The 4 Keys to Building a Lean and Muscular Physique

The 4 Keys to Building a Lean and Muscular Physique

The 4 Keys to Building a Lean and Muscular Physique

Front view of motivated bodybuilder

If I had a dollar for every single time I have heard someone say they have been training balls to the wall for months and don’t feel like they were getting anywhere, I would have a few dollars that’s for sure.

Trust me, this is an extremely common occurrence that often happens after someone has been training for a few months.

They get their newbie gains (the large improvements in both strength and size that we experience when we first start weight training), and then typically plateau quite significantly immediately after that.

This is because they have gone above what I would consider a novice lifter. Once we have surpassed this training milestone, it becomes increasingly difficult to put on both size and strength.

While this can be perceived as a negative, it is by no means a bad thing – it is a sure sign that you have been putting in the hard work and have built some appreciable size, lost significant fat, and have achieved some decent gains in strength.

And fortunately, it does not mean that you are going to stop seeing results – it merely means that you are going to have to make a couple of small (but simple) changes to both your diet and training regime to ensure you bust through your training plateau and continue to progress.

In the following article, I outline the 4 keys to guarantee you will continue to build mass and strength while losing fat long after you have received your newbie gains.

Steer Clear of Body Part Training Splits

Now, when we first start training we could do almost anything and still see results (I mean anything…).

For most of this means picking a random bodybuilding type training split (where you train one muscle group each day, one time per week) from a muscle magazine and then proceed to watch the gains come rolling in.

It is important to note that despite appearing in a huge amount of fitness magazines, this type of training splits far from the most effective way to either promote fat loss or build muscle.

It is commonly accepted that takes 24-48 hours for a given muscle group to recover from an intense weight session (this can be slightly less or slightly more, depending upon the individual).

This means that we actually have the capacity to train an individual muscle group 2-3 times in a given week. Now, while body part training splits provide a large amount of training volume in a single session, they don’t actually provide a lot of training volume over a training week.

By opting for a training split where we train a given muscle group 2-3 times per week (such as an upper body / lower body training split, or a 3 x week full-body training program) we can significantly increase the amount of training volume a given muscle group receives over a training week, which can cause significant boosts in muscle growth.

Opt For Large, Compound Exercises

When it comes to both building mass and burning energy, multi-joint, compound exercises are king (think presses, rows, squats, and deadlifts).

These movements use the most amount of muscle mass, utilizing multiple muscle groups at one time. This allows us to train a number of different muscles simultaneously, increasing the total volume they receive over a given training week, which is a key driver for the growth of new muscle tissue.

Additionally, as these compound, barbell-based movements use the largest amount of muscle mass, they also use the most amount of energy per exercise. This leads to the greatest energy expenditure over a given week, which can promote additional fat loss while also increasing muscle mass. While this article represents the bare fundamentals that you should know about; If you are interested in reading a few more details check out this post to get a few more ideas on building upper body strength.

Finally, these movements allow us to shift the most amount of physical weight. This increased load places the body under a HUGE amount of mechanical tension.

Mechanical tension (and the subsequent increase in mechanical stress on the tissues) has been shown to be one of the key drivers for muscle growth and is essential for maximizing strength development.

By prioritizing compound exercises over smaller, isolation movements, we can maximize the development of muscle strength, increase muscle size, while also promoting fat loss.

Use HIIT for Cardio

When most think of cardiovascular exercise, they picture long-distance jogs at a relatively low pace.

When trying to build a lean, muscular physique this is arguably the worst way we can go. Low-intensity endurance activities promote the development of type I muscle fibers (also known as slow-twitch muscle fibers).

While these fibers are fantastic at producing low amounts of force for long periods of time (such as that needed to complete a marathon), they are not particularly conducive to a lean, muscular physique.

Despite that, cardiovascular exercise is essential to promoting fat loss.

Fortunately, there is a happy medium.

Enter High-intensity Interval Training (HIIT).

HIIT describes intermittent periods of extremely high-intensity physical activity (think sprinting) combined with periods of low-intensity physical activity (think walking) as a form of recovery.

This allows us to work at an intensity great enough to promote the development of type II muscle fibers (fast-twitch muscle fibers – which are responsible for the expression of strength and power), while also providing enough cardiovascular stimulus to promote the development of the aerobic system.

Furthermore, HIIT training burns an absolute TON of energy – which makes it a fantastic way to promote additional fat loss, which is integral to building a lean and powerful physique.

Editors note: While HIIT cardio is fantastic for your overall health and fat loss goals etc, it is not 100% necessary for you to both build muscle or lose fat. Muscle gain happens as a result of getting stronger and fat loss happens as a result of eating on a caloric deficit each day. Cardio is not necessary to facilitate either. However, it does have health benefits and if you want to do cardio, this is certainly an option to strongly consider.

Eat all the Proteins

After we have started weight training seriously, we tend to put on a few pounds of muscle. As we increase the amount of muscle mass in our body, we also increase the amount of protein we need to consume to 1) maintain that muscle mass, and 2), build new muscle mass.

This means that we have to keep increasing protein intake as our body weight increases (1 gram of protein per pound of body weight is often about right).

The easiest way to accomplish this is by ensuring we eat some form of protein at each meal – this can be eggs, poultry, red meat, or even a whey protein powder – as long as we hit a decent amount of protein at each meal we will make it much easier to meet our dietary protein requirements.

By hitting protein requirements, we guarantee our body has the nutrients available to build and repair damaged muscle tissue, promoting muscle growth.


Once we have established a solid base fitness, in which we have gone beyond our novice weight training stage, it is essential to make some key changes to promote continual muscle growth and fat loss.

By opting for training splits that allow us to train each muscle group 2-3 times per week, and prioritizing large, compounds movements, we can maximize muscle growth while also promoting additional fat loss.

Furthermore, by implementing HIIT into our weekly training program, we can promote the development of fast-twitch muscle fibers, burn a heap of energy (and subsequently promote fat loss), and develop our aerobic systems.

It is important to note that this cannot be achieved unless we consume adequate nutrients to promote muscle recovery and the growth of new muscle tissue.

If we do tick these four key boxes, you can be guaranteed to bust through your training plateau and build a lean, muscular physique.

This is just one resource of many. Do your own research and find out what sort of cardio or food you should be eating. However, the principles in this article remain the building blocks of building a strong and muscular body.


Schoenfeld, Brad J. “The mechanisms of muscle hypertrophy and their application to resistance training.” The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research 24.10 (2010): 2857-2872.

Gibala, Martin J., et al. “Shortterm sprint interval versus traditional endurance training: similar initial adaptations in human skeletal muscle and exercise performance.” The Journal of physiology 575.3 (2006): 901-911

Kreider, Richard B. “Dietary supplements and the promotion of muscle growth with resistance exercise.” Sports Medicine 27.2 (1999): 97-110

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