If you’re like most bodybuilders, your training year follows certain patterns based on the four seasons. Spring and summer, being the warmer months, are usually when we decide to get ripped. The goal is to maintain as much mass as possible while shedding as much bodyfat as we can.
Often competitive bodybuilders select their contests so that they’ll be in shape during the warmer months. It makes sense. Why not look your best when you can actually show it off a little? It’s not as if you can go to the mall in January in most parts of the country wearing a tank top and shorts, at least not without looking either incredibly vain or clinically insane.
When the cold winter months come, we shift our focus to heavier training with the goal of gaining raw size. Coldweather clothing keeps us covered anyway, so it’s not a big deal if we get a little soft while piling on mass. In the couple of months of transition between the two phases, though, we languish in indecision, struggling to figure out exactly what we want to accomplish with our training.
On one hand we’re trying to stay somewhat lean. At the same time we feel it’s time to think about making gains again. We lose valuable training time because we lack a clear direction. It’s happened to me many times, and it should sound familiar to a lot of you too.
After some thought, here’s what I propose: Whether you’re competing or not, consider yourself on a contest diet for at least the duration of the summer. Eat clean, increase your cardio, and make a solid effort to get as lean as you can. Pick a certain day when you want to look your best—maybe a Labor Day barbecue at the beach, and your sister is bringing her hot friend; an actual contest in late August or early September; or a photo shoot with a professional photographer who’s recording your progress and your peak condition this year.
Next, take advantage of a trick that Mr. Olympia champions Dorian Yates and Jay Cutler are famous for. When the big show was over, most of their rivals went on vacation, or at least took a hiatus from the gym. It could be a week or two, or, in extreme cases, what Ronnie Coleman did for many years, go for months without touching a weight.
A lot of competitors believe their bodies and minds need a break after all the months of strict dieting and rigorous training, but that’s the absolute best time to make gains.
Your body is primed for growth, ready to soak up nutrients like a sponge and craving heavy weights after having been given gradually lighter loads over the weeks and months as contest day approached.
Yates claimed he made his most significant gains in the weeks following the Mr. Olympia every year, and many credit Cutler’s immediate return to the gym after the big show with his upset of the supposedly unbeatable Coleman last year. Cutler was gaining ground on his arch-nemesis while Ronnie was kicking back in Texas.
Even if you don’t compete, you can reap the same benefits by following the pattern. Don’t squander precious time and miss an opportunity to put on some significant new size. Choose a date on which you’ll be in your best condition, and consider that contest day. The very next day shift gears. Reduce your cardio, jack up your calories (a few cheat meals a week are fine), and train with heavy, straight sets on the basic compound movements.
Don’t fret too much about losing your definition— you may be surprised at how lean you can stay for at least a couple of months, as your metabolism will take a while to slow down from your dieting phase. Whatever you do, though, don’t remain stuck in some limbo where you’re neither gaining muscle nor losing fat. Results always follow clear goals. And in this case one naturally follows another in a stunning way that you must experience to appreciate.
Q: I read that the myotatic reflex will get more fibers to fire in a muscle and that to get the benefits of it, you have to bounce the weight along the range of motion. How do I know if I’m bouncing enough to get the effect?
A: When they wheel you into the operating room to reattach your torn ligaments and tendons. Seriously, don’t ever bounce along the range of motion. Some advanced athletes use a plyometric technique to enhance explosiveness and improve performance on the playing field, but it’s not necessary for most bodybuilders, and it can be dangerous.
That’s not to say you have to forget about the heightened fiber activation associated with the myotatic reflex. While most of the studies on prestretch involve a rapid shift from the eccentric to the concentric stroke of a repetition, my contention is that when a muscle is put in its ultimate stretch position— such as the bottom of an overhead extension—a simple twitch to reverse the movement will trigger the myotatic reflex and put the muscle in a hypercontracted state.
That’s one reason I recommend that bodybuilders use stretch-position movements—such as stiff-legged deadlifts, incline curls, overhead extensions, sissy squats and pullovers—at almost every workout. Getting more fibers to fire at any one gym session is a key to achieving the fastest development, but you don’t have to bounce a weight to get that positive reaction—unless you really enjoy tendon-reattachment surgery.