide to Building Lean Muscle (1)

Regardless of whether you call it strength, resistance, or weight training, any body can benefit from gaining muscle. A strong core and limbs can help you avoid falling or make lugging groceries up the stairs easier.

Then there’s the added bonus of a leaner composition and weight loss, if that’s your goal.

Strength boost benefits:

  • improves balance
  • enhances posture
  • increases coordination
  • prevents injury
  • protects bone health
  • eases pain
  • reduces fat
  • prevents weight gain
  • slows age-related muscle loss

“Weight training truly is the fountain of youth when it comes to keeping your body healthy,” explains Allison Jackson, a certified personal trainer.

“As we age, we generally lose muscle,” she explains, adding that, in addition to building muscle, weight-bearing exercises are key to building stronger bones.

If you’re worried about muscles changing the body you already love, keep reading. We’ve got the science-backed info on why muscle matters and how to build strength training into your workouts to fit your goals.

You already own one of the best pieces of equipment for building muscle: your beautiful body. And you don’t have to follow a rigid routine to glean the lean-inducing returns. You can choose the types of movements or fitness styles you enjoy and incorporate strength training into your lifestyle.

Aim for two or three strength training workouts per week, whether that’s:

  • lifting
  • taking a power yoga class
  • busting through a high intensity interval training (HIIT) circuit
  • doing bodyweight exercises

1. Pumping iron isn’t the only way to get buff

Sure, you can head to the gym, but if you’re tight on funds or prefer the privacy of your own pad, you can get lean just by using your bodyweight.

A recent study shows that training with lighter loads and more repetitions is just as effective at building muscle as training with heavy weights and fewer reps. Just do the exercise until your muscles demand a break.

That means you can squat with no added weights and get a similar result as doing weighted squats — simply go until you couldn’t possibly do one more.

Strive for three sets, adding to your number of reps as you get stronger.

2. Toss out rules about reps

If you prefer holding lunges in a yoga class rather than doing walking lunges around your apartment, you’ll still reap the strength benefits.

Repeating a movement to fatigue is a great way to gain strength, but muscle contraction of any kind will produce powerful results, says one small study.

ISOTONIC

  • pushups
  • squats
  • crunches
  • donkey kicks
  • triceps dips
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Aim for a mix of isotonic and isometric exercises in your fitness regimen. If you’ve got achy joints, aim for more isometric exercises. Hold for 30 seconds to start with and work your way up to more time.

ISOMETRIC

  • plank
  • Warrior Pose(s)
  • wall sit
  • boat pose
  • glute bridge

For both types of exercises, try for 3 sets.

3. Bust the moves that give you the most bang

Whether doing reps or holding a static pose, compound exercises, which target multiple muscles or muscle groups, will make your efforts the most efficient.

Think burpees, side-plank rotations, and mountain climbers. These exercises often get your heart rate going and give a dose of cardio, especially if you do them as part of a HIIT circuit.

4. Modify movements to suit your needs

Altering an exercise is all about meeting your body where it’s at right now. If your wrists aren’t pleased, drop to your forearms.

Or if you aren’t ready for standard pushups, use a wall or a bench so you can do them at an incline. Over time, you may be able to work your way to the floor.

Most exercises have several modifications. Or you can try a “sister move” that produces similar results. Step ups can sub in for box jumps, for example, if you don’t have a box, are worried about banging your shins, or just want to go easier on your pelvic floor.

ExerciseModification or “sister move”
Box jumpsStep ups
PushupsIncline pushup (wall or bench)
SquatsChair squats
CrunchesStanding bicycle crunches

Before getting started, consider doing your own research or schedule a session with a personal trainer who can teach you moves that make sense for you.

(Video) The No B.S. Way to Get Lean (WORKS EVERY TIME!)

If you’re striving to sculpt a leaner physique or you want to lose fat, gaining muscle can help you do both. Muscle also protects your body from injury and can ease pain by addressing posture or body imbalances.

1. Look leaner

If you compare a pound of muscle to a pound of fat, you’ll see that muscle takes up less space than fat. This concept leads to confusion because of the myth that muscle weighs more than fat. But a pound weighs a pound, regardless of what it contains.

Ultimately, adding muscle can give you a more svelte look in your skinny jeans, even when the number on the scale doesn’t change.

And regardless of your gender, you’re not going to get a “bulked-up” bodybuilder look without a serious fitness and diet program specialized for that purpose. So ditch that myth if it’s holding you back.

2. Burn more energy than fat can

Although the difference isn’t huge, muscle tissue torches more calories than fat tissue does, both during physical activity and at rest. If you’re trying to increase your calorie burn, increase your muscle mass.

3. Amp up the afterburn

The process of the body attempting to recover or return to its resting state after a workout produces an extra calorie burn that can last for several hours to more than a full day.

This afterburn effect is known in scientific lingo as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). The higher the intensity of your workout, the longer EPOC will last.

Research shows that strength training can enhance and extend EPOC, especially when it’s done as part of a HIIT workout.

4. Change how you eat

Although more research needs to be done on this topic, research suggests that increasing your muscle mass may make you less hungry, which could help with weight loss and decrease the risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

If weight loss is your goal, gaining muscle can help you look leaner, burn more energy both during and after exercise, and even potentially change your eating habits.

5. Prevent accidents

Many of our daily movements involve our transverse abdominis, located behind the “six pack.” It acts like a girdle wrapping around the spine.

When it’s strong, we can protect ourselves from falls or other mishaps, and enhance our form and ability to do the activities we love.

(Video) Complete Guide to Building Lean Muscle FAST

6. Better posture

Our muscles hold us up, whether we’re standing in line at the coffee shop or sitting at our desks. If we have weak muscles and slump because of fatigue, we might experience achiness or stiffness.

If we strengthen our muscles, however, we can hold good posture for longer and stave off pain, according to a study.

Strength training can also correct imbalances in the body like lordosis or uneven shoulders that could lead to discomfort.

7. Ward off issues as we get older

After age 30, we say goodbye to approximately 3 to 8 percent of our muscle mass per decade, with even more significant losses later in life. This muscle loss may account for more fatigue, weight gain, and increased risk for fracture.

We can ward off age-related muscle loss, termed sarcopenia, with exercise that includes a combo of cardio and strength training.

(Video) The No BS Guide to Building Lean Muscle.ارشادات تساعدك فى بناء العضلات الهزيلة.

You can craft your own muscle-making routine, but if you’re looking for some guidance, ideas, or just a jumpstart, you can follow a program that fits your preferences, lifestyle, and budget.

  • DailyOM gives you a list of 3-week courses to choose from, each with instructor-led video workouts that show up in your inbox. Courses are “pay what you want,” and once you’ve made the purchase, you can access your courses repeatedly. DailyOM caters to yogis and people in need of joint-friendly HIIT-based workouts.
  • Freeletics offers take-anywhere, no-equipment sessions based on your goals, current fitness level, and age. The subscription-based app teaches you to use your own bodyweight to get results via customized, guided plans. Workout recommendations will change based on your feedback.
  • BodyBoss sends you a 12-week progressive HIIT program. Their one-time payment is more economical than a recurring gym membership and it includes a bonus pre-training section to prepare you for the main action. Share your progress, enjoy camaraderie, learn helpful modifications, and glean motivation from the online Facebook community. The program and community are geared towards women, but all genders can benefit from the movements.
  • Bodyweight Training provides more than 200 exercises you can do using your body weight and everyday items. Tackle any of the 10-week programs that fit your fitness level or goals. Pay $5 for the app download and then choose which in-app purchases you want.

Realize your power

The benefits of muscle-building transcend giving you an athletic or lean physique. Adding brawn can boost your confidence to do new activities, improve your health, and amp up your life enjoyment as well as keep you feeling agile and able throughout the years. That’s reason enough to hold that plank.

Jennifer Chesak is a Nashville-based freelance book editor and writing instructor. She’s also an adventure travel, fitness, and health writer for several national publications. She earned her Master of Science in journalism from Northwestern’s Medill and is working on her first fiction novel, set in her native state of North Dakota.

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FAQs

How can I gain lean muscle fast? ›

How to Build Muscle (Fast)
  1. Increase Your Training Volume. ...
  2. Focus on the Eccentric Phase. ...
  3. Decrease Between-Set Rest Intervals. ...
  4. To Grow Muscle, Eat More Protein. ...
  5. Focus on Calorie Surpluses, Not Deficits. ...
  6. Snack on Casein Before Bed. ...
  7. Get More Sleep. ...
  8. Try Supplementing With Creatine ...
23 Sept 2019

Can you be lean and still build muscle? ›

Lean bulking is a far more efficient way to try and build muscle mass. By focusing on building muscle without fat, you may see slightly slower results but you won't need to go through a tough cut.

Which workout is best for lean muscle? ›

10 Best Exercises for Building Lean Muscle Mass
  • Deadlifts. No other exercise inflicts as much stress to the body as the deadlift. ...
  • Bent Over Rows. ...
  • T-Bar Rows. ...
  • Squats. ...
  • Leg Press. ...
  • Shoulder Press. ...
  • Decline Bench Press. ...
  • Flat Bench Press.
30 Dec 2017

What should I eat to gain lean muscle? ›

Muscle building foods for gaining lean muscle
  1. Eggs. Eggs contain high quality protein, healthy fats, and other important nutrients like B vitamins and choline ( 1 ). ...
  2. Salmon. Salmon is a great choice for muscle building and overall health. ...
  3. Chicken breast. ...
  4. Greek yogurt. ...
  5. Tuna. ...
  6. Lean beef. ...
  7. Shrimp. ...
  8. Soybeans.

What muscle grows fastest? ›

Is there no one group of muscles that always grows the fastest? Speaking very generally, the largest muscle groups in the body tend to respond the quickest to training in terms of their development. This makes sense because they're the easiest muscles to overload with heavy weights.

Should I bulk if Im lean? ›

If you want to gain muscle and strength as quickly as possible and you're at or below 10% (men) or 20% (women) body fat, then you should bulk. And if you want to lose fat as quickly as possible and you're at or above 15% (men) or 25% (women) body fat, then you should cut.

Should I lift heavy for lean muscle? ›

For those looking to develop large muscles, they will likely opt for a heavier weight, while people who want to get lean will stick to something smaller. The truth is, there's no correct strategy -- both are valid choices. Lifting heavy dumbbells, kettlebells and barbells will certainly make you stronger.

Do muscles look bigger when lean? ›

Losing fat, while maintaining as much muscle as possible, will give your torso a more V look. In addition, your muscles (such as shoulders) will look more prominent. However, if (for example) you go from 18% to 8% body fat you will need to buy new clothes or you will look smaller dressed up.

Is it better to be lean or toned? ›

Toned mean well defined muscles that can be visibly seen underneath the skin. Lean is a quality of the physique that can be obtained through healthy eating and minimal exercise, but for a toned body, one needs to engage in constant and vigorous exercise. Lean can be obtained without muscles.

How many reps should I do to lean? ›

In general: For fat loss: One to 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps using enough weight that you can only complete the desired reps. To gain muscle: Three or more sets of 6 to 8 reps to fatigue. For beginners, give yourself several weeks of conditioning before going to this level.

How many reps should I do for lean body? ›

Start with one set of 8 to 12 repetitions (reps) for the first four weeks. When choosing weight, remember that the last 2 or 3 reps should be very difficult. Increase to 12 to 15 reps for the next four weeks.

What food to avoid if you want lean muscles? ›

Avoid or limit alcohol, foods with added sugars and deep-fried foods. In addition to your diet, whey protein, creatine and caffeine can be useful supplements.

Is rice good for lean muscle? ›

Similar to weight loss, caloric intake is the most important factor when it comes to gaining lean mass. However, quality carbohydrates from foods like rice can support bulking efforts a few different ways. Higher carb intake typically supports more glycogen storage in muscles, which helps fuel your workouts (20).

Is peanut butter good for lean muscle? ›

Just one tablespoon of peanut butter has four grams of protein, making it a good source of protein for building muscle.

What muscle is hardest to grow? ›

5 OF THE HARDEST TO TRAIN BODY AREAS
  • Obliques. Pretty much everyone does the standard ab crunches, but crunches aren't going to develop your obliques. ...
  • Calves. ...
  • Forearms. ...
  • Triceps. ...
  • Lower stomach.

Which muscle is slowest to grow? ›

Your heart! It grows with the rest of your body, and while it doesn't get bigger by working out more, it gets in shape. This muscle is similar to other muscles, like calves, that were stated in other answers but it's the same concept.

What is the easiest muscle to get big? ›

Chest Muscles are by Far the most easiest muscle groups to Train and grow in human body. Because most of the movements are compound and generally require less form complexities as compared to other muscle groups . All you need is a bench and Weights and you are good to go.

How many protein shakes a day for lean muscle? ›

If you're of average build and go to the gym regularly, two protein shakes a day is enough to maintain your body mass. But if you're seriously involved in athletic sports, fitness practices and strength exercises, you may need to drink three to four protein shakes daily to sustain your physique and performance.

What drinks help build muscle? ›

Researchers compared the effects of drinking nonfat milk, a soy protein drink, or a carbohydrate drink on building muscle and burning fat after completing weight lifting workouts. All three groups gained muscle, but the milk drinkers got the best results, says researcher Stuart M.

Should I drink protein shakes to get lean? ›

But protein shakes aren't a magic way to lose weight. Some studies find that consuming a higher than usual amount of protein in your diet may offer benefits. For example, eating or drinking products that are high in protein may help you lower body fat, keep lean muscle, feel full and lose weight.

Can I bulk at 17% body fat? ›

If you're between 15–20% body fat, you might be a bit fatter than you'd like, and so cutting is certainly an option. But you don't have to cut. There's nothing wrong with being, say, 17% body fat. That's a healthy body-fat percentage and it's a perfectly good place to bulk from.

Should I bulk at 18% body fat? ›

Always bulk if you are close to or below 8% or 17% body fat for men or women, respectively. Always cut if you are close to or above 18% or 28% body fat for men or women, respectively. If between 8-18% (men) or 17-28% (women), you can choose either, depending on how lean you want to be in 2-3 months' time.

What is dirty bulking? ›

A dirty bulk is when you go into a caloric surplus by eating whatever and whenever you want. This usually includes a lot of junk, greasy, and fatty foods.

Do high reps make you lean? ›

The common belief is that high reps magically get rid of fat. While high reps with light weight to fatigue can create a muscular response, it does not necessarily remove fat better than low reps with heavy weight.

How many reps is too many? ›

Anything greater than 20 reps in a set is probably far too many. Performing this many reps in a set will have diminishing returns. If you can easily do more than 20 reps, then the weight you are using is probably too light or too easy to elicit any significant growth.

How many reps is considered heavy? ›

"However, sets of eight to 12 repetitions are generally considered a good range that helps people to build a combination of strength and muscle size," he adds. So, for most people, the heaviest weight you can lift for eight to 12 reps of an exercise can be considered lifting "heavy."

Which part of body loses fat first? ›

Mostly, losing weight is an internal process. You will first lose hard fat that surrounds your organs like liver, kidneys and then you will start to lose soft fat like waistline and thigh fat. The fat loss from around the organs makes you leaner and stronger.

What is the most attractive muscle on a guy? ›

In a (not-so-surprising) study conducted by Western Illinois University, women rated abs as the sexiest muscle on a man's body, ThePostGame.com reports.

How long does it take for lean muscle to show? ›

Most beginners will see noticeable muscle growth within eight weeks, while more experienced lifters will see changes in three to four weeks. Most individuals gain one to two pounds of lean muscle per month with the right strength training and nutrition plan.

Do girls prefer lean or muscular? ›

Research shows most women are attracted to men who are more muscular, stronger, and leaner than men who are smaller, weaker, and fatter. Research also shows that to maximize your attractiveness to women, guys only need to gain about 20 to 30 pounds of muscle and reduce their body fat percentage to 8 to 12%.

Should I lift light to get lean? ›

You can achieve lean muscle, tone up, or get some definition with light AND heavy weights. It is a myth that light weight is for toning and heavy weight is for bulking. In fact, lifting heavier weights boosts metabolism and burns more calories than lighter weights so you burn more fat and achieve more definition.

Is it better to lean bulk or bulk? ›

The Verdict. Both methods of bulking offer unique benefits, and like most things the best diet for you likely depends on the person. However, based on the existing research, lean bulks are likely your best bet for adding more lean mass and setting yourself up for more success and better results in the long run.

Do higher reps burn more fat? ›

The common belief is that high reps magically gets rid of fat. While high reps with light weight to fatigue can create a muscular response, it does not necessarily remove fat better than low reps with heavy weight.

Is 5 sets of 12 reps too much? ›

Sets of anywhere from 4–40 reps will stimulate muscle growth quite well, but most research shows that doing 6–20 reps per set is the most efficient way to build muscle. Bodybuilders often use the middle of that range, favouring 8–12 reps per set.

Do high reps burn muscle? ›

Are High Reps Best for Fat Loss? - YouTube

Is it better to lift heavy or do more reps? ›

Generally, exercises with higher reps are used to improve muscular endurance, while higher weights with fewer reps are used to increase muscle size and strength.

Which muscles respond better to high reps? ›

Delts generally respond better to high reps, though the front portion can respond well to lower reps. This is why delt-dominant bench pressers tend to have large front delts.

How often should I lift weights to get lean? ›

Strength training for weight loss: 2 to 3 days a week

Shoot for 2 to 3 days a week of strength training. For best results, include full-body workouts that use compound exercises (those that work multiple muscles at once).

How long does it take to get lean muscle? ›

Most beginners will see noticeable muscle growth within eight weeks, while more experienced lifters will see changes in three to four weeks. Most individuals gain one to two pounds of lean muscle per month with the right strength training and nutrition plan.

How fast can you add lean muscle? ›

Muscle gain rates vary by individual, even when following the same program. Overall, with good nutrition and consistent training, research has found that 0.5–2 pounds (0.25–0.9 kg) of muscle growth per month is a good benchmark for maximal potential muscle growth ( 7 ).

How do I gain lean muscle naturally? ›

Eight diet tips to help you build muscle mass
  1. Breakfast will help build Muscle Mass. ...
  2. Eat every three hours. ...
  3. Protein with Each Meal Helps Boost Muscle Mass. ...
  4. Eat fruit and vegetables with each meal. ...
  5. Eat carbs only after your workout. ...
  6. Eat healthy fats to help build Muscle mass. ...
  7. Drinking water helps you build Muscle Mass.

How much should I eat to gain lean muscle? ›

The general rule is that consuming an excess of at least 2,500 calories per week can help increase lean tissue by one pound of gained mass. This number is derived from several published studies, but it is generalized for the 'average exerciser. ' For muscle hypertrophy, your client may need even more excess calories.

Does soreness mean muscle growth? ›

Muscle soreness is related to muscle damage, which can promote, but is not required for, muscle growth. In a nutshell, unless your goal is to feel sore, then you don't need to be sore after every workout.

Should I lose fat first then build muscle? ›

Building muscle should be your main focus as it increases your metabolism and makes losing fat easier. If you want to lose fat first to improve your body composition, you'll need to strength train and up your protein intake to minimize the amount of muscle you lose, too.

How long should a cut be for trying to get lean? ›

A cutting diet aims to get you as lean as possible while maintaining muscle mass. It's typically done for 2–4 months leading up to a bodybuilding competition or other event.

How many reps should I do to get lean? ›

In general: For fat loss: One to 3 sets of 10 to 12 reps using enough weight that you can only complete the desired reps. To gain muscle: Three or more sets of 6 to 8 reps to fatigue. For beginners, give yourself several weeks of conditioning before going to this level.

How many times a week should I workout to get lean? ›

In general, try to exercise at least 4 or 5 days a week if you want to see weight loss results in both the short and long term. To max out results, plan on incorporating both cardiovascular and strength training exercises into your regular routine. Your workouts should have a combo of: cardio.

What age do your muscles grow the most? ›

Typically, muscle mass and strength increase steadily from birth and reach their peak at around 30 to 35 years of age. After that, muscle power and performance decline slowly and linearly at first, and then faster after age 65 for women and 70 for men.

Why can't I build lean muscle? ›

Lacking consistency in your workout regimen is a critical reason why you're not gaining the lean muscle mass you want. Instead of setting out to hit the gym 6-days a week and for an hour each day, start out with a smaller, more manageable goal, such as going 2-4 days per work, then build from there.

Does creatine help muscle? ›

Many studies have demonstrated that creatine supplementation, in combination with various kinds of training, is effective at augmenting training workouts and increasing muscular strength and lean body mass [14,17].

How do I get lean muscle instead of bulky? ›

Do more with less – adopt a routine of more reps with lighter weights. You don't need to work with very heavy weights to develop lean, toned muscle. For example, two sets of bicep curls with a 5 or 8 pound weight will help you tone without bulking up.

Is peanut butter good for muscle gain? ›

This easy-to-use and easy-to-eat food can be used in a variety of recipes from smoothies to on-the-go snacks. Just one tablespoon of peanut butter has four grams of protein, making it a good source of protein for building muscle.

Is rice good for lean muscle? ›

Similar to weight loss, caloric intake is the most important factor when it comes to gaining lean mass. However, quality carbohydrates from foods like rice can support bulking efforts a few different ways. Higher carb intake typically supports more glycogen storage in muscles, which helps fuel your workouts (20).

How does creatine affect your muscles? ›

Your body stores creatine as phosphocreatine primarily in your muscles, where it's used for energy. As a result, people take creatine orally to improve athletic performance and increase muscle mass.

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