Posted on 13 May 2014
5 min read
Take a glance back in time five years and in the winter months you would find gyms packed with people lifting as heavy as they could while simultaneously cramming pizzas, burgers and anything else their hearts desired down their gullets.
All in an effort to add every extra ounce of muscle to their frames.
Fast forward to today and I like to think we’re a bit more sophisticated than we were back then.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a mad binge every now and again (we’ve all been to that place when a cheat meal turns into a cheat weekend) but I’m also a huge fan of abs as well.
Turns out you can have both!
The trend nowadays, especially among ‘natural’ bodybuilders, is to stay lean all year round and work on those ‘massthetics’ rather than add unnecessary pounds of fat that you will only have to burn off later.
So, without further ado, here are a few tips to change your Henry VIII banquet bulk into a more civilised and manageable lean bulk.
Let’s be clear here, you may not gain as much muscle on a leaner bulking cycle than on a more traditional effort, but the quality of the muscle you add on will be better and you won’t have to spend two months carving you definition back out again.
So set a realistic goal in your head.
You’re not going to go from Justin Bieber to Ronnie Coleman in a few months with this kind of plan but you can expect to look dramatically better, quickly, because you’ll (ideally) be keeping your body far low enough to see even the smallest of gains.
Let’s say you start at 70kg with 10kg of fat, and you sensibly bulk to 73kg without raising your body fat by a lot, your percentage body fat will go down so you will look a whole lot better right off the bat.
Don’t rush this one.
There is something joyous about seeing the scale go flying up week after week when adding mass, but if you want to keep the love handles in check then a weight gain of about 0.5kg a week would be really good going.
Even a few hundred grams with little added body fat for an experienced lifter would be excellent.
No 6,000 calorie blow outs anymore.
About 5-10% more calories over you maintenance will be just fine, and even 10% will be pushing it for some people.
If your baseline calorie intake is 2,500, bumping up to 2,650 is where you could start with and track you progress from there.
There are lots of calorie calculators online to help you figure out a good starting point and you can go from there.
Try and keep a good track of your macronutrient intake as well.
You can be less strict compared to how you would need to track if you were cutting, but at least track your protein intake (about 2g per kilo of lean body mass for us blokes) and try to cap your fat intake to 20-25% of your total calories.
As well as tracking what goes into your system, track your output.
I don’t mean looking back into the porcelain throne after an extra hot Nando’s, but tracking what you do in the gym.
Chances are if you are getting stronger, you’re getting bigger.
Try to increase the weight on the bar or the cable stack every two weeks or so.
Don’t worry if you can’t quite manage an increased weight one week, as long as you are not getting weaker then everything should be going as planned.
However if your weight on the bar stalls for 3-4 weeks consider upping the calories to spur on some new growth.
I know, I used the C word.
Unheard of and whispered in hushed tones when bulking usually, but cardio is useful when lean bulking just to keep the fat gain in check.
You don’t have to shed a tear for your lost gains when you have to walk down the road to get a pint of milk anymore, the gains are still there I promise.
Just two 20 minute high intensity interval sessions (ideally on non-lifting days) will be enough to keep any unwanted pounds at bay.
Prowler pushes, hill sprints, battle ropes or switchbacks on a spinning bike would be ideal.
30 seconds on 30 seconds off, or 20 on 40 off, would do the job just fine.
I’m also going to put my neck out and mention the other ‘C word’…
Another great way to keep you gains and burn up some fat would be to get a couple of CrossFit sessions in a week just to switch it up.
There, I said it, CrossFit.
Short and simple this one.
As with any good training plan, adequate rest and recovery will be vital to success.
Lots of sleep and one or two complete days off per week will provide the body with all the time it needs to rebuild those muscle fibres bigger and stronger than ever before.
If you’re fairly advanced, consider adding a deload week into you programme every 4-6 weeks.
Hopefully that provides you with an insight into what you need to get started on a lean bulk to preserve the abs you worked so hard to carve out.
Expect popping biceps and defined shoulders in no time – get to it readers!
If you’ve tried a lean bulk before or you have any questions leave a comment in the section below.
And, as always, get back to lifting!