lean vs. bulk body

Lean vs. Bulk Body: Which Body Type Is Better For Me?

Your workout routine should be determined by your goals, and for many people, the main objective is to achieve a certain body type; usually either lean or 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.

So, let’s look at both body types in detail and how you can achieve either one.

Lean body

Characteristics of a Lean Body

This is the more athletic body type that features lean muscle – muscle that is more defined. A toned physique will have relatively low levels of body fat – in fact, this has more of an impact on toned definition than muscle mass.

Although being lean will mean having more of a slender body, this doesn’t necessarily mean skinny. Your body fat level will be low, as this is what leads to a toned muscle, but you will still be doing resistance exercises and so can develop a muscular physique.

Lean muscle is also relatively light compared to bulky muscle and can perform faster and more explosive movements. 

Benefits of a Lean Body

  • Low body fat – A slender body will have less visceral fat and overall body fat, which is not only one of the main body goals in terms of aesthetics for many people, but will also improve quality of life and reduce the risk of developing certain diseases.
  • Flexibility – With less body fat and more lean muscle, your joints will have less strain on them and your body is likely to be a lot more flexible. This is beneficial both inside and out of the gym and can have very positive impacts on your everyday life.
  • More freedom with training – If you’re trying to increase muscle mass and develop bulky muscle, you’re fairly limited in the training you can do, as you can only really focus on strength training. With a lean body type, you can focus on muscle building as well as various other forms of training, such as body weight circuits and plyometric training.

Limitations of a Lean Body

  • Strength restrictions – In order to maintain lean muscle, your daily calories cannot be too high and you cannot focus too much on building muscle and strength.
  • The calorie deficit can cause issues – If you’re working toward a lean body by losing weight, then you’ll need to be in a calorie deficit, which can cause problems. You may feel fatigued or have less stamina, plus the loss of a lot of body weight in a short space of time can impact your immune system and leave you more vulnerable to illness.

How to achieve a lean body

The focus here is not muscle gains, but rather the reduction of body fat in order to make muscles more toned – with a lean body, muscle size is not as important as definition.

In order to achieve this, your daily calorie intake needs to be lower than the number of calories you’re burning each day, by a margin of 200-300 calories. This is a sustainable and healthy way of losing weight, and in terms of the loss of weight per week, you should be aiming for roughly 1-2 pounds.

Your caloric intake is probably the most important factor in achieving a lean body, but regular exercise will also help the process. Calorie burning through activities like plyometric training, cardio training, and certain amounts of resistance exercises will make it easier to remain in a calorie deficit.

Bulky body

Characteristics of a Bulky Body

With this body type, muscle mass is very much the main focus. A bulky body will have larger muscles and the overall body size will be larger, sometimes considerably so, than a lean body. 

A bulky physique also comes with higher levels of strength, as well as aesthetic benefits like broad shoulders and big arms. It also requires weight gains, rather than losses.

Benefits of a Bulky Body

  • Aesthetics – The bulky body goal is one a lot of people want to achieve, and large body composition with bulk muscles can help a person’s confidence and self-esteem. 
  • Strength – Developing a bulky body naturally comes with strength gains, which can be beneficial in other forms of training and during daily life.
  • Faster metabolism – Muscles burn more calories than fat because they require more energy, so the more muscles you have, the faster your metabolism will be.

Limitations of a Bulky Body

  • Boredom – When focusing on strength gains, you’ve only got one form of training; lifting a certain amount of weight per week. This can become tedious and is quite restrictive.
  • Dirty bulking – A dirty bulk is the process of achieving weight gains and muscle development through dangerous and unhealthy means, such as overeating or even the use of steroids. It’s a tempting option for those who want to cut corners and comes with many risks.

How to achieve a bulky body

Depending on your current body composition, you’re likely going to need to achieve weight gains in order to get a bulky body. To do this, you need to be in a calorie surplus each day, which means consuming more calories than you’re burning.

A clean bulk involves a calorie surplus that’s achieved through a balanced diet, with a healthy calorie increase every few weeks. Adequate protein is also a necessity as this aids muscle growth and a bulking diet should have suitable amounts of protein included. High-quality carbs and lean proteins are your friends here, and you could consider using protein powders.

Then, of course, you need adequate weight training. Alongside the increased calorie intake, you need to undertake fairly high-intensity resistance training, lifting heavier weight than perhaps you’re used to. 

Final Thoughts

The body type you choose is up to you, and both come with benefits and limitations. A muscular physique achieved through a bulk approach can create a faster metabolism and preferred aesthetics, while a lean body is more lithe and practical as you’re at a lighter weight.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can a lean person build muscle?

Yes, through the consumption of excess calories and more weight training. Your weekly calorie intake will need to be higher, but with a clean bulking method you can effectively build muscle. 

George Gigney

George is a Level 3 Personal Trainer and qualified Behavior Change Specialist. He has been training clients for several years and writing for over a decade, focusing on sport, wellbeing, and fitness.

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