Building lean muscle is the goal of most people who work out with weights. Achieving that goal requires a lot of consistent, hard work – but it’s not rocket science. The internet has made the subject of packing on lean muscle mass a very confusing topic, with an overload of contradictory information on how to train and what to eat.
In this article, I’ll break down the core concepts of lean muscle building to provide you with a clear roadmap to achieving your own lean muscular body.
The Five Foundations of Lean Muscle Building
- Eat to Add Muscle
- Train the Complete Muscle
- Cardio to Strip off Body Fat
- Be Consistent
Eat To Add Muscle
Most people put 80% of their focus on training and 20% on what they’re eating. However, smart muscle builders will flip that ratio, so that 80% of their focus is on what they are, and are not, putting into their mouth. While it’s true that you cannot build muscle without some form of resistance training, you will never develop a lean, muscular physique unless you are on top of your nutrition.
Eating is something you do several times every day, while working out is something you do 4-5 times per week. Every one of your eating opportunities is a chance to make you better or worse. Here are 6 nutrition rules to help you get it right:
Rule No. 1: Consume Protein immediately after working out
When you walk out of the gym, your body is working overtime to rebuild the muscle that you’ve just broken down in the gym. Fail to provide the nutrients your body needs, and it will not grow. In fact, you will probably lose muscle. Be consistent with a fast digesting protein source, such as whey powder, and you will give your muscles the fuel they need to get bigger.
Rule No. 2: Combine Proteins with Carbs
When you eat them together, proteins and carbs achieve more than any one of them does by itself. Carbohydrates enhance protein utilization, speeding up growth. Make sure that your protein supplement has a decent helping of complex carbs, or add some whole fruit to your protein shake.
Rule No. 3: Use Whey Protein Powder
Whey protein powder offers the greatest benefit. The body processes it faster than other types like casein, allowing it to get to the muscles faster. Another benefit of whey is that it contains a lot of the amino acid leucine. Take 25 grams of whey protein immediately following your training session.
Rule No. 4: Stay Hydrated
Weight training by itself will not lead to dehydration. If you are dehydrated before a gym session, however, you will not get in a very productive workout. For one thing, your system will release more stress hormones, while producing less testosterone. Be sure to get some water into your system when you first get up in the morning. This is especially important if you have been drinking the night before.
Rule No. 5: Stay Hungry
To add a kilogram of muscle (2.2 pounds) you need about 6000 extra calories. That means that you will have to be a big eater. Having a couple of protein shakes per day will help to get the nutrition into your body. Make sure, too, that you are having at least 6 meals over the course of your day, spread every three hours apart.
Rule No. 6: Eat for More Energy
Make sure that you keep up your carb content, especially if you are training hard in the gym, which you should be. Keep your carbs at between 55-60% of your total caloric count to ensure that you have all the energy you need to bring it in the gym.
Train the Complete Muscle
A lean muscle is a fully developed muscle. For complete development all of the muscle fibers that make up the muscle need to be fully activated through training. There are both fast twitch and slow twitch muscle fibers. To work both types of muscle fiber, you need to use a range of repetitions in your training. For exercises and 4 week workout plans please go to our homepage.
A smart lean muscle building workout program will use a rep system that ranges from high to low. Here is an ideal rep protocol over 6 sets:
- Set One – 30 reps
- Set Two – 20 reps
- Set Three – 15 reps
- Set Four 10 reps
- Set Five – 8 reps
- Set Six – 6 reps
With this set / rep protocol, you should increase the weight in each set. You will be using the correct poundage if the last 20% of reps are difficult but not impossible. On your last set, you should go to failure at around six reps.
In order to force muscle growth, you need to be challenging your max poundages. Make it your goal to be upping your weights by small increments every week or two.
To create lean muscle growth, you need to provide your body’s muscles with enough regular stimulation for growth without giving them too much and prevent proper recovery. To do that you need to space your workouts accordingly. Train a muscle group every 5 days to allow for that ideal balance between stimulation and recovery.
For best lean muscle gains, use a training split that divides your body 4 ways as follows:
- Day 1 – Chest / Triceps
- Day 2 – Back / Trapezius
- Day 3 – Shoulders / Biceps
- Day 4 – Legs
When you are training major muscle groups (chest, back,glutes, quadriceps) you should perform 14-16 sets per bodypart.
When working minor body parts (biceps, triceps, hamstrings, calves), you should do 8-10 sets per bodypart.
When it comes to working the shoulders, you need to do separate exercises for each of the 3 heads of the muscle – anterior, posterior and medial. You should do 6 sets for each of these heads for a total of 18 sets for the shoulders.
Cardio to Strip Off Body Fat
Lean muscle is fat free muscle. That means that a lean muscle building program needs to be designed to have dual goals:
- To make the muscle bigger
- To remove any fat that is covering the muscle
In order to build muscle, you need to train that muscle with resistance. To get rid of fat, however, you need to do something different. That is because you cannot spot reduce body fat. The only way to get lean is to create a daily calorie deficit so that your body is forced to draw on its energy reserves in the form of stored body fat to supply its energy needs. The fat energy that the body needs will be pulled from all areas of the body.
There are two ways to create a calorie deficit …
- Eat less food
- Burn more calories through cardio exercise
When you’re trying to build muscle, you will be eating more calories, not less. That makes losing fat and building muscle at the same time very tricky. But it can be done – you need to be strict about staying away from high glycemic carbohydrates, especially those that are filled with sugar. At the same time, you should be doing high intensity interval training (HIIT) to burn calories.
HIIT workouts are hard and intense. To get the most from them you need to be totally committed to the challenge. There will be times, perhaps frequently, when you feel like giving up. When this happens, you simply need to grit your teeth, refocus on your goals and power on through.
You also need to know how to push yourself during the high intensity portions of the workout. Studies have shown that just seven minutes of HIIT can create changes in your muscles at a molecular level that are comparable to what you might get from an hour or more of jogging. But that will only be the case if you are exerting maximal output.
Most people don’t know what all out cardiovascular effort looks like. It’s not something we normally do. What I mean by all out effort is if I prescribe 30 seconds work intervals, I expect that if you try to do 31 seconds, you’ll fall on your face if you are sprinting, or fall-off the bicycle if that’s what you are using for your HIIT session.
It is also important that you stick strictly to your rest or recovery periods between bouts of intensity. 30 seconds means exactly 30 seconds, so you need to start psyching for activity at 20 seconds and be prepared to ‘go’ the instant your timer flicks from ‘29’ to ‘30’.
The best form of HIIT involves stair sprinting. If you have access to 5 flights of stairs, sprint up them and then walk back down to get your active recovery. As soon as you hit the bottom of the stairs, sprint back up them again.
Second to stair sprinting is uphill sprints. The steeper the elevation of the hill the better, as this will prevent full extension of the hamstrings, lessening the chance of injury.
You can also use a spin bike or a rowing machine, but these are not as effective in terms of heart rate elevation as stair or hill sprints.
When you work out, you are not making your muscles stronger and bigger; you are actually making them smaller and weaker. That’s because you are stressing the muscle fibers and actually causing micro tears in the muscle. It’s only when you rest and recuperate that the damaged muscle is able to repair itself and build back stronger and bigger.
A key to that building back process is to feed the muscle with the protein that it needs to repair itself, as we have already covered. Another key aspect is to provide your body with the rest and recuperation time for the body to do its job.
A lot of guys who are training hard and heavy in the gym are not seeing the results that their hard work deserves simply because they are not allowing sufficient time for recovery. Simply put, they are over training. To avoid over training, you need to space your workouts smartly. As mentioned in the last section, training a body part every 5 days will provide sufficient time for that to occur.
When it comes to working out, most people put all of their attention into what they do during the hour or so that they are actually exercising. Yet, it is what takes place during the other 23 hours of your day that will dictate your success. And, of that 23 hours, it is the few that you spend in bed that are the most important of all.
When you are sleep deprived, your workouts will suffer. Your motor neurons will not fire as effectively which will dull your ability to execute. You won’t be able to move with as much agility, speed and reaction time. Contrast that with a person who has just enjoyed nine hours of uninterrupted sleep. That person will be far sharper, more agile and more motivated.
In a 2007 study, it was shown that after just a week’s worth of sleep deprivation, glucose uptake was inhibited. When this happens, your ability to access glucose, the body’s main energy source, is curtailed during your workout.
6 Sleep Hacks for Improved Gym Performance
- Establish a set sleep routine that sees you hitting the sack at the same time at night and getting up at the same time in the morning.
- Upgrade your sleep hardware. Invest in an ergonomically advanced bed, base and mattress and you will be amazed at how much better you sleep!
- Maintain a cool, dark, quiet bedroom environment.
- Keep technology (including your phone) out of the bedroom
- Do not consume caffeine after 4pm.
- Spend the hour before going to bed relaxing and winding down; drink herbal tea, take a warm bath or practice mindful meditation.
Building muscle is a slow process. It is also a non linear process. That means that you will have periods where it seems like you’re not making progress. The key to success is to set realistic expectations and to train consistently.
A realistic muscle gain goal is to gain 1-2 pounds of lean muscle tissue every month. That may not sound like much, but it adds up to between 12 and 24 pounds of muscle in a year. That is a lot of muscle and it will make your body look dramatically different.
Building lean muscle requires a strategic, consistent approach . By prioritizing muscle building nutrition while also minimizing junk and fatty foods, training your muscles every 5 days through a range of reps, performing HIIT cardio to strip off body fat and getting plenty of rest and recovery, you should be able to add 1-2 pounds of lean muscle every month.