How to Build LEAN Muscle

If your ultimate goal is to just build mass – then this blog post isn’t for you. But, if your goal is to build lean and athletic muscle mass, then read on.

I was always a skinny kid growing up. In high school and college this didn’t change at all, even though I was trying, working my ass off in the gym 5-6 times a week in vain. I wanted to build muscle, but I wanted to have a six-pack, that V-shaped torso, and improve my performance at the same time. I just had no clue how to make it happen.

I failed for 7 years. I’d try a powerlifting plan, gain some fat and a bit of muscle, then try a bodybuilding program like the pro’s do, which would make me lose weight. It was frustrating as hell, but there were a few things that I was doing wrong. When I fixed them, I put on the muscle (32 pounds in 32 weeks) that I had been craving for so long.

What not to do

Long rest periods

The common practice when building mass is to allow your body as much time as it needs to recover during each set. The theory makes sense. If you’re allowing yourself to fully recover, you’ll be able to lift for more reps at a heavier weight. But, if you’re after building lean mass you have to keep your metabolism in check.

Shorter rest periods means less fat gained while you’re eating those extra calories to put on muscle.

Eat empty calories

A lot of us think that putting on mass is the same as putting on lean mass. Well, they’re a lot different and need different things to be accomplished. Anyone can put on mass, you just have to eat more calories than you’re burning. You can even out-eat an insanely high metabolism. If you want to build lean mass you have to accomplish three things with your diet.

1. Eat more calories than you’re burning.

2. Keep your metabolism high so you can burn fat – lot’s of lean proteins, veggies and monounsaturated fats.

3. Consume the right nutrients that you need to help your body recover.


This was a big one with me. I always thought that more was better, well it’s not. If you’re over-doing it in the gym and not allowing your body enough recovery time you’ll get run-down, your body won’t build the muscle that you’ve been working so hard to pack on, and you’ll actually store fat.

This goes hand-in-hand with getting enough sleep. But you also don’t want to be spending too much time in the gym either. Keep it to a max of 4 days lifting, you can add one more day in there of cardio or a sport, but try and allow your body 2-3 rest days a week.

What to do

Mix up your sets

Don’t just fall into the routine of doing the same reps and sets week after week. Supersets, drop-sets, giant sets, you name it, do them. Mix your workouts up. By doubling up the exercises like you’ll do with drop sets, you’ll boost your metabolism, but also break down more muscle – which you’ll then repair through proper nutrition and rest.

Get your sleep

Get at least 8 hours every night. This is the biggest problem I have, and I can really notice how it effects my gains – both in fat loss and building lean muscle. Getting the right amount of sleep both keeps your metabolism healthy, but will also boost human growth hormone and testosterone. Both are very important hormones in building lean muscle, and recovery.

Think about having naps as well. A 20-30 minute nap has a similar effect in that it boosts your metabolism and HGH and testosterone.


I just mentioned the hormones HGH and Testosterone which are important in reaching your goals. It’ll also help improve oxygen flow to your muscles and improve your lung capacity. Intense cardio like sprints will not only help you burn fat and maintain muscle, but build muscle as well.