A great looking male body has two ingredients:
1. A Low Body Fat Percentage
2. Solid Muscle Development
When you put these two ingredients together you get a physique like the guys in the photo above – slim waist, thick shoulders and upper back muscles, masculine square chest, well developed arms and athletic legs.
One ingredient without the other doesn’t cut it. If you’re lean but don’t have much muscle you just look skinny. On the other hand if you have a lot of muscle but it’s all covered up by fat, you look big but you’re not turning any heads.
So the key is to find a balance between muscle development and low body fat.
In this article you’ll discover why it’s best to get lean before focusing on gaining muscle and how to stay lean year round – even when you’re bulking.
Your goal physique comes one day at a time
A big mistake I see people make when starting out is focusing too much on the end goal. They ask me: How long it will take to get a lean and muscular body?
Looking at their current physique I may say 2 years.
2 YEARS!?! And I have to stick to my nutrition and training plan all that time?
Well… yes. That’s how you build a great body.
A lot of guys get discouraged when they hear that and I think they miss a VERY important point. You won’t go from your current physique right to your goal physique.
It won’t be like: fat & weak, fat & weak, fat & weak, and on the 730th day you’ll wake up looking awesome. No! You’ll gradually look better as you’re progressing towards you goal.
This is the reason why I believe we should focus on looking as good as possible everyday as we’re progressing towards our goal physique. To keep our motivation high and enjoy our fitness journey, we should start out looking good and end up looking great!
Looking good while building a lot of muscle
To achieve the Greek God or Superhero Physique you’re going to have to gain at least 25-30 lbs (11-13kg) of muscle. That’s a lot of weight to be gained so it’s going to take a long time.
Time is not the main problem however, fat gain is. To achieve the ideal rate of muscle gain, beginners and intermediates usually have to accept some fat gain as well.
So for example if you start a gaining phase at 15% body fat and you gain 10-15lbs of muscle, you’ll end up around 19-20% body fat at the end of your bulk. 15-19% body fat is not an impressive look. You don’t have any abdominal definition, your muscles look puffy, your face is bloated, and you look fat in clothes. Moreover, it will take you a long time to drop 9-10% body fat and achieve an impressive physique.
So this is not the way to build muscle AND look good all the time…
To look great while gaining weight, you must start out lean!
The Benefits of Getting Lean before Bulking
Getting lean first allows you to build muscle without getting excessively fat and ruining your look. Here’s why:
1. Staying lean is the key to aesthetics
We said it’s important to start your fitness journey looking good. Well, the fastest way to do that is to drop body fat. Even if you’ll be lighter and smaller overall, when you get lean you will look a lot better because of the increased definition.
Look at the pictures above. In the first picture my brother Andrei was 6 kg (13.5 lbs) heavier than in the second picture! Doesn’t he look better when he’s leaner? The third picture was taken 4 months after he started a lean bulking phase. As you can see he gained almost no body fat so leaning down first was the right choice for him.
2. By getting lean first you set yourself up for a perfect bulking phase
Let’s take the same example with the guy starting at 15% body fat. If he takes the first 7-9 weeks to drop his body fat to 9-10% then he’ll be able to eat at a surplus for at least the next 6 or 7 months without going over 15% bf and losing definition.
So in order to gain 10-15lbs of muscle he would go from 10% to 14% instead of going from 15% to 19%. That is a BIG visual difference in aesthetics!
Not only that, but there is evidence that suggests you make better lean gains when you’re under 15% body fat.
3. You make better muscle gains when you’re in the 8-15% range
According to research and observations, when you’re lean, a larger proportion of the weight gained in a caloric surplus will be muscle mass compared to the same surplus when you’re fatter. The reason for this is because when you’re leaner, you’re more insulin sensitive (you can make better use of carbohydrates) and you have a better hormonal profile (testosterone levels are slightly higher).
As our body fat increases, insulin sensitivity goes down and that negatively affects nutrient partitioning making lean gains much more difficult. Moreover, testosterone also seems to go down when we get fat. Testosterone is the most important anabolic hormone involved in muscle growth so we wouldn’t want it to go down.
Building a Great Body 101
Ok, now let’s take everything we’ve learned and put it into practical terms.
1. If you’re over 14% body fat, lose some fat before you start bulking. Yes, you are going to look skinny in clothes but the benefits of starting with a cutting phase strongly outweigh the temporary loss in size. For leaning down I recommend the Warrior Shredding Program.
2. Keep cutting until you hit 9-11% body fat. When you get a complete 6 pack in good lighting you know you’re there. I wouldn’t recommend cutting below this point if your main goal is building muscle.
Not only will you look very skinny at 7-8% body fat (because you don’t have enough muscle mass yet) but you’ll probably gain fat very fast when you move into a moderate caloric surplus. In dieted down individuals, the body is primed to gain body fat at the expense of LBM to replenish what was lost during the diet.
You could go into a small surplus to avoid that but then you’d compromise the rate at which you can gain muscle.
3. Once you reach 9-10%bf increase your calories to maintenance for about 2 weeks. This will help reset some of the physiological adaptations to dieting and prevent rapid fat gain once you move into a surplus. After those 2 weeks start focusing on muscle growth by clean bulking.
To do this you’ll eat a slight calorie surplus (5-10% above maintenance) for long periods of time. As you’ll gain strength on the key movements you’ll also build muscle and size.
4. Once you’re up to 14-15% body fat it’s time to cut back to the 9-11% range. Ideally, as you’re gaining size you’ll never go above 15% body fat again. Your cut and bulk cycles will be kept in the range of 8-15% body fat. This way you’ll have a 6 pack all the time (or at least a 4 pack), your face will stay relatively chiseled, and you’ll have decent muscle definition and separation. You will look good all the time!
During your cuts you should be careful not to lose muscle and maintain your strength on the main lifts.
5. Repeat this process until you’ve built enough size to not look small at 9-11% body fat. At that point you can get leaner and bring your cut-bulk range to 8-11%. So you’d bulk until you hit 11-12% and cut until you hit 8%.
6. Repeat this process until you’re happy with your size at 8-9% and then maintain that condition.
7. Enjoy life to the utmost!
Do you have any questions about this article? What’s your opinion about lean bulking? Let me know in the comments section below. I read and answer every comment.
Do you want to build a body a like Daniel Craig in Casino Royale or Skyfall?
The Greek God Program has been designed to help you build proportionate mass and incredible strength while staying lean.
It is also the program that helped me build my physique.