Lean Muscle vs Bulky Muscle: What’s the Difference? - The Diet Authority (2023)

A lot of people wonder what's the difference between lean muscle vs bulky muscle, especially since they both pertain to the same thing. Depending on your personal fitness goals, you may prefer one over the other due to their appearance or how they are achieved.

Bulking and getting lean muscle are indeed two different things that require two different styles of working out. If you’re looking for a slimmer yet cut appearance, you’ll be interested in lean muscle, whereas if you want a larger, more bodybuilder type aesthetic, you should bulk up.

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What Is Lean Muscle?

When you look at lean vs. bulky muscle, it’s important to remember that on the inside, they are nearly the same thing. There aren’t different types of tissues, but there are various ways that you can achieve them. When looking to have leaner muscle or toned body, you'll focus on a strict workout and diet regimen.

On average, the main goal of anyone interested in building lean muscle is to tone their bodies without adding any fat. Lean muscle typically refers to a tissue that doesn’t have a lot of fat in it or around it so that you have a more rock-solid appearance. With that said, many professionals state that “lean muscle” is a misnomer, as most muscle doesn’t have fat in it anyway.

How to Achieve Lean Muscle

Now that you have a clear idea of what lean muscle is and what it looks like, let’s get into the various ways you can start working towards a healthier you. With the right diet and exercise regime, you can build sleek muscles that contribute to your strength and appearance without being too over the top.

Tip #1: Do Low Resistance Exercises

The central premise behind some lean muscle is that it builds over time, allowing your body to improve its overall strength. This point means you can prepare yourself for a lot of repetitive low resistance exercises, which can help to reduce the amount of fat on your body. You will also want to consider spending more time doing cardio to help cut away the fat. Visual Impact Fitness is one such program that focuses on building lean muscle.

Once you have reduced your total amount of fat, your muscles will be front and center for everyone to see. However, you need to continue working out to maintain your toned appearance. The main goal of this process is to keep fat off the body; your muscles will then be able to do all of the necessary work.

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Tip #2: Establish a Diet

As mentioned, the less fat your body has, the leaner you’ll look, and so you’ll need to establish a healthy diet to stay on while you’re achieving your fitness goals. Some professional trainers recommend you consume small meals every three hours that include fresh vegetables, non-fat protein sources, and a complex carbohydrate.

The most important thing you’ll need to do is stay away from fatty and sugary foods, as it will give your body fake energy that will become your fat reserves. Stick to whole foods that come as close to their natural state as possible, so you aren’t dealing with artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives.

Tip #3: Find Healthy Protein Sources

Your muscles need protein just as much as the human body requires water to survive. When you work out, there will be small tears in your muscles that require protein to heal. As the tissues recover, they then become stronger and more significant over time.

Without protein, you’ll prevent your muscles from getting the one nutrient they need to become stronger after being broken down. That said, you won’t want to settle for any old source of protein, especially when you’re on a diet designed to cut back on fat. Some of our favorite healthy protein sources include fish, beans, eggs, and chicken.

Other good sources of protein can be found in protein powders. Here's our review of MYPROTEIN Impact Whey Protein Powder.

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Tip #4: Know Your Body Type

Since strength training is a process that occurs over time, you can bet you will not see immediate results of your workouts until you trim away all of your fat. It’s vital that you establish realistic goals your body can achieve, so you aren’t left disappointed.

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Did you know that humans can be categorized in three ways when it comes to musculature? Here they are:

  • Ectomorphs: Individuals classified as ectomorphs have a naturally skinny appearance coupled with small muscles and smaller frames. You’ll find they eat a lot of food but have incredibly fast metabolisms that make it difficult for them to gain muscle and fat. Typically referred to as “hard gainers,” ectomorphs can look toned easier than they can bulk up.
  • Endomorphs: As the complete opposite of ectomorphs, endomorphs are known to have particularly large frames and find it very easy to add muscle to their bodies. They also have slow metabolisms, which makes it simpler for them to add weight from fat. Bulking is particularly easy for endomorphs, whereas toning is far more complicated.
  • Mesomorphs: Perfectly in the middle, mesomorphs have broad shoulders, small waists, and an athletic body type. You might think that someone with a mesomorph body works out when, in reality, they’re naturally built that way. Losing fat is a breeze as is putting on muscle, which makes bulking and toning simpler.

What Is Bulky Muscle?

The best way to describe bulky muscle is to think of a famous bodybuilder and how their muscles are large, swollen, and add mass to their overall appearance. It’s a desirable aesthetic for many people, especially those who want to look and feel stronger without having to flex consistently. Compared to lean muscle, people can easily see that you have a lot of vast bulk on your body.

How to Achieve Bulky Muscle

As mentioned, there are several ways you can experience bulking, also known as hypertrophy, which makes it a little more versatile than toning. By focusing primarily on your exercising, you should see a substantial difference in your muscles over time. Multiple factors can affect your bulking such as sleep quality, stress levels, and protein intake.

Tip #1: Do Heavy Weight Low Rep Workouts

Unlike toning, where you should be completing low resistance exercises for more extended sets, bulking is the complete opposite. Instead, you will focus on heavier weights with lower reps, also known as overloading. You would need to get to the place where your muscles are working harder than they ever have.

As you get stronger, you’ll be able to add more and more weight to your exercises. Most people looking to bulk will lift weights so heavy that they can only do four to five reps before reaching failure. There are also plenty of gym enthusiasts who work out under the belief that six sets that isolate the same muscle group are sufficient processes for bulking.

Tip #2: Create Split Routines

Since you’ll surely put a lot of effort into working on your isolated muscle groups, you must spend your time developing a split routine. This event happens when you only work on specific muscles on certain days. Although the premise behind bulking is to work your muscles to their maximum, you don’t want to risk an injury that will impede your progress.

Similar to toning, your muscles will need time to rest, which is why split routines are a fantastic idea. That is, work on your chest one day and your biceps another day to see the best results in the safest manner possible.

Tip #3: Develop a Diet

No matter how you slice it, working out requires a diet that accommodates the type of activity you are doing and the goals you want to achieve. For bulking, your body would need more calories that can turn into fat. The fat will help to improve the largeness of your muscles so that they have a more swollen appearance.

First, you’ll want to calculate your caloric maintenance level, and then you should increase the number of calories you need to eat daily. You should also eat well above the amount your body needs to stay the same weight. Also, you would need to pay a lot of attention to the amount of protein you ingest.

For the average person looking to bulk, you should consume at least 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of your body weight. This is why a lot of people trying to achieve this body type spend their time consuming pre- and post-workout shakes. As a natural source of protein, these beverages can push you over your threshold, so your muscles have more than enough nutrients to repair and bulk.

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Tip #4: Consider Cardio

For a few body types, implementing cardio into your bulking routine will prove to be fruitless, especially if you are an ectomorph. It’s not the best idea because you can lower your gains by burning a lot of the calories your body needs to get bigger.

That said, if you’re someone who is overweight and needs to slim down before bulking, cardio is a great option. It’s also important to remember that not every cardio exercise is the same. For example, choosing cycling instead of running will have less of a negative impact on resistance training.

Lean Muscle vs Bulky Muscle: What’s the Difference? - The Diet Authority (1)

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Tip #5: Consume Creatine

Aside from protein powder products, another great supplement to have at your disposal is creatine. You’ll find that its formula gives your muscles the ability to retain more water, which helps them to look and feel larger. Creatine also contains IGF-1, which is a hormone required for muscle growth.

There are plenty of bodybuilders who suggest the vast majority of supplements are useless when it comes to bulking. But you should surely invest in pure creatine and high-quality protein powder to use before and after your workouts.

Tip #6: Get Enough Sleep

If there’s one thing that cannot be stressed enough, it’s that you need a lot of sleep to produce better and healthier muscles. Your body uses the time you are asleep to heal and recover, especially after a strenuous workout.

By limiting the number of hours you rest nightly, you’ll be significantly impeding your workout goals. Someone who has an inadequate sleeping schedule where they are deprived of rest will have a slower anabolic hormone release.

Your body produces essential hormones for muscle growth when you’re at rest, including IGF-1 and testosterone. The less sleep you have, the less likely you’ll be able to get the right amount of bulking you’ve always desired.

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Did you know that sleep can also affect the way you want to eat during the day?

Two other hormones affected by your rest are ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin is responsible for increasing your appetite, while leptin is responsible for making you feel full. When these hormones aren’t at their average levels, you’ll be craving unhealthier things instead of focusing on your diet that should help add muscle mass.

Tip #7: Focus on the Right Exercises

There’s a good reason people pay personal trainers when they want to transform the way their body looks. When you have the goal of bulking, there are specific exercises you’ll need to focus on for taking care of isolated muscle groups. With a trainer, you’ll have a specialized program designed to help you reach your goal faster and safer than when you do it on your own.

A few of the most important exercises you’ll want to use to your advantage include:

  • Overhead presses
  • Pull-ups
  • Push-ups
  • Dips
  • Bench presses
  • Deadlifts
  • Squats
  • Body rows
  • Planks
  • Weighted chin-ups and dips

Lean Muscle vs Bulky Muscle: Final Thoughts

Even though both lean and bulky muscles come from the same parts of the body, they are different in how they look and how they are gained. People interested in having a body with less fat and a more cut appearance should focus on lean muscle. On the contrary, individuals interested in the quintessential bodybuilder aesthetic will need to bulk.

By managing your diet and implementing new exercises into your routine, you’ll be well on your way to your fitness goals in no time. Not to mention, you’ll also have a clearer idea of the differences between lean muscle vs bulky muscle.

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What is the difference between lean muscle and bulky muscle? ›

The difference mainly lies in the fat content around the muscle. When you compare lean vs bulk, the former contains less fat around the muscle tissue. So, the body looks slimmer and the muscles seem rock-solid. On the other hand, bulk muscles add to the overall body mass, giving you a bigger appearance.

Is it healthier to be lean or bulky? ›

From the two illustrations, lean muscle is the healthier option in the long run because it is easier to stick to a routine that offers flexibility and is also a much more natural way to stay fit and workout.

How do I change from bulky to lean muscle? ›

For example, these people may: feel that their muscles are giving them a 'bulky' look.
How to lose muscle in your arms and legs
  1. lift to failure.
  2. increase the number of reps.
  3. increase the speed of your lifting.
  4. reduce rest time between sets.
  5. eat a high calorie, high protein diet.
24 Jun 2020

How do I get lean muscles instead of bulky? ›

Do more with less – adopt a routine of more reps with lighter weights. You don't need to work with very heavy weights to develop lean, toned muscle. For example, two sets of bicep curls with a 5 or 8 pound weight will help you tone without bulking up.

Why is it better to lean than bulky? ›

Whether you would rather be lean or bulky is entirely up to you and may well depend on how you want your body to perform. A bulky frame will allow you to lift heavier and be stronger, while a lean body is built more for speed and endurance.

Why are bodybuilders so bulky? ›

With shorter but more intense workouts and more time for recuperation, they don't overtrain, but give the muscles more time to rest and grow. The result is bodybuilders who are able to achieve their genetic potential for developing maximum lean body mass and shape.

Does protein make you lean or bulky? ›

This is because protein does indeed help increase your muscle mass, so many take it in a supplementary fashion, but protein alone will not make you bulk, and won't give you a bulky body. Myth = busted!


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