Keys to a Lean Physique

Keys to a Lean Physique

Let’s face it – we all want to look and feel athletic. But with so much contradicting information out there, it can be challenging to achieve that fit and lean physique. 

To that end, we’ve put together this short guide in which we’ll go over the keys to a lean physique. Let’s go!

What Does It Mean to Have a Lean Physique?

Before going over the actionable tactics, let’s clarify what it is to have a lean physique.

Having a lean physique means to be toned and muscular with a decently low level of body fat. But don’t confuse this look with the typical and overbuilt bodybuilding look where the person has a lot of muscle.

What Does a Toned Physique Look Like?

Most people agree that a lean physique is a much better look than the overbuilt, musclehead look. A lean, toned build is a great look all the time, whether you’re at the beach, jogging in the park, or in a suit. 

A lean physique, put into words, looks like this:

  • Low body fat
  • Good muscular definition, but not overdone (think “toned”)
  • Body Fat % in the 12% – 20% Range (sustainable for most people)
  • Good body proportions
  • A generally lean physical frame

And do you know what the best part is?

Anyone can achieve a lean physique with the right diet, some exercise, and consistently sticking to it. (1)

Consistency is the key! We all fall down from time to time, and even the fittest people you know likely have 1 cheat day a week. So don’t beat yourself up if you have a few cheat days and pig out on occasion. 

Without further ado, here are the keys to a lean physique.

The Keys to a Lean Physique

First, and Most Important is a Lean, Healthy Diet

Lean Muscle DietContrary to popular belief, it’s not your training that makes the biggest difference in the way you look and your weight control; it’s your nutrition.

One of the absolute keys to a lean physique is a lean, healthy diet. 

This means:

  1. Watching your calories and making sure that you’re eating at maintenance or slightly below. So you will want to know your BMR to know your average daily calorie burn. And learn more why counting calories works.
  2. Consuming plenty of lean meats for the protein and healthy veggies for their nutrients and for keeping you satiated.
  3. Having one or two cheat meals per week to keep your sanity. But, remember to keep them moderate and don’t go crazy on your cheat days, as that can be hard to recover from. Shoot for a calorie excess of not more than 500-1,000 calories on your cheat days, which is easy to recover from. So if your BMR says you generally burn 2,500 calories in a typical day, make sure your cheat day does not exceed 3,000 or 3,500 calories. (2)
  4. Having a healthy dose of fats (avocado, nuts, natural oils, fatty fish, etc.) and some slow-digesting carbs (rice, sweet potato, whole wheat, grains, legumes, and such).
  5. Incorporate several of the superfoods into your diet for health, fitness, and wellness.

The Second Key to a Lean Physique is Daily Cardio

Benefits of CardioThe next key to a lean physique is probably not going to surprise you, but it certainly bears some repeating: doing consistent cardio. And yes, make it part of your daily routine. If you incorporate it into your daily routine, then it becomes a part of you, like waking up in the morning.

And make sure you know the best time to do cardio.

You see, while strength training is vital for muscle growth (and maintenance) and strength gain, it’s not the end-all, be-all for a lean physique. If you genuinely want to build and maintain a lean physique, you absolutely must do cardio as part of your regular routine.

Cardio offers some incredible benefits when it comes to building a lean physique. For one, it burns a good deal of calories, which makes it easier to be in a caloric deficit and shed fat.

Second, doing consistent cardio helps elevate your metabolic rate, so you can eat a bit more food and still maintain your leanness.

Third, we also need to remember that consistent cardio improves our work capacity and allows us to exert more effort into our workouts. That, in combination with a lean diet, creates one of the keys to a lean physique.

In other words, if you want to be athletic, get lean and toned, maintain your results, and elevate your health, do your daily cardio.

There are so many great cardio benefits.

The Third Key is Hitting the Weights (Resistance Training)

The final key to building a physique that is lean and toned, is to do resistance training two days a week (lift weights). More than two days a week is not necessary unless you are trying to put on serious muscle mass.

Most average, everyday people agree that the most attractive physique is lean and toned, not bounding with muscles. You can do this quite handily with two days a week in the gym.

Schedule your workouts around your cheat days so that your muscles are well fed and nourished on these days. So if on Friday night you plan to go heavy on pizza and wings, do one of your lift days on Friday morning. 

A good, and simple, 2-day workout routine is as follows:



And you can easily achieve this at the gym, or even with home workouts

Lean Physique

Start the Journey Today to a Lean and Toned Physique

Here are some key points to keep in mind:

  1. More than anything, finding a consistent routine is the key. 5-6 days a week eating lean and healthy, and 1-2 days a week eating what you want but not going totally crazy. Try to keep your cheat days at around 500-1,000 calorie excess, which is easy to recover from on your lean days.
  2. Eat a healthy diet 5-6 days each week with a calorie deficit of 500-1000 calories.
  3. Keep your cheat days under control. If you love pizza and beer, on your cheat day spend an extra 20 minutes on the treadmill, and then moderate your calories during the day so you can really enjoy your pizza that night.
  4. Do cardio every day. Make it part of your routine. Whether it’s a brisk walk, light jog, or more serious cardio like HIIT. It might only be 200 calories burned a day, but over the course of a year, that is 73,000 calories which equals 20 pounds of fat!
  5. Hit the weights 2 days a week to firm and tone your muscles. As you age, lifting also keeps your bones strong! And build your two workouts around your cheat days so your muscles are well fed after lifting.

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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. Russo, V. (2021). The 6 Principles Of Getting Lean.
  2. Lifestyle Fitness: High Quality Gyms: Free Classes: Flexible Memberships. High Quality Gyms. (2018).

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