How to get Lean from the Gym or at Home (2024 Updated)


From the very first time the concept of exercise crept across your radar, you’ve been able to boil down virtually every health and fitness desire someone has expressed to you into one of two categories: Almost everyone either wants to gain muscle, or lose weight — and they’re specifically interested in losing fat.

Over time, you also learned that the blending of these concepts often results in something called “getting lean.” At the same time, you’ve also heard people say things like simultaneously building muscle and burning fat is impossible. So now you’re confused about the actual process of how to get lean, or if it’s possible to accomplish such a monumental task in a period of months as opposed to years.

For most people who approach the process strategically, it’s possible to make a lot of progress toward getting lean in just a few months, and while there is no magic formula behind the process, there are a few tricks you can utilize to get lean and stay lean, whether you do the bulk of your work at the gym, or at home. 

What’s more, even if you decide later on that you aren’t primarily really worried about how to get lean, all of these tips will make you far more knowledgeable about healthy eating, muscle growth, fat loss, and the benefits that accompany each of those objectives.

What is a Lean Body?

Before you can answer the question of how to get lean, it would be most helpful to have a firm grasp on what a lean body is. The concept of a lean body is partially a matter of science, and also somewhat of a matter of popular opinion. It is also influenced by allowances for gender, and expectations related to physical appearance.

What is a Lean Body for Men?

When it comes to men, a lean physique can refer to any physique that has a body fat percentage lower than 20 percent. For most men, this will mean that there is at least a hint of some visible muscle definition throughout their body, and especially in the abdominal region.

A lean physique is often defined by the extremes, as bodybuilders, fitness models, and several serious athletes often have body fat percentages that drop below 10 percent. 

This type of body composition showcases a very lean and toned look with minimal excess fat. However, it is possible to have significantly less muscle definition while still possessing a lean body by the accepted definition of the term. .

What is a Lean Body for Women?

The definition of a lean body for women is more permissive than it is for men, and for multiple reasons. One of those reasons is that estrogen naturally results in a higher volume of stored fat. 

A related reason is that the higher percentage of fat is closely connected with the ability of lactating mothers to produce breast milk. This also results in women having greater physical risks attached to the pursuit of exceedingly lean bodies and aggressive fat loss.

In short, for many women, it is not considered healthy to pursue a lean body type that matches the standards for leanness imposed on men.

When is a Lean Body Not a Lean Body?

From the standpoint of the presumed intent behind the definition of lean, the “lean body” is expected to be attached to a lean physique with visible muscle definition and clear lean muscle development. 

What this means is while it is certainly possible for someone to lose weight by dieting their way into a very low body fat percentage, they may not capture the spirit of what it means to be acceptably lean if they don’t have significant muscle mass. 

A truly lean body possesses lean muscles. In order to increase muscle mass, you’ll need an exercise program that is specifically tailored toward gaining muscle, and a balanced diet that supports muscle growth.

What is Lean Muscle?

Lean muscle mass is simply skeletal muscle. Whenever your body gains muscle mass through a workout routine that involves lifting weights, or some other form of resistance training, it is of the lean variety. But more to the point, even the muscle mass acquired through cardiovascular exercises like swimming, skiing, or running is lean muscle tissue.

Is Bulk Muscle the Opposite of Lean Muscle?

While it might be tempting to think that the is such a thing as bulk muscle or fatty muscle mass — particularly when you observe the physique of power athletes with massive muscles and plenty of visible belly fat — there is no fat within their muscle tissue.

Muscle mass and body fat are two very distinct forms of tissue that contribute to body weight. When fat forms, it rests on top of skeletal muscle. Conversely, when muscle tissue grows, it grows beneath whatever fatty tissue is present. In other words, no matter how it may look from the surface, the two tissues do not blend together in any meaningful sense. 

What Being Lean Will Do For You

If you’re weighing the costs of how to get lean, you might be considering what the advantages will be to you if you actually get lean. You’ll be glad you asked. Once you get lean and improve your body composition, you’ll probably feel like you’re driving through life while sitting behind the wheel of a high performance vehicle.

Improved Athletic Performance

One of the most underrated aspects of being lean is the options you have when it comes to athletic pursuits. In terms of pure movement, it is far easier to initiate and sustain movement when your body is lean, and the leaner you become, the more choices become available to you when you want to arrange an exercise plan.

To put it another way, the leaner you get, the easier it is to include fat burning cardiovascular movements in your exercise program. As you undergo weight loss, the easier it is to engage in aerobic exercise, and the simpler it is to lose body fat without relying entirely on a calorie deficit created by the restriction of certain foods.

Outside of movement endeavors that are purely directed toward weight loss, if you are able to reduce belly fat and get lean, a higher percentage of your body weight will consist of metabolically active tissue. This means your body will simply become a more efficient mover in whatever activities you participate in.

Faster Runs

Aside from making your overall movement more efficient, knowing how to get lean can lead to faster running speeds. This extends beyond the obvious point, which is that reducing body fat can make you lighter, meaning your feet are required to propel less weight forward during runs. Studies have shown that reduced fat mass results in increased speed. (1)

In this instance, we’re referring to the fact that gaining muscle — especially in your lower body muscles that contribute to running performance — enables you to apply more force to the ground through your feet. Once you build lean muscle in your legs, you’ll find that you travel further each time your feet press against the ground. 

To top it off, when you combine sprint training with aerobic exercise, you’ll soon recognize that your body can travel faster than ever, and for longer periods of time.

More Attractive Physique

With respect to objective attractiveness data, both men and women report generally finding the bodies of potential mates to be more attractive when they have visible muscle tone, and relatively low levels of body fat. 

Historically, many of the most popular weight loss fads of all time honed in on people’s desires to lose weight in order to become more attractive. Depending on the product being marketed, the focus was often placed on creating an unhealthy caloric deficit through crash dieting. 

Either that, or they ascribed fat-burning capabilities to overly simplistic workout devices that were woefully inadequate when it came to helping people burn more fat. 

These marketing tactics appear to have been rooted in scientific principles of human attraction. A study in which test subjects were able to manipulate the dimensions of male and female images to adhere to their attractiveness preferences found that the average attractive images closely hewed to lean body standards of health and fitness.(2)

Higher Metabolism

Once you’ve built a sufficient amount of muscle, your basal metabolic rate is boosted, which makes it much easier for you to lose weight. For a great many people, this is the secret ingredient to weight loss.

Because muscle is metabolically active tissue, it requires energy to maintain its existence. This stands in stark contrast to white body fat, which burns no calories at rest, and brown body fat, which burns fewer calories at rest than muscle. Therefore, if you’re hellbent on losing weight, gaining muscle can accelerate your fat loss.  

You have to be careful to maintain your food intake at an adequate level, as it is also possible for you to experience muscle loss that is coincidental with your fat loss if your calorie deficit is too high. Therefore, you don’t want to spend too much of your day with an empty stomach.

Tips to Help you Lose Weight and Gain Lean Muscle Mass

If you’re wondering how to get lean and gain muscle simultaneously, there are several strategies you can utilize to get the job done. 

Cut Calories

If your objective is to get lean, reducing your caloric intake is one of the easiest ways to do it. Creating a calorie deficit will prompt you to burn body fat to make up the energy shortfall, which is a rapid way to lose fat.

There are plenty of strategies you can implement to ingest fewer calories by reducing the amount of refined carbohydrates you consume. Carbohydrates are your body’s primary energy source, but refined carbs are often sugary foods that rapidly elevate your calorie intake.

To counter this, you are advised to eat a balanced diet composed of healthy foods, and that includes nutrient dense carbohydrates like whole grains, and healthy fats like eggs, avocados and peanuts. You’re also advised to replace snacks consisting of processed foods with healthy snacks like fruits and vegetables.

Boost Your Lean Protein Intake

If you want to build lean muscle mass, you need to make sure you get adequate protein in your diet. If you choose to make substitutions to your food intake, adding lean protein will enhance your muscle growth and optimize muscle tissue repair in between workouts.

This isn’t to say that you necessarily need a high protein diet, but a component to eating healthy might be to substitute lean proteins for empty calorie carbohydrates. This approach will ensure that you get enough protein, and it also contributes to your caloric deficit by enabling you to eliminate more calories from your diet on the front end.

By the same token, you don’t want to completely disregard the other macronutrients. Fats are critical to the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, and are also essential for the functionality of your cells. Meanwhile carbohydrates are essential for your muscles to operate at their peak capability when it’s time for them to hoist heavy weights.

The bottom line is that you would be wise to include enough healthy fats and nutrient-dense carbohydrates in your diet, along with an abundance of protein, in order to grow your muscles and ensure that you have a smooth-functioning body.

Lift Heavier Weights

If the goal is ultimately to build more muscle mass, one of the surest ways to accomplish this is through heavy strength training exercises. To be precise, we’re talking about lifting heavy weights with compound exercises.

Compound strength training exercises require you to use multiple muscle groups simultaneously, and usually multiple joints. Incorporating all of these muscles into your resistance training sessions can rapidly accelerate the growth of new muscle tissue.

Be careful not to lift weights that are too heavy with too few reps. Studies have shown that test subjects who trained with very heavy weight loads at volumes of two to four reps gained strength at a greater rate than subjects who trained with loads of eight to 12 reps. However they did not gain muscle size as quickly as those who lifted with slightly lighter weights for more reps.(3)

Do Adequate Cardio

One of the swiftest ways to become less lean is to have a higher daily calorie intake than your body is capable of burning off. If this is an area where you are prone to difficulty, regular cardiovascular exercise is a reliable option for dispensing with your caloric excess.

Several forms of movement will contribute to this caloric burn, whether you like low-intensity walks, or high-intensity interval training. Or if you prefer, you can engage in steady state cardio like jogging, aerobic exercises can consistently add to your tally of calories burned.

Burning calories on the back end through aerobic exercise will go a long way toward helping you lose fat over time, while enabling you to ultimately get lean, and stay lean. 

Get Sufficient Rest

Many trainees have the belief that muscles actually increase in size during workouts. They believe that the swelling of muscles that occurs while they’re lifting weights is the muscles being enlarged to their full potential, and then the muscles shrink afterwards to an intermediate size, waiting to be pumped once again.

While the pump your muscles receive from resistance training resembles muscle growth, the actual growth and creation of lean muscles occurs during your post-exercise rest and recovery period. In other words, you’re not actually building muscle during weight lifting; you only gain muscle when you recover.

Part and parcel to the post-exercise recovery period is getting adequate rest, which also consists of making sure you get sufficient sleep. So while you may have been taught to equate rest with laziness, and that weight loss only occurs while you’re in motion, sleeping is one of the healthiest behaviors you can engage in to support muscle growth.

Drink Plenty of Water

One of the most underrated ingredients for building muscle is ordinary water, but if you intend to get lean, you’re going to want to make keeping yourself hydrated a regular practice. Yes, approximately three-fourths of your body weight is composed of water, but that’s only one part of the story. 

During your workouts, water is responsible for the delivery of electrolytes to your muscles, which means it is difficult to have fully responsive muscle fibers without an abundance of water in your body. The absence of water also results in dehydration, which handicaps your body during workouts and prevents it from reaching its full potential.

On the tail end, water is also essential for delivering the protein and other nutrients to your muscles during the post-workout period, which allows them to rebuild themselves. If building muscle is your goal, it’s important to factor a stable amount of water into your food intake.

The Nitty Gritty to Getting Lean

So now you know all there is to know about how to get lean, from maintaining a healthy calorie deficit, to lifting weights strategically and maximizing your protein intake. On top of that, you’re also aware that improving your appearance isn’t a simple matter of losing weight

Last but not least, you know that sometimes gaining weight is superior to losing weight, just as long as it’s the right kind of weight, and you’ve added it in all the right places.

References:

  1. Genton L, Mareschal J, Karsegard VL, Achamrah N, Delsoglio M, Pichard C, Graf C, Herrmann FR. An Increase in Fat Mass Index Predicts a Deterioration of Running Speed. Nutrients. 2019 Mar 25;11(3):701. doi: 10.3390/nu11030701. PMID: 30934655; PMCID: PMC6471649.

  2. Brierley ME, Brooks KR, Mond J, Stevenson RJ, Stephen ID. The Body and the Beautiful: Health, Attractiveness and Body Composition in Men's and Women's Bodies. PLoS One. 2016 Jun 3;11(6):e0156722. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0156722. PMID: 27257677; PMCID: PMC4892674.

  3. Schoenfeld BJ, Contreras B, Vigotsky AD, Peterson M. Differential Effects of Heavy Versus Moderate Loads on Measures of Strength and Hypertrophy in Resistance-Trained Men. J Sports Sci Med. 2016 Dec 1;15(4):715-722. PMID: 27928218; PMCID: PMC5131226.

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