Illustration of a skinny guy's before and after results from doing a lean bulk.

How to Gain Less Fat While Bulking

One of the most common problems people have is that they bulk up, gain a bunch of fat, and finish looking out of shape instead of looking more muscular. They might have gained a fair amount of muscle mass and strength, but their progress is hidden by their rising body-fat percentage.

Most of us work out to build muscle, get stronger, improve our health, and improve our appearance. Bulking will certainly make us bigger and stronger, but if it comes at the cost of our health and appearance, is it really worth it?

Despite the protestations of your inner nihilist, yes, gaining both muscle and fat is probably still worth it. You can burn the fat while keeping the muscle and strength, becoming both leaner and more muscular by the end of it. It just means having to go through a period of fat loss. That’s a pain, but it’s still progress.

But wouldn’t it be nice to gain less fat while bulking? You’d finish your bulk looking great. You could spend longer building muscle before needing to trim off the fat. And you wouldn’t need to spend months cutting afterwards.

So in this article, we’ll talk about why some people gain a disproportionate amount of fat while bulking, and then go over a few strategies to increase your muscle growth and reduce your fat gain, allowing you to build more muscle more leanly.

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Illustration of a man doing a squat with a fast lifting tempo to build muscle faster.

Lifting Tempo: How Fast Should You Lift & Lower Weights to Build Muscle?

Lifting tempo is one of the more minor muscle-growth factors, not because it doesn’t matter, but because most people have a good intuition for it. Most people lift in the way that makes them stronger, and that’s also a pretty good way to lift for muscle growth. Still, there are ways that we can improve our lifting tempo, eking out a little bit more muscle growth with every repetition.

But there are also some trends that might hurt more than they help. For example, should we pause with the barbell on our chest when bench pressing? Should we drop the barbell down to the floor when deadlifting? Should we slow down our lifts to get a better mind-muscle connection?

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Illustration of a man working out his biceps.

How Often Should You Work Out Per Week to Build Muscle?

If you want to build muscle quickly, you need to work out often enough to keep your muscles growing all week long. There are two key questions we need to answer:

  • How often should you train your muscles?
  • How many days per week should you work out?

If you do a full-body workout 3 times per week, you train each muscle 3 times per week. However, if you use a 6-day workout split, dividing your body up into 6 different areas, you may only be training each muscle once per week. That means it’s possible to work out more often while training your muscles less often, or vice versa.

First, we need to determine how often you should train each muscle. Then we can talk about the best way to schedule your workout routine so that you’re working each muscle hard enough, often enough.

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Illustration showing a man doing a lat pulldown.

Lat Pulldown Alternatives: How to Train Your Lats With Free Weights

One of the most common questions we get is how to do lat pulldowns without a lat pulldown machine. People are training at home with either a barbell or dumbbells, and they aren’t sure how to replace the lat pulldown exercise with free weights. And, the truth is, there’s no perfect replacement for it. We need to replace it with a similar exercise, not an identical one.

The movement that best mimics the overhand lat pulldown is the pull-up, and that’s great for people who have a pull-up bar and are strong enough to do them, but even then, it can still create problems. Lat pulldowns are often programmed in moderate rep ranges of 8–15 reps, but it takes quite a lot of upper-body strength to bust out that many pull-ups, especially when trying to use a full range of motion, bringing our chests all the way up to the bar. Plus, lat pulldowns are often programmed after heavy sets of chin-ups and pull-ups.

So what’s the best free-weight alternative to the lat pulldown?

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Illustration showing a man gaining muscle while losing weight.

Body Recomposition Supplements That Burn Fat & Build Muscle

There are a few supplements that are good for both building muscle and losing fat, making them perfect for body recomposition. They all fall into one of three categories:

  1. Protein Supplements. Eating enough protein helps us gain or maintain muscle mass while burning fat. A good example is whey protein.
  2. Muscle-Building Supplements. Supplements that increase our rate of muscle growth, improve our hormones, or help us manage our stress can shuttle nutrients toward muscle growth instead of fat storage, making us stronger and leaner. The best example is creatine.
  3. Ergogenic supplements. If a supplement gives us the energy to move more, be more consistent with our workouts, or push ourselves harder while working out, then it can help us burn more calories and stimulate more muscle growth. The best example is caffeine.

Let’s go into each of those three categories in more detail.

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Illustration of a man doing the GreySkull LP program for mass gain.

GreySkull LP: Is It Good for Gaining Muscle Mass?

GreySkull LP (GSLP) is a powerbuilding program designed to help beginners get bigger and stronger. It’s one of the more popular programs in the strength training community, and it’s often recommended to people who are interested in building muscle.

What’s interesting about GreySkull LP is that it’s a modern evolution of programs like Starting Strength, StrongLifts 5×5, and 5/3/1. It has that same foundation of heavy strength training, but it goes beyond that, adding in a couple simple changes that make it more robust.

So, is GreySkull LP any good at helping beginners gain muscle mass?

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Illustration showing a man with a stubborn, lagging chest.

How to Grow Stubborn Muscles

How do you know if a muscle is stubborn? Much of the time, when someone thinks they have a stubborn muscle, it isn’t actually stubborn, they just aren’t training it properly. Sometimes growing stubborn muscles is as simple as following a better workout routine or choosing better lifts.

But our muscle-building genetics can vary from muscle to muscle, and most people have some muscles that are truly stubborn. So just because you’re building muscle overall, that doesn’t necessarily mean that all of your muscles will grow at the same speed. It doesn’t even mean that all of your muscles will grow at all. You may leave some in the dust. Why is that?

And how can we grow those lagging muscles? Fortunately, there are five fairly simple methods that tend to work quite well at bringing up lagging muscle groups.

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Illustration showing Starting Strength facing off versus Stronglifts 5x5

Starting Strength vs StrongLifts 5×5: What’s the Difference?

What’s the difference between Starting Strength and StrongLifts 5×5? Which workout program is better for beginners, which is better for building muscle, and which is better overall?

There are a few key differences between Starting Strength and StrongLifts. The first is the volume. Starting Strength uses 3 sets of 5 repetitions (3×5) as its main set and rep scheme, whereas StrongLifts uses 5 sets of 5 repetitions (5×5), giving it a much higher training volume. In theory, that should make it better for building muscle, but does it?

Another difference is that Starting Strength uses power cleans to develop power, whereas StrongLifts uses barbell rows to build the back. Again, this seems to favour StrongLifts for building muscle, especially in the upper body, but is that true?

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Illustration of a man doing a low-bar barbell back squat.

Review of StrongLifts 5×5 for Building Muscle

One of the most common questions we get is whether StrongLifts 5×5 is good for building muscle. More often than not, the question is coming from a skinny guy who’s new to lifting weights and is just getting started with barbell training. Is StrongLifts a good workout routine for a beginner who’s trying to get bigger and stronger?

The other people asking us about StrongLifts are often intermediate lifters who are seeing impressive increases in their squat strength, but they’re concerned that their bench press is lagging behind, and they’re worried that their upper bodies aren’t growing at the same pace as their hips and thighs. Why is that?

Finally, StrongLifts claims that doing low-rep sets on certain compound lifts builds bigger, denser, stronger muscles than all other training methods. Is there any truth to that? Is StrongLifts the best way to build muscles that are big and strong and hard?

Now, just to be perfectly upfront: this article is pedantic. If you get stronger at the big barbell lifts, eat enough protein to build muscle, and eat enough calories to gain weight, you will indeed grow bigger and stronger. The main principles that lay the foundation of StrongLifts are good ones. But how good are those 5×5 workouts for building muscle?

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Illustration of a man doing the close-grip bench press

The Close-Grip Bench Press Guide

The close-grip bench press is an assistance lift for the bench press done with a narrower grip. This narrower grip shifts emphasis away from your chest and onto your upper chest, shoulders, and triceps. It’s most commonly used by powerlifters to help them build a bigger 1-rep max on the bench press, but it can be quite good for gaining muscle size, too.

So, when and why should you do the close-grip bench press?

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