Last time I offered some tips for your off-season, today I will finish with a couple more.
1. Don’t let the off-season go on forever
Our bodies adapt to just about anything eventually, because they are forever seeking homeostasis, or equilibrium. Many of you have noticed this effect after being on a cutting/contest diet for long periods of time. Eventually, fat loss slows to a crawl as your body fights to hold on to its previous fat stores, which are what kept our ancestors alive in times of famine. At some point, any further fat loss is going to be nearly impossible. A similar phenomenon occurs when a gaining/bulking phase is extended too long. The body adapts to the increased calories, and your odds of gaining more muscle are going to remote at best. You can always keep increasing calories and gain more weight in the form of bodyfat, but for most of us that’s not an acceptable option. This is why you need to set a clear limit on how long your off-season will be. Obviously if you compete, that will be easy enough, as you will simply transition over to prep mode.
For those who don’t compete, the temptation to ‘perma-bulk’ is always there. Don’t do it! Pick an arbitrary date, such as the first day of spring, or the first of May, whatever, and set that as the day you start cleaning up your diet, adding in more cardio, and dropping some bodyfat. Even if you don’t particularly mind being in full-blown off-season shape and have no real desire to diet just to look better, do it anyway. You’ll be resetting your metabolism so that in a few months when you start up your next gaining phase, it will be a shock to the system and you can make some nice gains.
As a side note, it’s also simply better for health reasons to take your calories down for a while and do more cardio. Eating less and weighing less put less strain on your heart, stomach, and all the organs in general, and those should get occasional breaks. As much as many of us (me included) are always trying to get bigger and heavier, it’s not the best thing for optimal health. Personally, as much as I don’t find joy in a very strict diet and doing more cardio, I certainly do feel much better when I am eating totally clean, eating less, and have more aerobic endurance. At 240+, I have less overall energy and stamina, and I do find it uncomfortable in several ways. For those reasons, I like to ‘end’ my off-seasons even when I have no plans to compete.
2. Try new exercises and techniques
For some reason, many of us tend to get more excited about our training and decide to try new methods when we’re dieting. As I’ve talked about before, very few people can gain muscle when they are dieting and getting leaner. For that reason, it’s pretty much a waste of time to shake up your workouts much. It makes far more sense to try out new things in the gym when you are eating more and have more energy available to recover and grow. This is also the time to work on bringing up lagging bodyparts. When I hear guys talking about how they are working on improving something like their upper chests or quad sweep when they are 8 weeks out from a contest, I just roll my eyes. Dude, you are only eating 100 grams of carbs a day and doing 45 minutes of cardio 7 days a week. You are not going to improve any bodypart under those circumstances. The off-season is when you should give something like Mountain Dog Training, DC, or FST-7 Training a solid try. Then you will know if it really works well for you, as you will be in a great position to grow.