• Joshua Li

How to Build Lean Muscle

Building lean muscle mass is maybe the most common objective for trainees. People often associate gaining muscle mass with ‘bulking’ and gaining fat in the process. If a traditional bulk is executed well then you will of course build a decent amount of muscle, but the problem is when you diet back down, you must diet so hard to take the fat off, in turn you lose the muscle you built in the bulking process.

A lot of people will take on this old-school bulking method and be out of shape most of the year in the quest for muscle gain. Luckily there is a more sensible, smarter alternative in lean bulking, also known as ‘cyclical bulking’. Lean bulking is gaining muscle without getting fat, which I am sure sounds a lot more attractive than bulking hard and getting fat, to then only lose that hard-earnt muscle and be back to square one.

The process of lean gaining is relatively straight forward given you stick to the plan. I am going to break the process into 3 stages to achieve the best results.


Lean bulking cannot be achieved if you are out of shape at the start. There is no point in starting a bulk from a poor starting point as you will simply gain even more fat faster when in a surplus. My suggestion is to get to 10-12% body fat percentage which is an optimal position for building muscle.

To get lean you must be in a caloric deficit, meaning you must be consuming less calories than your basal metabolic rate. A quick way to figure out your basal metabolic rate is:

BMR = BW (lbs) x 12

Once you have figured your basal metabolic rate out simply deduct 150-200 calories from this number and set this new number as your daily caloric goal. As the weeks go on keep reducing your calories by 150-200 calories to ensure further weight/fat loss. These drops in calories can be introduced when you see a plateau in your progress.

Remember, for body composition it is not just your calories…. it is the quality of the calories too. Protein intake must be high (roughly body weight in kg x 2 to 2.2) and the remainder from carbs and healthy fats.


Now you have reached the optimal body fat percentage you are primed to start gaining some lean muscle.


Lean bulking will involve being in a calorie surplus, but not so high that you gain fat in the process. This means we must introduce calories incrementally, so we build muscle slowly and avoid fat gain. The target weight gain we are looking for is 0.5 lbs. per week.

To kick off the process you need to find out your maintenance calories again and then add 250 calories to your diet in the form of carbohydrates or healthy fats (I prefer to use carbs). Protein intake will stay the same throughout – BW (kg) x2 to 2.2. Every couple of weeks you need to check on your progress – have you gained weight at the correct rate and does your physical condition still look good? If you are not gaining the recommended 0.5 lbs. per week then this is a sign you need to start adding more calories, so again, go for another 250 calories from carbs or fats.

Training tips:

  • Progressive overload is key – getting progressively stronger alongside progressing calories will inevitably result in muscle gain.

  • Try to train all muscle groups at least twice per week.

  • Do the big compound lifts at the beginning of the session and focus on getting very strong at them.

  • Include isolation exercises to bring out lagging body parts.

  • Maintain perfect form for all exercises

  • Train to failure every session


There will come a time when you will need to tidy things up and pull back on calories (the mini cut). When your body fat rises to 15% and you lose visibility of your abs, these are signs you need to perform a mini cut.

The mini cut means you need to go back into a caloric deficit, like we mentioned in stage 1. This mini cut should last around 4 weeks to take your physical condition back to where it needs to be. Once you have reached this condition you can go back to your lean bulking and add the calories back in.

Throughout this process you are looking to stay lean throughout and these mini cuts are essential to keep your condition in place, ensuring you look great all year.

If you need guidance for your own lean muscle journey, then please do not hesitate to come in and meet us. Book in now in the tabs above.





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