Typically speaking, the competitive bodybuilding/physique season begins in the spring and carries on into the summer and early fall months. After that, there's a break in the year that many will refer to as their offseason. Even if you aren't competitive, you still may follow this schedule as you want to look your best when the weather is nice and then during the winter months, you might bulk up a bit and lose some of your conditioning all for the sake of adding new muscle for the next summer season. Regardless of which category you fall into here, you should take this 'offseason' period of time as seriously as you do the time when you're trying to get nice and shreddy looking so that the gains keep rolling in. If you want to be known as a bodybuilder or other physique athlete, you need to look like one at all times so here's a few strategies for you to keep in mind heading into the upcoming offseason.
Stay Relatively Lean
There was a time in bodybuilding when getting as huge as possible in the offseason was the accepted practise. This approach was based on having to see the number on your scale go up and up as regularly as possible. It didn't really matter how much extra fat you put on while you did this as the thought was that along with the fat will be new muscle and you'll see it once you get rid of the fat come competition time. The only real flaws in this strategy was how it made you feel and how hard it was to drop all of that extra fat. Carrying around a ton of non-useable weight (the fat) detracted from your ability to function optimally both in the gym and in life. It just wasn't healthy. When you're trying to grow new muscle tissue you want to feel good, have energy and still look like you're a bodybuilder. The best way then to grow in the offseason is to stay relatively lean as you progress through the weeks. This way you'll look good, feel good and perform at the level needed to induce hypertrophy in a much healthier way.
Now, even though I just said for you to stay relatively lean in the offseason, that doesn't mean you have to restrict your caloric intake. If you do that, you won't grow. You have to be in a caloric surplus to feed growing muscle tissue so that means you have to eat and eat a lot! To do this you have to put together a nutritional plan that will put you in that caloric surplus state but through lots of clean calories. What usually ends up happening is people will understand they need lots of calories to grow and the quickest and easiest way to get a bunch of calories in is through dirty food choices. It's much easier to get in your required caloric intake by eating calorie rich foods such as fast food combos, fatty cuts of meat, breads made from enriched white flour, soft drinks etc. But you have to remember, all calories were not created equally despite what the IIFYM's society will tell you. Clean calories are the way to go here. Yes you will have to eat way more food this way because clean foods don't carry the number of calories per serving that the dirty foods do but you'll be much better off for doing so.
Keep the Cardio in Place
Finally, one of the biggest mistakes made by overzealous offseason bodybuilders in their quest to get as huge as humanly possible is the ditching of their cardio programs. The thought is why would I do something that's going to burn up all the calories I'm taking in when I'm eating my face off to maintain a surplus. This mindset is completely flawed. First, if you think doing twenty to thirty minutes of cardio daily is going to burn up all the food you've consumed, then either you're not eating enough or you're doing some type of cardio that I'm unaware of. Secondly, it's all about the intensity you utilize when performing the cardio. In the offseason, you're not trying to get sweat soaked being able to hardly breathe, you're just performing it so that you keep your lungs healthy and in excellent working order, for mobility purposes and for general health purposes by getting your heart rate elevated for a little bit. Finally, the cardio will help keep you in shape so that you don't get out of breath after a couple of sets into your weight training session. If you're too winded to complete your training, what good is that when you're trying to build new muscle. So put your Super Freaks to work and stick with the cardio.
The offseason is a glorious time for us. We can eat, sleep and just enjoy the feeling of growing. Stress levels should be down, a more relaxed approach to life should ensue (even though you have purpose everyday) and the number of Heydays you have in your closet should rise exponentially. If you can do the offseason right, you'll look and feel way better than you ever have and if longevity in this sport is what you're looking for, then this is the approach you need to take with each year that passes.
Author: Dana Bushell
AST Sports Science sponsored athlete/writer, sponsored by Schiek Sports Inc.