The world of competitive bodybuilding takes more than just physical endurance—it takes a great deal of mental fortitude and dedication. For one show, an athlete may take 12 weeks to prepare. However, if one decides to continue on to compete in multiple shows, there will be an inevitable off season. A time when the body can gain back some of the needed weight and recover from the intensity of contest prep. It is also a time to improve one’s physique for the next competition season.
Each competitor feels differently about the offseason. Yes, one is allotted more calories and tends to do less cardio, all of which sounds great. But, there is more to the off season than eating more and running less. The off season, from what I have found, can be harder than the contest prep. The mental shift from focusing on leaning out to focusing on bulking up is a hard transition—one that I have been struggling with throughout my offseason thus far.
As many of you have read, I have gone through many ups and downs. I’ve seen great muscle gain but also experiencing added weight to my midsection, which has affected both my confidence and motivation. I can’t help but wonder if I will be able to lean out like I have in the past, and this terrifies me. Have I added too much weight? I just don’t know what to expect and how I will transition back to contest prep.
Since my last emotional slump, I have been working hard to accept my body and appreciate how great it truly is. I understand that if I am not happy with my body then I will not succeed on stage no matter how my physique looks. Because of this, I have come up with some strategies to help boost mine, and perhaps your, confidence:
1. Focus on the great things your body can do. The weights your biceps can lift, the miles your legs can carry you or the bend that your back can accomplish.
2. Spend more time naked. This may sound strange, but it is something I have done in the past and has helped me to accept my body. Seeing your body, all of your body, on a more regular basis helps to feel more comfortable in your skin and with your refection. It is becomes less of a shock to see the beautiful curves that you possess.
3. Add motivational or uplifting post-its around your house. Hide them in places so they come as nice little surprises throughout your day.
4. Stop following so many other competitors. While there are so many incredible women out there in the fitness world, it is easy to start comparing yourself to those individuals. This can lead you to feeling insignificant compared to them or unhappy with your progress.
In addition to working to improve my body image, I am working hard to really bump up my intensity at the gym. Because my work schedule leads to late nights, I get up early to fit in fasted cardio and am lifting as heavy as possible. I feel incredibly drained most of the time. Overtime, my workouts have suffered because of this. One of the key elements to the off season is not gaining unwanted weight. Cardio is decreased during the offseason to allow for the muscles to grow. Because the amount of cardio is decreased, the intensity needs to be increased in order to minimize the amount of inevitable fat gained.
This is where I have been struggling. My body is so sore and so tired in the morning when I wake up that the thought of treadmill intervals makes me want to cry. After a long talk with my coach and a re-evaluation of what I want, I am doing everything I can to push myself in order to gain what I want. I know that if I want to step on stage in the spring with a physique that will wow the judges, I need to push myself now.
Another key part of the off season is eating as many calories as possible to gain muscle without gaining too much fat. This can only be done however, if one’s metabolism is running on high gear. Because of these two elements I have developed a new mantra that so far is helping to motivate myself to push it:
Hardwork=Fast Metabolism=More Food
While it may be silly to use food as a motivator, I love food and it truly helps me to push through exhaustive workouts. Speaking of exhausting workouts, I have changed my workouts to shock my muscles and, boy, have they been shocked.
MY NEW TRAINING APPROACH
My new program still utilizes a high-volume, heavy lifting philosophy but the reps and range of motion have shifted. Depending on the day, I either employ 6 sets with a rep range of 20/16/12/10/8/8 or 5 sets of 15 or 5 sets of 35.
During those sets where the rep range is 35, the exercise goes as follows: 15 reps full range of motion, 15 reps half range of motion, then 5 reps full range of motion. For some of the exercises (i.e. dumbbell side raises), I have to change to a lower weight when executing the 50% ROM (range of motion) reps, because the ROM change hits the muscles in a completely different way. Changing my workouts regularly has truly resulted in great gains. Below is one of my a shoulder/chest workouts as well as a leg workout using this method.
Standing DB Side Raise: 5sets x 35reps (15/15 at 50% ROM /5)
Standing Barbell Upright Rows: 5sets x 15reps
Seated DB Side Raises: 5sets x 35reps (15/15 at 50% ROM /5)
DB Shoulder Press (seated or standing): 5sets x 15reps
Hanging DB Side Raises: 5sets x 35reps (15/15 at 50% ROM /5)
Barbell Incline Chest Press: 5sets x 15reps
Wide Chest Press: 5sets x 15reps
HEAVY Lying Leg Curl: 5sets x 35reps (15/15 at 50% ROM /5)
HEAVY Stiff Legged Deadlift: 5sets x 35reps (15/15 at 50% ROM /5)
Seated or Standing Leg Curl: 5sets x 35reps (15/15 at 50% ROM /5)
Reverse Hack Squat, Legs Positioned Similar to Sumo Squat: 5sets x 35reps (15/15 at 50% ROM /5)
Weighted Hip Thrusts: 5sets x 35reps (15/15 at 50% ROM /5)
Weighted Step Downs (using assisted pull up machine, toes hanging over the edge of step): 5sets x 35reps (15/15 at 50% ROM /5)
Hip Adductor: 5sets x 35reps (15/15 at 50% ROM /5)
These workouts are incredibly tough. It is vital to lift as heavy as possible and really push through the exhaustion. In order to keep my energy high during these long grueling, I drink an Optimum Nutrition Amino Energy and BCAA drink. It helps to keep my muscles fueled and pumped throughout the workout.
The offseason is a challenge. I have found that in order for my offseason to be successful, I need to make sure that I continue to be content with my body and my mental state of mind. I must be happy with myself before I can even consider being happy in the competition world. I am taking more time to focus on my relationships as well as spend more time going out and participating in activities that aren’t necessarily bodybuilding focused like going to concerts, hiking, going out to dinner, etc. Distracting myself from the stress of the offseason is vital to continuing to improve and work hard. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them in the comment section below or follow me on Twitter or on Facebook. As always #trainhard.