The No BS Guide to Building Lean Muscle .

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Get strong and lean while spurring fat loss and staving off the effects of aging

Regardless of whether you call it strength, resistance, or weight training, any body can benefit from gaining muscle. A strong core and limbs can help you avoid falling or make lugging groceries up the stairs easier.

Then there’s the added bonus of a leaner composition and weight loss, if that’s your goal.

Strength boost benefits:

  • improves balance
  • enhances posture
  • increases coordination
  • prevents injury
  • protects bone health
  • eases pain
  • reduces fat
  • prevents weight gain
  • slows age-related muscle loss

“Weight training truly is the fountain of youth when it comes to keeping your body healthy,” explains Allison Jackson, a certified personal trainer.

“As we age, we generally lose muscle,” she explains, adding that, in addition to building muscle, weight-bearing exercises are key to building stronger bones.

If you’re worried about muscles changing the body you already love, keep reading. We’ve got the science-backed info on why muscle matters and how to build strength training into your workouts to fit your goals.

Muscle-building basics

You already own one of the best pieces of equipment for building muscle: your beautiful body. And you don’t have to follow a rigid routine to glean the lean-inducing returns. You can choose the types of movements or fitness styles you enjoy and incorporate strength training into your lifestyle.

Aim for two or three strength training workouts per week, whether that’s:

  • lifting
  • taking a power yoga class
  • busting through a high intensity interval training (HIIT) circuit
  • doing bodyweight exercises

1. Pumping iron isn’t the only way to get buff

Sure, you can head to the gym, but if you’re tight on funds or prefer the privacy of your own pad, you can get lean just by using your bodyweight.

A recent study shows that training with lighter loads and more repetitions is just as effective at building muscle as training with heavy weights and fewer reps. Just do the exercise until your muscles demand a break.

That means you can squat with no added weights and get a similar result as doing weighted squats — simply go until you couldn’t possibly do one more.

Strive for three sets, adding to your number of reps as you get stronger.

2. Toss out rules about reps

If you prefer holding lunges in a yoga class rather than doing walking lunges around your apartment, you’ll still reap the strength benefits.

Repeating a movement to fatigue is a great way to gain strength, but muscle contraction of any kind will produce powerful results, says one small study.


  • pushups
  • squats
  • crunches
  • donkey kicks
  • triceps dips

Aim for a mix of isotonic and isometric exercises in your fitness regimen. If you’ve got achy joints, aim for more isometric exercises. Hold for 30 seconds to start with and work your way up to more time.


  • plank
  • Warrior Pose(s)
  • wall sit
  • boat pose
  • glute bridge

For both types of exercises, try for 3 sets.

3. Bust the moves that give you the most bang

Whether doing reps or holding a static pose, compound exercises, which target multiple muscles or muscle groups, will make your efforts the most efficient.

Think burpees, side-plank rotations, and mountain climbers. These exercises often get your heart rate going and give a dose of cardio, especially if you do them as part of a HIIT circuit.

4. Modify movements to suit your needs

Altering an exercise is all about meeting your body where it’s at right now. If your wrists aren’t pleased, drop to your forearms.

Or if you aren’t ready for standard pushups, use a wall or a bench so you can do them at an incline. Over time, you may be able to work your way to the floor.

Most exercises have several modifications. Or you can try a “sister move” that produces similar results. Step ups can sub in for box jumps, for example, if you don’t have a box, are worried about banging your shins, or just want to go easier on your pelvic floor.

Exercise Modification or “sister move”
Box jumps Step ups
Pushups Incline pushup (wall or bench)
Squats Chair squats
Crunches Standing bicycle crunches

Before getting started, consider doing your own research or schedule a session with a personal trainer who can teach you moves that make sense for you.

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