Most Common Mistakes During The Off-Season
By: Alex Stewart
Now that summer has come to an end and tank tops and shorts are replaced by baggy pants and sweat shirts, it can mean only one thing in the bodybuilding world: it is time to bulk.
Your goal this winter should be to put on some solid beef. The off-season is the time to make the improvements to your physique so that you will improve your placement in your next contest or bring up a lagging body part. Every off-season, many bodybuilders fall short of their goals. Why? You might ask.
Below are some of the most common mistakes bodybuilders make during the off-season that hinder their gains. If you can avoid as many of these mistake as possible, you will be on your way to a productive off-season.
1. Not Eating Enough:
First off, I have to say that women tend to fall victim to this mistake a lot more than men. The reason behind this is that women hate putting on weight and after looking so good on stage the last thing that they want to do is put on fat. So they continue to eat like they are still dieting. The result is they don’t have the energy to make any new gains or improvements to their body and, in many cases, lose muscle mass.
The off-season is the time of year a person makes 95% of their improvements to their physique. Without the energy and the fuel, via a surplus of healthy clean food, you cannot make the improvements you need.
Make sure that you are eating enough calories to enable you to make those improvements and show up better next time you step on stage. Though you might put on a little (note I said a little) body fat, the body fat will come off once you diet down for your next show.
2. Not Eating Enough Healthy Clean Foods:
What is the first thing you do after you step off the stage with all of your trophies (let’s be optimistic)? You go directly to your favorite restaurant, or fast food place, and EAT. Granted, it is fine to indulge in good food after the show is over. You earned it. However, don’t let a fast food frenzy spill into your off-season diet.
Now, above I talked about taking in enough calories so you can put on good size in the off-season. You might say, “fast food and junk food are calorie dense so why not have them once or twice a day so I can bump up my overall calories?”
While you want to have excess calories while bulking, the majority of those calories should be from clean healthy foods: lean cuts of meat, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats. The off-season is the time to put on size but the majority of it should be muscle, not fat. A diet riddled with junk food will result in little muscle gain and plenty of fat storage. Clean it up and you beef it up!
3. Staying Away From Carbohydrates:
Carbohydrates are a very important part of the off-season diet and a great energy source, if used properly throughout the day. Simple carbohydrates (i.e. fast digesting) are great to have post-workout because they spike your insulin level and drive the glycogen into your muscles.
They also help to drive the amino acids from your protein shake, that you should have post-workout, with that simple carbohydrate to aid in protein synthesis (i.e. muscle building). Complex carbohydrates provide a more prolonged energy source and are great to have for breakfast or later in the day.
Examples of complex carbohydrates are oats, brown rice and sweet potatoes. Examples of simple carbohydrates are sugars, white bread and pasta.
4. No Cardio:
This is a huge mistake that I see all the time and 99% of the time men fall victim to the no cardio approach in the off-season. They justify it by saying “I don’t want to lose any size.” Well, I am here to tell you that three 30 minute cardio sessions a week will do wonders for your bulking phase.
By incorporating a cardio routine into your workout program, your appetite will go through the roof, which will make it a lot easier to eat clean healthy food. You also will improve your cardiovascular system, which is critical when lifting heavy.
I have seen countless guys fail to reach their desired rep range because their cardiovascular system failed on them. They were strong enough to get those extra 2 reps but were too out of breath and had to rack the weight. Sooner or later you will start losing muscle if you don’t reach your desired rep range. If you want to put on that size start, then start doing some cardio.
5. Too Much Cardio:
Ladies, this is where many of you slip up. You don’t want to put on those couple of extra pounds so you stick to your contest prep cardio program. Your body cannot make improvements in muscle size and shape if you are expending too much energy with cardio.
Most people (guys and gals) should stick to a moderate cardio program like 3-4 low intensity 20-30 minute sessions a week. This will keep both your metabolism humming and your appetite up and, most importantly you will be working the heart, which is the most important muscle of all.
6. Too Much Machine Use:
Too many trainers rely too heavily on machine use in their workout programs. With all the new fancy machines out now, who can blame them? They are comfortable, smooth and easy to use. But I have the motto: “nothing in weight lifting is easy.”
These machines do have benefits, when used properly and are great to supplement your program (I like to use them at the end of the workout, if I use them at all) but nothing works better than free weight basics.
Free weight basics; with barbells and dumbbells, like squats, deadlifts, rows, bench etc., should be the bread and butter of all of your workouts off-season and pre-contest. They recruit the most muscle fiber use which will lead to maximum growth and improvement. Only after you have exhausted maximum energy with the free weight basics, should you think about using machines or cables. Remember, the harder you work, the better the results and nothing is harder than free weights.
7. Not Enough Rest/ Recovery Time:
In the off-season, your major goal is to put on lean muscle mass. Many novice trainers don’t realize that you do all your growing outside the gym. Even some experienced lifters find it hard to stay away from the gym in the off-season. They do everything right: eat clean, workout out hard, but forget to give their body’s enough rest and recovery time between workouts so gains are negligible.
You break down the muscle tissue in the gym, given that you fuel your body with nutritious food. The final piece of the puzzle is time. You need to give your body time to recover. Without adequate time to recover, you will break down already broken down muscle tissue caused by over training.
There is a lot of debate over how long a muscle needs to rest/recover from a workout before you should work it out again. I am a big believer in 72 hours, or 3 days of recovery time. If the muscle still seems to be sore, give it another day of rest. The last thing you want to do is to injure yourself.
Worrying about the scale has caused a lot of men to put on fat in the off-season. Men love stating how much they weigh, if the number is above 200 lbs. So in their pursuit to put on as much weight as possible, most of these ego driven males end up putting on a substantial amount of body fat.
Your body cannot continue to add pounds of lean muscle mass each week, so if your weight continues to increase every week, you are probably putting on too much body fat. I tell my clients to focus on what they look like, not on what the scale says.
Women are the complete opposite once they see their weight go up; they either stop eating as much or do a lot of cardio. This shift is driven by the pursuit to keep in contest shape. However, this practice will make it extremely difficult to make improvements.
9. Lack Of A Goal:
This issue is for my competing athletes and starts immediately after your contest is over. You should talk to the judges about your presentation to help you understand where you can improve and what your strong points are. Then, in the next week or so, sit down with your personal trainer and discuss how you are going to approach the off-season and make the improvements to your physique.
I see many competitors, pros and amateurs alike, who show up every year looking the same. These individuals don’t improve and also don’t win. Judges take notice of competitors who improve on weak points and they will reward you with a higher placing. So in the beginning of the off-season, make some short and long term goals for yourself; this will help keep you focused on the improvements that you need to make between competitions.
10. Skipping Meals
This is a common mistake made by the hard gainers. They are not hungry so they either push back the meal by an hour, or worse, just skip it all together. This is a big mistake. Your body needs protein every 2.5-3 hours so your muscles can have a steady stream of available amino acids.
You need to keep your body in a positive nitrogen balance. When your body doesn’t have enough amino acids, it goes to your muscles to find them. Your body will begin to eat away at your hard-earned muscle for fuel, a result you must avoid. This is referred to as a catabolic state.
The difference between the amount of nitrogen taken in and the amount excreted or lost. If you excrete more nitrogen than you consume your body will break down muscle tissue to get the nitrogen it needs. (Negative nitrogen state) Muscle loss occurs. If you consume more nitrogen than you excrete you will be in an anabolic – muscle building – state (positive nitrogen state).
You want to be in a positive nitrogen balance as much as possible, which is referred to as the anabolic state (i.e. muscle gaining). If you can’t stomach a full meal, then try to suck down a whey shake. This will give you enough amino acids until you eat your next meal.
The off-season is a time to make improvements to your physique. Use this time as productively as possible by avoiding any of the mistakes discussed above. Wasted time is wasted growth so if you find yourself falling into any of these pitfalls, then make a quick correction in your diet and/or workout programs. If you can do this, you will be well on your way to adding that desired inch to your physique.