I Don’t Want To Get Too Big: Lean Fitness Model Body vs Bulky Bodybuilder

QUESTION: I’m a 24 year old guy who wants to get lean and build muscle, but the problem is that I don’t want to build TOO much muscle and get TOO big.

I’m not interested in looking like a bodybuilder, powerlifter or anything even close to that. I’m trying to get more of a lean fitness model body. How do I build a body like that and avoid building one that’s too big?

ANSWER: I’ve gotten pretty used to people telling me their goal is to build muscle without getting “too big” in the process. It always makes me laugh for reasons you’ll understand in a minute.

Most of the time I hear this sort of thing, it’s from women who want to get “toned” but are afraid of getting too big and manly looking. This of course is a fun subject I’ve actually written about before (Why Workout Routines For Women Suck) and continue to make fun of on a regular basis.

But believe it or not, it’s not only women who have this concern. There are PLENTY of men who want to avoid getting too big as well.

Or as they often like to put it, they want to look more like a lean fitness model than a bulky bodybuilder, powerlifter or whatever else. Sometimes they’ll even take it a step further and tell me the exact celebrity/athlete/model whose body they’re trying to get, and the exact celebrity/athlete/model whose body they’re trying to avoid getting.

But hey, that’s cool. We all have specific goals in mind, so why should this be any different? So… let’s figure it all out. Let’s figure out how you can build muscle without getting “too big.”

First Of All… Steroids.

Before we can go any further, I need to throw the word “steroids” out there.

Why? Because the majority of the guys (and girls) asking this question are looking to avoid building as much muscle as someone who reached that level with the help of a shitload of drugs. Without that same shitload of drugs, you will NEVER come close to getting that big, which means you’re trying to avoid something that can’t ever actually happen naturally.

This is always the first point I bring to the attention of the many women who tell me they’re scared of their body becoming too “bulky and manly” like some freaky looking female bodybuilders, all of which used that same aforementioned shitload of drugs to get that body.

This point is equally relevant to men, too.

So the good news is, as long as you’re natural, it’s impossible for you to get anywhere near as big as the big/bulky pro bodybuilders you’re trying to avoid looking like.

But Let’s Ignore That

Now that I’ve made that point clear, let’s ignore it for a bit. Why? Just because.

Let’s also assume that “too big” to you is something that is legitimately attainable for you naturally (and genetically). Let’s think of it as a point your body IS capable of reaching, but it’s just a point that is “bigger” than the lean fitness model (or whatever) body you want.

Sound good to you? Cool. Let’s continue.

Second Of All… Muscle Is Muscle.

Another point that needs to be brought up before going any further is that many guys (and girls) seem to be under the impression that there are different types of muscle at play here.

You know… as if the lean fitness model has built a special kind of smaller, leaner, more toned, “fitness modely” muscle, while someone who’s “too big” has built bigger, bulkier, thicker, bodybuilder/powerlifter muscle.

Um, no.

As I’ve written before, there is no such thing as lean, toned or bulky muscle. There aren’t different textures of muscle. There’s just muscle, period. You can either build it or lose it, or build a little of it or a lot of it. That’s about it.

Sure, it can sometimes APPEAR as though different people have built different “types” of it, but that’s just an illusion created mostly by the amount of muscle that person has built and/or the amount of body fat they have (or don’t have) covering it.

Which means, the difference between the body you want and the “too big” body you don’t want isn’t the “type” of muscle being built. It’s that the body that is “too big” for your liking has MORE muscle on it than the “just right” body you prefer.

Or, it just has a higher body fat percentage, which means there’s more fat sitting on top of that muscle and preventing that body from looking as lean, ripped, toned and pretty as you’d prefer it to look.

Or both.

Third Of All… Muscle Growth Is Slow As Hell.

A final point that needs to be made before going further is just how slowly muscle growth happens.

I bring this up because guys (and girls) seem to be under the impression that one day they’ll have the perfect body with the perfect amount of muscle and perfect degree of leanness, and the next day they’ll wake up and… oh no!!! They accidentally got too big!!!

Um, no.

As I’ve explained before (How Much Muscle Can You Gain & How Fast Can You Build It?), the average man past the beginner stage doing everything right might gain about 0.25lb of muscle per week (if they’re lucky). The average woman might gain half that.

So the potential for you to accidentally build too much muscle too fast and unintentionally get bigger than you wanted to be is like… virtually nonexistent. Trust me, you’ll have PLENTY of time to see it coming and stop it from happening.

In fact, many of the people reading this will fail to gain the amount of muscle they’re trying to gain and therefore won’t ever come close to exceeding that amount.

Seriously. There are people in gyms around the world whose #1 goal in life is to get as big as they can as fast as they can, and most are failing miserably. And the few that are succeeding? Not a single one of them is doing it even half as quickly as you think you might.

So How Do You Build Just The “Perfect” Amount Of Muscle?

With those 3 important points out of the way, it’s time to answer the original question.

And that is, how do you build just the “perfect” amount of muscle you want and avoid building more than that amount and getting “too big?” Or, as this specific person put it, how do you get that lean fitness model body and avoid getting that big and bulky bodybuilder/powerlifter body?

Simple…

  1. By training for muscle growth as though your goal was to build TONS and TONS of muscle beyond what you actually want to build.
  2. By lowering your body fat percentage to your preferred level of leanness.

Let’s begin with #1, because this is the part you need to understand the most.

Step 1: Training To Build As Much Muscle As Possible

I bet you’re wondering why I just said you should train as though your goal is to build TONS of muscle even though you’re specifically trying to avoid building TONS of muscle?

It seems stupid, backwards and counterproductive, right? And that’s where you’d be wrong.

Why? Because approaching the goal of muscle growth at anything less than 100% (because you’re trying to not get “too big”) will only hinder your ability to get as “less big” as you’re actually trying to get.

Let me put that another way…

  1. There is what works best for building muscle.
  2. There is what works worse for building muscle.
  3. There is what doesn’t work at all.

Regardless of the amount of it you want to build, you need to always go with option #1 if you want to get the best results as fast as possible.

But what happens is that trying to avoid gaining “too much” muscle and getting “too big” often leads you into categories #2 or #3. In category #2, you might take 10 years to do what you could have done in 2. In category #3, you’ll just get nowhere whatsoever.

Or to put that even another way, there should be no training or dietary differences between someone looking to build a little bit of muscle and look like a fitness model, and someone trying to build a ton of muscle and look like a huge bodybuilder.

The sole difference is that once that first person reaches their goal, they’d simply stop doing what’s needed to build additional muscle, and start doing what’s needed to just maintain the muscle they’ve built. The second person would just keep on building more.

And yes, this applies just the same to men who don’t want to get “too big” and women who are afraid of getting “too big.”

But Isn’t There A Small Chance I Might STILL End Up Getting Too Big?

As long as you’re not a dumbass… then no.

As mentioned in the first point from earlier, if you’re natural, you won’t ever come close to getting as big as the “too big” bodybuilders, powerlifters, athletes, etc. most people asking this question are trying to avoid getting.

And as mentioned in the third point from earlier, muscle growth happens at a rate so painfully slow that you’ll have all the time in the world to A) notice when you’ve built your ideal amount, and B) switch over to maintenance where your new goal becomes maintaining what you’ve built rather than continuing to progress further and build more.

Which, by the way, is as simple and obvious as eating at your maintenance level and maintaining your strength on all of your lifts rather than attempting to increase them.

This is why I’m so confident in recommending that even if you only want to build 10lbs of muscle, you should still train as if you’re trying to build 100lbs of muscle. Hell, train as if you’re trying to build 1000lbs of muscle!

When you hit your goal of building those 10lbs (or whatever your ideal amount is), just stop trying to build more.

Trying to preemptively stop it or slow it down before you’ve reached that point will just impede your ability to actually reach that point in the first place.

So basically… shut up, stop worrying, and just focus on effectively building muscle.

How Do I Do That?

Combine an intelligently designed workout program aimed at muscle growth with a diet designed to support it.

The weight training guide will walk you through first part of that (or you can feel free to use a proven program from The Best Workout Routines), and the diet guide will walk you through the second part.

Or, if you would rather have me put every single aspect of your diet and workout together for you in the way that will produce the best results your body is capable of getting, I would highly recommend my Superior Muscle Growth program.

Step 2: Getting Lean

Now for the easy part… or at least the part that will take less explaining.

Leanness is the difference between someone who looks “toned, defined and ripped” and someone who… well… doesn’t.

And getting lean is solely a matter of losing body fat, thus uncovering the pretty muscle that is hidden underneath it (which is what creates the “tone and definition” you want).

And losing body fat is solely a matter of creating a caloric deficit. The full details of that are explained here: How To Lose Fat and How To Lose Fat Without Losing Muscle and that previously mentioned diet guide has you covered, too.

Now Please Stop Worrying About Getting “Too Big”

Do you know how many people there are in the world right now who have unintentionally built more muscle than they wanted to build? People who are walking around thinking “dammit, I’m much bigger and more muscular than I ever wanted or intended to be… how the hell did this happen?!? I can’t believe this!!”

I’m going to guess zero.

Do you know how many people there are in the world right now wishing that they were bigger and could build more muscle? People who are walking around thinking “dammit, I’m much smaller and less muscular than I want to be… why aren’t I building more muscle and getting bigger?”

I’m going to guess millions.

Which is all just my way of saying that you should put 100% of your focus on building muscle as quickly and effectively as possible, and no focus at all on preventing yourself from becoming “too big.”

94 thoughts on “I Don’t Want To Get Too Big: Lean Fitness Model Body vs Bulky Bodybuilder”

94 Comments

  1. I am genetically blessed with everything except my bicep & tricep, i work out for an hour 5 days a week and rest 2 days. Arms front and back twice a week… how can I make them grow? I have you tubed and surfed the web countless times and i cant build these 2 areas like i want them. If you have some advise please let me know.

    Thanks
    Q

      • Hi jay,

        Thanks for your sharing as it provides a new insight for me.

        Please allow me to introduce myself a little first. My name is Vincent, I am from Hong Kong, a 32 years old male, 179cm tall, 88.5kg. I would like to increase my strength for freestyle sprint and dragon boating. I trained in the water 5 days a week with intensive freestyle paddling and kicking but I found myself lacking power to sustain my speed over a 35 meter length. I also do started doing some circuit training taught by dragon boating coach consists of burpbees, push up, sit up, leg raise, tricep dip, rows in 30 reps, 3-4 sets, minimal rest for dragon boating. I also do pull ups and chin ups everyday with no specific sets and reps, I have a bar at home and office so that I go for a set of my max reps (7-10) whenever I have a free moment.

        I am eating in mode of carlories deficit as I think I am a bit over weight though I reduce 7.5 kg in the last 3 months by cardio deficit and lots of swimming. I also take protein shake within 30 mins after my training.

        My question is that is my current training and diet contradictory? I feel like I need to gain strength by growing muscles to support my sport but I am eating in calories deficit. Why I ask this question is that I observed that I am growing muscle and slimming at the same time but I am getting stronger quite slowly. Should I be more focus on losing weight first and teach my goal then work on my strength and eat in calories surplus after slimming? I am having a feeling that I might be doing something inefficient and unproductive.

        Thank you in advance for your comment.

        BR, Vincent

  2. *PURE GOLD!!!!!

    i guess what confuses me still is the part sarcoplasm plays in making peoples muscles look puffy bloated and how using low rep heavy weight promotes more of myofibril muscle growth making muscle look dense

    But i guess you have to build some muscle first before worrying about these elements

    thanks Jay

    • Thanks dude. The sarcoplasmic vs myofibrillar stuff is something that’ll need a full article. I’ll get to it one day.

      But regardless of how important/unimportant it might be, assuming you’re training for muscle growth in a way that most people (myself included) would consider optimal, you’d already be doing a combination of heavier/lower rep work and lighter/higher rep work… thus already getting all potential benefits.

  3. I agree completely. Spot on as always.

    One question comes to mind though. You’ve outline in other articles something like “training for goal A is not optimal for reaching goal B, but they can be related.”

    So If I were to train for strength (1-5 rep range), I would get stronger, but the rate of muscle growth (I’m talking about looks here, like how big your muscle will look when it grows) will not be at its fastest rate if I were to train for muscle (5-8 reps I believe you outlined). In the end, if I were to train for strength, I would build muscle but not as fast as if I were training for muscle.

    Lets say that my main goal is not so much concerned with muscle size, but putting on a few pounds so that I can stop weighing so little with under 11% body fat. I would like to weigh more, but while keeping muscle growth to a minimum because I am perfectly happy with the way my body looks, I just want to but on a few pounds so I don’t get bounced around as much when I compete in sports.

    Any feedback is greatly appreciated

    • Correct. Training primarily for strength (meaning you’re doing what’s most conducive for the goal of pure strength) will likely work well for building muscle assuming you eat to support it… but it would not work as well as if you trained primarily for muscle growth.

      As for your other question… you want to gain a few pounds of body weight, but you don’t want that weight to be muscle? If so, then you would have to gain body fat.

      Either that eat a ton of sodium/drink a ton of water, or possibly consider reducing your poop frequency. Or grow a huge beard. 😉

      • Hahaha i think reducing my poop frequency is a very viable option. If you would allow me to rephrase the goal. It would be “keeping weight gain as high as possible while keeping muscle size as low as possible, while staying as lean as possible”

        • I gotta say dude, I’ve heard some crazy and weird goals from people over the years, but you might have just taken first prize in that area. 😉

          You want to gain weight, but without gaining muscle and without getting fatter? The problem is, short of pooping less/water retention/growing a really large beard, there’s nothing else that weight gain can be if it’s not muscle or fat.

    • > I just want to but on a few pounds so I don’t get bounced around as much when I compete in sports.

      I can relate because even if I can build muscle and gain a few pounds from it, I have a light bone structure and I’m only 5.5. You can’t really beat genetics but if you don’t forget to develop your lower body (legs) and back overall, but specifically lower back (deadlifts are essential), you’ll see your stability improve.

      If you just gain some pounds or even build some muscle and have poor core stability, you’ll still be bounced around.

  4. You are awesome and every article makes me feel a bit better about stepping outside my safety zone and giving it everything I’ve got. Thanks 🙂

  5. hey it was a great article, loved it , But a have a question for you, if i do a good diet and train hard to build muscle. + (and this is my question) a animal cuts suplement help even more to get cut? or what do you recommend.

    Thanks and sory for the bad english lol….

  6. Great article as usual Jay. You said that after reaching the expected result one can maintain the gained muscle. What about intensity ,frequency, and diet that is to be followed during maintenance. Is it same as that of building muscle or different? Thanks

    • “Great article as usual Jay. You said that after reaching the expected result one can maintain the gained muscle. What about intensity ,frequency, and diet that is to be followed during maintenance. Is it same as that of building muscle or different? Thanks”

      My take on this is that you wouldn’t try to push any more weight that what you currently push now, so no more progressive overload. You would also keep the same intensity and frequency that you have used all along and maintain it without exceeding it. As far as your diet it shouldn’t really change all that much. You would want roughly 1-1.2g of protein per pound of body weight, 20-30% of your calories to come from fat and the rest from carbs. You just would not be eating in a caloric surplus or deficit you would simply be eating to maintain your current weight.

      Hope this answer helps but anyone can feel free to correct me if I am wrong in any way.

      Terry

    • Yup, Terry pretty much has it right.

      If you no longer wish to improve body composition (no more fat loss, no more muscle growth), and you don’t have any other related goals in mind (like performance or strength), it’s basically a matter of putting your calorie intake at maintenance, keeping your macronutrient intake in their usual recommended ranges, and putting your training at maintenance as well. Which mostly means maintaining your current level of strength on all of your lifts and not trying to increase it any further (and definitely not letting it slide in the other direction either).

      The only other possible change that can be made is reducing training volume and/or frequency, as the amount of both that it takes to maintain muscle is less than the amount it takes to optimally build it.

      • As a 59-year-old guy who’s been lifelong-drug-free bodybuilding since age 16, and who reached his maximum mass ceilings at about age 21 so has been maintenance training ever since, I can state from experience that AW’s advice is correct.

        Only thing I can add of significant value is that, for maintenance, frequency can sometimes be reduced. That actually dovetails well with the case that by the point you’ve attained the maximum mass your genetics naturally allow, you’ve progressed to what for yourself are maximal poundages, and maximal poundages severely stress the body, especially the Central Nervous System. That stress requires adequate recovery time between workouts. Therefore, adding another day or two between workouts than the number of days you waited earlier in your bodybuilding years becomes effective if not requisite to prevent overtraining (and injuries).

        Myself as an example…I built my mass in about 5 years using a frequency of (normally) working a bodypart twice in seven days. After those initial 5 years, I gradually switched to twice in every eight days. As I aged, I switched to nine days, and finally, for the past few years, to twice every ten days.

        Also, I discovered that, once I began maintenance training, I could vary volume at times as well, using less volume more often (though not habitually).

        At least for myself, what seems to have required constancy is intensity. Consistent intensity seems to force the muscle to sustain its mass.

      • Hello Jay,

        When you said “reduce training volume”, what did you mean? Do you mean that you have to lower the weights? Like you have to lift lighter weights?

        I think this is wrong, don’t you agree? Because if you lower the weights and pushed weights that are easy to push, your body is eventually going to think ” I don’t need all of those muscles to lift those easy weights” , and you’re the one who said that in one of your articles.

        So basically, this would result in losing muscle, rather than maintaining them.

        The only thing you should not stop doing, is pushing a little heavier than before. And that’s when your body keeps those muscle you have. And simply by not eating more (250 calories) than your caloric maintenance level, your body is unable to build more muscle tissue.

        I’m actually just saying what you taught me. 🙂 So do you agree with me? (please say yes, or I’ll lose my mind!!! :p )

        • Nope… that’s the complete opposite of what I’m saying.

          I said: “Which mostly means maintaining your current level of strength on all of your lifts and not trying to increase it any further (and definitely not letting it slide in the other direction either).”

          Optionally reducing “volume” just means if you were normally doing (for example) 7 sets to build muscle, you can potentially maintain that muscle with (for example) 5 sets.

        • In common bodybuilding jargon, “volume” refers to the total number of sets done, whether total number of sets per musclegroup (for example, “hamstrings”), per bodypart (“legs”), per an entire workout (“legs and chest day”), or even per workout cycle (“legs worked twice in seven days”).

          Three sets of six reps of overhead presses using 115 lbs per workout is less volume than five sets of six reps of overhead presses using 115 lbs per workout.

  7. hey..first of all i want to say that i luv ur articles.they are so simple and explains everything.However i have some doubts regarding bulking phase. Pls spend some time to understand my situation here.
    i have a body which can quickly gain weight when properly eaten and quickly starts loosing weight when not eaten properly for a couple of days.so about six months ago i started going to gym and since then i have been going regularly with only few sessions being missed out.i started at weight around 70kgs and now i am at 77kgs. i have stopped myself at this weight by eating same amount of food items everyday.i definitely know that this accounts for fat+muscle.
    1.I want to ask at what weight shud someone bulk upto and then cut back.in my case what shud i do.i m 6ft and 21 yrs old.
    2.i have seen many bodybuilders with great muscle mass at weights less than mine.
    what is the reason for this.
    3.what is the relation between body weight and muscle growth .
    4.How do they increase with respect to each other.
    5.What if i stop at this weight and weight for my muscle to grow for a long time.
    5.Also last question that what how u recommend weight growth for me.suggest me some solution.shud i increase it or stop at it.
    I kno its a bit hassle to read and answer this question but i hope u do so.thnx for reading

    • 1. It’s body fat percentage that matters, not weight. Most guys should ideally bulk to not too much higher than 15% BF.
      2. Genetics, drugs, etc.
      3. To build muscle, your body weight needs to very slowly and gradually start going up. If your weight is staying exactly the same, you won’t be building muscle.
      4. See #3.
      5. See #3.
      5.2. For the average guy looking to build muscle, a weight gain of 1-2lbs per month is usually the sweet spot.

  8. But i play soccer so i don’t need to train legs! Man thats the worst one i hear in the gym. These guys should have no fear of getting too big!

  9. People always get brainwashed with bodybuilidng magazines and fake media that do not realize the truth.
    Only 2 things will get you as “big and bulky” as they look: drugs and abuse.
    Nice article and very funny!
    100% effort? You kidding me right? I always put 1000%!!!

  10. Hi,

    Great article and very funny!

    I will like to view that article of the sarcoplasmic vs myofibrillar stuff.

    I mean, sometimes I feel that my muscles are more fluffy than i would like them to be. Why can´t I make them feel more hard and strong?. By the way, I´m using your begginers routine for 7 months now. I´m havig results that I like but I still would like my muscles to be more hard and strong and not so fluffy (It seems they only feel hard and strong after “pumping” them in the gym).

    What do you think about this?

    • I think A LOT of the time people refer to their muscles as “soft” and “fluffy” it has very little to do with the muscle itself, and everything to do with the amount of body fat on top of it.

      Higher BF = everything looks/feels soft.
      Lower BF = everything looks/feels hard and tight.

      • Thanks Jay!

        But an article from you on this will really help clarify all the mumbo jumbo info out there!

        You rock!!!!!

  11. Good article! I’ve already shared it with some people 🙂 I really wish more people would get it. I know so many ladies trying to get bigger thighs & butt ~ but are scared to squat or train lower with heavy weight. In fact, they’re doing 30 day squat challenges with bodyweight YIKES!!!

    Thank u Jay for another great (cut-throat) piece of truth!!!

  12. Hi ! Great Article.. When trying to build muscle, you said that a pound a month (half of it for a women) is the maximum that can be built. But when on a surplus, where do all the extra calories go? If you increase your intake by 20 or 30% but only gain half a pound a month, does it mean that all the rest has been stored as fat? Sorry if my question is silly but I would like to understand how it works mathematically…
    I have been dieting for a while now and have a low BF. I want to build muscle but I am scared of gaining back the fat instead…

    • Building muscle requires eating additional calories (a surplus), and those calories can go towards muscle growth, fat storage or some combination of the two. The better your diet and workout are designed and the better you put them into action, the better your ratio of muscle to fat gains will be.

      Having said that, even if you do everything perfectly, building muscle will require some small amount of fat to be gained (which you’d then lose afterwards while aiming to maintain all of the new muscle you built). The exact degree of fat gains in a surplus will depend on the stuff mentioned above and genetics.

  13. Love your articles you just answered my question in the comments above. Because i have a soft body but want a hard body. My question questionis my bodyfat is 22-23% i want to lower to 19% will hiit workouts be the answer? Im a 29 female 5’3 i weigh 125. Thanks jay

  14. Great article, inspiring too. Do you think I can get big just with working out with dumbbell workouts and eat meals without any supplements? Gym memberships and supplements are very expensive at my place :\

  15. [email protected] the toning BS, I am a woman and I DO want to build muscle, not freaky looking steroid induced, but nice lean body mass, my upper body is almost there though, I could use a little more mass on my chest and arms – I have long skinny arms and crappy genetics.

    I want to put a lot more mass on my legs as I hate skinny, broomstick like legs, I know a lot of guys think skeletons are super hot but I don’t want to starve myself and I do like the athletic/ natural bodybuilder or gymnast physique. I work out 4 times a week, and have two legs days with high volume, it seems gains are sooo slow. Any tips anyone? Thanks

    • The same thing I’d recommend to anyone trying to build muscle anywhere. Combine an intelligently designed overall workout program focused on progression with a diet designed to support it.

  16. Just came across your website for the first time and I have to say it is amazingly useful. I do not know if this is the best place to ask, as a beginner/intermediate, should I start building muscle first (by having more calories than required) and then after acquiring enough muscle start losing fat (by 10-20% less calories), or should I first lose all the fat as much as I can and then start building muscle? right now, I am having 10% less calories and enough protein hoping to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time, could it happen?!

  17. Men who say they don’t want to get too big? I’m surprised you don’t burst out in laughter. I know I’d have trouble keeping a straight face.

  18. Hi I have a question about how much cardio I’m doing about weather it is to much or just enough. I’m trying to gain more muscle for next football and wrestling season. I’ve gotten a lot stronger over the past month and a half but I don’t know if the cardio I’m doing is affecting what I’m doing. I work out 5 times a week twice a day (I have a weight lifting class in school) and I go after school to work out too. 3 of the five days I’m wrestling with my coaches for about 45 minutes to an hour along with lifting and I don’t know if that is to much or just enough since wrestling is a pretty intense cardio session. I weigh 235 lbs and I’m 6 foot 2 with 17% body fat and a sophmore in high school. Thanks for any answers to my question

  19. Hey man I been reading your articles and love your stories!i was wondering if you can help me out.i am 5’10″ age 22 at about 165 pounds and 13-15% body fat.i have a pretty good build,u can kinda see a six pack,my arms are decent and chest pops out decent.i was wondering if I should keep shredding and get ripped cause that’s my goal.but I’m lifting heavy and maxing out,should I concentrate on more reps and lower weight a little?how should my workout be if I want to get shredded?

  20. Good article!

    I’m thinking of starting to build some muscle (my aim is not too big and just like model kind of body). Seems like no matter what and how much I eat does not effect my body size (due to high metabolism I guess)… So I got some questions:

    1. What are the basic suppliments needed for me as a noobie to help build muscles?
    2. Do I have to take lean diet food (because I’m quite care less about what I eat since no matter how much carb/fat/calorie I took doesn’t effect my body size at all)

    (Sorry if my english is bad…thanks in advance 🙂

  21. Love your stuff man, so damn insightful. I must say, I’ve gained a whooole lotta respect for ya brotha. Anyways, I’m doing the four day upper/lower split from your Muscle Building Routine. Been workin out consistently for about a year with 4 day per week programs like Jim Stoppani’s Shortcut to Size that focus more on individual muscles as opposed to the whole upper/lower workout. Never experienced the growth that I thought I would with programs similar to that, though I’ve gotten pretty damn strong.. All I’m wondering about is if I can workout as you suggest Monday/Tuesday, off Wednesday, and then again Thursday/Friday, but begin the cycle again on that Sunday as opposed to Monday? Or will muscle growth stay about the same if I wait until that Monday to start the cycle again? Would there be any real significant advantage to that?

    • Nope, there will be no advantage to this. However, from a rest/recovery standpoint, there would most likely be a big advantage to keeping that extra rest day there at the end and NOT doing what you’re suggesting.

  22. Hi. Over the years I have indeed trained like a dumbass. Be it due to having no clue, blatant lies, or faulty information that doesn’t meet my genetic requirements. I do not, will not use steroids, but want to become as muscular as is possible naturally. I know my strength needs to come up and that this can happen to a degree in most rep ranges, but I don’t need to be able to lift a house either. I want to be big, but in a bodybuilder type way, not a fat powerlifter type, like most. I’m realistic. I know being natural has it’s limitations, but as much as I read I’m still confused what will get me there, how to train. I’ve read everything online here, short of purchasing the books. Only because frankly I’m tired of wasting money I don’t have to waste. I found your site due to my mistakes, and what little seemed to work even if it didn’t accomplish my goals. My training had evolved from each body part once a week to once every 5 days on a rotation. 4 days on 1 off, repeat. I trained day 1: shoulders and bis
    2: back, abs
    3: chest and tris
    2: legs, calves
    Off
    Repeat at 75% week 2
    So, the intensity alternated each week, and at the end of six weeks I deloaded to 60% for a week or two, and worked back up starting 5 pounds heavier than the previous cycle. So, basically I was only adding 5 pounds over thirty days and then deload. I was making gains on bench and slowly on shoulders, which I kept separate cause I always struggled or seemed to get injured working them chest day. Legs and back stopped gaining no matter what I tried. I figured I was overtraining being more than two days straight, and only gaining at at all due to the alternating frequency week to week, deloads, and low rep ranges on sets. 5, 5, 3, 3, 3, 3. Starting at 50% and ramping up 10% each set to 100. My assistance I built up the same but my final set was 12 reps. I also trained Deads with back, but am having knee problems. So, I see you suggest them as leg day, and shoulders on chest. So, I went searching for something that kept the body part frequency at five days, and was aimed at muscle size, with intelligent periodization. What drew me to your site was the Push/Leg/Pull alternating 4-5 days a week routine. I figured it closest resembled what was working and might resolve what wasn’t. I’ve seen your recommendations for volume/reps/sets etc, but I’m still confused. Being my goal and what you recommend, does this make any sense to get there?

    Day 1: Flat bench 3 x 10
    Flat dumbbell flyes 3 x 10
    Shoulder press 3 x 10
    Skull crushers 3 x 10

    Day 2: Squat 3 x 10
    Leg extensions 3 x 10
    Deadlift 3 x 10
    Leg curl 3 x 10
    Standing Calf raise 3 x 10
    Ab crunches 3 x 10

    Day 3: Off

    Day 4: Pull ups 3 x 10
    Bent rows 3 x 10
    Bicep curls 3 x 10

    Day 5: Off

    Day 6: Repeat.

    Or am I totally missing the mark,
    misunderstanding what I’m reading and being a dumbass still?
    Figured I’d try this and make sure on the big movements ( bench, squat, deads, ) I hit no less than 8 reps all 3 sets and max of 10 before adding weight. Smaller movements no keep at ten or a max of twelve if my weight increases dropped me below 10.
    I want to buy the book, but I’m not sure I’m getting this, and if I understand the reasoning behind doing straight sets across as opposed to ramping. Guess more of what Im used to is a power approach since I always heard you gotta get strong first. Now it’s like lifting baby weights. Sorry, just feel totally lost and frustrated.

    • Sorry man, but this is just way too much to properly cover in a quick comment reply. If you’re looking for how I like to set up a push/pull/legs program, the book has that.

      Otherwise, you’ll do quite well with this (it’s free).

  23. Doesn’t the balance between your muscles play a great role too in defining either a fitness model body vs. bodybuilder body? For example, I don’t think fitness models really have big legs or arms compared to the proportion of body builders. So if your goal is to get fitness models, should that person do less of some body parts in terms of proportion?

    • “So if your goal is to get fitness models, should that person do less of some body parts in terms of proportion?”

      An adult male with average genetics for building muscle CAN’T build ever build enough muscle to become either a fitness model or a world-class bodybuilder, at least not without enhancing with steroids and other drugs. If the average-gened guy could build the proportionate muscle naturally, then EVERY guy who bodybuilds would be a fitness model or a world class physique competitor.

      Also, what often separates the fitness models from the professional top physique competitors — that is, why the physique competitors have bigger arms, legs, and every other muscle group than do fitness models — is the AMOUNT of drugs they’re each using; and/or, the genetics of the models compared to the contestants. World-class physique contestants usually have elite genetics which respond even better to drugs than do the above-average genetics of the fitness models; and/or, physique contestants often take larger amounts of drugs in order to build even larger mass than models need to have.

  24. Great thread and article. Still laughing about Rob’s goal of adding weight without gaining muscle or fat. Great response. Huge beard. Haha.

    ONe comment about “fitness model” goal or “I want to look like Brad Pitt” goal: Your genes are critical in the ultimate shape of your body. True that with a lot of hard work and training you can build a very attractive body. But at the end of the day, your shoulder width, waist size, overall proportion, etc. is dependent on your genetics. If your shoulders are narrow (narrow clavicles), and you have wide pelvic bones, guess what, you will never look anything like Brad Pitt, no matter how hard you train.

    Injecting a little realism into goals is always helpful.

    • Very good point that I often have to point out to people who think they’ll get to the same body fat as someone else with the same amount of muscle and look “exactly” the same as them. Not going to happen.

    • …which realism (regrettable to those of us who do want perfect X-frame physiques) is reason to beware of people marketing “mass-packing exercise programs”, ” forgotten techniques”, “bodybuilding secrets of the pros”, and “inches of shredded muscle!” — you’ll waste your money and your efforts attempting to achieve what is impossible for your own genetics.

      Sure, a guy with a poor shoulder clavicles-to-pelvic bones ratio (narrow shouldered and wide hipped) can improve his look by adding some mass to his outer shoulders…and, he can keep his bodyfat low enough that his waist is as small as it can practically remain year-round…but, those changes still won’t give him that wide-shoulder/narrow hip X-frame which fitness models had at birth. Not even use of steroids or other PEDrugs can change a person’s basic bone structure. All any guy can do is add mass and subtract bodyfat from the skeletal structure he was born with.

      Everyone can improve, but, regrettably not everyone can improve enough to have fitness-model never mind world-class-physique-winner proportions. Don’t let marketeers make you think that buying their products and courses can.

  25. I’m a 35 year old woman, already in good shape with a pretty low body fat percentage ( I don’t know the real percentage, but my abs, arms, legs are defined, the only place where I’d like to lose half an inch or less is around my glutes and higher thighs) . I’m 5″9 and weight 130 pounds and pretty much look like an athlete. I’m doing a lot of Hiit training with also light weight lifting (10 to 15 pounds dumbells)/ 60 minutes/ 4-5 times a week + the occasional long bicycle ride 80 to 100 km ride + yoga or ballet 60 to 90 minutes once a week in the hope of stretching my muscles and have the elongate body look. I really enjoy High Intensity Interval Training and to push myself. It helps to stabilize my estrogen levels and therefore prevent my chronic migraine from reappearing. But now, I’m getting too muscular, pass the tone point that I’d like to have. How do I just maintain or even lose muscle mass without having to stop to train and push myself. I love the plyometrics moves, all the squats, the planks, lunges, pushups and bodyweight exercices of all kind. My knees are not the best, so switching to long distance running is not an option and doing only yoga or ballet won’t give me the same health benefits. ( sorry for my poor english, I’m from the french part of Canada)

    • To maintain muscle rather than build more, it’s mainly just a matter of not pushing yourself to progress past what you are currently capable of doing. Basically, progression is what builds muscle, regression is what causes muscle loss, and the point in between is what maintains muscle.

  26. Hey, one of many great, no-nonsense articles. It’s good to get some clarification on something „that you think you already know but not 100% sure and that’s what your articles do so keep em coming!

    I have a question around building muscle…

    I’ve been dieting for some time, down to about 14% bf but now feel like 1) putting on some more muscle, 2) eating more!

    So I’ve been eating at 500 cal deficit (to equate to 1lb of weight) and the plan was to start eating at 500 cal surplus but your article has made me think twice…

    If I go 1lb surplus weight per week (500 cal per day) but only 25% of that weight (0.25 lbs) is going to be muscle (if I’m lucky as you say), I can only assume the other 75% will be fat?

    So if that’s the case, obviously not wanting to add unnecessary fat (who wants to do that??), wouldn’t I be better having a lower surplus? A quarter of 500 is 125 but then 125 cal daily surplus doesn’t sound like it’s going to get me anywhere fast in terms of building muscle?! 😕

    • Yup, a 500 calorie surplus is twice as much as I’d ever recommend to the majority of the population. 200-250 is usually a good starting point for guys… sometimes less. Your goal should be 1-2lbs gained per month.

      • Excellent, cheers for that. Everything else I have read pointed me towards 500 cals and 1lb a week which would obviously lead to too much fat gain!

  27. Isn’t there a difference between fast twitch and slow twitch muscle? Maybe what the toners are really saying they want more type I slow twitch fibers, which is increased by endurance training. Or to use a chicken analogy, more tough dark meat instead of plump and juicy white meat.

  28. Thanks for the great article. It’s just what I was looking for. I have several health problems that are aggrivated by free weights so I use an all in one home gym. I was wondering if when I finally max out on it if lifting the same weight would be enough for maintenance. Actually at that point I guess I could start adding reps for endurance.

  29. This is by far the best and most convincing article I’ve read about building muscles and about fitness.
    Great work ! Thanks a lot 😀

  30. I am amazed how many people wander around the gym having no idea what they are trying to achieve or do. They have made the effort to get in there, pay their fees but then wonder around doing a bit of this and that. You’d think they at least spend a fe minutes on the net getting some work out routines? Too much common sense there.

    I never see anyone in my gym actually exerting them-selves.
    There a lot of fat people
    They seem to think spending 1 1/2hrs+ means much better than hitting it hard for 45 minutes
    There’s no progression. Sam,e people, same weights 1 year later.
    It looks more like a social meeting then actually a work out.

    is there any cure for this?

  31. Excellent advice! I needed to read this. I’m a woman who also had the same concerns of looking like a ripped man, clearly I’ve been misinformed for years. Thank you so much for dispelling this myth!

  32. Do you have any tips to avoid binge eating, particularly at night? I have been keeping up with your muscle building workout routine and doing my best to maintain a calorie deficit – but there always happen to be a few nights a week that I completely lose self control and eat back any extra calories, which definitely hinders my progress. I eat balanced meals during the day and my deficit is 10% below TDEE when I do achieve it.

    • I would play around with the organization of your diet. Meaning, if you tend to overeat at night, maybe experiment with putting significantly larger meals at night (and thus smaller meals/fewer total calories earlier in the day) this way your totals for the day are still the same, but you just get to consume more of it later in the day.

  33. Top notch article! Just had one question though… I’m naturally very lanky at 6’4 and 127 lbs. What sort of advice could ya give me if I were looking to put on a bit of weight and hence – get bigger? Cheers, mate!

  34. Cannot love this article enough. As a woman, and personal trainer, clients often espouse same type of “too much muscle” nonsense. My services are often “sold” based on my appearance (don’t get the wrong idea, here, follow me…), but it’s a lot of baloney… yes, I have toned/sculpted muscles, but I put in more hours at the gym and eat better than 98% of America, so…. yeah. Unless you plan to do that, then you should have no concern. P.S. even if you think I’m “too muscular” (have heard a few times, not often though)… girl, do you KNOW how many men (including prob your own) have asked me if I’m single, how I got those calves, damn those arms are solid, etc… haters gonna hate. What IS your genetic potential? If you don’t work towards it, you will never know…

  35. So true; I’m female. I’ve been lifting heavy for 8 months now and I now have the back that I want…that “toned” and defined look. I worked incredibly hard for it over 8 months and now I’m happy and ready to maintain it.

    However, my glutes are still not developed enough, so I’ll continue the overloading there. To put it in perspective; I am now bar bell hip thrusting 205 lbs 3 sets of 8 and I still don’t have the glutes that I want. I’m getting there, but they are still a little flat. I began with a pancake butt, so the improvements are significant, but not spectacular.

    Muscle grows like molasses. It’s shocking how hard it is to build muscle. I also eat an extra 200 cals a day and 100g or more of protein.

    • “It’s shocking how hard it is to build muscle.”

      From our normal human perspective of “I wish I looked that way now”, it usually comes as a surprise to us average-gened and (as in my case) below-average-gened people just how slow muscle growth occurs. It seems slowwwwww especially within the context of all those advertisements and marketing tactics which imply reaching our muscle-gain goals can occur overnight. It requires about four-to-five consecutive years of consistent, progressive, informed, drug-free training/eating for an average-gened person to reach the genetic limits of their natural maximum muscle mass. Not four or five months…not a year…but at least four dedicated years. That’s physiological reality.

      At age 60, after forty-five years of natural bodybuilding, I’ve accumulated mental tools that help me remain motivated and realistic about progress as well as counteract the false claims heard constantly. One tool has been reprogramming my mind about what are physiologically “rapid” results. For instance, with fat loss, losing one to two pounds of bodyfat per week is physiologically normal (heck, that truth is found even in the small print of programs such as weight watchers’). Tabloid claims such as “Lose 11 pounds in a week” are physiological dishonesties if not outright lies. So a loss of, say, eight pounds of bodyfat per month is actually rapid weight loss. And, therefore, I program my head with reality by literally saying to myself and to others, “I’m losing fat fast, because I’ve lost six pounds this past month!”

      Same goes for muscle growth. For you, it’s not, “It took me eight months to build my back to what I want”. Rather, it is, “I built my back to where I wanted in ONLY eight months!”
      If in another twelve months, you’ve built your glutes to the size you want, then, it’ll have taken you ONLY twenty months to do so — and, in physiological reality, that IS spectacular progress.

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