Workout Routines

The Best Workout Routine to Build Lean Mass

Get jacked and cut with this lean muscle-building four-week workout plan.

Man Exercising With Dumbbells
svetikd/ Getty Images
svetikd/ Getty Images
Duration 3 days
Exercises 67
Equipment Yes

Gain muscle or get lean? It’s an age-old conundrum that plagues physique-builders the world over. To those looking for both it can often feel like the Judgment of Solomon—an agonizing choice that inevitably leads to an all-or-nothing scenario. However, there is a way, but it ain’t easy. yet if you’re willing to put in the effort, lean mass can be yours. The question is: Are you willing—and ready?

The Lean Mass-15 routine is a four-week plan that features a number of advanced training principles designed not just to build muscle, but increase cardio function and burn fat as well. That’s because, with its intense pacing and active rest periods, it’s partly a HIIT cardio routine—just one that also builds muscle.

Because of its intensity, this is not the type of routine you’ll want to follow for more than four consecutive weeks. A better strategy is to substitute it for your regular routine every four weeks, to give your body a chance to recuperate from this program, and because we always advocate switching things up on a regular basis. The body is always adapting to stress placed upon it (that’s exactly what’s going on with muscle growth), so when it begins to get used to LM-15, you’ll shock it with a new routine, and then go back again.

For the next four weeks, you’ll be moving a lot and resting little. Most of the rest periods, in fact, are active, which means about 95% of the 75 minutes you’ll spend in the gym each day will have you in motion. We understand a lot of guys find it hard to carve out 75 minutes for training, while others can manage 90 minutes or more. Don’t worry—this program packs maximum volume into minimum time for a workout that is as effcient as it is productive, and you can adjust the timing of it by slowing down or speeding up the pace. You’ll just need to adjust the weights used.

One other word about this routine: It is designed to elicit muscle hypertrophy, not necessarily strength, although increased strength is a natural by-product of any kind of resistance training. However, while it’s been said that a stronger muscle is a bigger muscle—and there is a general truth to this statement—it needs to be taken in proper context. A well-trained muscle is always going to be stronger and bigger than an untrained one, and it’s pretty safe to say that a guy who can squat 405 for 10 reps is going to have bigger quads than one whose 10-rep max is 135. But when it comes to volumizing muscles, heavier isn’t always better. Case in point: Ed Coan is arguably the strongest man, pound-for-pound, who ever lived. Standing 5'6" at a bodyweight of around 220lbs, Coan squatted 1,019lbs, benched 584, pulled a 901 deadlift, and has held more than 70 world records. Yet while Coan is impressively thick, he’s never carried anywhere near the lean muscle mass of pro bodybuilders of similar height—guys like Dexter Jackson, Branch Warren, Shawn Ray, and Lee Labrada, who, alternately, couldn’t have come near a 1,000-lb squat on their best days. So don’t worry if you’re not turning heads in the gym with the weights you’re using here; you’ll turn them on the beach. Just remember: If you’ve got time to talk to your buddy about sports while doing the LM-15, you’re doing something wrong.

The Lean Mass-15 routine divides body-part training over three days. Day 1 focuses on back, biceps, and forearms. Day 2 is chest and triceps. Day 3 is thighs and shoulders, with abs done every workout and calves on Days 2 and 3. The split is 3 days on, 1 day off/2 days on, 1 day off—an old-school standard for an average of five training days out of every seven. You’ll note the deliberate use of the word focuses above, as opposed to “is devoted to,” because while each training day has its featured body parts, you’ll also reinforce the previous day’s emphasis and prime for the next workout with light “pumping” sets for the body parts you’re not targeting that day. Studies show that training a body part on consecutive days can lead to greater muscle growth, while working antagonistic muscle groups together elicits a stronger contraction from each. A win-win!

Generally speaking, the set-rep scheme for this routine follows a traditional pyramid format, in which weights increase while reps decrease over the course of each exercise. That being said, the rep range varies quite a bit, but on the whole is probably a little higher than you’re used to doing. In my personal experience, higher reps lead to denser, more detailed muscles, not to mention greater overall physical endurance.

The time between working sets is something often referred to as “active rest”. In other words, you’ll work through the set breaks, but at a lower level of intensity. Each active rest period will last for as long as it takes you to complete 15 reps of the ancillary exercise paired up with the primary exercise you’re performing. So, for example, after you finish a set of pulldowns you’ll pick up a pair of light dumbbells and knock out 15 reps of lateral raises at a leisurely pace, and an emphasis on deep breathing. The main goal here is to stay active until your lats have sufficiently recuperated for your next set. And even though you’re going to use a much lighter weight than you do on shoulders day (around 10-lb dumbbells are enough to do the trick), they’ll get a pump, helping accelerate recovery from your last shoulders workout while also stimulating some new growth. After you’ve completed 15 reps of the ancillary exercises, take a few deep breaths, prep mentally for the next move, and then get back to it. Notice that there is always one less active rest set than working set: You don’t need to do an active rest set after the final set of an exercise. That’s the time when you’re moving on to the next exercise.

While this routine’s theme is constant movement, it’s not meant to be frenetic. You don’t want to deplete your oxygen to a point where you’re on the verge of passing out—that’s not going to help you lift with any kind of authority. So, keep the rest active, but also make sure you’re ready to give it your all on each and every working set.

Now head to the gym to put the Lean Mass-15 routine to the test. if you’re currently doing cardio, you’ll probably want to cut it back. Also, be sure to stay well-hydrated through the workout, as you’ll definitely be sweating more than usual. We’ve also included a handy supplement recommendation list, to help power your way through the workouts and support muscle growth.

Day 1

Exercise 1A

Medium-Grip Pulldown
exercise image placeholder
5 sets
20, 17, 14, 11, 8 reps
-- rest

Exercise 1B

Seated Lateral Raise You'll need: Dumbbells, Bench How to
Seated Lateral Raise thumbnail
4 sets
15 reps
-- rest

Exercise 2A

Seated Cable Row You'll need: Adjustable Cable Machine, V-Handle Attachment How to
Seated Cable Row thumbnail
4 sets
16, 14, 12, 10 reps
-- rest

Exercise 2B

General Pushup You'll need: No Equipment How to
Pushup thumbnail
3 sets
15 reps
-- rest

Exercise 3

Dumbbell Row You'll need: Dumbbells How to
Dumbbell Row thumbnail
4 sets
14,12,10 reps
-- rest

Exercise 4

Warrior Fit Incline Dumbbell Bench Press You'll need: Bench, Dumbbells How to
Incline Dumbbell Bench Press thumbnail
3 sets
15 reps
-- rest

Exercise 5A

Cross-Bench Dumbbell Pullover
exercise image placeholder
4 sets
12 reps
-- rest

Exercise 5B

General Pushup You'll need: No Equipment How to
Pushup thumbnail
3 sets
15 reps
-- rest

Exercise 6

Static Back Extension You'll need: Roman Chair How to
Static Back Extension thumbnail
4 sets
15-20 reps
-- rest

Exercise 7A

Standing EZ-Bar Biceps Curl You'll need: EZ-Bar How to
Standing EZ-Bar Biceps Curl thumbnail
3 sets
20,16,12 reps
-- rest

Exercise 7B

Bench Dip You'll need: Bench How to
Bench Dip thumbnail
2 sets
15 reps
-- rest

Exercise 8A

Barbell Spider Curl
exercise image placeholder
3 sets
14,12,10 reps
-- rest

Exercise 8B

Narrow Knuckle Pushup
exercise image placeholder
2 sets
15 reps
-- rest

Exercise 9

Reverse Cable Curl
exercise image placeholder
3 sets
15 reps
-- rest

Exercise 10

Pushdown You'll need: Adjustable Cable Machine How to
triceps pushdown thumbnail
2 sets
15 reps
-- rest

Exercise 11

Standing EZ-Bar Biceps Curl You'll need: EZ-Bar How to
Standing EZ-Bar Biceps Curl thumbnail
1 sets
REST-PAUSE TO 35 reps
-- rest

Day 2

Exercise 1

Suspended Dip You'll need: Dip Station How to
Suspended Dip thumbnail
4 sets
To Failure reps
-- rest

Exercise 2

Dip Bar Inverted Rows/TRX Row
exercise image placeholder
3 sets
15 reps
-- rest

Exercise 3

Warrior Fit Incline Dumbbell Bench Press You'll need: Bench, Dumbbells How to
Incline Dumbbell Bench Press thumbnail
4 sets
14, 12, 10, 8 reps
-- rest

Exercise 4

Supported Dumbbell Row
exercise image placeholder
3 sets
15 reps
-- rest

Exercise 5

Dumbbell Bench Press You'll need: Bench, Dumbbells How to
Dumbbell Bench Press thumbnail
3 sets
14, 12, 10 reps
-- rest

Exercise 6

Dumbbell Lateral Raise You'll need: Dumbbells How to
Dumbbell Lateral Raise thumbnail
2 sets
15 reps
-- rest

Exercise 7

Pec Deck
exercise image placeholder
3 sets
15 reps
-- rest

Exercise 8

Reverse Pec Deck
exercise image placeholder
2 sets
15 reps
-- rest

Exercise 9

Incline Pushup You'll need: Box How to
Incline Pushup thumbnail
1 sets
REST-PAUSE TO 50 reps
-- rest

Exercise 10

Pushdown You'll need: Adjustable Cable Machine How to
triceps pushdown thumbnail
3 sets
20, 16, 12 reps
-- rest

Exercise 11

Reverse Cable Curl
exercise image placeholder
2 sets
15 reps
-- rest

Exercise 12

Lying EZ-Bar Triceps Extension You'll need: Bench, EZ-Bar How to
Lying EZ-Bar Triceps Extension thumbnail
3 sets
14, 12, 10 reps
-- rest

Exercise 13

Drag Curl
exercise image placeholder
2 sets
15 reps
-- rest

Exercise 14

Bench Dip You'll need: Bench How to
Bench Dip thumbnail
3 sets
15 reps
-- rest

Exercise 15

Standing Dumbbell Biceps Curl You'll need: Dumbbells How to
Standing Dumbbell Biceps Curl thumbnail
2 sets
15 reps
-- rest

Exercise 16

Narrow Knuckle Pushup
exercise image placeholder
1 sets
REST-PAUSE TO 35 reps
-- rest

Exercise 17

Seated Calf Raise You'll need: Bench How to
Seated Calf Raise thumbnail
3 sets
20, 15, 10 reps
-- rest

Exercise 18

Standing Calf Raise You'll need: Box How to
Standing Calf Raise thumbnail
3 sets
20, 15, 10 reps
-- rest

Exercise 19

One-Arm Cable Crunch
exercise image placeholder
3 sets
15-20 reps
-- rest

Exercise 20

Kneeling Ab Wheel You'll need: Ab Wheel How to
Kneeling Ab Wheel thumbnail
2 sets
To Failure reps
-- rest

Day 3

Exercise 1

Leg Extension
Leg Extension thumbnail
4 sets
20, 17, 14, 11 reps
-- rest

Exercise 2

Lying Leg Curl How to
Lying Hamstring Curl thumbnail
2 sets
15 reps
-- rest

Exercise 3

Leg Extension
Leg Extension thumbnail
4 sets
8-10 reps
-- rest

Exercise 4

Back Squat You'll need: Barbell, Squat Rack How to
Back Squat thumbnail
4 sets
17, 14, 11, 8 reps
-- rest

Exercise 5

Barbell Straight-Leg Deadlift You'll need: Barbell How to
Barbell Straight-Leg Deadlift thumbnail
4 sets
12 reps
-- rest

Exercise 6

Leg Press How to
Leg Press thumbnail
4 sets
17, 14, 11, 8 reps
-- rest

Exercise 7

Abductor Machine
exercise image placeholder
-- sets
-- reps
-- rest

Exercise 8

Bodyweight Walking Lunge You'll need: No Equipment How to
Walking Lunge thumbnail
1 sets
To Failure reps
-- rest

Exercise 9

Seated Lateral Raise You'll need: Dumbbells, Bench How to
Seated Lateral Raise thumbnail
4 sets
20, 16, 12, 8 reps
-- rest

Exercise 10

Dumbbell Flye You'll need: Bench, Dumbbells How to
Dumbbell Flye thumbnail
3 sets
15 reps
-- rest

Exercise 11

Bent-Over Lateral Raise You'll need: Dumbbells How to
Bent-Over Lateral Raise thumbnail
4 sets
16, 14, 12, 10 reps
-- rest

Exercise 12

Incline Pushup You'll need: Box How to
Incline Pushup thumbnail
3 sets
15 reps
-- rest

Exercise 13

Barbell Upright Row You'll need: Barbell How to
Barbell Upright Row thumbnail
3 sets
14, 12, 10 reps
-- rest

Exercise 14

Barbell Biceps Curl You'll need: Barbell How to
bicep curl thumbnail
2 sets
15 reps
-- rest

Exercise 15

Barbell Shoulder Press You'll need: Barbell How to
Barbell Shoulder Press thumbnail
3 sets
14, 12, 10 reps
-- rest

Exercise 16

Dumbbell Shrug You'll need: Dumbbells How to
Dumbbell Shrug thumbnail
2 sets
15 reps
-- rest

Exercise 17

Seated Calf Raise You'll need: Bench How to
Seated Calf Raise thumbnail
3 sets
20, 15, 10 reps
-- rest

Exercise 18

Standing Calf Raise You'll need: Box How to
Standing Calf Raise thumbnail
3 sets
20, 15, 10 reps
-- rest

Exercise 19

One-Arm Cable Crunch
exercise image placeholder
3 sets
15-20 reps
-- rest

Exercise 20

Kneeling Ab Wheel You'll need: Ab Wheel How to
Kneeling Ab Wheel thumbnail
2 sets
To Failure reps
-- rest
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