The majority of competitors understand the importance of the offseason but with so many conflicting resources, it can be hard to know where to start. This article is written towards physique athletes who have prepped for a competition but these same principles can be applied to strength athletes and non-competitors who have dieted. The following outlines my top four steps to making the most of your offseason!
Step One – Have a plan
While this may seem obvious, having a plan for your offseason is so important! Do not feel pressured to stick to the original plan since you will need to be flexible as the offseason progresses – but having an initial plan set up for post competition is crucial to long term success. Consistency rules the offseason. Being consistent day in and day out is above anything else on the totem pole of importance. Will be there be days where you slip up, fall off your diet or training program? Of course. These days should be expected and built into your offseason plan by not setting up something that is unattainable to begin with. If you know that you have 4 days to dedicate to training, don’t write a ‘perfect program’ on a 6 day split just to miss the mark each week (this can also be psychologically damaging). Same goes for diet – if you are someone who cannot see yourself feasibly eating off a meal plan or something very restrictive, why set yourself up for failure? Instead set your plan up for fit your lifestyle and goals – this will in turn make your more consistent which will always produce the optimal results.
Avoiding yo-yoing is also a key component to having a successful offseason. Having a plan eliminates yo-yoing to some degree but only if your plan is sustainable and maintainable. Whether it is yo-yoing with your diet (overeat then under-eat) or training (fall off for a week or two then exercise excessively), these up and down cycles will wreak havoc on your progress. You will be stuck spinning your wheels and hindering consistency to the plan – which we’ve already identified as a key component to your offseason success. Part of having a plan is to create a list of realistic goals you want to hit. Thinking unrealistically will lead you into psychological pitfalls and do more harm than good. For example, as a physique athlete, comparing yourself to your stage physique and thinking you can (and should) maintain that year round can lead to feelings of disappointment, discouragement and ultimately may lead to bingeing and/or binge eating tendencies. This is where having realistic goals falls perfectly into having a plan.
Step Two –Reverse diet
If you are coming off of a competition prep, setting up a reverse diet is going to be essential. The severity of the diet will differ for everyone but having a successful reverse diet right at the start of your offseason will set you up for success not only in the immediate future but also for future competitions and endeavors. Reverse dieting is the concept of strategically adding in calories over time to restore baseline (before you started dieting) metabolic functions. Reverse dieting seeks to avoid the massive weight regain seen repeatedly after bouts of dieting and bring caloric levels back to a more ‘normal’ place all while relatively maintaining your desired physique/leanness. There is no right or wrong way to reverse diet. Everyone’s bodies will respond differently – and can respond differently each reverse – but generally speaking the rate at which you add in calories will typically determine the rate you regain weight. Take home message – a more conservative reverse will likely limit weight regain versus a more aggressive reverse which will likely produce more weight regain.
Step Three – Decrease your cardio
The initial inclination after any competition prep is to stop cardio immediately. Your motivation is waning and the goal of getting on stage is no longer staring you in the face. Trust me, we have all been there but just as throwing all caution to the wind and eating everything in sight is a terrible plan, so is cutting out cardio cold turkey.
Slowly taper cardio each week depending on how you respond. There is no reason to rely on cardio as a weight loss crutch in your offseason. Just as dieting on lower calories than you need to is a flawed concept, relying on cardio year round is also flawed (metabolically speaking). When you hit a weight loss plateau, you want to be able to add cardio in and see results. This will not be possible if you are a cardio bunny year round!
As with reverse dieting and increasing calories, the rate at which you decrease cardio will likely dictate the rate of weight regain. This will vary from person to person (much like reverse dieting) and will also depend heavily on how much cardio you were previously performing. If you have been hitting double cardio sessions per day for the past six months, you will need to taper cardio slower than if you were someone performing a few sessions per week for an eight week diet.
Step Four – Don’t stop training
At the end of a competition prep, most of us are exhausted and burnt out from training. If you have been severely dieting, these feelings are typically even greater. Just as with the natural inclination to drop off cardio is there, the tug to take time off from the gym is strong. Do not take time off right after your prep! I always encourage clients and friends to use the extra food from the competition weekend and those post show treats to fuel great workouts the following week. Your intensity in the gym has likely been tapered off towards the end of the diet so make the most of the energy you have once again.
Continuing to train will keep you metabolically active and put the food to use. Your body does not ‘care’ that you had a show and is trying to store all the extra food you are feeding it.
Remember, this is the time to make improvements to your physique and metabolism so use the time wisely and make the most of your offseason!