There's a song on the radio now called 'Summertime Sadness,' and I'm sure many of you are a little bummed to see that summer is over. No more heading off to the beach to soak up the hot rays of the sun and show off the physique you work so hard for. Already the mornings and evenings have a chill in the air, and even though the days are still warm you know the cold is coming. But it's not all bad. If you look, you can always find the positive in any situation. Fall and winter are traditionally the 'off-season' months for bodybuilders. This is when we do our heaviest training and eating and pack on raw mass. You're not going to be in tank tops and shorts for quite a while, which means a bit of bodyfat is acceptable to gain along with slabs of new muscle size. In today's blog, I want to talk about how to maximize your training and eating so you can get the absolute most out of these colder months coming up.
The off-season is all about adding size, and compound movements get that job done better than anything else. Don't worry about doing isolation movements, though you can still work them in occasionally. For the most part, you should devote most of your time and energy to these proven basics:
Bench press (barbell and dumbbell, flat and incline)
Overhead press (barbell and dumbbell)
Your reps can be 8-10 most of the time, but you should also work up to heavier sets of 3-6 at times, making sure you are thoroughly warmed up and using good form. These heavier sets will help you get stronger, which will carry over to being able to go heavier on your standard 8-10 rep sets. And getting stronger should be your goal. Write your workout down in a log book, and strive to add a little more weight or do another couple reps with the same weight as the weeks go by. Over the course of the cold months, you should be able to substantially stronger in all the exercises listed above. Progressive resistance is the name of the game. If you start the off-season off squatting 225 for 10 reps and by spring thaw you can get 315 for the same 10 reps, I guarantee you that you'll be able to see a real difference in the thickness of your quads and hams. Don't rush from set to set, either. That's great for when you want to burn more calories and get leaner, but for now you want to fully catch your breath and recover so you're able to give the next heavy set your best effort.
As for cardio, you should do a very moderate amount just for the general health of your cardiovascular system. Three sessions of 20-30 minutes a week should be all you need.
You need to eat big to get bigger, but don't confuse that with eating a bunch of fast food and junk! Flex Lewis likes to say 'quality food for quality gains.' Another way to put it is, if you eat a bunch of garbage, you'll look like garbage. Some bodyfat is acceptable to gain in the off-season, but you never want to get sloppy looking where you can't even see your abs. Most of your food should be clean just like when dieting, but in larger amounts; especially from energy sources like complex carbohydrates and healthy fats. Your protein should still come from chicken, fish, turkey, lean red meat, and eggs. Great carb sources are rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, oatmeal, whole-wheat pasta, and fresh fruit. Get your healthy fats from raw nuts, salmon, and natural peanut or almond butter. You should also eat raw vegetables two or three times a day for their vitamins and minerals, but more so for their fiber content. When you eat a lot of food, it's critical that you stay regular!
How much should you be eating to make quality gains? Just like with a training log, a food log is invaluable at arriving at your optimal amounts of macronutrients and calories. If you aren't gaining any weight at all, you aren't eating enough. If you are gaining weight but most of it is in the form of bodyfat, you're eating too much and need to reduce your carbs a bit. Ideally, you want to be gaining weight that's mostly in the form of lean muscle tissue. That is, you should be getting bigger but not much fatter. A good starting point is to eat 1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight every day, and 3 grams of carbs. See how you do on that, and begin adjusting from there.
What about cheat meals? If you eat clean most of the time, there's nothing wrong with rewarding yourself once or twice a week with something like a burger and fries, a few slices of pizza, or a bowl of ice cream. Just keep an eye on your bodyfat and avoid the temptation to start having cheat meals every day, then more than once a day, and so on. All those foods might taste great, but in excess they will only make you gain a lot of fat you'll have to work hard to get rid of once the weather warms up.
There are a few excellent products I can recommend to help you pack on muscle over the next few months. If gaining weight is a struggle, the weight gainer Real Mass is just what you need. MyoFusion Elite Protein and IsoFusion are protein powders that come in several delicious flavors to help you meet your protein needs every day. Before training, SuperDrive will give you the energy and focus to be a beast on the gym floor, while Vasotropin can magnify your pumps like crazy. During and after your workouts, a mix of Aminolast and GlycoFuse will give your muscles all the amino acids and readily available carbohydrates they need to push harder with the weights, then start recovering and growing right away.
That's my outline for what you can do to make this coming off-season as productive as possible. I want you to gain all the muscle you want, so train heavy and hard, eat plenty of nutritious food to feed those muscles, add in some excellent supplements, and your physique will be bigger and better in a few months!