A Men’s Guide To Physical Transformation: How To Get Lean.


This article for goldfish:

  • Get your body fat percentage somewhere within the 10 – 12% range, while building muscle mass, to get a lean physique (for men).
  • Our bodies are not particularly good at gaining muscles AND losing fat at the same time. That’s why it’s most effective to divide your efforts into two phases: the cutting phase and the bulking phase.
  • Adjust your workouts and diet accordingly and train a different muscle group each day.

This article for humans:

The internet is flooded with misleading advertisement promising you abs in just 21 days

Believe me, if it was that easy, everyone would be walking around with six-packs. Let’s have a look at the tried and proven method that actually works.

Big fat disclaimer: I am by no means a body building expert nor do I have a nutritionist / medical degree. I did a ton of research in the past year, talked with personal trainers and learned by trial and error. This article is meant to get you started, do your own research from there and see what works for you.

First of all, generally you don’t get abs by doing a shit ton of crunches. Most of you guys already have abs, but they’re hiding behind a snugly layer of body fat. No ab workout will make your abs pierce through that layer. In short, we have to get rid of that layer of fat. This is where your body fat percentage comes into play.

Get your body fat percentage somewhere within the 10 – 12% range and you’re lean (for women different fat percentages apply).

Measure your body.

Forget about BMI. 

Muscles are heavier than fat, and if you replace enough fat with muscle your BMI will actually start to go up. Focus on your weight to see how much muscle you are gaining. Focus on body fat percentage to indicate whether you are getting closer to your end goal.

The problem is that body fat percentage is hard to measure accurately. 

The results differ a lot from person to person, from one tool to another. I bought a digital weighing scale that does a decent job for me, but note it’s important to: 1. always use the same tool to track your progress; 2. compare the result with what you see in the mirror. Use the body fat examples on Athlean-X to estimate your body fat percentage, and see if it adds up with the results of whatever tool you decide to use. For your reference, this is me at 13% body fat.

Keep track of your weight and body fat percentage on a weekly basis.

Set body fat goals.

For males, a body fat percentage below 20% is considered healthy. Get below 14% and you’ll start to look lean. Your six-pack will start to show once you get below a body fat percentage of 12%. Decide whether you want to get lean, or ripped. Underneath the differences:

Lean (Body fat 10 – 12%).
You’ll look great on the beach and strong when wearing clothes. Sustainable.

Ripped / Shredded (Body fat < 10%). 
You’ll look great on the beach, but skinny when wearing clothes. You might feel weak in the gym.

Set your personal goal accordingly.

Cutting & Bulking.

When trying to get lean, you’ll want to gain muscles AND lose fat at the same time. 

Our bodies are not particularly good at this. If you’re serious about getting lean, you’ll have to start working out in two different phases:

Cutting phase – Your main goal is to lose body fat, while maintaining muscle mass as much as possible.

Bulking phase – Your main goal is to gain muscle mass, while gaining as little body fat as possible (often referred to as a ‘lean bulk’).

Before we’ll go into the actual plan, let me share how you can cut body fat and how to gain muscle mass.

Cutting: How to reduce body fat.

Personally, it takes me around a month to lose 2% of body fat when I am cutting. To achieve this, I eat half lunches and half dinners (more on diet below). I work out two times a day: one cardio workout and one strength workout

Although it’s different for each individual, you can expect to lose 1 – 3% of your body fat per month. Note that pushing too hard on fat loss can be unsustainable and harmful.

Muscles need time to recover. Train different muscle groups each day, so your muscles get time to rest while you can still work on a different group the next day.

The most effective way to lose body fat is cardio. The most popular cardio exercises are running and cycling, but any workout that gets the heart rate up for an extended period of time will work. Aim to burn as many calories as possible within a 30 – 45 minute timeframe. An effective way of doing this is to use High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).

Cardio exercises are generally not great to grow your muscles. This is where your second workout of the day comes in, which focuses on gaining (or at least maintaining) muscle mass. 

More on this in the next paragraph.

Bulking: How to gain muscle mass.

During the bulking phase, I eat a heavy breakfast, heavy lunch, heavy dinner and take an extra meal in between lunch and dinner. Professional bodybuilders often aim for 6 – 7 meals a day. You should expect to gain around 1 pound a week, when bulking.

In this phase I do little to no cardio exercises and work out once a day, focusing on gaining muscle mass.

Since your muscles need 1 – 2 days rest after a workout, it’s not sustainable to do a full-body workout every day. Focus on the three muscle groups and pick one for each day

The three muscle groups that work well together are:

  • Chest, Triceps, Shoulders.
  • Back / Lads, Biceps, Abs.
  • Legs / Calves, Glutes (ass).

Choose a nice variety of exercises for each muscle group and stick to it. 

Each workout should last for 45 – 60 minutes, depending on intensity. To prevent injuries, learn the proper form for each exercise. Start with some light weights and build it up from there. 

Eventually you’ll want to adjust the weights so that you can do three sets of 9 – 12 repetitions. The last 2 – 3 repetitions should be a struggle, without compromising good form.

Calories & Macros: Measure what you need to eat.

Getting lean is as much about working out, as it is about diet and sleep.

For the purpose of this article, I won’t go into depth when it comes to diet, but these three things will get you started:

  • Use a Calorie intake calculator to find out how many calories you are supposed to be eating. When cutting, you want a daily calorie deficiency (burn more than you eat). When bulking, you want a daily calorie surplus (eat more than you burn).
  • Use a Macronutrient calculator to find out what you are supposed to be eating, this will depend whether you are in the cutting or bulking phase. The tool will tell you how much proteins, carbs and fats you need to hit on a daily basis.
  • Use an app to track the calories and nutrients of everything you eat and drink.

If you’re like me and don’t want to fill in every food you’re eating all the time, track your nutrients for a week and adjust your diet to be more in line with your targets. You’ll learn a lot about your diet.

If needed, use supplements to make it easier to hit your targets (protein powder and creatine are popular), but keep in mind these supplements are not a replacement for food.

After a week of tracking, you’ll know approximately what you’ll need to eat going forward.

You can always get more into the nitty-gritty when you struggle to hit your goals.

The plan.

Ready to go? Let’s do this!

Phase 1: Initial cut.

If your body fat percentage is higher than 15%, I’d recommend you to start cutting body fat until you are below 15%. Aim for a healthy fat loss rate. Don’t go crazy, it’s not sustainable.

Phase 2: Small bulk, big cut, repeat.

Once your bodyfat percentage is below 15%, plan to alternate between small bulk phases and bigger cutting phases. Keep repeating this process until you hit your goal.

In my cutting phases, I aim for a 2% loss in body fat. This way, my cuts don’t take longer than 4 – 5 weeks. My personal plan looks somewhat like this:

Starting point: body fat percentage of 15.5%.
Goal: body fat percentage of 11%.

Cut until body fat percentage gets to 13% (-2.5%).
Bulk until body fat percentage gets to 14% (+1.0%).
Cut until body fat percentage gets to 12% (-2.0%).
Bulk until body fat percentage gets to 13% (+1.0%).
Cut until body fat percentage gets to 11% (-2.0%).

Phase 3: Bulk, cut, repeat.

In this phase you are trying to gain muscle mass while staying within a fixed range of body fat.

My plan would look something like this:

Bulk until body fat percentage gets to 13% (+2%).
Cut until body fat percentage gets to 11% (-2%).
Bulk until body fat percentage gets to 13% (+2%).
Cut until body fat percentage gets to 11% (-2%).

Update: Following this exact plan, I was able to reduce my body fat percentage from 15.5% to 11% within 10 months. After reaching my goal, I was hungry for more and pushed it to 10.6%. I noticed a loss of energy and strength I was not comfortable with and decided to keep swinging it between 11% to 13%. See what fat percentage works best for you!

Let’s go!

Make your own plan and stick to it. There are no shortcuts. 

This is how it’s done.

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About the author

Wesley van der Hoop

Dutchman living in The Bahamas. I get excited about digital marketing, writing, traveling, surfing and learning new things.

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