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Lean Muscle Workouts

author image Nicole A. Carlin
Published author, yoga teacher and health and wellness expert Nicole Carlin has written professionally since 2005. Her two non-fiction books "Chakra Detox" and "Hot Yoga, Hotter Sex" reflect the rigorous academic knowledge she brings to the wellness industry. Carlin holds a Bachelor of Arts in psychology and a Master of Arts in sexuality.
Lean Muscle Workouts
Woman working out with low weights. Photo Credit: Jupiterimages/Creatas/Getty Images

Lean muscled bodies are the envy of many women and men. To sculpt svelte and toned leg, arm, back and ab muscles you'll need to take a multi-pronged approach that combines regular cardio exercise to shave fat, strength training to build lean muscle and a healthy diet to keep your muscles happy and healthy.

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Lean Muscle Deconstructed

It's a common misconception that strength training will lead to massive gains and huge, bulky muscles. This misconception especially concerns women who avoid strength training for fear of "bulking up." The reality is that most people, women and men, do not have the hormonal or genetic capacity to bulk up without external help from performance-enhancing drugs. So without fear, it's time to approach strength training with weights as a friend rather than a foe. Before you'll get to see the gains from lean muscle training, you might need to shave away some accumulated fat that lies on top of your muscles. Regular cardiovascular exercise, like running, swimming or cycling, can help to burn fat from your body, exposing lean muscle underneath.

Lean Muscle Exercises

To build lean muscle, focus on performing high repetition exercises using low weights. A good rule of thumb to use when trying to figure out what weight is right for you is to use the repetition test. The weight is in the lean muscle sweet spot when you can perform at least eight reps, but no more than 12 to 15. By the time you get to your last few reps, your muscles should feel fatigued but still able to keep good form. Lean muscle exercises target all the major muscle groups and include squats, lunges, calf raises, plank pose, rows, bicep curls, triceps extensions, clean and press and triceps dips.

Putting it all Together

Perform lean muscle strength training exercises two to three times per week, leaving one full day in between training sessions to allow your muscles time to recover. On your off-days, perform cardio workouts that encourage lean muscle growth like swimming, vigorous yoga, running or aerobics classes. Before each workout warm up your body with five to 10 minutes of light aerobic activity. Choose five to 10 strength-training exercises and perform three sets of 12 to 15 repetitions each, resting in between each one. Arrange your workout either as a circuit, where you perform one set of each exercise first and then cycle back to the beginning -- or perform three sets of each exercise and then move on to the next one.

Watch Your Mouth

According to the American Council on Exercise, substantially restricted calorie or fad diets can force your body to break down lean muscle to use for fuel. To stay healthy and build lean muscle, ACE recommends a diet rich in lean proteins sources, like fish, seafood, beans, tofu and chicken, complex carbohydrates, fresh vegetables, fruit and low-fat dairy. Minimize your consumption of fatty foods, processed cookies, cakes and baked goods, sugar, salt, alcohol and full fat dairy products.

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