The 3 Immutable Laws Of Getting Bigger And Leaner

There are literally countless articles out there on how to burn fat and build muscle.

There are thousands of different approaches… And hundreds of them are viable.

Everyone has their own preferences for nutrition advice, exercise selection, supplementation, and training frequency, to name a few.

But in this article, I want to go back to the basics. I want to discuss the basic three principles that everyone MUST follow in order to improve their bodies.The three principles that every good routine and every solid piece of advice builds upon.

1. Caloric manipulation


Are there certain foods that are more nutritious than others? Sure.

Does the amount of protein vs. carbs vs fat you consume affect your body? Sure.

Does it matter when you eat your meals? Yes, somewhat.

But ALL of these factors are a distant second to controlling your caloric intake. Without controlling your caloric intake you simply WON’T make optimal progress. Let me explain.

If you want to burn fat, you need to consume fewer calories than your body needs to maintain its current stature. You need to give your body a reason to burn existing tissue, and the only way to do this is to provide it with less energy than it needs.

If you want to build muscle, you similarly need to provide your body with MORE energy than it needs to maintain. If your body doesn’t have enough energy to maintain its current stature then it’s going to be awfully hard for it to synthesize new muscle tissue. You need to be eating enough calories to gain weight.

Finally, I want to address what will happen if you simply eat around maintenance level, and make no drastic changes to your weight. The bad news is that your progress will be slow. The good news is that the natural – albeit small – caloric surpluses and deficits that you’ll experience on a day-to-day basis will yield equally small reductions in bodyfat and additions in lean muscle mass and transform your body over time… That is, assuming you follow principle number two.

2. Progressive overload


Progressive overload is simply a fancy way of saying that you need to always be increasing the intensity of your strength-training workouts.

You can lift more weight, do more reps, perform more explosive reps, or do something similar to increase the intensity… But you must do SOMETHING.

It doesn’t matter if you use a full-body routine or a traditional split routine (although I prefer the full-body approach).

The reasoning behind this is that your body won’t change unless you give it a reason to. If you continue to lift the same weight for the same reps, week in and week out, your body has no reason to synthesize new muscle tissue, regardless of if you’re gaining, maintaining, or losing weight.

By increasing the intensity of your workout you provide your body with the stimulus it needs to:

  • Synthesize new muscle tissue instead of fat, if you’re in a caloric surplus
  • Hold onto your existing muscle tissue and burn only fat, if you’re in a caloric deficit

3. Long-term consistency


The final law of getting bigger and leaner is maintaining consistency over the long term. This means:

  • Consistently eating the correct amount of food to reach your current goal of burning fat or building muscle
  • Consistently getting stronger in the gym

If you consistently do these two things over the course of days, weeks, months, and years I guarantee that you will look better and better. You simply WILL get bigger, leaner, and stronger.

Having a perfect diet and being 100% strict in the gym for a few days, a few weeks, or a few months DOESN’T DO SHIT. Our bodies take time to build muscle and burn fat. You must grow to love – or at least habitually do – the things I covered in the first two principles above or you’re doomed to fail and maintain your average physique.

Improving your body and getting bigger and leaner is not complicated. But it does require time and discipline. There’s no way around that.

Man up, eat right, and lift heavy—day in and day out—and enjoy the steady stream of improvements that come your way.

Read More: 4 Fitness Myths That Are Pure Bullshit

74 thoughts on “The 3 Immutable Laws Of Getting Bigger And Leaner”

  1. ‘bigger and leaner’ isn’t that a contradiction? Getting bigger while eliminating body fat typically means taking diuretics and caloric restriction, which is expensive and potentially unhealthy. most people will just settle for being bigger and stronger, even with a higher bf percentage. Unless you’re blessed with the genetics of arnold, you really can;t have it both ways.

    1. Absolutely true. Restricting calories and lifting heavy things is a recipe for an adrenal burnout. One must eat a lot and eat regularly.
      Don’t worry about fat. In fact if one’s too lean, one look a bit homo. Fat is yang.

      1. Yeah. I feel better eating what I like and lifting and running and whatnot. Excessive vanity will just lead to injury and dropping concentration at work if you don’t eat.

    2. You could Yo-Yo. Ie go for bigger and stronger followed by lean during a maintenance phase. Repeat until you get to your desired physique.

    3. There are exceptions. When I started I was 95kg skinny fat, several months later I was around 96kg, but had lost a shitload of body fat, gained muscle, and got much stronger. It’s possible for new lifters.

    4. I would have to look back to my notebook for exact stats, but in the Arnold Blueprint program on bodybuilding (8 weeks of 2 3 day splits per week and a rest day) I think I gained 12 pounds while knocking off 8% body fat. I followed the diet and program exact. On my rest/cheat day I usually did either a Crossfit WOD or Hot Yoga class. Both CF and Hot Yoga are great for rest days. Also, I did the workouts in the early am and 4 days a week (the non leg days) I did a 5k run at night. Other than that, I followed the program to the letter. Also, my strength gains came super fast.

  2. Any advice on how to make the 6 pack pop out without starving muscle growth on the rest of your upper body?

    1. testosterone precursors? I have heard good things, but never tried it. they sell it at Vitamin Shop and GNC…

        1. And you’re better off taking real test than some junk pill your liver and kidneys have to filter

      1. No point, pro-hormones (which it seems is what you’re talking about) cause more side effects and give less benefits than real steroids. Risk/Benefit ratio just isn’t worth it. Better off with the real stuff if that’s the road you want to go down. Plus injectables are a lot safer.

    2. You’re going to lose muscle when cutting, there’s no way to avoid it (unless you’re on a cocktail of drugs). To mitigate it, up your protein, create a small caloric deficit and don’t cut too long, take a 1 – 2 break and start again. It will take longer, but you’ll keep more muscle.

  3. best proteins to build muscle:
    whey – body can absorb 10 grams an hr
    cassein- 7g/hr
    organic eggs – 3 or 4 g/hr

  4. Jefe, very well done here. Applause. Everyone who is serious about fitness ought to read this.
    There are no shortcuts, there are no tricks. It is actually very easy. Like you say…calorie manipulation, overload training (I like splits better than full body, but agreed anyway) and consistency. All the other stuff won’t be important until you are under 10% body fat.
    I see people near 20% body fat doing stuff like carb loads and depletion like they are 220 lbs and 8% and need to shred another 2% before a show.
    I am really glad to see this article. Thank you for writing it.

  5. Low carb is the way to go. Ive done it, losing 30lbs over three months or so. The hardest part is sticking to it, not because the diet isnt satisfying, but because companies don’t cater to low carb and it’s very difficult to find the time to prep all the food on the go.

    1. I tried low carbs, all my lifts went down and I felt like shit. And all the research suggests high carbs are the best for athletes. Even without the research, I could just tell that I can work much harder and longer on a high carb diet. If you’re just going to the gym to build a bit of muscle, then low carbs won’t be a problem. If you want to compete in weightlifting or powerlifting (or any sport) at the national (and above) level, you’ll need them.

      1. I’ve done Tim Ferris’ Slow Carb Diet and felt extremely tired every day I followed the diet. Vince Gironda’s Steak and Egg’s diet is way better at allowing you to not feel tired and fatigued.

      2. Royal Navy sailors basically worked 10 hour shifts and ate 6,000 cals a day.
        They were built like brick shit houses.

  6. What’s the secret to getting jacked?
    There is no secret. That’s it. There’s no magic potion, pill, or ab video that will get you shredded in 60 minutes or less.
    What WILL get you shredded is long-term consistency, drive, and countless hours of focused hard work. Lift, monitor progress via recording weights, reps, sets. Eat clean foods, cook as many of your own meals as your schedule allows (roughly count macros and adjust to goals). Get quality rest each night (7-8 hrs, preferably at regular times). Do cardio a few times a week, pushing yourself to your cardiovascular limits at least once a week (e.g. timed 2 mile sprint, 200m swim, 5km bike, etc. ). Getting ripped is not a complex process. It’s a long road; when you feel like giving up, remember why you started, and keep trucking along. Not before long you will look forward to lifting every day, rather than it being a burden.
    It will become a source of pride and accomplishment; you will realize achieving great tasks requires a near-insane mentality, but with enough focus you can reach your goal. Sure, you might not feel great during those first 100 approaches, but when you pull your first ONS you will be hungry for your next 200. The man who is relentless in his pursuits can never fail. You only fail once you give up.

    1. The ‘secret’ of getting ripped has been known throughout entire human history. It has NEVER changed, the only thing that has changed is that ease of which we can gain the nutrients needed. It’s easier NOW than ever and it really should be noted that no man ever has en excuse not to get in shape.

      1. Not quite. In olden times physical labor was the order of the day. People got ripped simply by continuing to be alive. Today, with paper pushing jobs and entire buildings filled to bursting with food on every street corner… it’s actually harder than ever.

      2. Healthy nutrition is way harder to find in our age than it ever was before.
        Swallowing vitamin pills and drinking massive amounts of protein shakes and other chemical shit is definitely not healthy and the food in average supermarkets is also mostly processed or otherwise poisened and raped.

        1. Best thing is to eat un-processed food. What americans call “organic” food, is really just normal food in Europe.
          Lots of lean meat and vegetables, and a low intake of sugar is the best general advice.

        2. The only positive difference between the E.U. and North America in this matter is that genetic manipulation of food isn´t as popular in Europe yet….but TTIP and it´s follow up treaties are coming soon and will change that once and for all.
          Food produced by big companies can´t be healthy, no matter where
          you´re living because they are selling quantity, not quality.

        3. Yes genetically modified food might become more common in Europe in the coming years. Perhaps, it depends on how the public reacts long term. Aside from this, we really dont know the long term effects of GMO.
          It might be really unhealthy, but at present there is not enough evidence to prove either way.
          But we know however that a sedentary lifestyle filled with sugary drinks and fried greasy food is very unhealthy anf fattening. And we can easily see the effects in europe stemming from the increased consumption of snacks and junkfood. In my home country there were relatively few fast food joints 25 years ago. This all changed with increased liberalisation and americanization. And obesity rates have increased dramatically in the same period. Now about 12% of the population is obese (In America its almost a third, 32%). But this is more than a 100% increase since 1990 or so.
          For this reason I would recommend that people focus their energy on changing the nutritional value of their intake, and the first step is making a habit of preparing ones own food.
          Food produced by big companies can in principle be as healthy as food produced by small firms. It all depends on what they put into their products. And this is regulated by Laws instituted. If voters and consumers start demanding more healthy food, they will be forced to change their products. This has only recently started to change, especially in the US.
          As long as the majority of consumers keep on stuffing their faces with junk, or the electorate do not demand that the food industry is much more heavily regulated, change will only come about slowly.

  7. This guy barely looks like he lifts by internet standards, yet he can raw front squat 290kg (more than any bodybuilder as far as I’m aware). Rumor is he can front squat 320kg. He also holds the world record in the Clean and Jerk at 242kg, and is a 2x olympic gold medalist, 4x World Championship gold medalist, and 2 x Asian Games gold medalist. He has never been defeated in an international competition. What makes this guy even more insane is that apparently, he has been a vegetarian for over 5 years.

    1. if you watch power lifting and strongman competitions, you notice that the athletes looks nothing like bodybuilders. i’d guess that most sumo wrestlers are stronger than most bodybuilders tooo.

      1. When performing the various strong man exercises, it is an advantage to have a huge mass of weight. In addition you also make sure that you never experience a calorie deficit when you overeat, which potentially can impact performance negatively. Thats why these guys will be eating something most of the time.
        Traditional hand to hand fighters most likely also had a padding of fat around their bodies, for the reasons mentioned, aswell as extra resistance against concussion hits.
        Off couse its a trade-off. To much extra weight will slow you down, and make you tire more easily due to the extra weight you need to carry.
        Body Building is strictly developed for aesthetic reasons, not for pure strenght nor fighting ability. Its mainly for show, hence the broad appeal it enjoys.

        1. interesting points, although i was under the impression that tight, flat abs will take a punch to the gut better than a flabby belly.

        2. Strong muscles is what matters. A small layer of fat is optimal.
          Many MMA fighters are not ripped either, since it wont enhance performance.
          Only reason for a fighter to become ripped is to qualify for certain weightclasses, and muscle is still more important than fat.

    2. by the way that guy has rock solid proportion, and it’s instantly evident even from the beach photo that he makes his living from physical activity… so I wouldn’t say he doesn’t look it but he doesn’t look like a steroid junkie that much is clear.

    3. Yeah when I did starting strength I got stronger than I ever have been but didn’t really put on size. But doing Big Beyond Belief I was getting comments on my muscles, but I was overtraining so had to stop.
      I’m now doing Greyskull LP which has more ‘assistance exercises’ for physique but i’m not sure I look as Jacked now as doing the straight bodybuilding. It’s a little frustrating as I want to be more muscular and I enjoy the strength type training more than straight bodybuilding and my body feels better.

      1. Why not just mix them? I do a 4 day split started with a 5 day but that is too much for me now. Even going 3 days soon. But what i do is i always start with a strenght exercise. For chest its BB bench, for back its Bent over BB rows, for shoulders its OHP and on leg day i do squat or deadlift every other week to avoid cns over training other days i do legpress. After my strenght exercise i go straight into bodybuilding style workout. But i always stick to the dorian yates/mike mentzer principle. Lets say on chest i do BB bench, Cable cross over, incline DB and flat DB flies. My BB bench will be as heavy as possible for 3-5 reps every week. The other exercises will be performed in a more bodybuilding rep range. I only do one set per exercise. But that set will be either with Forced reps/negatives, Rest pause or Drop sets. Thats 4 sets for chest and i’m done. I’m getting incredible results in both strength and size. The not so fun part is i only deadlift and squat once every 3 weeks. But each time i return to the bar doing my deadlifts or squats as heavy as possible for 3-5 reps i’m significantly stronger. I went up 40kilos on my deadlift in 12 weeks doing this. Give it a try. For me it was very hard to train like this because i was fucked with the MORE IS BETTER!! mentality. I was doing 20-30 sets per bodypart. I gain more, faster and better without nagging injuries now than ever before. But dont think these workouts are easier it requires incredible mental focus to be able to go in the gym every time giving a 100% not 95% a 100. A set done not 100% is a set wasted. If you can workout with 100% intensity all that is left is the ability to know your recovery ability.

    4. Strength (weightlifting) is different than water retention and blood flow manipulation (bodybuilding).

  8. Reading the comment of various views makes any reader who is a Virgin to nutrition and fitness scared and stagnant on what to really do.
    I like this article though.
    “Fat loss is easy, once you know how Hard it is.”

  9. Yeah, sounds about right. Is why I quit my gym membership. I just didn’t care enough, and so wasn’t getting anything out of it. It has to be a lifestyle.

  10. Some advice please. I’m 160lbs and 6’2. Lean but with a small gut. If i squeeze my abs in it gets flat and there is barely any fat on me (My doctor once laughed at me and said the word fat should never be in a sentence with the word “me”). It makes me think that I have weak ab muscles, hence why my gut sticks out a bit. I think the term is skinny fat? Anyways I’ve been going to the gym for awhile off ad on. Now I’m back on but I’m not sure what must be done in order to get rid of the belly.

    1. Don’t worry about it mate. It’s a bit deceptive to put Arnold above this article. That guy was sculpting. A bit of fat ain’t such a big deal.

    2. With your height and weight you shouldn´t care about your belly being a little fat. Keep on eating and working out and after a couple of years everything will look different and better.
      Looking like a sexy sixpack model isn´t possible within a few months (at least for most men).

      1. it’s true that going from average to the cover of men’s health in a few months isn’t going to happen, but let’s not give him the impression that it has to take years to make big gains. about 1.5 months into P90X2 i was having coworkers regularly comment on my improved appearance and ask if i was “working out or something.” if you find a diet and a workout program that works and have the discipline to actually do it, you’ll make noticeable gains very quickly.

        1. It was my impression that he´s what some would call a hardgainer.
          Gaining weight as a hardgainer is a real challenge not to compare with loosing weight for “easy fat” people….so the chances for him making visible progress within a few months are very, very slim even with the perfect workout.

    3. eat a lot, but only healthy food. lots of vegetables, very little sugar. no donuts, soda, starbucks, or any other sugary, processed garbage for god’s sake (sounds hard i know, but once you’re off that stuff for a while you break your very real addiction to it and you don’t miss it). do efficient strength-building, fat-burning exercise at least four times a week, but five is better. weight training, or if you prefer to work out at home, something like beachbody’s P90X or insantiy programs. most importantly, discipline, discipline, discipline. no more of this “off and on” stuff. that will get you nowhere.

  11. I am an assiduous of the gym, and also read sometimes on the matter. A man’s body has a self regulation system to prevent testosterone overproduction, and thus, limitate the muscle quantity. No matter how much protein you consume, if there’s no need to process and synthesize it (testosterone is needed for this), the body automatically will throw it away, impeding muscle to grow more than necessary. There will be one day, after years of training with a lot of methods and there’s no significant progress, that you will realize that your body has gotten their limit. To break that barrier, the only solution is increasing the levels of testosterone, and the only way of doing that is by steroids. But not all are bad news: if you keep training, the QUALITY of your body will increase, as much as your mental and physical health, frame of mind and self steem. Enjoy.

    1. There is indeed a limit, otherwise there would be many guys looking like mastodons without the supplementing their bodies with PEDs. But how many people working out in the gym have actually reached their natural limit? A lot of people eat and train like shit even though they tink otherwise, so they are far from maxing out on their potential.

      1. I can guarantee to you that those people train like shit by pure enthuisiasm, because if you have been training for 15 years like me, it’s more then obvious that you got to you own ceiling. I’m 32 now, and I don’t train like in my early 20s; age passes the bill eventually, and I know I won’t be the same in another 10 years.

        1. I was not referring to you, since I have not seen you train obviously.
          When looking around me in the gym or other gyms that I have trained in there is a certain pattern noticeable. The majority of guys does a variety of arm exercises, a few bench press sets where the spotter does most of the lifting (it’s all you!) and legs are neglected. Apart from a few quarter reps on the leg press machine that is. And this goes on for years sometimes.
          One other thing is the programs that many swear by, those split routines that they copy from pro bodybuilders. For a natural those routines are not the most ideal method if you want results. The frequency per muscle group is too low.
          Now I know that personal experience is not the most accurate method, but after changing my whole approach by incorporating higher frequency training methods like MadCow 5×5 and Texas Method the results were fantastic. Not world class or anything well beyond what I would have expected. And I am older than you.

        2. Don’t worry, I wasn’t offended. Right now in the Southern Hemisphere is impossible to train, it’s more than 30ºC here, this weather is unbearable; I’m coming back in a few weeks. The 5×5 method is very good for some people, that makes 25 total series, but I consider that’s too much. It’s true what you said on legs, many people don’t like training them, but it’s necessary. Best to you.

  12. Roid big, eat big, lift big, in that order. Do these three things and you’ll get big. If you aren’t at least doing test you’re a scrawny lose who will never make it or look good. If you’re fine with mediocrity then just get out of the gym and start worshipping worshipping at the altar of feminism. Natural sucks. I am superhuman and better than 95% of people I meet.

      1. No sides. On 200 mg of test per week, 1000 iu of hcg per week and not a side in sight. Except 15 extra pounds of pure muscle in a year and 8% body fat, but I think I’ll deal with those.
        Don’t believe everything the liberal media wants you to.
        But I do admit, the only legitimate side effect is increased propensity for hairloss in those genetically prone.

  13. They’ve shown pretty conclusively the calorie theory is no good. If you give a diet of mainly fat, or protein or carbs, you will lose the most with fat, less with protein and least or gain with carbs. Diet is much more complicated than calories generated burning wood.

  14. With the current weight lifting fad, people are really forgetting about cardio. It leans you out like nothing else and it is the hardest on the overall system. It’s unrelenting and it takes a lot of willpower to get start doing it. That’s why everybody hates it.
    I only do cardio and calisthenics and I am bigger than all my friends who do Crossfit (and are not on roids, neither am I). But I am consistant, since fifteen years.
    If you value your joints, go cycling, light running, calisthenics and climbing. And fuck all the fads.
    Also, babes love beach volleyball.

    1. There’s actually plenty to suggest that lifting heavy weights and getting stronger is better for fat loss and body recomposition. Plenty of reasons, for example, the more muscle you have, the more calories you’ll burn as your metabolic rate increases. I can attest from personal experience; I got to visible abs without any cardio whatsoever.
      By ”weight lifting”, I presume that you mean going into the gym and doing bro curls. You could argue that’s a fad. However, olympic style weightlifting is over a hundred years old. And strength training and strength competition in general is probably as old as human kind.

  15. Great article… I like the motivating aspects to evolve my gym-routine. I go to the gym, but I’ve been stuck in a rut for a while (same exercises each time).
    Anyhow, quick tangent that readers may find useful: I read a great book called ‘Why We Get Fat: And What to do About It.’ by Gary Taubes. The crux of the book is that sugar consumption leads to fat-gain. Ta-da! You wanna lose-weight? Completely cut-out refined sugars, soda-pop, artificial sugars (yep, they boost insulin as well!) and start checking labels of food for how many grams of sugar in a serving. Women at my work are constantly ‘on a diet,’ and yet they routinely slug-down a ‘healthy’ fruit-at-the-bottom low-fat yogurt… which has 40+ grams of sugar (ie. a can of Coke). (They’re helpless-morons and I’d rather remain unattracted to them anyways so I can focus on work).
    So, cut out the sugar, and you’re on your way to dropping those pounds!

  16. Straight to the point as always David.
    Newbies really need to read and understand these principles.
    There is no perfect diet or perfect workout regime…
    – apply progressive overload by increasing tension (lifting HEAVY and upping the weight often)
    – Manipulating your caloric intake based upon your goals (deficit for cutting, surplus for bulking)
    – Understanding that as a natural gym-goer a noteworthy transformation will take several years… be patient and stop looking for a quick fix.

  17. Listicles, listicles, listicles. I’ve been trying to get into reading this site, but if it’s going to be the male version of jezebel, I can’t deal.

  18. Thanks for sharing.What you do in the kitchen is even more important than what you do at the gym. want some special methods? visit bestfitnessandmusclebuilding(dot)com , you will know what I mean.Hope this help.

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