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Guide: How to Build Lean Muscle (part 1)

Achieving a strong & lean body is possible for anyone no matter experience, age or gender. However, it can seem like an overwhelming process when you are first starting out - how often should you workout? What should you eat? And how do you build lean muscle without gaining fat? We’ve answered all your questions below.

Follow these 5 steps to build the strong, lean & muscular body you want this year 👇🏼

outdoor workouts bodyweight 2022 training plan

#1 Set yourself a concrete goal 📝

When on a muscle-building journey you won’t notice the daily changes in the mirror. It’s a slower (but way more rewarding) journey. This is why it’s important to give yourself the motivation, drive & structure a concrete goal will give you.

Set yourself a realistic and measurable goal that will give you something to work for, and something you're able to track the progress of.

How to do it:

To set a measurable and realistic goal, ask yourself these key questions:

  • Is there a specific exercise I want to get stronger at?

  • Do I want to target a specific muscle group or build overall strength?

  • How often can I realistically work out each week?

  • Will I be working out at home or at a gym?

#2 Strength train often enough 💪🏼

You've heard it before. To build muscle, strength training should be the main focus of your workouts. And hitting the right training frequency is key. If you don't strength train often enough, your muscles won’t be challenged and therefore not see a reason to grow. On the other hand, if you strength train too often, your muscles won’t have enough time to recover and you might do more damage than good- it’ll be like painting the second layer of paint before the first coat is dry. That’s why, the ideal amount to train each muscle group is 2-3 times per week. If not activated regularly, they’ll simply stay as they are.

How to do it:

Aim to strength train 2-4 times per week. This gives you the ideal amount for both building muscle and recovering between workouts.

#3 Figure out the right workout split 🏋️‍♀️

Briefly explained, your workout split is how you choose to divide your workouts into certain muscle groups. The two most common workout splits are:

  • Full body split: Someone who only does full body workouts

  • Upper- / Lower split: Someone who splits their workouts into either upper body or lower body.

Like mentioned in tip #2, you ideally want to train each muscle group 2-3 times per week. So if you normally workout 5-6 times a week, it’s not optimal for you to train full body each time - your body won’t have enough time to recover. Instead, split your workouts into upper- and lower body workouts.

How to do it:

Your training split depends on the amount of workouts you do each week:

  • Working out 1-2 times per week? Full body workouts make sure you target every muscle group.

  • Working out 3-5 times per week? It’s more effective breaking your training down into upper & lower body, and core sessions.

💡 Tip: if there’s a specific muscle group you want to build more than others, aim to train this 2-3 times each week. Your other muscle groups you’d then train 1-2 times.

#4 Be strategic with your cardio 🏃🏼‍♀️

Cardio is great for improving your overall health, and is recommended no matter what your fitness goal is. However, as mentioned in tip #2, we want our main focus to be on strength training, as this will help us build muscle.

If you want to include cardio, be strategic with it - doing too much or at the wrong time will leave you too tired for your strength workouts. Cardio burns energy, and we want to save this for your strength workouts. Too much cardio might burn the calories your body needs to build muscle, and therefore hinder your muscle building journey.

How to do it:

Aim to do cardio after your strength workouts or on a separate day. This way, you’re not hindering your strength workouts.

To maintain as much muscle as possible, aim to keep it at a low intensity for 15-45 minutes at a time. Low intensity cardio could be going for a run or stepping up on a cardio machine in the gym.

#5 Apply progressive overload 📈

Applying ‘progressive overload’ means gradually increasing the volume of your workouts by upping the weight, reps, sets or exercises in your workouts.

The reason for this is because your body gets stronger as you build muscle, and the same training volume simply won’t be challenging enough for you. For example 10 reps of 20kg squats can feel tough at week 1, but a lot easier at week 3. Here you can either increase the volume by upping to 12 reps, 25kg or adding an extra set.

Progressive overload helps us avoid hitting a plateau. While it’s great to feel like the barbell is getting lighter, it's really important to push yourself. The more comfortable your muscles feel with the exercises, the less likely they are to continue growing.

How to do it:

Aim to apply progressive overload at least every 2-4 weeks. This can be done by:

  • Doing 1-3 more reps each exercise

  • Adding an extra set of a certain exercise

  • Increasing the weight you’re lifting

  • Adding a new exercise to your workout

  • Add an extra workout per week (However, remember recovery)

A personalised training plan or a personal trainer will help you with increasing your training volume at the correct pace.

💡 Tip: If you introduce new exercises or add extra weight to the bar, having a trainer can be really important to make sure you’ve got correct technique and therefore avoid injury

outdoor workouts bodyweight 2022 training plan

Let's wrap up - here's what you should do

Building muscle requires getting structure in your workouts. It’s why a proper training plan is the first thing I do for my clients - building efficient and personalised workouts for you with the right amount of progression week after week.

So to conclude, here are my top tips for optimising your workouts to build lean muscle:

  • Set yourself a measurable goal

  • Strength train at least 2-4 times a week

  • Work out the right training split so you hit each muscle group 2-3 times per week

  • Keep cardio at a low intensity, and add slowly if needed

  • Apply progressive overload

Ready to start chasing your fitness goals? Click below to sign up for Online Coaching with me 👇🏼


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Online Personal Trainer Sarah Louise Vegan

Hi, I'm Sarah Louise 👋🏼


I'm a personal trainer & help ordinary people build extraordinary bodies without sacrificing their lifestyle.

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