Reminder: 5 Simple Tips to Build Lean Muscle

Summer is supposedly here, although you’d never know it in Chicago, and with warmer weather comes the temptation to rely on shortcuts for fast health and fitness results. It seems like as soon as June hits we forget that you don’t need pills, supplements or a prolonged session on the elliptical to tone up when bikinis and tank tops are starring at you from the barrel of your closet.

These may seem like simple and obvious tips, but don’t discount how effective they can be. If you need to reset and refocus, this is just for you.

1. Eat to Lose 

This is like a bonus tip, more like four tips in one.

1A. Ever heard of the phase, “you’ve got to spend money to make money?” The same can be said for toning up and eating. You’ve got to eat to build lean muscle mass and lose fat. Eat five-eight times a day and include a protein and fat source with every meal. If you stop eating, your body holds on to all the fat it can and that’s no bueno. Need an example of a meal plan? Check out one of the OG posts of The Four Percent.

Healthy Fridge

1B. Track your food. You don’t have to be obsessive about it, but it is an eye opening process. I started tracking my food recently and was kind of shocked at how quickly snacking AND BOOZE add to your daily calorie count. You can eat clean all day, but have three glasses of wine with dinner and you’ve just unknowingly committed major diet sabotage.

1C. Don’t drink. HaI know, it sucks. As mentioned above, booze (even your beloved vodka soda, ladies) adds up so quickly. Limit it, save it for the weekend or cut it out entirely until you reach your goals. You’ll actually feel great, and that first glass of Sav B will taste so good when you return…so good. 

1D. Protein. Consume after you workout to feed your muscles. Whether it be a shake or a egg whites, get it in.

2. Workout

Duh. But not all workouts are created equal. To burn the most fat and build muscle quickly you’ve got to ditch the elliptical and the baby weights. Structure your workouts to include high intensity interval training 2 days per week, and heavy lifting three days per week. That’s right, limit your cardio. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn, this is science, trust. And, similar to HIIT cardio, weight training continues to utilize more calories post workout for recovery and lean muscle growth.  How do you build muscle? It’s not on the elliptical. It’s by lifting weight and pushing a bit of load.

Hard Pressed Chicago

3. Sleep

Do not underestimate the power of sleep. I used to sleep four hours a night to maximize the hours in my day and “fit everything in.” But what happened was a major crash and burn after about four+ years of such an action packed (reach chaotic) lifestyle. My workouts became lack luster and my motivation plummeted. Every trip to the gym was a constant struggle and a total drag. The only time your body recovers from your workouts is when you’re sleeping so get at least 6 hours, ideally 8, to get the most out of your time spent in the gym.

4. One Word: Pilates

I’ve started to incorporate pilates into my fitness regimen and am noticing major changes in my body. When I say change, I’m not just talking about the physical, but also in how I feel during my strength training and HIIT workouts  – stronger and more energized. Why? Bigger and stronger muscles over compensate for littler and weaker muscles. With Pilates, you strengthen smaller muscles that are used for stability and fix imbalances within the body. Once the foundation of your body is stronger you can run faster and lift heavier.


5. Don’t Think About It

A watched pot never boils, so if you’re analyzing your progress on the daily under a microscope you’re going to get frustrated very quickly. Set a plan, stick to it, and give yourself time to change. Anticipate setbacks, work around them and surround yourself with people who will support you. It takes approximately 3 months to see change in yourself with consistent action. Don’t think, just do.

Recommit, refocus, re-evaluate your goals and your current plan. You’ve got this.

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