Why You Should Get Lean Before Bulking

If the idea of looking vascular, shredded, and totally in shape doesn’t convince you to get lean by itself, maybe this will:

If you want to maximize your “bulking” phase, you should be lean first.

I touch on this subject quite a bit in my Lean Bulking guide but I want to expand and really drill home this message. If you’re going to dedicate months and years to gaining muscle mass, you might as well get off to the right start so you don’t waste your valuable time. 

I remember in the early stages of my lifting career, I’d always see some guy on bodybuilding forums touting the advice “that you need to get lean before bulking”.

Pfft. I never heeded that warning.

I mean why would I?

When I first started out on my fitness journey years ago, I was frail and skinny but had no abs and actually had a little pot belly. I was the definition of “skinny fat”.

Losing fat would actually mean looking skinnier for longer and I could no longer stomach the idea of being scrawny for another day.

I wanted to gain weight fast so I bulked up from the get-go and “dirty” bulked for that matter. I gained weight, that’s for sure.

Fast forward 2 years later, however, and the aftermath results taught me a really hard lesson:

Going on a 6 month long cut to get rid of all the fat you gained is really not fun and needing to do so could have almost certainly been avoided.

Before you start stuffing yourself with food, shakes and endless protein, it’s important you evaluate your situation and consider these three compelling reasons why you should actually lean down first before the word “bulking” comes out of your mouth.

Here we go:

Reason #1: You Look Bigger and More Aesthetic When You’re Lean

Being lean automatically makes you look much more muscular. If you have seen the body of Brad Pitt in the movie Fight club, you’d notice that he’s not really that big in terms of muscle mass but his physique pops out at you simply because he’s so ripped.

If your body-fat is pretty high, it’s covering all your hard earned muscle and will make your arms and body just look “soft”, even if the muscle is there.

Even if you’re currently pretty small, getting leaner can make you look more defined and aesthetic. Aesthetics is achieved at low body fat levels to begin with, so why not look aesthetic from the start?

Reason #2: You Pack On More Muscle Mass When You’re Below 15% Body Fat

There’s a lot of research currently being brought up to support the evidence that when you’re leaner you actually do gain much more muscle mass than if you had bulked from a higher body fat level.

The majority of the weight you gain will end up being muscle because our insulin sensitivity is high (a good thing) at low body fat and reduces as we get fatterBeing more insulin sensitive means you can better use the carbs you eat for muscle instead of storing them away as fat.

On top of that, your hormone profile as a male typically improves at lower body fat.

Lower body fat is correlated with higher testosterone levels and low estrogen levels. Higher testosterone increases your chance of building more muscle, and low estrogen means less fat gained. Win and Win!

On the flip side, staying at a higher body fat level could mean lower testosterone and more estrogen.

The moral of the story is that the fatter you are the fatter you’ll get from a bulking phase.

Reason #3: More Time Spent On Building Muscle

By getting lean from the start you set yourself up perfectly for an optimal bulking phase.

Assuming you’re starting a bulking phase at 10% body fat you can bulk up all the way until you’re 15% body fat and then do a quick short cut to get back down to 10%.

Overall, the majority of the time is spent on building muscle; the fun stuff.

On the other hand, if you were to start bulking at about 16% body fat, how long do you really plan on bulking for and at what cost?

Are you going to bulk up all the way up to 20% body fat?

Then what?

Not only will you look like a bloated mess by the time you’re finished but cutting from 20% to 10% bodyfat is a hassle, and the longer time spent on a cut, the more miserable you’ll be and the more chance you have of losing valuable hard earned muscle.

If your goal is to pack on muscle, you want to spend as much time as possible working on that goal. Going on long periods of fat loss journeys isn’t going to get you there anytime soon.

Is This Compelling Enough for You?

There you have it: three compelling reasons to lean down before embarking on a muscle building quest.

Not only will you will look “bigger”, more defined and aesthetic when you’re lean in the meantime but you’ll actually be able to pack on more muscle mass at lower fat levels than you would at a higher body fat percentage.

Lower body fat translates into a better hormone profile which will dictate how much of the weight you gain is actually muscle and also how well you effectively utilize the nutrition you receive.

Last but not least, you get to enjoy longer bulking phases, shorter cutting phases and ultimately more muscle mass in a faster time frame because you started off right from the beginning.

All the more reasons to get lean.