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How To Build Lean Muscle

Published July 20, 2019 (Revised: April 01, 2020) Read Time: 8 minutes
Ben Kissam

Written By: Ben Kissam, BS

Ben has a B.S. in Movement and Sports Science and over 7 years Certified Personal Training Experience.

foolproof-guide-to-building-lean-muscle
<script type="application/ld+json"> { "@context":"http://schema.org", "@type":"BlogPosting", "author": { "@type": "Person", "name": "Ben Kissam, BS" }, "publisher": { "@type": "Organization", "name": "Warrior Made", "logo": { "@type": "ImageObject", "url": "https://www.warriormade.com", "image": "https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/media/public/2020/04/how-to-build-lean-muscle.jpg" } }, "headline":"How To Build Lean Muscle", "datePublished":"2019-07-20", "dateModified": "2020-04-01", "description":"The internet makes gaining muscle more complicated than it has to be. Here are 5 simple, actionable steps to adding lean muscle, and 3 workouts you can do at home.", "image": "https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/media/public/2020/04/how-to-build-lean-muscle.jpg" } </script> <script type="application/ld+json"> { "@context": "https://schema.org", "@type": "FAQPage", "mainEntity": [{ "@type": "Question", "name": "How do you get lean muscle?", "acceptedAnswer": { "@type": "Answer", "text": "Here are 5 ways to add lean muscle: 1. Strength train consistently, 2. Do high-intensity exercise, 3. Choose workouts that fit your needs, 4. Follow a diet that focuses on quality protein intake, 5. Focus on recovery (sleep, hydration, etc.)" } }] } </script> <article> <div> <ul> <li><a href="#section1">Benefits Of Adding Lean Muscle</a></li> <li><a href="#section2">How Do You Get Lean Muscle? (5 Ways)</a></li> <li><a href="#section3">Lean-Muscle Building Workouts</a></li> <li><a href="#section4">Building Lean Muscle: Wrap Up</a></li> </ul> </div> <section> <p>There are so many benefits to adding lean muscle.</p> <p>Not only can it improve your physical appearance, lean muscle also improves your overall health and keeps you able-bodied as you get older.</p> <p>Unfortunately, a lot of people in the fitness world tout <i>their</i> muscle-building solution as the key to getting results.</p> <p>There are thousands of lean muscle workout programs out there, which can make finding the right one really overwhelming.</p> <p>That's why we've broken the process of adding lean muscle into 5 easy-to-follow categories. </p> <p>They're simple to understand and actionable, so you can start today if you want to. (And if you stick around until the end, we'll also share 3 muscle-building workouts you can do at home later on!)</p> <p>But first, let's look at all the benefits of adding lean muscle.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section1"> <h2>Benefits of adding lean muscle</h2> <p>Adding lean muscle<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4836564/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">1</a></sup>:</p> <ul> <li>Increases bone density</li> <li>Increases muscle strength and endurance</li> <li>Increases your metabolic rate (which can help with weight loss; see section: "4. Follow a diet that promotes lean muscle" below for more)</li> <li>Decreases your risk of falls and injuries</li> <li>Promotes healthy aging (less joint pain, fewer movement restrictions)</li> <li>Improves posture (good for spine health and managing lower back pain)</li> </ul> <p>It’s important to note that <i>loss</i> of skeletal muscle (through sedentary behavior and/or discontinued physical activity as you age) is one of the top factors that lead to overweightness and obesity. <sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4836564/#b13-ijes_09_02_159" rel="nofollow noreferrer">2</a></sup></p> <p>As you can see, there are a number of reasons to make this a priority.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section2"> <h2>How do you get lean muscle? (5 ways)</h2> <p>We'll review each of the 5 ways to add lean muscle in detail below.</p> <img style="max-width:100%;" class="img-fluid" src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/strength-training-0204.jpg" alt="strength training"> <h3>1. Strength train consistently</h3> <p>It takes a long time to add lean muscle. The process happens gradually over hundreds of workouts, so being consistent with your training is absolutely key.</p> <p>In order for your body to build new muscle (a process known as <i>muscle hypertrophy</i>), you must <sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2222798" rel="nofollow noreferrer">3</a></sup>:</p> <ul> <li>Regularly perform <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/functional-strength-training/" rel="noreferrer">strength training exercises</a>.<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6973181/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">4</a></sup> Prioritize <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/what-is-functional-training-and-can-it-benefit-you/" rel="noreferrer">functional strength exercises</a>, such as push-ups, squats, burpees, and sit-ups, as they target multiple muscle groups at one time and mimic everyday movement, so your fitness can also translate into everyday-life.</li> <li>Increase the volume (how often you exercise) over time to continually drive those lean muscle adaptations. <sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4562558/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">5</a></sup> </li> </ul> <p>You don't need to <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/" rel="noreferrer">exercise</a> as often as you might think. In fact, you can add lean muscle exercising three times per week for about 30 minutes. <sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30558493" rel="nofollow noreferrer">6</a></sup></p> <p>The right amount of volume will set you up to continually make progress from your workouts, which will lead to lasting results long-term.</p> <p>And don't let this long-game approach discourage you, either: the fact that it takes a while to build lean muscle is actually a good thing. </p> <p>You can focus on making small investments in your health and fitness goals a few times a week and actually <i>enjoy</i> the process instead of rushing to get results.</p> <img style="max-width:100%;" class="img-fluid" src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/high-intensity-exercise-0204.jpg" alt="high intensity exercise"> <h3>2. Do high-intensity exercise</h3> <p>When it comes to adding lean muscle, exercising at a high-intensity is also important. <sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4993139/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">7</a></sup></p> <p>Increasing the intensity of your workouts ensures that your body doesn't plateau and stop making adaptations. This is known as the <i>progressive overload principle</i>. <sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4215195/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">8</a></sup></p> <p>To do this, always choose exercises that are challenging enough to force your body to adapt (the adaptation your body makes is the addition of new lean muscle). <sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3381813/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">9</a></sup></p> <p>For example, if you can do 10 good <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/how-to-do-perfect-squats-and-pushups/" rel="noreferrer">push-ups</a> in a workout without a problem, you should aim to do more than that in the next set. </p> <p>Even making small jumps (1 or 2 extra push-ups, an extra 30 seconds <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/plank-exercises-to-activate-your-core/" rel="noreferrer">holding a plank</a>) can help you continue to get results from your workouts. If you do this every time you exercise, you are virtually guaranteed to get results over the long-term.</p> <p>(If you work out 150 times a year (three times a week) and add 5 seconds to your plank each workout, you'd add over twelve minutes onto your plank in a year. This is just an example of how tiny micro-advancements can add up.)</p> <p>Another reason high-intensity workouts are important is because they are especially effective for burning excess body-fat. <sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5833956/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">10</a></sup></p> <p>Since your goal isn't to add muscle <i>and</i> fat (see #4 below for more), high-intensity workouts are a good tool to have at your disposal.</p> <img style="max-width:100%;" class="img-fluid" src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/enjoy-workout-lean-muscle-0204.jpg" alt="enjoy workout lean muscle"> <h3>3. Choose workouts that fit your needs</h3> <p>There are two other things to consider about your fitness routine if you want to add lean muscle:</p> <ul> <li><strong>Select workouts you genuinely enjoy</strong>- As you now know, consistency (volume) is one of the keys to results. It will be much easier for you to be consistent if you enjoy your exercise routine. </li> </ul> <p>One mistake people make is feeling like they "have" to do a certain type of exercise because that's how they'll get results.</p> <p>For example: If you enjoy doing bodyweight workouts (HIIT intervals, yoga, pilates) but don't like gym machines or lifting weights, don't force yourself to do the latter because you believe this is the superior way to add muscle (a commonly heard sentiment in the fitness world). </p> <p>Remember, consistently performing bodyweight workouts will yield far better results than periodically lifting weights or following the "perfect" muscle-building program.</p> <p>And here's something important you should keep in mind: bodyweight exercises have been shown to produce the same results as weightlifting. <sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5812864/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">11</a></sup></p> <ul> <li><strong>Scalable to your fitness needs</strong>- If your exercise program is too hard or too easy, you'll eventually hit a plateau where your body stops making adaptations and you stop adding lean muscle.<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28543604" rel="nofollow noreferrer">12</a></sup> So if you have limitations or are just starting to exercise again, don't be afraid to make movements easier or more difficult based on your needs.</li> </ul> <p>For example, if you have trouble jumping, scale <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/perfect-form-burpees/" rel="noreferrer">burpees</a> to <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/exercise/perfect-form-burpee-walkout/" rel="noreferrer">burpee walkouts</a>. You get the same muscle-building stimulus from the exercise without risking an injury.</p> <p>After all, if you get injured from working out too hard—or find your workout routine to be so boring that you don't want to do it—you're much less likely to exercise enough to drive adaptations.</p> <img style="max-width:100%;" class="img-fluid" src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/lean-protein-0204.jpg" alt="lean protein"> <h3>4. Follow a diet that promotes lean muscle</h3> <p>There's an old saying in fitness: <i>abs are made in the kitchen</i>.</p> <p>This means no matter how often or intensely you exercise, you will have a tough time staying lean if you aren’t also focusing on your nutrition.</p> <p>Science confirms that diet actually plays a larger role in body composition* than strength training does. <sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4429709/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">13</a></sup></p> <p><i>*Body composition is the distribution of fat and non-fat (lean muscle and other tissues such as bone) tissues in the body. Two people that weigh 150lbs can have very different body compositions if one has a lot of lean muscle and the other does not. <sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2082845/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">14</a></sup></i></p> <p>If <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/" rel="noreferrer">your diet</a> isn't a priority, you can still add new muscle, but your fat loss efforts will likely stall, which obviously isn't ideal if your goal is to achieve a leaner, toned appearance.</p> <p>Think about it this way: exercise forces your body to make adaptations (i.e. add lean muscle). Nutrition gives your body the "raw materials" it needs to carry out those adaptations. </p> <p>And if you hone in on just a few nutritional areas, you're likely to get the results you're after.</p> <h4>Three pillars of muscle-building nutrition</h4> <p>If your goal is to add muscle, here are three "pillars" of nutrition you should focus on:</p> <ul> <li><strong>Eat plenty of protein</strong>- Protein is the essential nutrient your body needs if you want to add lean muscle.<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6566799/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">15</a></sup> Dietary protein (from foods like meat, fish, and eggs) breaks down into amino acids that your body uses to rebuild muscle and other body tissues.<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11255140" rel="nofollow noreferrer">16</a></sup> High protein diets have also been shown to promote fat loss better than moderate or low-protein diets, which can help you avoid adding body-fat.<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5644969/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">17</a></sup>(See the next tip for why that's important.)</li> <li><strong>Eat enough calories (but not too many)</strong>- Consuming enough energy is absolutely essential if you want to add lean muscle.<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6710320/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">18</a></sup> Remember, your body needs the raw materials to rebuild muscle and recover from your workouts. In fact, if you undereat you might <i>lose</i> muscle mass.<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5421125/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">19</a></sup> </li> </ul> <p>As you might notice, there is a delicate balancing act here: if you don't eat enough, you'll lose muscle, and if you eat too much, you'll gain body-fat instead of (or along with) muscle.<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5786199/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">20</a></sup></p> <p>One way you can figure out how much energy you need to eat is to use a <a target="_blank" href="https://www.calculator.net/bmr-calculator.html" rel="nofollow noreferrer">basal metabolic rate (BMR) calculator</a>.</p> <p>Your BMR is the number of calories your body burns at rest. This, plus 200-300 calories on days you exercise (to account for additional energy expenditure) is a good guideline for how many calories you should eat in a day to promote lean muscle.</p> <ul> <li><strong>Avoid foods that promote body-fat</strong>- In general, it's good to avoid sugary and processed foods when adding lean muscle. Eating unhealthy foods like this increases your chance of gaining weight, which will only make it harder to reach your goals.<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5787353/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">21</a></sup> Instead, stick to healthy proteins, vegetables and fats, which contain <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/macronutrients-vs-micronutrients/" rel="noreferrer">vitamins and minerals</a> that keep your body healthy.</li> </ul> <p>Following these three pillars will ensure your body has the fuel it needs to get results.</p> <img style="max-width:100%;" class="img-fluid" src="https://d1ghrtdbdq2gkr.cloudfront.net/blog-content/recovery-for-lean-muscle-0294.jpg" alt="recovery for lean muscle"> <h3>5. Focus on recovery (sleep, hydration, etc.)</h3> <p>Exercise and diet are the two most important factors for adding lean muscle, but you shouldn't skimp on recovery methods like sleep and drinking enough water, either.</p> <p>Consider:</p> <ul> <li>Not <a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/keto-sleep/" rel="noreferrer">getting enough sleep</a> is associated with decreased muscle performance during exercise.<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5749041/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">22</a></sup> Even worse, sleep loss is also associated with a decreased motivation to workout.<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3716674/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">23</a></sup> Basically, you won't be able to workout at high enough intensities to drive results, and may have less desire to exercise in general.</li> <li><a target="_blank" href="https://www.warriormade.com/content/diet/hydration-how-much-water-should-you-be-drinking/" rel="noreferrer">Drinking plenty of water</a> gives your body the fluids it needs to promote recovery.<sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6449982/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">24</a></sup> Proper hydration also increases workout performance, so you'll be more likely to perform well during high-intensity workouts. <sup><a target="_blank" href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6723611/" rel="nofollow noreferrer">25</a></sup></li> </ul> <p>Habits like these promote the addition of new lean muscle because they help you stay consistent and able to workout at high-intensities (perhaps using the workouts in the next section) more often.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section3"> <h2>Lean muscle-building workouts</h2> <p>Here are three workouts you can do right at home that will promote lean muscle:</p> <h3>1. Jump/run</h3> <ul style="list-style-type:none;"> <li>5 rounds</li> <li>2:00 brisk walk/jog</li> <li>15 jumping sit-to-stands</li> </ul> <p><strong>Good for</strong>: leg muscles, high-intensity cardio (for fat loss).</p> <h3>2. Run, Burpees, Lunges</h3> <p>For constant movement:</p> <ul style="list-style-type:none;"> <li>8:00 brisk walk/jog</li> <li>3:00 burpees</li> <li>5:00 alternating reverse lunges</li> <li>*See how many reps you can do!</li> </ul> <p><strong>Good for</strong>: glutes, hamstrings, and chest muscles, and high intensity cardio (for fat loss).</p> <h3>3. Total body lean muscle workout</h3> <p>For total reps:</p> <ul style="list-style-type:none;"> <li>4:00 burpees</li> <li>4:00 squats</li> <li>4:00 reverse crunches</li> <li>4:00 kneeling/push-ups</li> </ul> <p><strong>Good for</strong>: chest, back, leg, and core muscles.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section id="section4"> <h2>Building lean muscle: wrap up</h2> <p>Everyone can benefit from adding lean muscle.There are the aesthetic advantages, sure, but more importantly it will keep your body healthy and functioning better now and as you get older.</p> <p>An effective muscle-building program can be broken down into 5 essential steps:</p> <ul> <li><strong>Consistently exercise</strong>. Three times per week for 30 minutes is plenty.</li> <li><strong>Regularly up the intensity of your workouts</strong>. This ensures that your body doesn't plateau and stop getting results.</li> <li><strong>Pick an exercise program you enjoy and can safely do</strong>. This increases the likelihood that you'll be consistent and able to do high-intensity workouts.</li> <li><strong>Follow a nutrition plan that promotes lean muscle</strong>. Remember, abs are made in the kitchen. Eat enough protein and give your body enough energy to rebuild itself after tough workouts.</li> <li><strong>Focus on recovery</strong>. Anything you can do between workouts (sleep, hydrate) to promote better workout performance and muscle recovery will help in the long run.</li> </ul> <p>Remember that adding lean muscle is not an overnight process. It's a journey and takes time. </p> <p>Give it your all during workouts, be consistent, fuel your body properly, and the results you're looking for will come.</p> </section> </article>

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