The offseason bulk-up is almost like a tradition in the bodybuilding community. When the outside temperature begins to drop, avid weightlifters tend to bump up calories, allow more cheat meals, and push/pull heavier iron in an effort to pack on the pounds.
However, some guys and gals go a little too off during this season and end up adding mostly adipose tissue rather than manifesting mounds of muscle. Here are five clues that your off season may have gone awry, as well as some quick fix strategies to help you get back on track.
It’s perfectly normal to gain a little in the waistline when adding calories and seeking new muscle bulk, but if it gets to the point that you need to purchase all new jeans there is a good chance you have gone too far.
Sporting crisp, ripped abs during the summer months makes heads turn when the shirt comes off, but this occurs less often once you can walk outside and see your breath. It’s perfectly acceptable to allow your six-pack to reduce to four when bulking. However, if each and every ab block becomes buried under fat like the sidewalk in a snowstorm, then perhaps you have gone overboard.
Visible, deep definition between each muscle group is what separates the serious bodybuilder from someone who simply works out. And while it’s nearly impossible to add appreciable amounts of muscle mass while remaining at a low, single-digit body fat level, there is no reason you can’t display ample definition during the offseason. So, if all your cuts are gone, you may have gone off the deep end.
No matter how fit you are, an intense set of squats, deadlifts, bentover rows, or walking lunges will have you breathing like a steam engine and leaning on a bench for dear life. However, if you find this happening during such benign exercises as side laterals, leg curls, or pushdowns, it may be time to check the mirror and see if you are carrying too much fat. Needing three to four minutes between sets of squats is normal, but if you require the same from laterals, there is a good chance your bulk has gone awry.
This may be the most profound clue of all. If the people in the gym who normally greet you with a friendly hello no longer even look your way. Or you run into a few acquaintances around town, and each struggle to remember your name. If (worst of all) your own dog starts treating you like a stranger—perhaps it’s time to rethink your current plan.
One of the best parts about going on a bulk is being able to occasionally stray from your normal menu and allow yourself to indulge in your favorite cheat foods. However, the key word is occasionally. If you are gaining too much body fat in the offseason, try limiting cheat meals to no more than two per week. All other meals should be clean and derived from high-quality foods.
If you are going to enjoy a cheat meal, try to do so at a time when your body is primed to partition the extra calories towards muscle cells (and muscle-building processes) and away from fat cells. The best time for a junk food treat is immediately after an intense weight-training workout. Second best would be at your first meal, after fasting for six to nine hours during sleep.
I understand that adding in cardio during a bulk seems counterintuitive, but trust me when I tell you that bumping your time on the treadmill or bike by 60 to 90 minutes per week will not interfere with your gains, and only assist with keeping body fat in check (and your health as well).
The time of day in which you perform cardio can make it more or less effective, so if you want to limit how much you do, try to be efficient. The best time to kill off body fat with cardio is fasted, first thing in the morning. Second-best is after a workout.
In the offseason, most bodybuilders like to add calories in the form of carbohydrates more than anything. This is perfectly fine, as extra carbs will help you add bulk since they are protein sparing, energy producing, and insulin igniting. However, similar to the strategic cheating mentioned above, my suggestion is to make sure your largest intake of carbs occurs at your first meal and your post-workout meal. These are the times your system will best utilize insulin (for anabolic purposes), and keep your fat cells from over indulging.
When entering into a bulking period, most people opt for increasing calories from carbs over fats or proteins. But this can be problematic, especially if consuming more carbohydrates than your body can handle. So, if you find that you are accruing an unacceptable amount of body fat along with more muscle, then try tweaking your macronutrient profile. Drop your carbohydrate intake by approximately 20 percent, while replacing those calories with complete proteins and healthy fats. This alone may get you back on track.
BY ERIC BROSER