The best weekly split for building lean muscle

Bulking is a common approach to building muscle and gaining weight. It involves eating lots of high-calorie food, mostly focusing on heavy weights, and all-but avoiding all forms of cardio. While this will help you build muscle, you’ll also gain a lot of unsightly, unhealthy fat too.

We all aim to look our best, even whilst working out. Of course, those bigger muscles will look great when you wear one of your Anax Fitness gym vests but when that vest comes off, your abs will have disappeared. Getting your abs and muscle definition back means dieting, and that can lead to losing strength and muscle mass. All that work wasted!

So, instead of doing the bulking/cutting two-step, why not try and build lean muscle instead. Your progress might not be as fast, but you won’t have to diet off all that accumulated fat afterward, and won’t experience the loss of strength and muscle mass normally associated with getting leaner.

There are lots of ways to build lean muscle, but this split is one of the best.

Monday Lower body

Tuesday Upper body

Wednesday Cardio (long intervals)

Thursday Rest

Friday Lower body

Saturday Upper body + Cardio (short intervals)

Sunday Rest

The workouts

These workouts are examples of what each day should include. Feel free to change any of the exercises to include your favourites. Make sure you stay true to the spirit of the program by choosing similar exercises. Swapping front squats for back squats is fine, but replacing squats with leg extensions is not.

Lower body

  1. Squats – 4 sets, 4 reps
  2. Romanian deadlifts – 4 sets, 8 reps
  3. Leg press – 3 sets, 20 reps
  4. Leg curls – 3 sets, 12 reps
  5. Standing calf raises – 4 sets 12 reps

Upper body

  1. Bench press – 4 sets, 4 reps
  2. Pull-ups – 4 sets as many reps as possible
  3. Dumbbell flyes – 3 sets, 12 reps
  4. Seated rows – 3 sets, 12 reps
  5. Side raises – 3 sets, 12 reps
  6. Planks – 3 sets, 45-60 seconds
  7. Hanging leg raises, 3 sets, 12 reps

Cardio (long intervals)

Using a bike, treadmill, stepper or rower, work as hard as you can for three minutes, rest for one minute, and repeat six times to total 24 minutes. Warm up for five minutes before and cool down for five minutes afterward.

Lower body

  1. Deadlifts – 4 sets, 4 reps
  2. Front squats – 4 sets, 8 reps
  3. Good mornings – 3 sets 10 reps
  4. Leg extensions – 3 sets 12 reps
  5. Seated calf raises – 4 sets, 12 reps


Go for a walk, do some stretching, get a massage – do anything you think will enhance recovery. Spend some of today shopping for food and prepping healthy meals.

Upper body

  1. Incline dumbbell bench press – 4 sets, 8 reps
  2. Single arm dumbbell rows – 4 sets, 8 reps
  3. Standing barbell overhead press – 4 sets, 8 reps
  4. Lat pulldowns – 4 sets, 12 reps
  5. Barbell biceps curls – 3 sets, 8 reps
  6. Dips – 3 sets, as many reps as possible
  7. Dumbbell curls – 3 sets, 12 reps
  8. Triceps pushdowns – 3 sets 12 reps

Cardio (short intervals)

Using a bike, treadmill, stepper or rower, work as hard as you can for 60 seconds, rest for 30 seconds, and repeat 10 times to total 15 minutes. Warm up for five minutes before and cool down for five minutes afterward.


While this workout will have you looking good in your collection of gym wear soon enough, you’ll get much better results if you follow an eating plan that supports your training. To gain lean muscle, you need to make sure you do the following:

  • Create a small calorie surplus – increase your food intake by around 300-500 calories above maintenance
  • Get adequate protein – shoot for around one gram per pound of bodyweight
  • Cut out sugar and refined carbs – eat clean to stay lean!
  • Eat lots of fibrous veggies – they’re low in calories, filling, and healthy
  • Time your carbs – eat most your carbs immediately before and after your workouts
  • Saturday is cheat day – enjoy one cheat meal today, preferably after training
  • Drink lots of water – shoot for around 2-3 litres per day
  • Supplement wisely – whey protein, BCAAs, sugar-free pre-workout drinks, and creatine will all help you train harder and recover faster

Gaining lean muscle requires patience, discipline, and dedication. But, in the long run, it’s actually easier and healthier than the old-fashioned approach of bulking followed by cutting. You won’t gain weight as quickly, but that’s okay. The weight you do gain will be lean muscle, and not unsightly fat.

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