The Blueprint To Gain Lean Muscle

With the seemingly infinite variables required for program design, identifying the optimal framework can be daunting.

Complicating this process is the conflicting methodologies between two of the most sought after fitness goals: Gaining muscle while losing body fat.

We hope to shed some light on this elusive pursuit with a detailed framework from which you can simultaneously achieve a muscular and shredded physique.

Before we dive in, let’s make one thing perfectly clear: there is no magic formula to transform your body. Any significant changes require an investment of time, effort and commitment.  The aesthetic physiques you see populating your Instagram feed did not happen overnight – even with supplemental assistance – but rather reflect a lifestyle that supports such a dynamic process.

The most significant driver of success (in any pursuit, physique or otherwise) is consistency in deliberate effort.   The scientific nuances of exercise protocols mean nothing if you can’t maintain the framework they imply.  Here are a few things you want to consider in order to dramatically enhance the efficacy of your program:

The Blueprint To Gain Lean Muscle


1. WHAT specifically am I trying to achieve (visualize and articulate your mission)?
2. WHY is this transformation important to me (how does it impact/improve your life)?
3. Am I WILLING to make significant lifestyle “sacrifices” to realize this goal?


1. What are the measurable outcomes to track progression (strength, volume, physique measurements, etc)?

Regardless of the end goal, in our experience performance (strength, speed, endurance, etc.) measures are the most efficacious at motivating and fueling progressive workout programming.

2. Is the program designed in a way that measurably propels me toward my goal?
3. Does this regiment serve a foundation for progressive training into the future?

Taking a minute to answer these questions, regardless of the paradigm being considered, will place you light years ahead of those who have been cycling through the latest fitness trends since spandex and ankle warmers.

The reality is, the question isn’t WHAT works – it’s HOW you make it work for you.

There are several variables to consider when manipulating your program. I would encourage you to select one or two at most, as the idea is to incorporate variety without sacrificing your ability to track and monitor adaptation.   Understand the purpose of isolating variables is to ensure our ability to identify optimal drivers of physiologic change.   Some components worth considering in the order I’ve found to be most effective:

Volume: Work load (sets x reps x load), training frequency (days and/or specific lifts)
Intensity: Perceived effort, load, pace (rest intervals)
• Density: (Amount of volume in given period of time, in workout or across a week)
Variety: (i.e. different planes of movement)
• Tempo/Cadence: Time Under Tension (not the only way to impact TUT)
• Technical Variation: (Isometric, dropsets, supersets)


This diversity in variables enables us to select appropriately within the context of your aspirational goals and training preferences. Let’s establish some hypothetical context, assuming we’re discussing ways to optimize “Lean Gains” without any direct performance-based goals.

There are three types of training to consider:

1. Physical: Strength, Power, Hypertrophy, etc.
2. Metabolic: Hypertrophy, Energy Expenditure, etc.
3. Skill Specific: Performance Based, Technique Focused

Considering our goal is to develop muscle size while maintaining a lean physique. our focus will be primarily on the first two types of training.   Both offer attributes consistent with our desired outcome.   At first glance, some might not see the direct value of “Strength” training in hypertrophic and physique development.   It would require an entire article to explain these benefits sufficiently, perhaps we will in subsequent posts, but for now we’ll keep it straight forward.   Improved strength positively impacts our capacity for mechanical tension and progressive overload.   In other words, as we get stronger, we’re capable of lifting heavier weight for more repetitions, resulting in increasing levels of volume (sets x reps x load), that may otherwise be unattainable.  This is critical to sustained development in a natural physiologic environment.   Having said that, since we’re not planning on entering the next powerlifting meet – the purely strength training portion of our weekly split will be reflective of an aesthetic goal – with an emphasis on metabolic and high-volume methods instead.


In order to leverage the benefits proposed by each of these variables and training “types” we will utilize an Undulating Weekly Split, collectively eliciting the systemic response of heavy training while optimizing characteristics of hypertrophy.   Intuitively, one should consider lagging body parts that need the most work in order to adequately incorporate them with sufficient frequency.   Remember, volume will be the biggest driver of progress, so plan accordingly.

Here’s a specific example:

Gender: Male or Female (equally appropriate for either)
Goals : 1) Muscular Development,  2) Lose Body Fat
Lagging Body Parts :  1) Back,  2) Arms,  3) Legs


Assume mobility work and warm-up before every workout

MONDAY: Full Body Strength

Barbell Squat 5 sets x 4 – 6 reps
Barbell Bench Press 5 sets x 4 – 6 reps
Deadlift 5 sets x 4 – 6 reps
Military Press 5 sets x 4 – 6 reps

TUESDAY:  Back / Triceps Hypertrophy

Superset 1
Barbell Bent Over Row 4 sets x 8 – 12 reps
Dips 4 sets x 12 reps

Superset 2
T-Bar Row 4 sets x 10 – 12 reps
Barbell Skull Crushers 4 sets x 10 – 12 reps

Superset 3
Neutral Grip Cable Row 4 sets x 10 – 12 reps
Cable Lat Pullover 4 sets x 12 – 15 reps

Superset 4
Wide Grip Lat Pulldown (see video) 4 sets x 12 reps
Straight Bar Triceps Extension 4 sets x 12 reps

EXERCISE DEMO: Wide Grip Lat Pulldown


HIIT must be performed all out, at maximum effort for 6-8 “reps”

(Pick one of the following options)
Sled Pushes, Sprints/Stairs, Full-Body Circuit Training

THURSDAY:  Shoulders/Biceps Hypertrophy

Superset 1
Dumbbell Shoulder Press 4 sets x 8 – 12 reps
Barbell Biceps Curl 4 sets x 8 – 12 reps

Superset 2
Dumbbell Front Raise/Dumbbell Wide Front Raise/Dumbbell Lateral Raise (I, Y, Ts) 4 sets x 10 reps each
Wide–Grip High Pronated Cable Row* 4 sets x 12 reps

*keep high elbows, focus on posterior deltoids

Perform all 3 exercises as a circuit with no rest between exercises. Rest after completing the circuit.

Barbell Upright Row 4 sets x 8 – 12 reps
Reverse Dumbbell Flye 4 sets x 8 – 12 reps
Preacher Curl 4 sets x 6/10 (drop set)

EXERCISE DEMO: Dumbbell Wide Front Raise (Y)

FRIDAY: Legs Hypertrophy

Superset 1
Barbell Squat 4 sets x 12 reps
Standing Calf Raise 4 sets x 30 reps
Barbell Lunge 4 sets x 12 reps (each side)

Superset 2
Close Stance Hack Squat 4 sets x 12 reps
Seated Calf Raise 4 sets x 20 reps

Superset 3
Lying Hamstring Curl 4 sets x 8/15 dropset
Leg Extension 4 sets x 8/15 dropset

EXERCISE DEMO: Close Stance Hack Squat

SATURDAY: Chest/Back Hypertrophy

Superset 1
Dumbbell Incline Chest Press (drop set) 4 sets x 8/15
Dumbbell Incline Row (drop set) 4 sets x 8/20

Superset 2
Dumbbell Flat Chest Press 4 sets x 12 (4 second eccentric tempo)
Reverse Grip Barbell Bent Over Row 4 sets x 20 reps

Superset 3
Decline Cable Flye 4 sets x 12 reps
Reverse Cable Flye 4 sets x 20 reps

Superset 4
Pushup 4 sets x MMF (momentary muscular failure)
Pull-Up 4 sets x MMF

EXERCISE DEMO: Decline Cable Flye

SUNDAY: Biceps/Triceps Hypertrophy [Optional Day]

Superset 1
3-Grip Grip Dumbbell Curl 4 sets x 10 reps each
Skull Crusher/Close Grip Press 4 sets x 15 reps each

Superset 2
Incline Dumbbell Curl 4 sets x 8/20 dropset
Behind The Back Dip 4 sets x 20 reps

Superset 3
E-Z Bar Preacher Curl (drop set) 4 sets x 8/20
Overhead Triceps Extension (drop set) 4 sets x 8/20

EXERCISE DEMO: 3-Grip Dumbbell Curl

EXERCISE DEMO: Behind The Back Dip


This is a hypothetical framework, although it’s utility would be appropriate across a variety of goals. Give it a shot but don’t be afraid to make minor modifications according to your specific needs, assuming you keep the fundamental components consistent with what’s prescribed above.

For added variability, every two weeks (Micro-Cycle) simply rearrange the order of exercises within each workout or slightly adjust force angles. This is merely to keep things fresh and ensure you’re not getting too comfortable. Even with this undulating approach we can still utilize a linear periodization strategy over the length of the training block, meaning every 4 weeks you can change the respective repetition schemes. For instance, after implementing this program for 4 weeks I would make the following changes:

• Strength Day: 6 sets x 3 reps (INCREASE LOAD)
• Hypertrophy Days: 4 sets x 15 reps (perhaps up to 20 in the following cycle) (TRY TO MAINTAIN LOAD, same load for more reps = increase volume)

Moving volume markers in seemingly opposing directions should enable us to capture adaptation at both ends of the spectrum and optimize the path toward reaching our goals.  If you are looking to speed up the “fat loss” effect of the program, simply adjust the HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) sessions weekly. Start with marginal increases in either intensity or frequency to capture a physiologic effect with the minimum stimulus required. Sometimes the biggest challenge is having the courage to do less.   The goal of optimal should be secondary to the probability of sustainable.

Lastly – anyone reading this article should understand the importance of nutrition in any physique transformation. Its omission in this article is not reflective of it’s importance, but rather suggestive of the complexity it implies.   We will to address this and other components in subsequent posts, ultimately leading you on your journey to get One Percent Better every day in every way.

Always remember, “every champion was a contender who refused to give up”.

Evan Shy

Evan Shy is an Optimum Nutrition Sponsored Athlete, National Physique Competitor and owner of ShyTown Fitness, Inc. Currently a MS student at University of Illinois Urbana Champaign studying Exercise Physiology prior to his candidacy for a PhD. Beyond studies, Evan has been leading his team of highly specialized trainers and physical therapists in global interactions with clients from the company's founding in 2010. His team leverages a unique approach by taking advantage of their collective expertise in all programming requirements, focusing primarily on nutrition and training paradigms for athletes, or anyone aspiring to be their best self.

Find out more about Evan at the links below:

Facebook: Evan Shy
Instagram: @evanshy
Twitter: @evanshy