The most productive training phase for bodybuilders intent on becoming stronger and more muscular is, for many, also the most joyous. Yes, the much-anticipated off-season, where muscle gains are supersized and where food is prized as much for its taste and enjoyment value as it is for its performance enhancing and muscle-building benefits.
While shredding, a much more stringent undertaking,
is done expressly to reveal one’s underlying musculature, the off-season is where a lifter, cloaked with more size, performs at their best in the gym and, unencumbered by an arduous and energy-sapping pre-contest regimen, can exert more effort and recover faster to build more muscle.
In contrast to those who tend to relax their training and nutritional habits
when not dialling in for a show or otherwise working to achieve their leanest possible physique, smart lifters are extra diligent when planning their offseason routines. It’s a period that’s not to be taken lightly when striving for all things heavy (in this case, weight on both bar and scale).
The offseason is not simply an excuse to eat buffet-style at every meal or take an extended hiatus from intensive training (or, at best, miss an ‘occasional’ workout). To state what should by now be obvious to most seasoned lifters: the offseason remains the most important time to build muscle and improve muscular weaknesses. Without a productive break from the rigours of shredding, pre-contest success is much less likely.
Considering that the shredding period is a tremendous toll
on muscle preservation, the more muscle built in the offseason, the better a lifter will look when it comes to cutting-up (acknowledging the fact that for most bodybuilders, some muscle will be sacrificed when aiming to achieve a ripped appearance).
Consider this article your definitive guide to productive offseason mass-building and, in turn, a more impressive ‘in shape’ physique. Below you’ll learn what to do and what to avoid when seeking to bulk-up with quality mass. And because training remains the most important way to trigger impressive mass gains, five whole-body workouts are included to provide a unique stimulus to further thicken up your physique.
Before launching into the five workouts (each of which is designed to build inches where previous programs may only have added mere centimeters) it’s imperative that to gain any degree of offseason success, the following five important points be implemented on a consistent basis.
The notion of offseason cardio is, for many, as much an oxymoron as active recovery (pure recovery requiring the complete cessation of movement, the most effective form being deep sleep). However, when properly structured into a mass-building plan, cardio may not only be essential to keeping fat stores at an acceptable level but also integral to enhancing muscle gains along with what should be the most important training outcome of all (whether offseason or pre-contest): excellent health and wellbeing.
The trick is to successfully implementing cardio
is to determine the ideal amount necessary to promote all of the above without compromising strength and depleting muscle tissue, the solving of which would rank among the most perplexing of training dilemmas.
The best forms of cardio for offseason lifters are of a low-impact nature, remembering that the lifter will be up to 40lbs heavier and thus more susceptible to injury during repetitive, jarring activities. Stick with low intensity, steady-state cardio incorporating stationary cycling, the stairmaster or fast walking on the treadmill.
Both research and anecdotal evidence show that cardio can interfere with strength gains.13, 44
Many powerlifters, for example, choose to forgo cardiovascular-based activities in order to keep strength gains steady when preparing for competition. However, research also shows that cardio can assist with muscle hypertrophy, making it an important training factor for physique-focused lifters.22
The benefits of cardio for muscle-building include better health (the body tends to grow faster in a healthier state), blood and nutrient flow to muscle tissue, and waste product removal (to expedite muscle recovery). In addition, cardio can also promote clearer thinking and improve one’s drive to succeed (through general improvements in mental health, including positive thinking and higher than normal expectations to succeed).
While so-called concurrent training (strength and endurance work performed in the same routine) may deleteriously affect progressive strength improvements, it’s nevertheless important to incorporate a certain amount of cardio for its health and hypertrophy-inducing benefits.
The big question is exactly how much cardio to include.
While the quick answer would be ‘the bare minimum needed to expedite fat loss, increase cardiovascular fitness and enhance muscle gains’, this requirement may differ from person to person. More specifically, for offseason lifters, the optimal body-composition balance to strike through the consistent implementation of cardio would be no more than 16% bodyfat (for males) and 25% (for females) with concurrent, steady strength increases and the complete preservation of lean muscle tissue.
To gauge whether a cardio regimen is excessive or on point, strength, lean muscle and bodyfat levels must periodically be assessed. As a general rule, an effective offseason cardio schedule may comprise three (and no more than five) 30-minute low-impact sessions per week.
A higher caloric intake combined with none of the usual stresses and strains specifically associated with the pre-contest period makes the offseason a perfect opportunity to increase training volume and thus progressively reap the benefits of doing more of what works best.
The body experiences much less depletion during the offseason
compared to when shredding for the beach or stage. In a less-depleted state the muscles may work harder for longer and, as a result, stand to benefit from more frequent bouts of muscle protein synthesis.
While hard training remains the most important precursor to muscle protein synthesis, too much resistance can create excessive inroads into recovery. Once again, the right balance must be struck between doing just enough to stimulate growth and not so much that muscle gains are restricted.
For muscle hypertrophy, the current scientific consensus states that the more muscle protein synthesis achieved through heavy weight training,
the greater the anabolic response, and, ultimately, the more muscle gained.23, 24, 25, 31, 32, 33, 39 Whereas training one bodypart per week may work for some, and may produce some results, it appears that the best way forward is to hit each grouping at least twice a week.
While the good news is that a single bout of training can promote post-workout protein synthesis for up to 48 hours for beginners and around 16 hours for advanced lifters, this prime growth-period may effectively cease outside of these respective timeframes.
However, by training each grouping twice a week, up to double the protein synthesis can be achieved
while ample time is left to ensure complete recovery (again, this is much easier to do in a well-nourished and less depleted offseason state).
In the routines to follow, greater than normal amounts of offseason protein synthesis can be achieved with the implementation of one whole-body training workout structured into an existing training split.
As much as many lifters may try to rationalize their light-to-moderate lifting bias by claiming that a superior pump and a stronger mind/muscle connection are all that is necessary to progressively build muscle, the fact remains that to truly thicken up the physique, the heaviest weights possible must be included on a regular basis.
The formula for impressive size gains will always be: perfect training execution, continuous muscular tension, a strong mind/muscle connection and ultra-heavy weights.
The heavier a weight, the harder a muscle will be forced to work to counter its gravitational pull (if it is to be lifted through a full range of motion with perfect form). Clearly, lifting massive weights in such a fashion is not something our muscles are designed to do, and may even lead to injury if done haphazardly.
So, the body must adapt so that the same weight, and potentially more weight, can safely and effectively be managed the next time around. Only by increasing the size of existing muscle fibers can such muscular adaptations be made possible.
The three important steps in this process are:
- stimulus (heavy weights)
- recovery (with rest, correct supplementation and quality food)
- positive adaptation (more muscle growth, to make further lifting less potentially injurious)
It all begins with the heaviest possible weights, lifted for no more than 8-10 reps per set (the ideal balance for progressive strength development and the attainment maximum muscle hypertrophy).
Building the kind of strength that can be readily translated into lean muscle (ultra-heavy weights in the 8-10 rep range) generally requires an increase in bodyweight, which, for most lifters, means adding a little extra bodyfat. Don’t be alarmed. The fact remains that a lifter will never be as strong pre-contest as they are in the offseason, and a lot of this has to do with their heavier offseason bodyweight, which will invariably include some additional bodyfat.
A heavier bodyweight can increase leverage to assist with lifting technique and maximum power output, a fact best exemplified by the world’s best powerlifters, who, for the most part, would be classified as overweight (with a bodyfat percentage of 20% + for male lifters).
Extra bodyfat can also help cushion the joints, to reduce the potentially-damaging impact of ultra-heavy weights and provide extra support when the heavy iron is bearing down. In addition, the caloric surplus required to bolster bodyfat provides a fuller array of beneficial, strength-boosting nutrients along with an increase in energy that’s often lacking when certain nutrients are restricted during the shredding phase. For example, the extra saturated fats in a typical offseason diet have been proven to enhance testosterone production while a higher carb intake provides a ready supply of the most efficient form of usable energy suitable for bolstering anaerobic output.9, 14, 41
So, while the extra adipose will not directly lead to greater power and strength as fat cannot produce force (only muscle can do that)
the aforementioned indirect benefits of ‘bulking up’ can indeed enhance lifting success to ultimately assist with the laying down more lean muscle. And this is why the offseason remains the ideal time to truly up the poundage, and build more size.
The key to successful bulking is to keep fat gain in perspective. For example, while a little over 16% bodyfat (for males) will likely provide the added fat mass needed to enhance lifting prowess, 20% or more, maintained consistently, may contribute to health problems (for example, an increased likelihood of heart disease) along with a less than impressive physical appearance. Bottom line: when seeking to gain a maximum amount of muscle, a little extra fat is not to be feared.
The heavy lifting and caloric surplus required to optimize offseason mass-building cannot be achieved on an erratic or insufficient intake of nutrients. While the ideal ratio of nutrients required to keep the body anabolic and growing will vary from person to person, the exact number of calories and macronutrient composition of one’s diet must err on the side of more rather than less. After all, we are talking here about gaining weight, getting stronger and, ultimately, building more muscle. The greater the nutrient surplus (within reason), the better our chances of doing just that.
optimize offseason mass-building
But remember, the body will always grow faster in a healthy state, so be sure to include for the most part the same kinds of foods typically consumed pre-contest, just a great deal more of them (an extra 2000 calories a day of largely healthy fare for the typical offseason lifter).
To offset the rigors of a more intensive training schedule (complete with heavier weights and a twice-weekly muscle group training regimen), load up on animal proteins such as steak, chicken and fish, along with eggs, cottage cheese, nuts, seeds and a few high protein cheat meals per week. Rice, sweet potato, various fruits, green vegetables and oatmeal remain caloric-dense, yet highly nutritious carbohydrates for bulking.
Once a nutrition plan suitable for a lifter’s specific caloric requirements is determined (factoring in bodyweight and existing bodyfat percentage), it’s to be followed rigorously. Time must be set aside for meal preparation and consumption, and no meals are to be missed. Getting in enough calories can be extremely difficult and this remains one of the biggest barriers to offseason productivity. Yet, to assure success, it must be done.
An effective way to achieve a maximum number of calories (a trick many strongmen competitors use to reach staggering numbers on the scale and lifting platform) is to consume several highly nutritious shakes throughout the day.
With a modicum of effort, a good weight-gainer supplement combined with essentials such as glutamine and creatine and various fruits/vegetables can easily add 1000+ calories (per serving) to a good offseason eating plan.
As mentioned above, a heavier bodyweight (resulting from a combination of muscle and a smaller amount of fat) will enhance strength to increase muscle size. Getting sufficient calories from food alone, however, can be an agonizingly difficult task for most people (to achieve 4000+ calories may require eating 6-8 meals a day, which may produce stomach bloat not to mention making meal preparation and food consumption a lengthy process).
Instead, 1-2 power shakes per day can be added to provide up to 2500 calories of muscle-building nutrients. Today’s best mass-gainer is the aptly-named QUICKMASS. Providing 1100 calories and 64 grams of protein per serving, along with 24 vitamins and minerals and a slow-release carb blend, QUICKMASS can add quality pounds to any physique in the shortest possible timeframe.
Even when sticking rigorously to doing no more cardio than is necessary to keeping the body from entering obesity territory while promoting health and wellbeing, ensuring muscle preservation, and enhancing strength levels, cardio (even 30 minutes three times a week) still burns a combination of fuel sources.
This means muscle is targeted along with fat and carbohydrates. However, by taking the premier BCAA product AMINOCORE prior to cardio and during weight training, less protein degradation is likely to occur. 1, 2, 6, 11, 12, 15, 18 With 8180mgs of pure BCAAs (including 3681mgs of L-Leucine, the most important amino for steady muscle protein synthesis), AMINOCORE is perfect for keeping the body in the highly-anabolic state that all lifters need to achieve.
Subjecting the body to weak after gruelling weeks of heavy lifting can take a toll on the body, in particular the joints. In fact, of all barriers to successful lifting, painful, inflexible joints would have to be among the worst and most debilitating.
Fortunately, ALLMAX have formulated the most potent COLLAGEN product available today. COLLAGEN (with biotin and vitamin C, for tissue regeneration) could be likened to a glue that holds the body together (indeed, collagen is the most abundant of proteins and essential for joint mobility and strong bones).3, 4, 8 Taking collagen in the offseason can assist with the additional tissue regeneration required following heavy lifting while also preventing sore joints and stiffness from impacting training success.
While a caloric surplus and more resultant energy will go a long way to boosting training intensity, the offseason lifter would also be well-advised to include two of today’s most powerful workout supplements to ensure each factor associated with high-quality training is properly addressed.
With CARBION+, a specifically engineered blend of high-performance carbohydrates, the most trusted of training fuels, is provided, with none of the energy crashes and bloating typically experienced with other sports drinks.5, 19, 20, 34, 35, 36 Among CARBION+’s phased-delivery blend of carbs is the uniquely assimilated and performance-enhancing Cyclo-D, which is designed to increase time to exhaustion, keep energy high despite increases in training intensity, and enhance recovery.
When taken a post-workout that also includes high-dose and rapidly assimilated versions of the four key electrolytes (sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium) needed for optimal hydration and increased performance.
Another workout enhancer with proven efficacy is the non-stimulant IMPACT PUMP. With high doses of proven nootropic agents’ Alpha CPG and Lion’s Mane Extract along with heavy duty pumping ingredients’ Citrulline Malate, and Agmatine Sulfate, Glycerpump, and Taurine, this product is specifically formulated for serious lifters, and an ideal companion for offseason training.21, 26, 28, 29, 37, 38, 40, 42, 43, 45
CVOL is a sugar-free post-workout recovery drink designed to deliver increases in muscle strength & volume. CVOL has been formulated with 5 g of a Creatine Chelate Complex including Creatine Magnesium Chelate. CVOL also contains 2.5 g Taurine, 1 g L-Carnitine L-Tartrate, 1 g Betaine and 800 mg Beta-Alanine; a rock-star list of the “go-to” ingredients, dosed at effective levels for rapid recovery from intense training.
As well as including the one-two punch combo of CARBION and IMPACT PUMP, the offseason lifter will require both creatine and glutamine to ensure a high anerobic output, full muscle cell volumization and enhanced strength, and improved immune function, efficient recovery and faster tissue healing respectively.7, 10, 16, 17, 27, 30
- Each of the following whole-body workouts is to be incorporated into an existing split routine.
- Complete your normal training split Monday through to Thursday (if necessary, rearrange your schedule to ensure Fridays and Sundays are rest days). Completing each of your weekly workouts may require twice-daily training. If training two groupings a week, cut back to one grouping, and include them from Monday through to Thursday.
- Beginning with workout 1, complete each of the following sessions each Saturday over a five-week period, then repeat the sequence for a further five weeks. Keep repeating until it’s time to shred (at which point, your normal routine can be resumed).
- Begin each movement with a warm up set using 50% less weight than required for the first ‘work set’.
- Medium-width squats supersetted with leg extensions: 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Dumbbell walking lunges: 3 sets of 10 reps (per side).
- Hammer curls supersetted with close-grip pulldowns: 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Reverse-grip bar rows: 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Incline dumbbell presses: 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Barbell bench presses supersetted with close grip bench presses: 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Dumbbell front raises supersetted with side laterals: 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Dumbbell curl-press: 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Tricep rope pressdowns: 3 sets of 10 reps.
- One arm dumbbell kickbacks: 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Standing calf raises supersetted with seated calf raises: 3 sets of 20 reps.
- Chest dips supersetted with decline dumbbell presses: 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Flat bench flyes: 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Dumbbell shoulder presses superseded with dumbbell front raises: 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Pullups: 3 sets of 15 reps.
- Reverse-grip lat pulldowns supersetted with one arm dumbbell rows: 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Deadlifts: 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Leg presses supersetted with leg extensions: 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Wide stance squats: 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Toe presses on leg press machine supersetted with standing calf raises: 3 sets of 20.
- Barbell curls supersetted with straight-bar pressdowns: 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Seated cable rowing: 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Deadlifts supersetted with dumbbell shrugs: 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Close grip pulldowns supersetted with machine chest presses: 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Incline barbell presses: 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Bent over lateral raises: 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Side laterals supersetted with seated barbell presses: 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Medium-width squats: 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Walking lunges supersetted with leg extensions: 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Calf raises: 3 sets of 20 reps.
- One arm overhead triceps extensions: 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Alternating dumbbell curls: 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Lying triceps bar extensions supersetted with dumbbell hammer curls: 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Side lateral raises trisetted with bent over lateral raises and dumbbell front raises: 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Dumbbell bench presses supersetted with incline dumbbell flyes: 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Decline bar presses: 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Bent over barbell rows: 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Close-grip pulldowns supersetted with barbell shrugs: 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Front squats: 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Leg presses supersetted with leg extensions: 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Donkey calf raises: 3 sets of 20 reps.
- Standing calf raises: 3 sets of 20 reps.
- Dumbbell triceps kickbacks: 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Rope pressdowns: 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Incline dumbbell curls: 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Barbell curls: 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Wide stance squats supersetted with dumbbell walking lunges: 3 sets of 10 reps (10 per side for lunges).
- Leg extensions: 3 sets of 10 reps (per side).
- Seated dumbbell presses supersetted with side lateral raises: 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Front raises: 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Bench presses: 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Incline dumbbell presses supersetted with bench dips: 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Dumbbell shrugs supersetted with reverse grip lat pulldowns: 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Deadlifts: 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Chin ups: 3 sets of 15 reps.
- Lying triceps extensions supersetted with dumbbell kickbacks: 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Dumbbell curls supersetted with reverse bar curls: 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Standing calf raises supersetted with seated calf raises: 3 sets of 20 reps.
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