3 Things You Need To Know To Build Lean Muscle

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Here’s What People Don’t Tell You About Building Muscle

Without hard work, nothing grows but weeds.
— Gordon B. Hinckley

Building muscle can be complicated at times, especially if it’s your first time trying to pack it on.

Whilst you know there are a few non-negotiables when it comes to building muscle (being in a calorie surplus, applying progressive overload and being patient), but what about all your other questions?

How do you know if it’s working?

How do you know if you’re doing it right?

How do you know whether you could be doing it faster?

The questions are endless.

To help put your mind at ease, here are 3 things that a lot of people skim over, thinking that it’s common knowledge or obvious.

These 3 things are part of the muscle building process and something you need to be aware of if you want to successfully build muscle.

Get on board with these things and make building muscle much easier.


You Will Gain Some Fat, Get Over It & Get On With It

Part of the process of building muscle also includes gaining fat.

I’m telling you now – there is no way around this.

You can try as hard as you like but you cannot completely avoid fat gain when building muscle.

It’s important you accept this part of the process early on and come to terms with it.

If you don’t you’ll always struggle to fully dedicate yourself to the process and will come away with minimal muscle as a result.

However, fat gain doesn’t have to mean piling on the pounds and going from a lean and athletic to something that better resembles a sumo wrestler.

If you’re smart about it, you can minimise the amount of fat you gain.

Doing so has several benefits;

  • You can maintain a lean look all year round

  • You don’t need to ‘cut’ (lose fat) for as long after your ‘bulk’ (muscle gain)

  • You gain muscle more easily if you’re not holding a lot of excess fat

The key to minimising your fat gain is gain weight slowly.

This means approximately 1 lbs a week slowly.

Focus on the incremental week to week changes with a focus on as gaining as much muscle as possible.

The standard rate of weight gain is 1:1 which means for every 2lbs of weight you gain, 1 will be fat and 1 will be muscle.

Sometimes you’ll do slightly better than this and sometimes you’ll do worse. It depends on a few factors;

  • Diet

  • Training

  • Genetics

  • Lifestyle

As you can see 3 of the 4 are within your control.

This means you need to train hard, apply progressive overload, eat in a small calorie surplus, stay hydrated and sleep well.

Do these things and you put yourself in the best position to minimise fat gain when building muscle.

Remember you can’t avoid it but you can do your best to keep it to a minimum.

Close up shot of a man working out in the gym

Your Waist Should Change As Little As Possible

The best indicator of a lean bulk (maximal muscle gain, minimal fat gain) is how much your waist size changes.

In an ideal world, you want it to stay the same as your other measurements slowly increase.

However, for most people, a more realistic aim is that your waist slowly increases whilst all your other measurements also increase.

This is for 2 primary reasons;

  1. Having a smaller waist contributes to the sought-after V-shape look for men and helps you look athletic and fit

  2. If your weight is changing slowly whilst all your other measurements increase it’s a good sign you’re building maximum muscle and gaining minimum fat

How to measure your waist

When measuring your waist, you want to measure around the narrowest part, which is usually at or just above your belly button and can be done in a few easy steps;

  1. Lift up or take off your shirt so your clothes aren’t in the way

  2. Using your belly button as a guide wrap the measuring tape around your waist

  3. It should be wrapped firmly but not too tight, make sure it’s not twisted at the back

  4. Make sure you’re standing up straight and breathing normally

  5. Take your measurement where the end of tape measure meets the rest of it

  6. Repeat the above to check the measurement

  7. If it’s different do it one more time and take an average of the 3

How often you should measure your waist

As for frequency, this is where you can choose, I generally do measurements once a month but have recently moved to a fortnightly measuring schedule to keep closer track of my measurements.

However, I have seen it recommended that you take measurements weekly.

Whatever you end up choosing, aim to be consistent and measure in the same way each time for accurate results over time.


Your Strength Should Increase With Your Weight Gain

Gaining strength when eating in a calorie surplus is a good indicator that you’re on the right track.

It’s proof that not only are you getting stronger (obviously) but also means that you’re applying progressive overload which is the main driver of progress in the gym.

If you’re gaining weight but NOT gaining strength, then something is going wrong.

There are generally 3 causes;

  1. You ARE getting stronger but it’s slower than you expected so you think you’re not

  2. You’re not being consistent in your workouts

  3. You don’t keep a workout diary and don’t actually know what’s going on

Train consistently and keep a detailed training diary.

This allows you to clearly see your level of progress over time and is the best indicator of whether or not you’re on track.

Now, this doesn’t mean you should expect out of this world results, particularly if you’re an intermediate lifter with 1+ years of consistent lifting under your belt.

At this point, you’ll be looking to slowing increase strength through a combination of add reps or even a rep and weight to the bar over time.

Don’t forget progress is still progress it doesn’t matter if it’s 1 rep or 1 kg.


Takeaway Point

Building muscle is a process, not a quick fix or fad where you can expect to achieve superior results in a short period of time, to really build muscle you must dedicate a prolonged period of time to it.

Part of this process is overcoming the mind games the body plays and accepting that you will gain some fat along the way. However, to keep this to a minimum you want to closely track the change in your waist.

Then finally, to ensure you’re on the right track you want to make sure that as your weight slowly increases so does your strength in the gym.

Work hard, be consistent and I’ll promise you’ll get there.