Coming off a show, most of us want to make progress. Before I even hit the stage, I'm thinking about what I want to work on, what I need to work on, and what my next steps should be. For me, the contest isn't the end of anything, it's just one stop in a cycle of progression.
People think of physique sports in two phases, either prep, or off season. What you do in, or with, that time makes all the difference. I'm always surprised when someone comes to me at 16 weeks out and is ready to start working out in preparation for a contest.
You have to have some mad genetics to only work out during a 16 week prep. Most of us do not fit that category. Thinking of those two phases, let's talk about the anatomy of a successful off season.
The period immediately following your contest leaves your body very anabolic. That means it wants to gain. When you fuel well, you will gain muscle. When you go off the rails, you will rebound and get really fat.
Let's assume you want to fuel well and make progress. Take advantage of this opportunity by:
- Maintain meal frequency - continue to eat your 5 or 6 meals per day. You've trained your body to work well with this.
- Follow your exit plan - your coach has provided you with an exit plan, follow it. If they didn't, it's time for a new coach. The exit plan is as important as any aspect of your prep.
- Cut back your cardio - hopefully you haven't been doing a lot of cardio during your prep. Regardless, you want to taper the cardio back.
- Lift - you'll have the fuel necessary to lift heavy again. Your energy will be up, and it's time to put it to use focusing on the areas you want to improve.
- Manage your extras - I like to treat "extras" with caution. Rather than having a little bit of goodies every day, maintain a schedule of a re-feed, or cheat meal.
Over time during your off season, it's easy to step away from the structure. You start to feel like you don't really need it, or you might be sick of eating your food...this is where people get in trouble during their off season. Before you know it, you've gained a lot more than you intended.
Stay in touch with your coach. The most successful athletes work with their coach year round. Having the guidance, accountability, and objective eye of your coach is as valuable off season. You can expect more flexibility, more options, and in some cases less frequent check ins.
Keeping focused during your off season allows you to make gains while maintaining a reasonable level of body fat. I don't subscribe to getting fat in order to gain muscle. You can make lean gains.
And hopefully, your method of eating has become a lifestyle. That's what it takes to make progress, have a successful off season, and become a better athlete.