Off-Season Size And Strength Training Program!

The winter months are the time of year to gain mass and strength or maybe by bringing up a weak body part or two. The focus of the following program will be strength, basic exercises and higher reps. Try it out ... if you dare!

Article Summary:
  • Bulking used to go hand in hand with gaining large amounts of fat, but things change.
  • Make sure you have a good strength foundation before trying intense training techniques.
  • Be sure to provide your body with enough rest and nutrients to recover properly.
  • The winter months, for most of us, is the time of year to concentrate on gaining mass and strength, maybe bringing up a weak body part or two. Now isn't the time to worry about 6-pack abs.

    Not that you want to get fat—this isn't a "bulking up" program in the traditional sense—but your training should be more about using heavy weights and adding size, not about getting lean to look good on the beach. Speaking of bulking up ... I remember when I got into bodybuilding in 1980.

    I actually got into it through a friend who had ordered a "Universal bodybuilding" course in the mail. The basic premise was to force-feed yourself, pork up and then diet down to a, "chiseled, lean physique." This is actually the original approach to bulking, although now the term is more commonly used to describe a lean mass program like the one in this article.

    A big part of this routine is to go into it with definite strength goals in mind. You should be looking to increase your strength foundation on the big 3—squats, bench press, deadlifts—and on one basic exercise per remaining body part. The other thing we'll do on this routine is include some higher rep sets to hit different muscle fibers for more complete development.

    Varying Your Rep Ranges Will Allow You To Hit Every Type Of Muscle Fiber.
    + Click To Enlarge.
    Varying Your Rep Ranges Will Allow
    You To Hit Every Type Of Muscle Fiber.

    Split Program Ideas:

    • Day 1: Chest/Back/Abs
    • Day 2: Off
    • Day 3: Off
    • Day 4: Legs/Abs
    • Day 5: Deltoids/Arms/Abs
    • Day 6: Off
    • Day 7: Off
    • This is actually my current split schedule, which reflects the only time I have available based on my work/personal schedule. This is a good routine if you lead a busy lifestyle. Typically, I would not usually work out two days in a row.

      I like to have 1-2 days off between to insure complete recovery, but putting smaller body parts after leg day makes more sense from a recovery standpoint than doing two big body parts back to back. Also, I like combining chest and back on the same day, and biceps/triceps on the same day, something I don't usually do.

      You have to be sure your lower back has recovered from deads in time for leg day, however, as heavy squats also take there toll on your lower back.

    Another Option With This Routine:

    • Day 1: Chest/Back/Abs
    • Day 2: Off
    • Day 3: Legs/Abs
    • Day 4: Off
    • Day 5: Deltoids/Arms/Abs
    • Day 6: Off
    • Day 7: Off
    • This routine makes a lot more sense in terms of recovery. If you're young, and/or taking steroids, your recovery ability will be enhanced. You will probably find that 4 days off is too much, however, your days off are sometimes dictated by your lifestyle.

      Of course, the key to progress in a mass program like this is to use compound, or basic, exercises—like squats, deadlifts, bench presses, etc—and to add weight to the bar every 1-2 workouts. As well, and as I said earlier, working different rep ranges should not be ignored as this leads to complete development because you are working different muscle fibers.

      I know there seems to be a new train of thought that suggests strength gains do not equal out to size gains, that it makes more sense to focus on extending your sets, such as by using drop sets, for example - I'm not convinced of this argument, however.

      I feel that you should strive for a foundation of strength, and once you begin to plateau out, maintain that foundation and move on to intensity techniques to promote continued progress.

    It Is A Good Idea To Build A Good Strength Foundation Before Trying Any Intensity Building Techniques.
    + Click To Enlarge.
    It Is A Good Idea To Build A Good Strength Foundation
    Before Trying Any Intensity Building Techniques.

    Workout 1: Chest/Back/Abs:

    • Bench Press
      3 warm-up sets at 50-60% of your 1rm
      5 working sets, 5 reps each set

      Your first working set should be your heaviest; keep each set as heavy as you can for the required number of reps. I know most programs have you work up through tons of sets to finally get to what is supposed to be your heavy set at the end, this makes no sense to me at all.

      Once you've warmed up, it makes more sense to do your heavy set first, when you're fresh and strong, then work down in weight as you need to due to fatigue. You'll be stronger this way than you would be if you do numerous heavy sets leading up to your top set.

    • Incline Flyes
      3 sets, 10-12 reps
    • Deadlifts
      3 warm-up sets as follows:
        50% of your 1rm for 15 reps
        60% of your 1rm for 12 reps
        70% of your 1rm for 10 reps.

      3 working sets, 6 reps each set.
      If your grip gives out, rest pause your way to 6 reps.
    • Low Cable Rows
      3 working sets, 6-8 reps for the first set, 10-12 for the next two
    • Lat Pulldowns
      3 working sets, 6-8 reps for the first set, 10-12 for the next two
    • Ab Crunches
      3 sets, 30 reps
    • On bench presses and deadlifts, add weight to the bar every 1-2 workouts, even if it's 5 lbs.

        Performance Tips: On bench presses, lower the weight slowly and explode up. Do your reps in non-lockout style, in other words, keep the reps going. On deadlifts, start the pull with your lats.

        If you find from the floor deads hit your legs too much, do rack deadlifts in a power rack with the pins set just under knee height - we want to work the back, not the legs with this exercise. On cable rows and pull-downs, always start the pull with your lats - think of your arms as hooks.

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    Workout 2: Legs/Abs:

    • Squats
      3 warm-up sets, set up the same as deadlifts.
      5 working sets, 5-6 reps per set, make your first set your heaviest.
    • Superset:
      Hack squats with leg extensions-3 supersets of 10 reps each exercise.

      Every two weeks, replace this superset with 4 sets of leg extensions, 10 reps each set with a "static hold" at the end of each set - the static hold is done by holding the weight in the fully extended position for a 10 count. Do this exercise for two weeks then switch back.

    • Leg Curls
      3 sets, 8-10 reps
    • Calf Raises
      3 sets done with 10 seconds rest between sets, 25 reps per set
    • Ab Crunch
      3 sets, 25 reps
    • On squats, add weight every 1-2 workouts.

        Performance Tips: On squats, go to parallel, lower slowly and explode the weight up. You can keep the reps going with no pausing or stopping, or you can pause briefly at the bottom before exploding back up again. Both ways are effective and in fact, you can alternate between both styles.

    Workout 3: Deltoids, Arms, Abs:

    • Overhead Press
      3 warm-up sets, 50% 1rm - 12 reps per set
      3 working sets, 6 reps per set
    • Side/rear laterals
      3 sets, 10 reps per set done in superset style

      Every two weeks replace this exercise with wide grip upright rows-3 sets of 8 - 10 reps. In terms of the range of motion, think of this exercise as more of a wide grip shrug than an upright row. A wide grip limits the range of motion and will hit the side and rear deltoid head and to a lesser extent, the traps.

    • Shrugs
      Do this exercise when you're doing the laterals.
      3 sets of 6-8 reps. Go heavy on this exercise.
    • Lying EZ extensions (skull crushers)/pullover/close grip press
      3 sets of 5 reps per segment.
      This is all done as one exercise, done as a triset.

    • First workout:
      EZ curls superset with cable curls
      3 sets of 8 reps each exercise
    • Next workout:
      Preacher curls superset with hammer curls
      3 sets of 8 reps each exercise
    • On your 3rd workout:
      EZ curls 8 reps superset with high cable curls 10-12 reps
      3 sets
      On the high cable curls, hold the weight in the contracted position for a 3 count at the end of each rep. High cable curls are often done lying on a bench, I do them exactly the same way except I stand facing the machine.
    • So you are alternating three different biceps workouts over three weeks.

      Add weight to the overhead press, EZ ext/pullover/press and EZ curls every 2-3 workouts.

        Performance Tips: when doing the pull-over part of the EZ ext/pullover/press, keep the bar close to your head and pull with your triceps, not your lats.

        I would stay with the basic foundation of this routine - increasing strength on basic exercises - for several months, or until you reach your strength goals but to increase variety, I would change the other exercises every 3-4 weeks or as in the cases where I've indicated in the routine, every couple of weeks.

    Recovery & Nutrition

    All of my workouts are designed to maximize recovery - hitting each muscle once a week, putting 1-2 days in between workouts (except for my current routine, where I have to put 2 days back to back), and limiting the number of sets.

    I allow much more total recovery time than many of the currently popular routines. Most bodybuilders overtrain and undereat - no wonder they don't grow. Muscles need a certain amount of time to recover before you train them again, and your nervous system needs time.

    Typically, 5 days of rest before training the same body part again is a good rule of thumb. Along with this is the fact that individual recovery is based individual circumstances - age, schedule, type of job, training experience, steroids or natural.

    How Many Days Do You Typically Rest Between Training The Same Body Part?

    1 Day.
    2 Days.
    3 Days.
    4 Days.
    5 Days.
    6 Days.
    7 Days Or More.

    One of the most misunderstood aspects of training is the fact that you grow in between workouts when you are recovering, not because of how many workouts you do. Read that last sentence about 500 times. In the 26 years I've been in bodybuilding, I still see far too many people that do not understand that simple concept.

    How recovered you are should determine when you should train. Different muscles recover at different rates than others, and any time you train two or more days in a row, you may be "resting" certain muscles while you train others but you are taxing your entire system, putting a drain on total recovery.

    There are two ways to tell if you have recovered:

    1. If the body part you last trained is still sore on your next scheduled training day for that body part, you have not recovered.
    2. If you are unusually tired in the morning on any scheduled training day, and you haven't changed anything in your approach, you're probably in an overtrained state - you aren't allowing enough time for recovery.

    Of course, steroid users play by a whole different set of rules - you'll want to train each muscle probably in as little as every 3rd day, and you can handle more sets.

    Recovery is also a matter of good nutrition/supplementation: post workout shakes, a diet high in protein - 1 to 1 1/2 grams per pound of body weight, carb consumption should be mostly complex, except the simple carbs surrounding your workout, and should be 1 1/2 to 2 grams per pound of body weight.

    Eating enough carbs fuels you up for your workouts. Fat usually takes care of itself, but you want to avoid high fat foods. If you have any concerns about not eating enough good fat, take some fish oil caps or omega 3-6-9 caps. If size and strength is your goal, don't be afraid to eat good quality food and shakes - don't under eat.

    Have a meal or shake every 2-3 hours. Using a diet journal - tracking your calories, macro-nutrient breakdown and time of meal - is a good idea. I assume everyone uses a training journal so I won't detail that here.

    Give this routine at least 8-12 weeks, longer depending on your strength goals.

    Good luck and thanks for reading.