Blog Posts

Building Lean Muscle Without Adding Bulk

Jan 27, 2024

The whole idea of “lean muscle” is really a bit silly, when you think about it.

Muscle is either there or it’s not there, in its various sizes.

When people say they want to build lean muscle (and I hear this ALL THE TIME, from both men and women), they mean that they want to build muscle and reduce their overall fat levels.

Body composition, my friends, is what it’s all about.

And I totally get what people mean.

They want muscle.

They want to see it, without a layer of body fat on top  of it.

The traditional bodybuilder in the off-season is probably the source of this desire/fear:

IFBB Pro Gunter Schlierkamp with his “off-season” lookbodybuilder-lean-muscle

Yup, this guy has lots of muscle, but it’s obscured by a layer of fat and his ab development isn’t visible (although they’re definitely there underneath).

There are a couple things that you need to be aware of.

A professional bodybuilder is the extreme of the muscle spectrum.

They maximize their muscle mass for the purpose of competition and take around 3-6 months to gradually drop the fat so that they have impressive levels of both muscle and extremely low body fat as well.

Performance-enhancing drugs, including testosterone and growth hormone are involved, to get that large amount of muscle and then reduce body fat.

What does that mean for YOU?

Let’s say you’re looking to put on some muscle naturally and get lean.

Don’t fear putting on too much muscle “bulk” by pushing your muscles with adequate intensity (that’s the weight you’re lifting) and volume (how many sets and reps you do over the course of a workout and over the week).

Most people won’t build muscle easily and it will take time to see progress.

You’re not just going to blow up like a big muscular balloon after a few training sessions!

Sometimes when I hear the “lean muscle” argument from the skinny guy at the gym I just want to groan.


Trust me dude, you’re not going to bulk up like a bodybuilder with all those lame body weight exercises and 8 pound bicep curls you’re doing.

Bodybuilders push to extremes for months and years at a time with calculated focus and intensity to get the levels of muscle they achieve.

If you’re training 4, 5 or 6 days a week for an hour you probably won’t be getting “bulky” anytime soon.

Still overdoing it with food when you’re trying to build muscle can have undesirable effects.

In the past, many bodybuilders (and others looking to getting more muscular) ate outrageous amounts of food to maximize their gains, without considering how much additional fat they were adding.


They didn’t care.

They just wanted to get MASSIVE.

And for those hard-gainers among you, who struggle to put on size, they may be an effective way to add muscle.

You need to force yourself to eat more than you ever have before.

But if you’re the person (male or female) who wants to have a bit more muscle and get leaner in the process then you can train heavy and hard without fear of adding added fat as long as you keep your eating in check.

The key to maintaining leanness as you put on muscle is to carefully monitor what you’re eating.

Add regular weight training and keep eating the same thing and you’ll get more muscular and leaner as your body uses those calories to help the muscle recover and build.

Adjust your nutrition plan so you’re eating a better balance of macros and micronutrients and you’ll speed up both the process of muscle gain and fat loss.

And then you’ll end up with that lean muscle that you’re looking for, without any added bulk.

That lean, athletic look will be yours if you follow the right strategy.

You’ll add plenty of muscle, without that bulky look you’re trying to avoid.

Ivana Chapman