T Nation

Looking For Advice to Add Lean Mass


A little about me:

I am 21 years old, currently a senior in college. I have been lifting weights for years, yet have not grown very much in those years. My lifts have definitely improved, but not my physique.

I am 6’2, 184 lbs.

One big thing that sets me back is that I want to stay lean while I continue to build muscle. I don’t like the idea of having a high bf% if it is possible to build up while staying lean.

I have a strong lower body, but my upper body is very weak. I suck at pull ups, bench, and military press. So, basically everything.


  • I want a physique and body that resembles the superhero type. I don’t view this as irrational, but I would love to hear opinions on this! I want the great filled out physique that is seen by the likes of Chris Evans, Hemsworth, and Henry Cavill.

  • I am fairly athletic, and can play at a good level at multiple sports. I’m a former swimmer, but really enjoy basketball, football, etc. I would love to have a high vertical (enough to dunk), and be able to sprint.

  • Increase flexibility!

Things I have learned from experience:

  • It is insanely hard for me to grow my arms. I do all types of exercises, but feel effects on very few (biceps curls, triceps pushdown) but anything such as preacher curls, and my arms do not respond.

-Bench doesn’t do anything for my chest. Dumbbells have given me some growth.

-Military press is horrible, and my shoulders hurt. I have rounded shoulders, and I know that is the issue.

Other things to know about me:

  • I am highly motivated. I know my physique does not look like I have put in years of lifting in the gym, but I really do push myself hard in there. I love exercising, and you can’t really scare me out of attempting anything that I at least mildly think I can do.

  • I love to workout first thing in the morning with some BCAAs. Working out on an empty stomach feels amazing to me. If a lot of you tell me this is detrimental, then I am open to switching the time.

  • I soak up knowledge a lot. I love to learn, so anything you note here, I will put in to practice.

  • Would love a training program that will get me to that superhero like goal, along with diet help (low budget! I’m a college student, but do have whey protein, BCAAs, and fish oil.)

I would love to hear some opinions on what I should do. I have always been nervous of showing my physique on these message boards, but I know it is what it takes. I also think I worry about it a lot, but I just like the idea of the superhero physique a lot, along with performing well.

Thank you everyone!


It’s likely you’re looking for too much information… as most people do.

Meaning you’re looking for specific range of calories, rep ranges, weights, exercise selection, supplements, etc.

I’m surprised no one’s chimed in yet, but you’ll get the same re-hashed SS, 5/3/1, up the food, etc. as all the other threads have. Not that they don’t work, but I’ll say it doesn’t work for most because most don’t know how to execute it properly.

There’s nothing more for you to do than learn how to perform a perfect push up, pull up, and squat at this moment. And if you think you already know how to, well, that’s where you stop growing.

Achieve 20 solid pull ups, 50 solid push ups, and 1.5x bodyweight squat.

When you become strong, you’ll look stronger than you do now.


Thank you for the response!

My only questions: Since I am working only these exercises, is this just 3x/week? Daily? And should I stay in a caloric surplus?


have you tried cable crossovers?
have you tried dips with a forward lean?
if not ,why not
find exercise’s, find what they work apply
part of learning is reading books articles
going to the gym watch the people who are jacked
finding intensity, drive,
ex. if you do 3 sets 8 reps barbell curl ,dont feel it ,try running dumbbell rack ,try more sets or more reps
you got to find what works for you


Push up, pull up, and squatting is your basic foundation. And yea, simply doing more of them will make you better at it. I’ve managed to maintain over 2x BW deadlift, and nearly double BW squat, simply training with bodyweight for awhile. I don’t say this to impress, but to impress upon you how accentuating basics will overflow into advanced strengths.
And benching sucks. Stop it. Do dips, unless you have problems with pronated shoulders. If that doesn’t hit your chest (you likely have an imbalance), try chest flies between two benches.

I work the entire body, every time. Usually 6 times a week. There’s isn’t a single workout where I don’t perform what I call the trifecta (push up [[dips]], pull up [[row]], squat). The key is to work all variables. TUT, isometrics, negatives, blasts, stretches, planks, holds, etc. The options are limitless with bodyweight… and for me that makes it fun. Not to mention, I never, ever have injuries, nor pains or any of that shit.

And getting better at the trifecta doesn’t mean you have to limit yourself to those movements. There’s the close grip, chin up grip, two finger grip, wide grip, hook grip, and navy pull ups. And you can imagine the variables for push ups as well. For the lower extremity, I’ve been quite fond of a narrow split squat, where the hind leg is just behind the agonist leg. That and single leg deadlifts… without weight. I find using a weight actually makes it easier, granted it isn’t extremely heavy.

And food, I personally have one big ass meal after my workout, and lunch if I’m hungry. I’d do a lot of research and prepping if you decide to embark on that. It isn’t quite the warrior diet, or IF, but it’s what I’ve adapted to work for me. I simply eat when I’m hungry, and eat what I know my body needs.

Lastly, don’t ever count calories.


Do this and eats tons of clean food…


I think you’re getting a lot of good information here and I just wanted to give you my two cents worth because I am about your size, 6’1" and 180 pounds. I also have strong legs, difficulty adding mass, forget getting guns, etc…

Find a solid program you feel comfortable with - I do whole body three times a week, but have done splits in the past and will go back to splits when I am trying to add mass (currently cutting, again). Work that program for a few weeks and assess. I highly recommend compound movements - bench, squat, dead lift.

I am just learning about macros and nutrient timing, but I would recommend you do some research as well. I feel like working out on an empty stomach may not be the most beneficial for your goals. I get up early to drink my protein and eat some carbs before working out, take BCAA’s during (or a mass gainer), and more protein and carbs after.

I count calories with an app (but I am cutting). I also weigh myself everyday with a BIA scale and keep a spreadsheet on it, but I am crazy, and clearly not jacked (a few pics scattered about if you’re curious).

I would also take a look at the thread “Eye Dentist, how do you train.” That guy is about our size, my age, and jacked!

Have patience!