I have been asked a hundred times, is lean bulking possible? First of all, we must understand what lean bulking is.
Lean bulking is when you gain muscle while gaining as little fat as possible. You want to be able to maximize your muscle gains without the fat gains that normally come with a traditional bulk.
But there is a problem. You cannot build muscle in a caloric deficit. You absolutely need to be eating at a caloric surplus if you have any intention of building muscle.
The whole concept of lean bulking is finding that sweet spot in between the bulking amount of calories vs the maintenance amount of calories. And on top of that, monitoring and tweaking regularly.
In this article, we will discuss what it is going to take to make a lean bulk happen.
Lean bulking vs traditional bulking
I have heard lean bulking also be called slow bulking. Because when you commit to a lean bulk, you are committing to a very long time of bulking. Which is perfectly ok if you are comfortable with the long wait.
A traditional bulk also takes a while. It doesn’t matter which path you choose, you have to be comfortable with the fact that getting in shape is not easy. It takes a very long time no matter how you cut it.
A traditional bulk just cuts that time down. A traditional bulk usually means you are going to eat at least 500 calories over your maintenance calories number every day and lift heavy weights 3-4 times per week. Learn how to calculate your maintenance calorie number here.
With a traditional bulk, your body is in a constant state of caloric surplus, which is conducive to muscle growth. Your body doesn’t need to search for calories when it comes to repairing your muscles. The calories are already there, ready and waiting.
Lean bulking is similar, but there is more of a calorie restriction. For a lean bulk, you want to start by aiming at about 200 calories over your maintenance calorie number.
Remember, you cannot build muscle in a caloric deficit. During a lean bulk, instead of going well over our maintenance calorie number, we are being very strict with how far over we are going.
Our bodies are still in a state of caloric surplus, but it is just a lot more restrictive than a traditional bulk. So with this information, is lean bulking possible? It absolutely is, and in the next section, we will find out when we should start one.
How to know when to start a lean bulk
The interesting thing about lean bulking is that you want to be already kind of comfortable with your body before starting one.
If you are super skinny without much muscle, you want to go straight into a traditional bulk. If you are overweight without much muscle definition, you want to go straight into a cut. For a little more information on bulking and cutting, check out my article Why do people bulk and cut.
So here is the thing. You only want to start a lean bulk if you are already in pretty good shape to begin with.
Let me give you an example. I used to be super skinny. And then I went on a super bulk for 30 years, gaining 20+ pounds each year. At the end of the bulk, I ended up at 205 pounds (up from 135lbs originally).
Ultimately, I decided that my body fat was too high and I wasn’t really thrilled with the look. Therefore I went on a cut and dropped down to 180 pounds over the next 6 months.
From there, I started my lean bulk, and I have gained about 8 pounds in the past 10 months.
Do you see the difference? You can gain probably 12 pounds per year while lean bulking, but a traditional bulk will give you more than double the added weight.
So here is a quick checklist to help you decide which direction you should go in:
- Low body fat, Low muscle mass – Traditional Bulk
- High body fat, Low muscle mass – Cut
- High body fat, High muscle mass – Cut
- Low body fat, High muscle mass – Lean Bulk
The goal first should be to get rid of body fat. Then from there you can decide whether or not you want to go with a lean bulk. Asking yourself, is lean bulking possible should no longer be a question.
Working out properly for a lean bulk
The most important part of a lean bulk is your calorie consumption. Being slightly over your maintenance calorie number is why it is a lean bulk in the first place. But there is more to it than that.
You are going to need to lift some heavy weights. If you don’t already have a workout plan in place, I recommend checking out our app All Workouts: Personal Trainer (iOS | Google Play). Our FREE workout plans will help you build solid muscle.
If you’re not into the app thing, you can always check out our beginner bodybuilding routine for mass.
The key here is to make sure you show up to the gym. I always tell people that eating at a caloric surplus will ensure you gain weight. Eating at a caloric surplus and following a workout routine will ensure that you gain muscle.
If you are eating at a caloric surplus, what you do at the gym matters less than you think. You just need to be working out with weights. Oh, by the way, body weight counts as weight. So if you don’t have access to a gym, check out 15 workouts to build muscle at home with no weights.
It doesn’t matter if you are bulking or cutting, working out 3-4 days per week is imperative to your success. I always try to make sure I lift heavy weights 3 days per week. Then I can fill in the gaps with other exercises.
In fact, I built 70 pounds of muscle in 3 years by only working out 3 days per week. So keep that in mind for perspective. The exact routine that I used is called 3 Day Overload, and it is available in our app.
Precision and longevity
Before you get started on your lean bulking journey, you need to understand that it is going to take some serious time to get to where you want to go. To understand a little bit more, check out realistic fitness goals for beginners.
In order to make sure that you see the results that you are looking for, you are going to have to commit about a year to lean bulking. If you want quicker results, I recommend the traditional bulk/cut cycle until you are ready for a lean bulk.
Another thing that you are going to need to make sure is that you are extremely precise with your diet. I find the diet part more difficult than the working out part. But I will say that it gets easier with time.
Make sure that you have an app like MyFitnessPal to track every calorie that you put in your body.
Be sure to take “before” pictures so that you can see how far you have come. I also recommend weighing yourself once per week and recording it. If possible, record your body fat percentage once per month. You want to make sure you aren’t putting on too much fat.
If you are gaining more than a half pound per week, that might be an indication that you are eating too many calories. Try dropping your calorie number down a bit.
All in all, lean bulking takes precision and commitment. Lean bulking is not for the faint of heart. It is going to challenge you, but it will make you a better person.
Main Point: Is lean bulking possible?
We have to get back to our original question, is lean bulking possible? Not only is it possible, but it can be an incredible experience of learning your body.
We learned that the major difference between traditional bulking and lean bulking is the amount of calories over your maintenance that you go. For a traditional bulk, you are looking to go at least 500 calories over your maintenance per day. While a lean bulk might be around 200 calories over.
This is of course going to be dependent on your body however. Every single person has a different body and calorie number. These numbers are just benchmarks. It is up to you to determine exactly how your body reacts to different calorie intake amounts.
We now know that in order to start a lean bulk, you should already have a low body fat percentage and a solid muscle foundation. If you don’t, refer to the decision chart provided in the how to know when to start lean bulking section.
Working out regularly and doing it consistently is going to be your key factors in making sure those extra calories go to the right place. Make sure that you are very precise with your measurements, and be consistent over time.
Always be re-checking your math and re-evaluating your body. Things change, and you have to learn to adapt with your body.