Here are some more very common questions that I get on a regular basis.
Q. How long should an off-season be?
A. Roughly speaking, between five and nine months. If it's four months or shorter, I think you might just be starting to make some very decent gains and now you have to switch over to dieting mode. After nine months, I think most people have stalled out on gains as the body has become quite accustomed to a massive caloric and protein surplus, as well as very heavy weights. It's primed to cut some weight and get lean at that point, and really; you are shooting yourself in the foot by never mixing in cutting phases at regular intervals. You are almost certainly at a plateau. The joints have to be pretty much beat to hell by nine months too. No matter who you are, at some point there will come a time after enough consistently heavy weights, your tendons and ligaments are going to start really feeling worn-out. Another thing I've personally experienced is that when you've been 'heavy' for a very long time, it will be tougher to get back into good condition than had you stayed at a more reasonable bodyweight. I do have bodyweight goals and targets, but I never let them become absolutes. For instance, if I am trying to hit 240 but by 230 I can see I've crossed the limit with acceptable bodyfat levels; I can't justify gaining any more. Once you see and accept that you are carrying more bodyfat than you should be, it would be ridiculous to keep trying to see more weight on the scale until you get that bodyfat in check.
Q. What is the best post-workout meal?
A. I believe in having a post-workout shake immediately after the workout to get a lot of quality whey, BCAA's, simple sugars, creatine, and L-glutamine into your system fast. My choice for this shake for a good four years now has been SizeOn Maximum Performance from Gaspari Nutrition. About an hour later, occasionally 15-30 minutes more, I like to have either chicken breast, ground turkey breast, or whitefish like cod or tilapia (fish, admittedly rarely), along with white rice, a sweet-potato, or oatmeal, and typically a couple wedges of fresh pineapple for dessert. I know a lot of guys like steak, but I feel that it's too slow-digesting to get into the system as fast as possible. Maybe a cleaner source like half a chicken breast along with 4-6 ounces of steak would be ideal; with both a fast and longer-acting protein source. I would still stick with some type of rice or potato to go with it. As for whether this meal should be clean or a fast-food type meal, I would go with clean just because I feel the quality of the protein in particular will be higher, with much lower saturated fat that really slows digestion to a crawl.
Q. How many sets of an exercise should I do?
A. Not counting warm-up sets, it can range from one to four. One is the minimum needed to stimulate growth (some would say it's all you need), while I doubt it's necessary to do more than four tough sets of any given exercise in any given workout. If you can do more than that, you can't possibly be exerting maximum effort on each. And if somehow you are, you are putting a lot of stress on your CNS (Central Nervous System). The muscles can recover if given ample time, but if you are overloading the CNS with extended workouts using high intensity and taking all sets to failure and beyond, you are going to fry it out and overtrain. An old adage I think makes a lot of sense is, "you can train long or hard, but not both."
I have vowed to take at least one full day off from the gym each week during this off-season - and that means nothing, not even cardio. I may even see what two days off does if one day off yields good results in terms of muscle gains. I will still be doing a minimum of three days of cardio a week for 20 minutes, more likely 30. I do like to maintain a decent level of cardiovascular fitness. I think it's ridiculous that anyone calling him or herself a 'bodybuilder' should get winded climbing a couple flights of stairs!
Finally, if you are wondering who the new guy with the huge triceps is, that's Mark Lovell. I met him through Jose Raymond. Jose coached his girlfriend Joyce Moulton to her victory in the Figure C class last weekend at the NPC New England.
Mark himself competes in the bench press. His last meet was the 16th annual RPS Boston Power challenge on October 20, where he did 420 pounds raw in the 198-pound class. Raw means no bench shirt or wraps, and this was a record in the over-40 class (he's the same age as me, 43). He hold records in various sanctions: APA, AAU, RIPL, USPF, and RPS. This is one guy who actually has an accurate answer if you ask him, "How much do you bench?"
Talk to you all later!