Ahhh, the "offseason". A time when one can relax a bit on food selection, training intensity, and basically half ass it until it's time to get your game face on.
If that's your attitude, then you can definitely expect to fall short of your strength of physique goals when the time to "turn it on" does come around.
The offseason is actually the "onseason" in regards to improvement for the competitive strength or physique athlete. The worst thing you can do is treat this time with a lackadaisical attitude that many approach it with once the competition is over. I too fell into such a mentality, and realize in retrospect that I wasted many years being highly unproductive during the times between competition.
For a lot of people, once the competition is over, there is a certain amount of drive that is lost because there may not be an eye-on-the-prize at that moment. This doesn't mean one has to get online and sign up for a competition right away. However, if you do plan on competing again then you need to approach the offseason with the mentality that it's the most optimal time to set yourself up for success on the stage, or the platform.
There's a lot to be said for what you do with this time in comparison that you do with the time leading into competing. Some of the issues that can, or need to be addressed in the offseason are the following....
Address weaknesses - Any muscular area that is creating a weak link either in your physique or strength movements. The offseason is the time to put them at the forefront of training so that when competition time rolls around, this is no longer a problem. For strength athletes that means assessing the musculature that is often the secondary or tertiary mover that is holding you back. For the bodybuilder or physique competitor, this is where you put that lagging bodypart on the training version of a nuclear meltdown mode for a few months to bring it up to give you balance.
Once in prep, the time to do so has either passed or it will be far less efficient due to either needing the time to specialize in certain movements, or a lack of calories. Prep time is when focus should be centered around working the movements you will perform in competition, or muscle retention while fat is stripped off for the stage. This is not the time where energy should be taken away from those things so you can fix something you knew was broken after your last competition.
Address mobility issues - This is another assessment. Are you immobile, or just too weak to hold a position? Everyone thinks they have mobility issues, but most often what I've seen is that it's the weaker guys that tend to have these problems more than stronger guys. I'm not saying this is the case 100% of the time, but the guys squatting 225 often think they need to foam roll, and do 17 mobility movements in order to squat, when the fact is, they are probably just too weak to hold the proper position when executing the technique.
However, I'm not bypassing legitimate mobility issues. So if you have one, use the offseason to address becoming more mobile in whatever area needs that attention. . This should be something that helps with injury prevention. And injuries are probably the biggest issue in regards to setbacks that there is. Time spend in rehab is less time spent improving at whatever it is you are preparing for. Again, once competition prep time comes around, this should have been taken care of.
Address technique - This is far more paramount for the strength athlete. If you're in meet or strongman prep mode, that is not the time to be changing around technique and tweaking your movements. That's a great way to second guess yourself on game day, and end up failing due to overthinking, or falling back into old habits that were causing you to fail.
The offseason is time that should be spent drilling technique every time you set foot in the gym. It should be second nature by the time you are getting ready for competition. You should have training blocks during the offseason where technique is drilled at high volume and moderate to low intensity blocks. By the time you start getting ready for your next competition, your new and improved technique should be an afterthought. If you're tweaking and playing around with technique during the preparation process then your focus is not where it should be. And that is executing the movements in the manner you're going to perform them with on competition day. If you are tweaking your squat every workout going into the competition, what squat is going to show up on game day when it's max effort or max repetitions?
Address specialization - This could essentially be the 2nd part to addressing weaknesses. Specialization means you're going to be spending the majority of your training time working on improving musculature that is lagging or weak.
For the strength athlete that is weak off the floor in deadlifts, this is the time where they would work on quad size and strength, because that's actually what creates more power off the floor.
However I want to be clear on something here, both the strength athlete and the competitive bodybuilder should have the same goal in the offseason. And that is, building lean muscle mass. This is not a time for doing 1 rep maxes for YouTube likes. Strength athletes should be doing movements that help build the musculature involved in the competitive lifts, and bodybuilders should be specializing in building muscle mass in their weak bodyparts. It's hard to grow in a calorie deficit, and basically impossible unless you're a noob. And it's hard to specialize with extra training days a week if you're already doing three or four big training sessions based around the competitive lifts.
Have a training block in the offseason that is designed for overall hypertrophy, but also one designed for addressing a particular bodypart that is holding your strength or physique goals back.
Recover from injuries and implement preventative measures - Again, this could be an extension of the mobility part, except that maybe you don't need to do mobility, you just need to give the joints a break from pounding a heavily loaded bar in fixed mechanical positions for those movements. I once had a hip injury that no matter how much I rehabbed it, got any better. Everytime I squatted it would flare up.
I tried everything under the sun and worked with two physical therapists to fix it. Nothing helped. Eventually, I just stopped squatting and left it alone for a few months. When I went back to squatting it was fine.
Part of assessment, especially when it comes to overuse and chronic pain from training, is to be smart enough to know that you need to stop doing certain movements, and let go of the notion that you have to marry yourself to them. There's nothing more bewildering to me than someone so stupid (ahem, me) that they won't stop doing a movement that causes them pain, because they've convinced themselves that they will shrink or lose all sorts of strength if they stop doing it each week.
If you're a very advanced lifter, and have spent years and years building a foundation, it will take all of about 2 sessions of bringing a movement back before it feels natural again. And if you're smart, it will take all of about 4-6 weeks to be back at your baseline level of strength for it. The body is smart, and does not forget.
This is also the time to sit down and figure out, if you can, how you ended up injured. Is it overuse? Stop doing it so damn much. This whole mantra that has taken over in regards to strength that you have to do the lifts 10,293 times a week is baffling to me. If you're playing the long game, then part of that is understanding that longevity means not putting the gas pedal to the floor all the time. That's a great way to cut your lifting career short. Just ask Ronnie Coleman.
Remember training gives and takes. And the type of training you are doing, if it is extreme, will end up taking a lot more than it will give back. If slow and steady does indeed win the race, then understanding how moderation works is imperative. This doesn't mean not to train hard, or train heavy, or train with low volume, it means finding balance among those things that keep inching you forwards, without putting you on the ropes later because you got silly and stupid with your training ideology.
Implement conditioning and eat properly - Once again, once people think "offseason" they can often become a sloth in regards to conditioning, and undisciplined when it comes to their habits at the dinner table.
If training in the offseason is going to be as productive as possible, then your work capacity needs to be high. After all, this is the time when growth should be taking place due to extra calories. If you're gassed after a set of 5 reps on the squat, then you're short changing yourself in regards to growth. You need to be able to recover from balls out sets within a few minutes, and do another if possible. And possible another. For decades 20 rep squat workouts were the staple for growth. If you want to throw up at the mere thought of doing a set of 20 reps on squats, then what does that say about your work ethic and work capacity? How about two sets of 20 reps?
Without some level of conditioning then doing a significant amount of volume, or doing gut busting sets is going to be a wash. This doesn't mean you need to turn into a marathon runner at all. But you should at the bare minimum have two or three days a week where 20 minutes of your training is dedicated to improving your work capacity through cardiovascular work. That can be a fast paced walk, sled pulls and pushes, or sprints. But it needs to be something.
This should also be a time where you keep your bodyfat in check, or get it in check, and implement the 90% rule in regards to whole, nutritious food. Here's an idea - earn a cheat meal in the offseason. Most people equate cheat meals during a dieting phase only. But your surplus in the offseason should still be made up of whole foods and not processed garbage. Force yourself to earn your cheat meals in the offseason as well. I know, that's an alien concept but if you're going to diet down later on then you've used the offseason to implement the ideology that cheat meals still need to be earned.
Conclusion - The offseason in some ways is actually far more valuable and important than the time being spent just preparing for competition. This is where you continue to work on your foundation of strength and muscle mass, implement techniques for injury prevention, address current injuries or nagging pains, address weaknesses, and set the stage for a better performance come competition time.
This is a time where you should be training as hard as possible and eating in a very disciplined manner in order to make sure those things come to fruition. Don't treat your offseason like time off. Use it wisely and destroy your old performance easily when it rolls back around.
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