Written by Sarah Louise & Bill Wynne • Updated Jan 17, 2022
Guide: How to build lean muscle (+ FREE training plan)
Achieving a strong & lean body is possible for anyone, no matter experience, age or gender. However, it can seem like an overwhelming process if you’re first starting out.
How often should you workout? What should you eat? And how do you build lean muscle without gaining fat? We’ve answered all your questions below.
Follow these 5 steps to build the strong, lean & muscular body you want this year 👇🏼
#1 Set yourself a concrete goal 📝
When on a muscle-building journey you won’t notice the daily changes in the mirror. It’s a slower (but way more rewarding) journey, which is why it’s important to give yourself the motivation, drive & structure having a concrete goal will give you.
That’s why the first step to build lean muscle is setting yourself a realistic goal. It gives you a narrative, something to aim for, and the means to track your progress.
How to do it:
To set a measurable and realistic goal, ask yourself these key questions:
Is there a specific exercise I want to get stronger at?
Do I want to target a specific muscle group or build overall strength?
How often can I realistically work out each week?
Will I be working out at home or at a gym?
#2 Strength train often enough 💪🏼
You know it - to build muscle, strength training should be the main focus of your workouts. And hitting the right training frequency is key.
If you don’t strength train enough, your muscles won’t be challenged and therefore not see a reason to grow.
On the other hand, if you strength train too often, your muscles won’t have enough time to recover and it’ll be like painting the second layer of paint before the first coat is dry. You’re doing more damage than harm.
That’s why, the ideal amount to train each muscle group is 2-3 times per week. If not activated regularly, they’ll simply stay as they are.
How to do it:
Aim to strength train 2-4 times per week. This gives you the ideal amount of recovery and also makes sure you activate your muscles often enough.
#3 Workout the right training split 🏋️♀️
Your training split is how you choose to divide your workouts into certain body parts. For example you could have a full body split, which means you do full body workouts. Or you could have an upper / lower split, which means you some days train upper body, and others train lower body.
Like mentioned in tip #2, you ideally want to train each muscle group 2-3 times per week. So if you normally workout 5-6 times a week, it’s not optimal for you to train full body each time - your body won’t have enough time to recover. Instead, split your workouts into upper- and lower body workouts.
How to do it:
Your training split depends on the amount of workouts you do each week:
Working out 1-2 times per week? Full body workouts make sure you target every muscle group.
Working out 3-5 times per week? It’s more effective breaking your training down into upper & lower body, and core sessions.
Remember, if there’s a specific muscle group you want to build more than others, aim to train this 2-3 times each week. Your other muscle groups you’d then train 1-2 times.
#4 Be strategic with your cardio 🏃🏼♀️
Cardio is great for improving your overall health, and is recommended no matter what your fitness goal is.
However, as mentioned in tip #2, we want our main focus to be on strength training. This is what will help us build muscle.
If you want to include cardio, be strategic with it. Doing too much or at the wrong time will leave you too tired for your strength workouts.
Remember: cardio costs energy, and we want to save this for your strength workouts. Too much cardio will start to burn muscle rather than building it up.
How to do it:
Aim to do cardio after your strength workouts or on a completely separate day. This way, you’re not hindering your strength workouts.
To maintain as much muscle as possible, aim to keep it at a low intensity for 15-45 minutes at a time. Low intensity cardio could be going for a run or stepping up on a cardio machine in the gym.
#5 Apply progressive overload 📈
Applying ‘progressive overload’ means gradually increasing the volume of your workouts. This could be by either upping the weight, reps, sets or adding an extra exercise.
The reason we do this is because as you build muscle, your body gets stronger, and the same training volume won’t be challenging enough for you. For example 10 reps of 20kg squats can feel tough at week 1, but a lot easier at week 3. Here you can either increase the volume by upping to 12 reps, 25kg or adding an extra set.
Applying progressive overload helps us avoid a plateau. While it’s great to find your barbell feels a little lighter, the more comfortable your muscles feel with the exercises, the less likely they are to continue growing.
How to do it:
Aim to apply progressive overload at least every 2-4 weeks. This can be done by:
Doing 1-3 more reps each exercise
Adding an extra set of a certain exercise
Increasing the weight you’re lifting
Adding a new exercise to your workout
Add an extra workout per week (However, remember recovery)
A personalised training plan or a personal trainer will help you with increasing your training volume at the correct pace. The trainn app is designed to create a training plan that will challenge you just the right amount week after week.
If you introduce new exercises or add extra weight to the bar, having a trainer can be really important to make sure you’ve got correct technique and therefore avoid injury
Let’s wrap up
Building muscle requires getting structure in your workouts. It’s one of the reasons our trainers have created a FREE Trainn Guide to take the guesswork out of your training and give you the results you want.
Our top tips for optimising your workouts to build muscle:
Set yourself a measurable goal
Strength train at least 2-4 times a week
Work out the right training split so you hit each muscle group 2-3 times per week
Keep cardio at a low intensity, and add slowly if needed
Apply progressive overload
To get our FREE Trainn Guide including 20 weeks of effective workouts, delicious high-protein recipes & realistic healthy habits, join us below. Make this the year you finally build the body you want.
Personal trainer & founder of trainn
Creative content writer