- Give yourself at least 4 months to lean bulk
- A lean bulk requires your nutrition and workout program to work with each other
- Building muscle in a lean bulk works best by getting stronger in the 6-30 rep range
Have you ever tried to drive somewhere while hitting the gas and the brake at the same time?
I’d bet my last 50 cents you didn’t get all that far if you did.
When it comes to doing a lean bulk, I see a lot of people hitting the gas and brake at the same time and getting frustrated with a lack of progress. I place a ton of blame for this on bodybuilding magazines for workout programs and advice for guys that are juicing and people of the internet trying to make it seem like they have the “muscle building secret” and leading you down some pseudoscience bullshit rabbit hole.
To do a good lean bulk where you put on a good amount of muscle and size you need your workout and nutrition to be working together.
So without further ado, here’s 12 reasons why your lean bulk didn’t work…and how to fix them.
You’re Not Eating Enough
When it comes to your lean bulk diet calories are king. To build muscle optimally you need to be eating plain and simple. And for some people (I def fall into this category) getting fluffy with these extra calories is scary as shit.
You have to remember that getting fluffy is a necessary evil of a lean bulk is completely different from getting fat.
Fluffy is a little extra fat around the belly, no visible ab definition but nowhere close to needing a forklift to get your ass off the couch. In most cases a 3-6 week mini cut can get rid of most if not all of this extra weight.
Lean bulking is all about your performance in the gym and recovery. Both require calories. You need the calories to push your body further than it wants to go and you need to recover so you can crush it again.
Short changing your calories because you don’t want to get fluffy slows everything down.
I like to think about building muscle like a woman being pregnant. In both cases more calories are needed because you are creating something. In our case of building muscle, you are actually creating more muscle tissue.
Keep in the back of your mind that getting fluffy is a natural byproduct of lean bulking. The faster you can accept that, the faster you can get the results you want.
You’re Eating Too Much
Now, on the other side of that calorie coin is the “See-Food Diet” popularized by me in my 20’s. I always thought if some calorie surplus is good then more must be better.
And I’d down 5000-6000 calories through take-out and Ben and Jerry’s. Unfortunately your body can only rebuild so fast without the help of steroids. Once you hit your optimal point, more of anything (READ: calories, protein, workouts) is not going to speed up the muscle building process.
Eating anything and everything is a recipe for you putting on waaaayyyyy more weight than needed. This makes the post lean bulk process longer because you have to strip away pounds and pounds of fat.
A good rate of gain in a lean bulk is 0.25-.5% of bodyweight per week. Basically if you are under 200lbs, gaining 0.5-1lb per week is the goal. Any faster than that and you’re just packing on the fat.
If you’re not gaining that much increase calories by 100, if you’re gaining more than that reduce calories by 100 until you hit that 0.25-.5 range.
You’re Not Eating Enough Carbs
Like I mentioned in the previous step, the focus point of lean bulking is how you perform in the gym and how you recover between workouts.
If you’re dragging ass in the gym or recovering like shit then you’re hitting the brakes on your muscle building potential.
And a big part of that is carb consumption. Carbs are not only delicious, but when they break down they provide glucose for energy to kill it in your workout and are some of the raw materials, along with protein, to help your muscles recover.
Most of the work in the gym is going to be in the 6-30 rep range, which means you’ll need energy to keep going in this range. And if you haven’t guessed by now, that’s where carbs shine. If you reduce carbs you’ll be limiting your fuel supply and training will suffer.
On the recovery side, carbs stimulate insulin in the body. Despite what Chad the fitness Guru (I’m coining Chad as the male counterpart to Karen) says about insulin, it’s very important to the muscle building process. Insulin has an inverse relationship to cortisol (stress hormone).
Cortisol is a catabolic hormone designed to break things down for fast quick energy so we can fight or run away, it’s that quick burst of energy. Cortisol is spiked during and post workout. And by spiking insulin, cortisol drops as well as the catabolic state which allows a more anabolic state where you can build muscle.
When setting your lean bulk macros aim for these targets:
Protein: ~1g/lb of bodyweight
Fats: 0.3-.4g/lb of bodyweight
Carbs: 1.8-2.0 g/lb of bodyweight
You’re Relying Too Much On Supplements
Supplements are often looked at as Willy Wanka’s Golden Ticket. It’s your ticket out of small guy hell.
In reality supplements are a get rich scheme…for the companies, not you.
Supplements are made to…get ready for it…supplement a good foundation of nutrition and exercise.
And even in that case the amount they help is like 1%. Focusing on sleep, hitting your macros, progressive overload in the gym have a much higher ROI.
Instead of shelling out hundreds of dollars each month for supplements just focus on getting really good at the basics.
You’re Sticking To One Rep Range
Building muscle comes down to getting stronger in the 6-30 rep range. Yes, I am aware this is looser than that girl you knew back in the day with questionable morals and daddy issue. Regardless, there’s research to show that working in this range yields similar results.
And within that, you should vary reps depending on the lift you’re doing. For example, doing sets of 30 on squats is cool but you’re leaving a lot of strength gain on the table.
Conversely if you try to hit your 6rep max on a bicep curl you’re missing out on a lot of volume and leaving potential gainz on the table.
So when it comes to picking rep ranges, I like to use certain rep ranges for certain exercises which help walk the fine line of getting enough volume and weight to stimulate muscle growth.
- Compound exercises (squat, bench, overhead press, deadlift) 6-10 reps per set
- Multijoint exercises (pullup, barbell row, single leg squat variations, RDLs) 8-12 reps
- Isolation/machine exercises (bicep curls, lat raises, skullcrushers, leg curls) 10-30 reps
Using this framework you can hit your muscles with a ton of weight stimulus with the compound movements and finish them off with more direct stimulus, and lighter weight, at the end of the workout.
This way you can incorporate weight and volume all while working in the 6-30 rep range.
You’re Lifting With Your Ego
The prob with going too heavy while trying to build muscle is that you start lifting with your ego. Ego lifting only works to build up your ego and you end up looking the same…with a giant ego.
Ego lifting using a lot of body english (momentum), half reps, and shitty form all to stroke the little voice in your head that tells you that you’re a fuckin beast.
Building muscle is all about stimulating the muscle and if you’re cheating yourself of a full range of motion or using momentum to swing the weights around you remove that stimulus.
Let’s run quickly through a hypothetical situation first.
You’re using the leg curl machine. On the first couple of reps you’re using a full range of motion with your legs fully extended to curling your legs up so the pad hits your butt.
As you get further and further into the set your legs aren’t extending fully and the pad isn’t hitting your butt anymore.
You’re restricting the range of motion and in turn adding more and less effective volume to hit the number of reps in your workout.
Then each week you try to best your previous reps only to add more and more less effective volume.
When it comes to building strength and muscle, consistency in your range of motion is paramount.
When you standardize a range of motion for a movement it prevents adding more reps that aren’t hitting the target muscles because you’re squirming, using body english etc.
Which brings us to terminal consistency.
Here’s an example of me doing deadlifts.
And End Point
This allows me to have a consistent range of motion every rep every time. So when I increase the weight or reps each week I know I’m getting stronger and building muscle and not comprimising form to get there.
Focusing on terminal consistency with all my exercises has helped me reduce volume considerably while still seeing results.
I mean check out my ass (Hips) measurements since June:
Find somewhere where you can definitively say you hit an endpoint. I like to do this by the end range of motion or hitting something (my body, plates, floor etc.) rather than saying below the knee. There’s a lot of subjectivity to “below the knee”.
To give you some more examples:
Bicep Curls: dumbbell/barbell hitting collar bone to arms fully extended
Bench Press: bar on chest to elbows fully extended
Split Squats: back knee on floor to front leg fully extended
Shoulder Press: Barbell on collarbone to elbows fully extended
You’re Constantly Injured
Back in the day, whenever I was on a good roll of getting stronger without fail my left shoulder would get injured. Nothing serious but enough where I couldn’t bench without the feeling of someone stabbing me in the shoulder. I’d have to take weeks or months off from benching and all my progress would vanish faster than a v-card on prom night.
Looking back at it now I realize 1) form was an issue, and 2) I was balls out all the damn time.
The form issue was easy enough to fix but going hard each time was a paradigm shift.
Most of us got our first exposure and knowledge of weight lifting from bodybuilding magazines. Guys juiced to the gills and training like it. The stuff these guys are using takes their ability to grow muscles and recover from Clark Kent to Superman. This is why they can do tons and tons of reps each day.
In reality we are not these guys so we shouldn’t train like them. Which is why with all my online coaching clients we use Reps in Reserve. This way each week we can scale volume without an endless list of injuries because we’re going too hard.
You’re Program hopping
Attaining any skill is all about deliberate practice.
And getting stronger and building muscle is a skill.
To get stronger in a bench press you should bench…prob a couple times a week. This way you get better with form and you can progress the movement faster over months.
This is why people who switch programs too much never make progress. You can’t build up the skills to push the lifts more and more.
The better you are at doing a particular lift the more you can lift which translates to more muscle.
You’re Using Too Much Volume
When it comes to building muscle you’ve prob heard you need to do more reps, more sets and more weight.
Which is true…to a point.
Adding more of everything doesn’t mean shit if they are junk or if you can’t recover from it.
More shitty reps aren’t going to build more muscle likewise if you can’t recover from your last workout you aren’t growing.
More reps isn’t better, better reps/form is better.
If you aren’t lifting under control and with proper form all the stress you want to go to your muscles, shifts to your joints. This is going to lead to sore joints, injuries and you burning out.
While more sets, reps and weight is needed to build muscle, make sure all that extra work goes to where you want it.
Take some time and focus on form. Just by doing that you’ll increase the stress on your muscles which will lead to more gainz.
By focusing on better reps you’ll need less of them to stimulate muscle growth and allowing you to recover better between workouts.
Mild soreness is fine, Bambi legging a post lower body workout is not.
You’re Not Tracking Progress
I’m not going to bury the lede here, metrics are important. You absolutely need a way to track progress.
It would be like running a race and having zero idea if you are even on the course or where the finish line was.
And no, “feeling” like you are making progress is not a metric.
If you don’t have an objective metric to track it’s almost impossible to see if you are making progress.
Yea, these can be a pain in the ass sometimes, but looking back at all your wasted time stings a little more. Spend 5 mins to pick one and track it consistently.
Here’s a few I use with clients to help judge progress…
Measurements – Weekly. Taking belly, chest and thigh measurements is a great way to see if what you’re doing is working. In a bulk chest and thigh measurements will show muscle building while belly measurements will show fat gain. If belly measurements are getting too crazy too fast, dial back the calories.
Body Weight – 3x+ / Week. This will ensure you’re gaining at the right rate.
Hunger – Daily on a scale of 1-5, 5 being ravenously hungry all day. During a bulk hunger should be in the 1-2 range. If it’s not you need to eat more.
Progress Pics – Every 4 weeks. Daily you aren’t going to notice changes in yourself. But compare last month to this month and you’ll see a difference.
Gym Performance- Each workout on a scale of 1-5, 5 you absolutely crushed it and 1 the work sucked giant balls.
Recovery – Each day on a scale of 1-5, 5 being you feel great and 1 you’re a broken down mess.
Workout – Every Workout. Track weight, reps, sets.
With these metrics you can measure and tweak any aspect of the muscle building process.
You’re Setting Unrealistic Timelines
Building muscle is a bitch.
It’s a long, arduous process. Which is why when I start working with a new online coaching client I like to set a realistic muscle building goal. There’s nothing worse than expecting 20lbs of muscle in 6 weeks and only gaining 1.
The muscle building process is dependent on where you are in the scope of weight lifting.
Beginner: Actual beginner or someone who hasn’t mastered the basics of the different kinds of training. Rate of muscle gain per month is around 1-1.5% of total body weight.
Intermediate: You know and practice concepts like proper rest, rep/schemes, and at certain times you can be the strongest dude in the gym. Rate of muscle gain per month is around 0.5-1% of total bodyweight.
Advanced: You know these guys lift as soon as they walk into a room. Rate of muscle gain per month is 0.25-0.5% of total body weight.
Keep this in mind when you set the goal of building muscle. Proper expectations are the difference between sticking to the plan and quitting a month.
With this in mind think of building muscle in months and years rather than days and weeks. Keep your timeline to 4 months or longer.
You’re Not Consistent
Lean bulking fucks with your mind.
With weight loss you can see your weight and waist measurements shrinking. There’s no outside validation saying “Damn daddy looking like a snack”.
In a lean bulk there’s none of that.
This is why hiring a coach to hold your ass to the flame is crucial. I tried multiple times to go at it by myself but it wasn’t until I hired my coach that I actually stuck too it.
Previously I would see my waist expanding and immediately stop so I could diet back down. Each time short changing my ability to make serious gainz.
With a coach holding you accountable to the plan while propping you up when it seems like you aren’t making progress is HUGE.
Most of us know what we SHOULD be doing to get results, but we’re missing the accountability & structure needed to make it happen. This is where coaching comes into play.