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Off-Season Muscle-Size Strategies

Q: I haven’t yet competed, but I worked really hard to get lean this summer. Heading into 2011, I’m thinking seriously about getting onstage. I know I need to add some muscle in certain areas—once I got the fat off, I could see the weak parts—so I wanted to ask about your off-season strategy. Do you try to bulk up in the off-season?

A: Bulking up—hearing those words makes me cringe. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not in ripped condition all the time, but I’m not intentionally trying to bulk up. All too often physique competitors use bulking up as a reason to eat anything and everything they weren’t eating while on their contest diet. I’ve watched athletes add 30 to 60 pounds during off-season months by bulking up. Having that much fat to lose for contest or swimsuit season means you have to diet harder and do more cardio for a longer period of time to get back into top shape. You can only hope your skin tightens up after being stretched out so far.

I fell victim to so-called bulking up a couple of times early in my bodybuilding career. It first happened accidentally—that is, I really wasn’t trying to gain 30 pounds in three weeks. Let’s just say that I grew up eating a lot of southern fried foods—yes, I owned a Fry-Daddy—hamburgers, pizza, sweets and cokes (for y’all who don’t speak Texan, any kind of sugar-laden sodas fall under the term cokes). After competing in the ’84 NPC USA Championships, I started gorging myself on all of my favorite foods. I gained 13 pounds in 36 hours and continued gorging and gaining for three more weeks until I was 30 pounds heavier and unrecognizable, even to my family. Although people told me that I couldn’t possibly have gained that much fat so quickly and that it must be mostly water, it didn’t come off until I started dieting for my next show.

The following year I kept my appetite somewhat under control after my final contest of the year, so I didn’t gain the 30 pounds in a matter of a few weeks. I intentionally followed a bulk-up plan that was in vogue in the mid-’80s, and by force-feeding myself, I was able to gain 30 pounds over the course of about three months. I was feeling big and strong—probably waddling around with a perpetual lat spread and thinking I was “all that.” To get into ripped condition, I had to diet harder and do more cardio. For my first show of the year I was still about five pounds too fat.

When I finally got the rest of the fat off for the ’86 USA, I was only one pound heavier than I’d been the previous year. I’d eaten all that food, carried all that extra weight and had to buy bigger clothes in the off-season for just a single pound of muscle over the course of a year’s work. Lesson learned.

Since those experiences I’ve always approached the off-season with the mentality that it’s a time to add muscle and improve weak areas. It’s also a time that you can relax your diet a bit. During the off-season you should still eat clean, but you don’t have to be superstrict. What does that mean for me? During the off-season when we go out to eat, I eat the bread sticks they put on the table before dinner. If I’m at a Mexican restaurant, I eat some chips and salsa. I eat pizza a few times a year with my kids. I have a glass or two of red wine in the evening. I eat some of my mom’s apple pie—it’s awesome—at Thanksgiving and Christmas. But most of the time I’m eating very clean.

I do add more starches to my diet during the off-season so that I have abundant energy for training and adding muscle. I increase my intake of Chef Jay’s Trioplex Cookies—man, I love them! Still, I make sure to keep my bodyfat in check. I like to stay within 10 to 15 pounds of my previous contest shape in the off-season. At that weight I’m strong, and as long as I make the right choices in foods, I can eat as much as I want.

As for macronutrients, I pay particular attention to my protein intake. I want to make sure to take in protein at two-to-three-hour intervals throughout the day, and I make sure to total 250 to 275 grams by the end of the day. I’m also careful to keep my fat intake to 20 to 25 percent of my total calories. I’m able to easily keep track of everything using the Lose It app on my iPod Touch.

You’re probably wondering, “What about the carbs?” Unless I start creeping up to 15 pounds over contest weight, I don’t worry too much about them. It’s really easy to get plenty in my diet, especially when I’m eating oatmeal, rice cakes, rice, pasta, bread and two or three packages of Tri-O-plex Cookies per day. Again, if my bodyfat is getting too high, I trim back on the carbs a bit to keep things in check.

Off-season is also a good period to give your body more recovery time. Keep in mind that when you weight-train, you’re stimulating your muscles, but they actually grow when you’re resting. During my off-season I like to cut my weight training back to three days per week. That gives my body at least one full day of rest after every workout. My strength increases, and so does my enthusiasm for training. On my days off I’m really looking forward to that next day, when I can attack the weights again. I’m more eager to lift, and I’m excited about the prospect of being able to lift a heavier weight than last time.

You can see from my current off-season training program that I’ve reduced the volume, but I’m pushing very hard on the things that I’m doing.

Visualize your body as you want it to be next year when you’re back in top shape. Think of your off-season as the chance to add muscle and make improvements while not having to worry about adding a little bodyfat. Make clean eating your lifestyle, and you should be able to eat as much as you want without gaining too much fat. Then, in the spring, you can take 12 to 14 weeks to trim off the 10 to 12 pounds of bodyfat, and you’ll be the picture of chiseled perfection.

Off-Season Workout

Monday: Legs

Deep squats (warmup) 3 x 8-10

Just-above-parallel squats

(heavy) 4 x 5-6

Superdeep squats

1 x 8, 1 x 12-20

Leg extensions 4 x 8-12

Seated leg curls 3 x 8-12

Lying leg curls 3 x 8-12

Standing calf raises 5 x 10-15

Wednesday: Chest, front and middle delts, triceps

Bench press

(warmup) 3-4 x 8-10

(heavy) 4 x 5-8

Incline presses

(warmup) 1-2 x 8-10

(heavy) 3 x 6-10

Machine flyes 2 x 12

Seated dumbbell presses

4 x 8-10

Machine lateral raises 4 x 8-10


Nautilus machine

pullovers 4 x 10-12

Dips 4 x max

Friday: Back, rear delts, biceps

Deadlifts (warmup) 3-4 x 6-10

(heavy) 2 x 3-5

Partial deadlifts (from knees

up in power rack) 2 x 12-15

Close-grip pullups 4 x max

Seated cable rows 3 x 8-10

One-arm dumbbell

rows 3 x 10-12

Machine rear-delt flyes

4 x 10-12

Alternate dumbbell

curls (warmup) 1 x 10

(heavy) 3-4 x 8-12

Hammer curls 4 x 10-12

Editor’s note: See Dave Goodin’s blog at Click on the blog selection in the top menu bar.
To contact Dave directly, send e-mail to [email protected] IM

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