Previously before now, I used to follow the 'old school' strategy of 'bulking up' excessively with the hope that under the ever increasing fat gains I was also adding some serious muscle. Sadly, I let my waist size increase to huge proportions, to the point where I would no longer look like I was a serious bodybuilder, and resemble an out-of-shape beer drinker instead.
The terms 'aerobics' and 'clean eating' was foreign to me at the time. I happily took weightgainer drinks, 750 calories at a time, three times per day, with the belief that the body needs all of the calories and carbs in order to grow. On reflection, I wish I had been smarter and listened to my friends when they said I was getting too out of shape, but as your trainee I had my 'blinkers' on and wouldn't change my routine.
Don't get me wrong, I was training seriously during this time, always striving for heavier weights and a good deal of the weight gained was muscle. However, looking back I know where I was making the big mistakes and now I'm in a position to never make them again as I embark on what I'd like to think of my first off-season where I'm doing things properly.
MY GOALS FOR THIS OFF-SEASON
Having just completed the 'Body For Life' Challenge I have now set my new main goal of competing in the SNBF Georgia Show in April 2003. This gives me six months for serious 'off-season' training. My six month goals are:
- To gain at least 1 pound of muscle per month.
- Maintain my new lean physique, not gaining any unwanted body fat.
- Increase strength levels on all exercises, each session is a chance to reach new heights.
- Follow a consistent 'bodybuilding' diet, not a 'bulking diet.'
- Prioritize my weakness, Chest and Arms, bringing them up to par with rest of my body.
- Take in at least 300 grams of protein each day.
- Perform at least four aerobic sessions per week, keeping the fat off and my cardio-vascular levels high.
- Be flexible with my routine and diet, if something isn't working change it straight away and get back to progressing.
- Never stop learning. Read articles regularly on 'bodybuilding.com' for new information, inspiration and refreshing me on subjects that I might not have read in some time.
- Evaluate my progress daily. This includes my training, diet, mental state and how my physique is responding to my present routine.
MONITORING YOUR DIET AS CAREFULLY AS YOU WOULD PRE-CONTEST
I follow many of the top natural bodybuilders and they all seem to almost keep their off-season diets as clean as they do pre-contest. Skip La Cour, multiple winner of the Team Universe, eats almost exactly the same all year round, just with bigger portions in the 'building' stages to give the muscle the correct quality nutrition needed to grow.
The main problem I had was that I was simply over-feeding myself. I took in way too many carbs and fat that my body needed. All that happens in this situation is that your body stores the extra calories as fat, which is no use to you and is a pain in the ass to shift when you decide to 'cut-up' later.
For this off-season, I am going to keep a daily record of my diet, so I can clearly understand how my body is reacting to the amounts of food I'm eating. This way, I will know if I can increase my intake when my weight is staying stable, or if I need to cut back slightly if my waist starts to increase.
Rich Gaspari, used to keep records all year long to fully understand his body and being a 'Haney' away from winning the Olympia you can see that it is well worth doing. When I do decide to increase my intake it will be in small 250-500 calorie jumps, depending on my needs, adding an extra meal replacement might be just the trick to gaining new muscle.
Previously, I wouldn't think twice about eating junk food in the off-season and allowed myself anything I wanted, foolishly thinking that I would use the 1000 calories I got for the pizza to build more size. Now, I will make sure I'm only having a cheat meal once a week.
I know this can be hard to follow with all the tempting fast food places everywhere, however I know that by sticking to my plan and eating the muscle building diet I will reap the rewards much sooner, and be proud of my dedication and accomplishments.
I will continue to be strict on my supplement intake, making sure that I take in enough quality Whey protein, Glutamine, Creatine, Meal Replacements and Amino Acids in order to give my body the optimum environment for muscle growth.
I will also experiment with other supplements that I haven't used before to see if they work well for me. I used to slack off on my supplement timing and sometimes used to miss taking them because of the costs involved. I am now allowing for those expenses and plan for the costs accordingly so that I never run out of the supplements I need.
I haven't competed since 1996 and am really motivated to do well in my return to competition. This involves making some big improvements and being continuously progressive each week with my training. I keep charts which show each weight session and I put in my performance each session, so that I can see how things are going and get fired up to improve further.
The charts include my strength goals for the end of the off-season so to never let me get complacent. I find this practice very motivating and would recommend anyone to do this to push themselves to new levels.
I am following a 4-way split as per my BFL training routine. I'm still getting good gains from this so will keep using it until I feel the need to change things around.
I like to cycle my exercise sequence and selection in order to keep my body guessing and I have two routines that I alternate between. I vary my rep scheme to further ensure that I keep the muscle from becoming stale. Below is my off-season routine:
Day 1: Chest, Calves, Triceps, Abs
Day 2: Back, Rear Delts, Traps, Biceps
Day 3: Aerobics And Abs
Day 4: Delts, Triceps, Biceps
Day 5: Legs, Deadlifts, Calves
Day 6: No Training
Day 7: Aerobics And Abs
Each session counts, so unlike before I would miss training through the occasional lazy spell, I will now never miss training. Unless I'm ill, or there is a family crisis I will be following my training plan to perfection.
Sure, I appreciate that there will be obstacles to steer me off course, however that's what forward planning and organization is all about. Vacations, work and your social life, these can all present their own problems. But if you're flexible and motivated you'll be able to continue to train 100% constantly.
OFF-SEASON AEROBIC WORK
In the past, this would only involve 5 minutes on the bike prior to a workout. Now, I realize the real benefits to doing aerobics all year round.
Apart from the obvious health reasons such as lower heart rate, lower blood pressure, improved circulatory system, another great benefit is keeping the metabolism fired up. This is important when you want to go into your pre-contest phase, your body is already burning calories efficiently and you don't have to spend months trying to get the metabolism up.
I used to believe that doing aerobics would stop me from building muscle. I realize now that by doing four aerobic sessions per week you will not inhibit muscle growth and actually this allows you to eat more due to the calories burned.
For aerobics, I personally alternate between normal 30 minutes lower intensity aerobic session and 15 minutes high intensity interval sessions. I find this an effective method of preventing aerobic work from becoming boring.
I hope that by reading this article some people who might be making the same mistakes I used to will be able to correct them and start following a better system during the off-season.
No longer, do I view the off-season as the easy part of the training cycle. In fact, now I see it as important as pre-contest. It is the off-season when you get the opportunity to make some serious muscle gains, which after a pre-contest diet can be proudly displayed on stage.
All the best,