3 Elements of Gaining Mass Without Adding Body Fat


By John Papp


You want to gain mass but you don’t want to add excess body fat alongside the newfound lean mass.

Seems reasonable right?

However, some of the bro science on the internet today calls for extreme swings in the direction of “bulking” by eating as many calories as humanly possible followed by a period of extreme “cutting.” This is often thought of as the only way to put on mass with the understanding that you will just have you cut the body fat down later.

While this approach can work many of you just want to gain a bit of lean mass while staying somewhat lean and avoiding the “bulk.”

Don’t worry, it can be done.

Here are a few common pitfalls to avoid.

1) Expectations

Please recognize that gaining lean mass can happen quicker if you are in a larger caloric surplus but you also run the risk of adding extra body fat along the way. If you choose a more conservative approach when it comes to calories taken in it may take a bit longer but you can avoid the extra body fat that commonly comes with “bulking.”

2) Too Much Cardio

If your goal is to stay relatively lean while adding a bit of muscle mass you don’t have to go crazy with the cardio... If you focus your efforts on a bit of HIIT versus hours of steady state cardio it can not only help you stay lean, but it can also help you preserve more muscle mass loss. (2) The best part is you don’t have to get up at 5AM every day to get a little extra cardio in while your fasted to get the results you want. Which; by the way, fasted cardio isn’t all that it is cracked up to be when it comes to fat loss but that’s for another day. (1)

3) Neglecting Compound Movements and Focusing Only on High Rep Sets to Stay Lean

The common knowledge that most people have when it comes to fitness is that if you want to stay lean lift lighter weights for higher reps, which many times neglects compound movements involving multiple joints. Don’t neglect the compound movements! Big, compound lifts with heavy weights will elicit the best hormonal response from the body. Then when you combine the heavy, compound lifts with lighter weight, higher rep accessory exercises you will have a recipe for success. If you have never deadlifted, squatted, pressed, or pulled heavy regularly you are in for a real treat. 

1) Schoenfeld, B. (2011). Does Cardio After an Overnight Fast Maximize Fat Loss? Strength and Conditioning Journal, 33(1), 23-25. doi:10.1519/ssc.0b013e31820396ec

2) Schoenfeld, B., & Dawes, J. (2009). High-Intensity Interval Training: Applications for General Fitness Training. Strength and Conditioning Journal, 31(6), 44-46. doi:10.1519/ssc.0b013e3181c2a844



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