“I want to know how to build lean muscle without getting too big.”
If you’ve ever said this to a trainer and noticed them cringe, there are a couple of reasons.
First of all, getting “too big” doesn’t just happen after a few trips to the gym. It requires adherence to a very specific training and nutrition plan, and genetics plays a role, too.
“Typically, women are scared to lift weights because they’re afraid to get ‘bulky,’ but that isn’t true,” says Amanda Lopez, CPT, technical fitness advisor at BODi.
And if you’re wondering how to train to gain lean muscle, it’s important to clarify: Muscle is muscle.
So if building lean muscle is your goal, what you actually need to do is increase muscle mass and lose fat — thereby achieving a lean, toned physique.
That being said, most fitness pros will understand exactly what you mean when you say, “Show me how to get lean muscle.”
We asked a few to share their best tips.
1. Mix Light and Heavy Weights
Is lifting heavy weights the best way to build muscle for women? Or should you use light or moderately heavy weights to build lean muscle mass?
“A mix of both!” says Nicole Lombardo, DPT, CSCS, and physical therapist at Back Intelligence.
Lombardo recommends working with lighter weights and higher rep schemes (to improve muscle endurance) on one day, then switching to heavier weights and lower rep schemes (to increase muscle mass and strength) the next day.
So Monday’s training plan may include three sets of 10 reps with lighter weights, while Wednesday’s plan consists of five sets of five reps with heavier weights.
2. Double Dip With Cardio and Strength
Building lean muscle isn’t just about strength training.
“Both cardiovascular training and strength training are important for building body mass,” Lopez explains.
Heart-pumping cardio can help decrease your body-fat percentage, while strength training increases the size of your muscles.
Incorporate both into your routine with #mbf Muscle Burns Fat and #mbfa Muscle Burns Fat Advanced — these three-week plans combine resistance training and cardio to help you build muscle and burn fat.
3. Opt for Supersets
Looking for a time-efficient way to build lean muscle? Try supersets.
“The superset technique is basically a set of two exercises performed back to back with no rest in between, to maximize the work on a specific muscle group,” Lopez says.
For example, if you’re working on building lean muscle in your arms, you might superset biceps curls with triceps dips.
4. Fuel Your Body
If you’re looking to build lean muscle, focus on the quality of your food, not the quantity, says Sofia Norton, a registered dietitian at Kiss My Keto.
“A diet rich in real foods — not processed junk — is going to give your body the fuel it needs for a toned physique,” Norton says.
Building lean muscle requires protein, but you don’t need to overdo it. “Around 1.2 to 2 grams per kilogram of body weight is all you need to support muscle synthesis,” Norton says.
A nutritional supplement like Beachbody Performance can help you hit your daily protein goals when you’re working to build lean muscle.
Don’t rule out carbs, either. They tend to get a bum rap, but you need some quick-burning energy to fuel a workout, Norton says — and complex carbs can provide that.
5. Don’t Overlook Recovery
When you’re trying to build lean muscle, “taking it easy” might seem counterintuitive. But skimping on recovery time is a common workout mistake.
Muscle repair and growth happens between workouts, so make sure you’re giving your body ample time to recover — and getting a good night’s sleep so you have the energy to tackle tomorrow’s workout.
6. Commit for the Long Haul
And, of course, strength training supports your weight loss goals, too.
So when you start seeing that hard-earned muscle tone you’ve been working for, keep going — building lean muscle should be a lifelong pursuit.