What is Lean Muscle and How Do You Get It?

“I go for two kinds of men. The kind with muscles, and the kind without.” –Mae West

Becoming lean and muscular is the holy grail of fitness.

The Hollywood celebrity look is often placed on a pedestal and for good reason. Look at movie stars like Brad Pitt, Ryan Reynolds, and Taylor Lautner. Then look at the people around you. How many people among your family, friends, and coworkers have achieved this kind of physique? Chances are few to none. The reason for this is simple. Everyday people either don’t know what it takes to get into this type of condition, don’t care enough to do so, or both. Almost everyone I know falls into one of these three categories. When you think about the build of the stars I mentioned, one of the first things that comes to mind is “lean muscle”. But what is lean muscle?

What is lean muscle?

What is lean muscle?

This phrase gets thrown around a lot and I don’t particularly like it because quite frankly, there is no such thing. There aren’t two distinct categories of muscle where one is lean and the other is fat. When people say lean muscle, they are referring to having a decent amount of muscle while being lean at the same time. People associate lean muscle with someone like Taylor Lautner. While he does have muscle, his muscle is no leaner than that of a sumo wrestler. The difference is that he is leaner than a sumo wrestler and the reason why his physique is much more impressive than that of the sumo wrestler is that sculpting it goes way beyond just putting on muscle.

Let me get back to the three categories of people I mentioned.

My goal is to help the people in the first category: those who are willing to put in the work, but are misinformed. You see, you can’t just put in time at the gym and expect to get a Hollywood body. Many people workout regularly and they might have sufficient muscle, but they are still a little chubby. They think that if they keep pushing hard at the gym, eventually the flab will go away and they will look like Ryan Reynolds. Unfortunately, this is not going to happen unless they take a synergistic approach and focus on what they are doing outside of the gym and the timing of these activities.

Getting lean and muscular requires a two-pronged attack.

The thing is it’s very difficult to attack both at the same time. This is because the activities that are best for burning fat hinder muscle building and vice versa. So here’s what I’m suggesting. Have days when you focus strictly on fat burning and days when you focus strictly on muscle building. My plan of attack is a 5/2 weekly split between fat burning days and muscle building days. So five days a week, I focus on fat burning and give it my all. The other two days, I focus on muscle building and completely ignore fat burning! You can tweak the ratio based on your goals, but I’m more focused on remaining lean and staying at low body fat levels, so the 5/2 split works very well for me.

Obtaining the Hollywood look requires approaching fat loss and muscle building separately from two different angles, like a one-two punch!

How is this different from bulking and cutting?

The traditional bodybuilding bulking and cutting method calls for months of overeating and getting huge and then only a few weeks of cutting to try to get lean. This won’t build an ideal physique because the constant calorie surplus from the bulking phase will inevitably result in fat gain that’s difficult to reverse in only a few weeks. So what you’ll end up with is the big puffy look that’s a little over-the-top. What you want to do instead is to focus the majority of your effort on getting lean because this is the driver behind the ideal Hollywood physique.

My method accomplishes this because for 5 out of 7 days a week, you’re just shredding fat. And then you devote a couple of days to putting on a respectable amount of mass that looks good and suits your frame, not too much. Also, because you’re spreading out the calorie surplus days and being strategic about it, overall long-term fat gain will be minimal. This is your path to the Holy Grail. So if you find yourself asking “what is lean muscle and how do I get it?” the answer lies in this path. Stay tuned to my next post where I discuss exactly what I do on my fat burning and muscle building days to make sure I’m constantly working towards this ideal physique.


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  1. Great overview here man. You’re absolutely right there is no such thing as lean muscle. Muscle is muscle – leanness simply refers to the quantity of fat covering that muscle.

    I think the majority of people don’t have the lean physique you mentioned is because they’re not willing to put in the necessary (hard) work that is required to achieve that kind of build.

  2. @ Srdjan,

    I believe you are correct. It takes a lot of discipline, particularly on the diet side, to get lean enough to achieve the Hollywood look. You may be able to get there without monitoring your eating if you are extremely active, but most of us don’t fit that category.

  3. Looking forward to the series! The bulk-and-cut method is just one more “bodybuilder-lite” methodology that has been done to death… even though it doesn’t work for us the same way it does for them.

  4. @ Darrin,

    In my opinion, bodybuilding bulking and cutting is somewhat unnatural. As you know, I prefer to stay lean year-round. The longer you stay lean while still constantly challenging your muscles, the more you’re going to see Hollywood body type results.

  5. Great approach and one that I practice as well. Lower calorie days with HIIT workouts and higher calorie days with weight training workouts is how I split things up.

  6. @ Dave,

    I love this approach because the eating pattern complements the workouts. I’ll go into more detail on exactly what I do in my next post.

  7. I’m definitely intrigued by the 5/2 split approach you’ve discussed here and I’m looking forward to the next post to see what you’re doing, so I can apply it to my fitness goals.

    It was interesting that you mentioned Taylor Lautner. In the 3rd Twilight movie he appeared to have more mass, but didn’t have that “shrink wrapped” look that he had in the 2nd movie (yes, I saw both of them with my 2 teenage daughters :)). Ryan Reynolds, on the other hand, always has the super-hero look for his roles.


  8. @ Ray,

    Interesting you mention the difference in Taylor Lautner between the 2nd and 3rd movie because I read that before the 2nd movie, he was too lean and had to work very hard to put on some mass which led to the shrink wrap effect.

    For the 3rd movie, his starting point was already very muscular and he maintained it (perhaps even gained some more), but the shrink wrap effect wasn’t quite as pronounced because he wasn’t at the ultra-lean state he was in prior to the second movie.

  9. I think when people refer to getting lean muscle what I really think they mean is having dense hard muscle that is visible due to low levels of body fat.

    I am with you on the fact that most people don´t know how or realize how much work is involved to get a great looking body. I now feel most people will settle for the average physique where they don´t have to work too hard, don´t have to think about it too much and can be relaxed with their diet. It is very hard to push people past this point and keep them going believe me I am trying to do it week in week out.

    Like the look of your new plan,look forward to hearing about your results.



    ps yes can´t wait for the kick off this going to be one roller coaster season. Bring it on!!

  10. @ Howard,

    Exactly. I’m going to be shifting a little more towards training for density over the next couple of months so we’ll see how that goes. It’s difficult to push people past that point of average when they aren’t driven enough to get there, especially when it means stepping outside of their comfort zone.

  11. Yeah! I agree with you “stepping outside of their comfort zone” is somewhat a difficult part for a person to adopt if he feels uncomfortable for what he does. I also do have my daily exercise but not as much as like to all of you. I only jog for about 25 to 30 minutes and its my routine. For me as long as I stay healthy it is enough. It is good to know your way guys I might try your way of getting lean muscles. Thanks guys!
    Bruno´s last blog post ..Pharmacy Technician

  12. I think the majority of people don’t have the lean physique you mentioned is because they’re not willing to put in the necessary hard work that is required to achieve that kind of build.
    Kiya´s last blog post ..rendiautod

  13. @ Bruno,

    I believe there is a balance between trying new things and sticking with a routine. You need to challenge your body in new ways to force muscle growth and increase definition. However, doing a regular routine of jogging, for example, is still WAY better than doing nothing. It just may take you longer to achieve the results you’re looking for. But the inability to keep up with a fitness routine long-term is the biggest reason why people fail.

    @ Kiya,

    I agree. It comes down to priorities.

  14. Hello if your skinny and need to gain muscle, about how many pounds of muscle do you gain to have a decent amount of muscle for a lean body? 10 pounds, 15 pounds 20 pounds, etc. Right now I am 5’8 and 138 pounds how much muscle/weight should I gain to have a decent amount of muscle and a lean muscular body?

  15. @ Randy,

    That depends on how big you want to get and how lean you are to begin. I’m about the same height as you and in my opinion, I have a decent amount of muscle (not a huge amount), but very low body fat, which makes me appear more muscular. Personally, I try to stay under 140 while maintaining the muscle I already have. It may seem low, but my goal is to be really defined, and for that you need to weigh a lot less than you think and worry more about fat loss than muscle gain.

    On the other hand, if you want to still be somewhat lean (maybe 12-15% body fat) but above all are craving more mass, I would say try to put on 10 lbs of muscle and get to around 148 or so. For 5-8 I would say anything above 160 and you risk looking too bulky, unless of course that is what you want. If you are already at a low body fat, you can afford to put on some weight, but make sure it’s muscle. If your body fat is higher than you want, work on lowering it while building some mass and you will look a lot more muscular than you are.

  16. Well the body type I want is that of an armani model of the fashion models. I’m not sure how much muscle or weight I would need to gain or weight at to achieve that goal. Right not i’m 5’8 and 138 pounds and I have a omron scale that tests body fat and I get i’m around 12 percent not sure how accurate that is. Also i’m skinny and flabby so I understand your at 140 being that im 138 and skinny and flabby i would think I would need to gain weight. Point blank and simple I just want a lean muscular body like the the fashion models I hate bulky and to big. I just want to be lean and muscular. pefect example of the body type I want is the alex pettyfer.

  17. Also do you have a picture of your physique to see how it looks since we are of similar height, and how long do you think it would take for me to gain 10 pounds of lean muscle. I’m 23 and never really worked out before? Thanks

  18. @ Randy,

    Armani models are really lean. If you are going for that look, I’d recommend staying below 140 and dropping your body fat to below 10%. I have a scale and I’m not sure how accurate mine is either, but it shows me at around 6-7% right now, so I’d guess conservatively if it’s off by 2% I’m really around 8-9%.

    If you’ve never worked out before, you will make gains quickly so it shouldn’t take long if your strength training routine is solid even without a calorie surplus so I’d focus mainly on lowering your body fat and staying at your current weight. I’ll post a pic in a relevant upcoming article of me around your current weight (138 or so).

  19. i dont build muscles for “looks”, i build it for strength…
    Christopher´s last blog post ..Healthy Body Fat Percentage for Men and Women

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