Planning an off-season is going to be a very individual thing as the end result or “goal” will differ from person to person. As bodybuilding is my chosen sport, and the majority of bodybuilders will aim to gain muscle mass during an off-season, then that’s the kind of route I’m going to go down with this article.
However, everyone reading this will be able to take something away and implement it in to an off-season plan, as there are many things to think about. There are also other variables like length of off-season, starting point, current condition etc, that would need to be taken into consideration when making your individual plans.
Things to think about:
- Nutrition and supplementation
If you’re serious about your off-season and you have plans in place and stick to them, you will succeed. To do this you need to think about what your main goal is. What do you want to achieve during your off-season? This could be just working on weak areas or gaining as much muscle mass as possible.
Time is going to be a major factor here, as you’re not going to put 20lbs of tissue on in three months. You may have a competition in mind you are aiming for, which be the time limiting factor, so the rest of the points I’ll talk about need to be related to the time you have before the show. You will also need to take into consideration how long you want to prep for the show. Bear in mind that nothing hardly ever goes to plan the first time around, so the majority of your plans will most likely be adjusted as time goes on.
Training styles vary from person to person and only with experience will you find out what really works for you. For the less experienced guys, you need to experiment with volume, rep ranges and weight. However, regardless of training style, you need to be training hard, as gains don’t come easy.
In my personal opinion, you can’t get away from old-school heavy basics, training low volume and to complete muscular failure on everything. Especially for assisted athletes, you need to be pushing your body to new limits every workout to progress. If you are progressing in strength and your weight is going up, then that is a very good indication the tissue is going on. The moment you stop progressing (which you will, and this is normal as progression is never linear), some things needs to change. Which nicely brings me onto my next point … the importance of logging your workouts.
If you are not keeping track of the weight you’re lifting and for how many reps and sets, then how on earth are you going to know if you are progressing? Whatever your training split is, you need to get a logbook and write everything down. Have two or three workouts that are the same and do them over and over for a period of time, keeping track of weight and reps.
Every time you go back to the same workout, try and beat the previous one. This could be a heavier weight for the same reps, or more reps with the same weight – the idea is constant progression. Once you stall, look at changing the split to something different with different exercises.
Nutrition and supplementation
This is going to be the most individualistic factor in one’s off-season programme. So, I guess the basic principles involve not overeating, not accumulating a lot of body fat and not making life a lot harder for yourself when it comes to prep time.
Saying this, you can’t be afraid to eat, as calories will build the muscle you want. You must be in a calorie surplus in the off-season, so you will gain some fat – just try not to get too sloppy. This is the time to enjoy yourself, so make sure you do, but if you’re serious about your long-term goal, always keep that in mind.
The aim is going to be to start your food pretty low and increase calories slightly as time goes on. If you start on 8000kcal a day after a show, you will get huge and gain a lot of body fat. You need to teach your body to utilise the food so it gets used and not stored. Plus, if you start at the upper limit of anything, then where do you progress to?
I’ll still be eating six meals a day of clean food with a few cheats thrown in each week, depending on my weight and how I’m looking. If my coach feels I’m getting sloppy, he will no doubt back off the calories for a little while or add some cardio to my training. At the moment, he has given me macros to stick to but I have control over food choices and zero carbs on none training days, but fats increase. As I’m in a rebound phase and gain weight quite easily, I’m still also doing 30 minutes of cardio, five days per week. However, this is all individual to me.
My supplements stay pretty consistent throughout the year. I only really use them around my workouts where I’ll take in EAAs, creatine, cyclic dextrin and peptopro. I’ll also have a whey protein and oats meal as my pre-workout meal and whey protein in a cereal meal post-workout on some days.
The amount of carbs I take in intra-workout will increase as prep goes on and I’ll no doubt get some added pre or post-workout also. Training hard will cause a lot of inflammation in the body, so I’ll be getting about 5-6 grams of omega 3s in every day, as well as a multivitamin, 1600mg of curcumin, 4g of vitamin C and 5000iu of vitamin D. We could go on and on about supplements, but these are a staple for me and I recommend everyone takes these as a minimum.
I’ll touch on progression once again, as this is the whole point of an off-season. If you look exactly the same when you get on stage a year later, that is a year wasted. Getting stronger and getting heavier should be your main focus. If one or the other stalls, then you MUST change something to continue to progress.
If you are truly pushing your sessions, your strength will increase. If you’re eating your food and pushing your sessions, your weight will increase. These are both good indicators that the muscle mass you’re aiming for is going on. If your weight stalls, increase your calories. If your strength stalls, change your training split – but this doesn’t mean you need to change your split if it’s the same as the previous week. You need to give each split a good 10-12 weeks before you change. As I said before, progression will never be linear.
- Log your sessions
- Make sure you’re progressing
- Eat your food
- Train like a mad man
- Enjoy time with the family and do all the things you can’t do during prep but …
- Always keep sight of your goals