Building Lean Muscle for a Lean, Hard Physique

Building Lean Muscle Workout

Building lean muscle is the foundation for creating an attractive, sharp, muscular build. Yes…it takes work, but it is not a complicated process. Anyone can do it with a little discipline and solid dose of motivation.

Building Lean MuscleAfter the first 6 to 8 weeks, your motivation will likely become self-perpetuating. There’s a lot to be said for the old saying…success breeds success. As you start to see improvements in your physique and your old clothes start to fit again, that will fuel your motivation.

And forget the myth that you are either losing fat or gaining muscle, but not both at the same time. You can build lean muscle, while at the same time losing that unwanted fat. And the simple way to transform your physique is through effective workouts, along with a clean diet.

The physique that most people admire and strive for is not the overbuilt, musclehead look. That is not the preferred look for the average person.  Why?

  1. You probably don’t have 2 hours a day to spend in the gym.
  2. More importantly, you recognize (like most people) that the most attractive build is lean and hard, not huge and overdone.

Start a journey, step by step, to a new you. All of the tools (and more) are here for you to help you build lean muscle and lose fat.

Lean Muscle Loss With Age

Muscle Loss With AgeYour efforts in building lean muscle become doubly important as you age. After the age of 30, the average person loses 3% to 5% of their lean muscle mass each decade. This is known as sarcopenia, and it can have a devastating effect on your physique unless you take some simple steps to prevent and mitigate this. (1)

You just need to take simple action to reverse the natural process, but it can be reversed.

Much of the science also says that even if you exercise and workout, you will still lose muscle mass each decade after 30 or 40. Not true. Many have proven that you can build lean muscle in your 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, and beyond with solid workouts, and a muscle building diet. You have likely seen the guy in the gym who looks mid-50’s or mid-60’s and is hard as a rock. Just takes some focus and motivation, and you will feel vigor and renewal as you progress down this road.

Resistance Training to Build Lean Muscle

Resistance training is different for everyone…pick the flavor that works best for you – gym equipment, free weights, bodyweight exercise, dumbbells, barbells, body weight, or some combination of all. They are all effective, as long as the resistance part is there and you do them consistently. That is the key, to do the workouts on a weekly basis and your muscles will stay fit.

Any resistance training will be greatly beneficial, but if you want to dive a little deeper it’s helpful to know some of the micro. The key is to understand required intensity, rep ranges, and rest times between sets.

We have two phases for developing a lean and muscular physique in just a few months. You just have to commit to putting your health first for a few months – diet and exercise. After that, you’ll be a believer and lifestyle changes will become part of your life!

Here are the 2 Phases:

  1. Phase 1 – Muscle Building
  2. Phase 2 – Muscle Hardening
Building Lean Muscle Plan

Phase 1 | Muscle Building [2-4 months]

Phase 1 Workouts

During Phase 1, which should last 2 to 4 months, your goal is to add muscle mass while starting to lean out. The way to add lean muscle mass is to perform 6 to 12 reps in each set, generally to muscle failure, and only rest 30 seconds between sets. This will completely fatigue and break down your muscles, which will then rebuild and grow on your rest days.

You need to lift heavy, but not so heavy that your form suffers or that you risk injury.

This phase can last anywhere from 2 months to 4 months, depending on your experience, personal goals, and current muscle mass.

  • 6 to 12 reps per set
  • 3 to 4 sets per muscle group
  • 30 seconds rest between sets
  • Muscle failure (or close to it) each set

Phase 1 Diet & Calories (2 mild cheat days per week)

Your calories are built around your weekends, so we are assuming a normal Friday-Saturday-Sunday weekend.

Target your resistance training days to be Friday and Saturday, so that your resistance training days coincide with your higher calorie days to properly feed your muscles during the hard work:

Sunday to Thursday (lower calories – weekdays):
(Target Weight) x 10
If weight goal is 200 pounds, 200 x 10 = 2,000 cal/day

Friday and Saturday (higher calories – weekends/workouts):
(Target Weight) X 15
If weight goal is 200 pounds, 200 x 15 = 3,000 cal/day

Phase 2 | Muscle Hardening [1-2 months]

Phase 2 Workouts

During Phase 2, your goal is to increase muscle density and therefore hardness. This will give you the lean and cut look. Increase the weight slightly and only perform 4 to 6 reps in each set. This increases the density of the muscle fiber.

Depending on your body fat % and your personal goals, this phase should last 1 to 2 months. It’s how you lean out for summer. Remember, abs start to show at 10% body fat (click to check your body fat %):

  • 4 to 6 reps per set (lower reps – heavier weight)
  • 2-3 sets per muscle group
  • 90 seconds rest between sets
  • 1 rep short of failure for each set

Phase 2 Calories & Diet (1 mild cheat day per week)

Your calories are built around your weekends, so that your resistance training days coincide with your high calorie day, which is just 1 cheat day during Phase 2:

Saturday to Thursday (lower calories – weekdays):
(Target Weight) x 8
If your goal is 200 pounds, 200 x 8 = 1,600

Friday (higher calories – weekend):
(Target Weight) x 12
If your goal is 200 pounds, 200 x 12 = 2,400

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Diet for Building Lean Muscle

Here are the main food groups, and some great foods to includes in your daily and weekly diet for health and muscle building. These healthy foods are perfect for building lean muscle, and also staying lean and healthy:

Lean Meats for Building Lean Muscle

Muscle Building Diet

  • Chicken (skinless, white meat)
  • Turkey (skinless)
  • Lean Steak (Top Sirloin, Filet)
  • Lean Ground Beef (90% to 96% Lean)
  • Lean Pork (Loin Chops, Tenderloins)
  • Fish
  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Rainbow Trout

Vegetables for Building Lean Muscle

Muscle Bulding Vegetables

  • Broccoli
  • Green Beans
  • Spinach
  • Squash
  • Tomatoes
  • Kale
  • Asparagus
  • Red Cabbage
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Carrots
  • Onions


  • Milk – Fat-free (great for protein shakes)
  • Egg Whites
  • Low-fat (or non-fat) Cottage Cheese

Grains and Nuts

Grains for Building Lean Muscle

  • Whole-wheat Bread
  • Brown Rice
  • Oatmeal
  • Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah)
  • Almonds (buy “Halves”)
  • Pistachio Nuts
  • Ground Flaxseed (very healthy – eat 1 tablespoon every day)

Healthy Oils for Lean Muscle Development

Healthy Oils for Building Lean Muscle

  • Barlean’s Seriously Delicious Total Omega
    (This is a true PowerHouse supplement – 1 tablespoon in the morning)
  • Olive Oil
  • Udo’s Oil

(1 tablespoon each day for wellness)

Click the button below to download our complete grocery list of healthy foods.

Eat a steady combination of all of these foods, keep your calories in check, and you simply can’t go wrong. You will look and feel great, and with a good workout routine you will definitely be building lean muscle.

Aim for 1 to 2 pounds a week of fat loss. Any more than that is not healthy, and is detrimental to your fitness goals. (2)

This is really just scratching the surface…here is a lot more detail about your muscle building diet

It’s also a good idea to have a good general idea of your calorie intake, as well as your calories burned.

Learn more about that here:

Carb Cycling

A key part of the schedule shown above in Phase 1 and Phase 2 is “carb cycling.” This is mainly important if you are an endomorph, and put on and retain weight easily (and don’t feel bad, as this is most people). If you’re not sure, click to learn more about the three main body types.

Make sure to have your 2 or 3 workout days (resistance training) on Friday and Saturday, which are cheat days for most people. You want your muscles to be well-fed on your 2 or 3 workout days, and you do that by doing your resistance training on Friday and Saturday…very helpful in building lean muscle.

You might have your other workout day (resistance training day) on one of your lean calorie days, and that’s OK too!

When to Do Cardio

Low Intensity CardioIt’s best to do cardio every day! Yes, every day, and here’s why.

In years of discussions about the best days to do cardio, so many people say “I do cardio Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.” The problem is that it’s then too easy to say, “well this week I’ll change it to only Wednesday and Friday.” This happens all the time!

So the best thing is to just build it into your routine. Cement into your routine, and commit to do cardio every day. It sounds like a lot and maybe even overwhelming, but when it becomes part of your daily routine it becomes very easy. And you’ll be grateful you did!

And as for the question of doing cardio before or after weights, learn more about that here.

Muscle Group Workouts

Here lies the “meat and potatoes” – the process of building lean muscle:

Top 5 Best Chest Exercises
Top 5 Exercises for your Tricep Workout
Top 5 Exercises for your Bicep Workout
Top 5 Exercises for your Back Workout Routine
Top 5 Exercises for your Shoulder Workout
Top 5 Exercises for your Ab Workout
Ripped Abs

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David Williams

David Williams

A diet and fitness enthusiast, David is an ex-Army Airborne Ranger and Infantry soldier with decades of fitness and wellness experience. A West Point graduate with a degree in engineering, he focuses on technical research related to fitness, nutrition, and wellness. He loves the beach and working out, and spending time with his wife and daughters.

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  1. Dunkin, M. A. (n.d.). Sarcopenia (muscle loss with aging): Symptoms, causes, and treatments. WebMD.
  2. Leaf Group. (n.d.). What happens to muscle if you lose weight too fast? | healthfully. LIVESTRONG.COM.

Click to see our medical disclosure.