If pre-contest is the time to get mean and lean, then your off-season is when you really want to add some serious mass. Building muscle isn't an overnight process, and you've got to be careful that you don't add too much fat during the off-season. Focus on building powerful legs, a chiseled torso and killer arms. The right off-season training plan can get you in the best shape of your life and set you up perfectly for your next competition.
Separating body parts into different training days is the best way to train for muscle gain, writes strength coach Marc Perry of BuiltLean.com. You can dedicate more time to each individual muscle and hit it harder, stimulating more growth. For a sample body-part split, trainer and professional female bodybuilder Ava Cowan recommends training your legs on Monday, shoulders and abs on Tuesday, arms on Thursday and chest and back on Friday.
While the covers of women's health and fitness magazines may be adorned with pictures of glamour girls performing biceps curls and posing on the thigh machines, these are far from the best off-season exercise choices. Pick movements that work multiple muscle groups at the same time. These hit more fibers and are far more effective for muscle growth. Perform squats and lunges for your legs, overhead presses for your shoulders and chinups and dips for your arms. Hit your chest with bench presses or pushups and hammer your back with deadlifts and barbell or dumbbell rows.
Sets and Reps
Sets and reps can be a conundrum, but to keep it simple, stick to three to five sets of six to 12 reps on every exercise. Generally, one to five reps are best for strength training, 12 reps per set work well for muscular endurance and six to 12 reps are optimal for muscle growth, says bodybuilding coach Katie Lobliner. The weights you're lifting should be heavy enough that every set is a real challenge but not so heavy that you use bad form or fall short of the six-rep minimum. If you can hit more than 12 reps, step things up and grab the next set of dumbbells or load more plates on the bar.
A key factor in off-season progress is rest. That doesn't mean you can skip the gym and sit around eating donuts instead, but you do need plenty of good quality rest to build muscle. On your non-weight training days, perform some light cardio to aid with recovery but don't go overboard, as too much will slow down your rate of muscle growth. Aim for eight hours of sleep per night too -- your body does a large portion of its recovery when you're knocking out the zzzs, so get to bed early and treat yourself to a midafternoon catnap if you can get in a quick 15 minutes without your boss noticing. To get big, you need to eat big too. This doesn't mean gorging on pizza or going to town at the nearest all-you-can-eat restaurant, but you do need to bump up your caloric intake to support growth.
Mike Samuels started writing for his own fitness website and local publications in 2008. He graduated from Peter Symonds College in the UK with A Levels in law, business and sports science, and is a fully qualified personal trainer, sports massage therapist and corrective exercise specialist with accreditations from Premier Global International.