In the third installment of the Winter Mass gain series I will discuss what training techniques should be used during a bodybuilder's off season to receive maximum gains in lean muscle mass. Most bodybuilders over look their training intensity in the off season, since some feel that this is a time to relax on the weights and pack on the pounds (body fat). This is far from the truth.
The off season is a time to achieve maximum gains in new muscle tissue, whether it be an off season leading up to a show, or an off season leading up to a summer diet. In both situations the off season leading up to the diet is a crucial time period where you have the opportunity to add moderate amounts of new lean body mass to your dieted down appearance.
If you do not take the off season seriously you may miss out on that opportunity, and receive the same appearance with your physique as the previous year. And what bodybuilder is going to be content with that?
Now that we mastered an off season diet in the previous two articles, we will master the proper training regimen for off season mass including: exercises, sets, reps, weight intensity (I will get into this later in the article), and intense stretching. I feel that all of these components are very crucial in breaking through a size and strength plateau in the gym.
During a dieting phase some of these techniques can be put on the back burner since your main goal while dieting is to maintain muscle while dropping body fat. However, for an off season bodybuilder who is already somewhat experienced, these techniques should all be used together to tear down and break open new muscle fibers.
An off season training program should essentially be fairly basic. This means isolation exercises should be kept to a bare minimum while mostly focusing on compound exercises that will ensure the most growth. This last statement brings me to the first factor we will discuss, which is exercise selection.
You can't design a training program without the proper exercises. I will briefly touch on a workout split at the end of the article, but most experienced athletes should already have a good understanding of what body parts they will train, on what days, and how it will conflict with their work/ school schedule.
There are many workout splits that you can follow, so I will let the reader design their training split to their liking. As far as exercises go, I am a firm believer in the most basic/ compound exercises you can perform. This includes:
These exercises will allow for maximum poundage to be used on the desired muscle group, while giving maximum stimulation to the body. If you decide to skimp on these exercises, or do not use them on a consistent basis, and do not use maximum poundage, you will not fully actualize your physique potential in the gym.
Isolation exercises can be incorporated towards the end of the workout, but keep your emphasis on compound exercises as the core of your workout. So, now we will discuss exercise selection for each body part.
The first body part we will begin with will be the back (one of the largest). The back is one of the most important muscle groups on a well developed physique now a days. I feel that it should be hit with a moderate number of exercises, starting with the most important, the deadlift.
This is a major compound exercise and if some variation of it is not included in your workouts you will not optimally develop your back. After the deadlift some type of row should be performed either with a dumbbell (hammer strength can be used) or a barbell. After hitting the lower back with two exercises, two exercises should be performed for the upper portion.
For upper back I recommend some type of pull up or lat pull down exercise (preferably wide grip), and finish off the upper back with dumbbell pullovers or the hammer strength pull over machine. After doing this workout with maximum intensity your back should be toasted.
The next body part we will outline is chest. Most people that buy into the extreme volume approach to their training feel that they need 5-7 exercises to properly stimulate the chest, when all you really need is 3-4.
The first exercise should always be a basic press, Incline or Flat, using either a barbell or dumbbells, depending on how heavy the dumbbells in your gym are. For the second exercises another press should be performed using a hammer strength machine, dumbbells or barbell.
The third exercise will be a dumbbell fly, either on the incline or flat. And to finish off the chest I like to incorporate dips, preferably on parallel bars with weight, or on the hammer strength dip machine. Four exercises, and that's it for chest.
Now we will move onto the shoulders, which has a similar workout scheme as the chest. For the first exercise either barbell military press or seated dumbbell press should be used. As a second exercise we're going to hit the rear deltoids with rear dumbbell lateral raises.
The third exercise we will go back to a compound exercise that will hit all of the deltoid heads. For this either barbell upright rows. And to finish off the shoulders I like to burn them out with side dumbbell lateral raises.
Traps can be trained with one exercise at the end of shoulders, but when I am in a heavy training cycle that includes the deadlift from the ground I like to keep my trap work to a minimum. If traps are a lagging body part either barbell or dumbbell shrugs should be incorporated with shoulders.
Last but not least, to finish off the upper body, we must discuss biceps, triceps, and forearms, which is usually most bodybuilder's favorite training day. I like to stay pretty basic with arms in the off season, however I do feel it is beneficial to alternate between a biceps and triceps exercise throughout the workout, super setting can be used as well just be sure to take ample amounts of rest in between each set.
The first exercise in a biceps routine should be either barbell curls or dumbbell curls for maximum stimulation. From here we can go to a preacher bench curl using either a dumbbell, barbell, or machine.
For triceps I feel that it is beneficial to warm-up the triceps and elbows with a cable pushdown movement before going into heavy compound exercises. After performing a cable exercise I feel the triceps should be hit hard with a heavy compound exercise like lying triceps extensions with an Olympic barbell or a cambered bar.
For the third exercise an overhead dumbbell extension can be used, or an overhead cable extension in order to hit the triceps from another angle since this is the last exercise. Three exercises for biceps and triceps hit with maximum intensity means you shouldn't be able to raise your arms by the time you drive home.
Now, we're moving on down to sacred territory; it's time to discuss quads, hamstrings, and calves. Also known as "wheels" in the bodybuilding circuit. Rappers like driving around in sick cars on 22 inch, chromed out, dubs. Bodybuilders like to walk around sporting a sick set of wheels too.
Most bodybuilders know how to grow a sick set of legs, but most will refuse to put in the effort needed. The first rule of off season leg growth is you HAVE to squat. There is no way you will get your legs up to a freakish level of development without incorporating the squat on a weekly basis.
Both front squats and back squats should be a mainstay in your leg routine, which brings me to the first exercise in the leg workout, the squat. After trashing your legs squatting, we will then move onto the leg press which is another great exercise for overall leg development.
To finish off the quads I like to use barbell lunges, either walking, standing in place, or on a smith machine (these are killer). If you must use extensions in your leg routine, they can be incorporated as a warm-up exercise before heavy squats.
As a second exercise the stiff-leg deadlift should be used with moderate weights focusing on the stretching of the muscle more so than the contraction.
The calves are a small muscle group of the legs and after completing a strenuous workout I feel one exercise is sufficient to hit the muscle hard. In pre-contest mode, where you have days where all you are doing is cardio and calves, you will have more time to focus on detailing the calf muscles. In this series we are focusing on maximum growth in the major body parts.
My theory on warm-up sets and working sets in the off season is pretty basic. For all of the major compound exercises where you will be starting fresh in the gym I feel 2-4 warm-up sets are a must. These should not be taxing at all, and be used with low to moderate weights building up to your maximum poundage.
After you thoroughly warm-up the desired muscle group 2-3 all out sets should be performed with maximum weights and maximum intensity. Each exercise after the first should be treated with one "feel set" and two-three maximum sets. This will keep the workouts pretty basic and you will be able to gauge weight increases from week to week more accurately.
There are countless theories on rep schemes today for off season and pre-contest. I have certain rep ranges that I feel work best with different body parts, some people feel different about my beliefs and this is where you can use trial and error to find out what works best for your body.
For back I feel that the reps should be kept around 4-8 on the deadlift and around 8-12 on all other back exercises. For chest I feel 6-12 is an optimal rep range for proper stimulation. Similar to chest, I feel that the 6-12 rep range works well on shoulders as well.
Biceps and triceps should be trained in the 8-12 rep range. And for legs (quads, hamstrings, and calves) I feel the rep range should be anywhere from 6 reps on squats to 50 reps on the leg press. I feel 20 reps are good for heavy work sets on leg press and hack squat, and leg extension exercises.
If you use heavy weights for high reps on legs your body will be in shock from the pain in your legs. It is one of the best training techniques for extreme leg growth.
Now to close this article I will finish off with training intensity in the gym, pertaining to weights, effort, consistency, etc. Anything that will put your body in a better position for growth should be adhered to during this time to take advantage of your off season growth.
This means using heavy ass weights (in good form) in the gym for as many reps as you can possibly force out, not missing crucial gym workouts to go to the mall with your girlfriend, and incorporating extreme stretching.
Extreme stretching is a technique invented by DC over at Intensemuscle.com and it involves working the intended muscle, thoroughly stretching it during the workout, incorporating an extreme stretch at the end of the workout and holding it for 30-60 seconds before letting go.
People feel this is useless, but what is does is it opens up the fascia tissue covering the muscle belly allowing more room for growth in that area.
To end this article I will say, stay consistent, dedicated, and motivated to achieving your goals and they will come over time.