So in Part 1 of our series How To Come Off Of A Pre-Contest Diet (And Not Get Fat), we talked about the importance of reverse dieting out of your show meal plan to avoid a rebound or any kind of unwanted excess weight gain. Today’s article will cover how to allow your body to recover and swing into your next phase of training. Now, this article will consider those looking to swing into an off-season protocol post contest.
Taking A Closer Look at Cardio Post Contest
The topic of cardio is a touchy one in the competitive bodybuilding circle. You’ve got one camp that does very little to no cardio, you’ve got some camps doing up to 2 hours (or more!) a day, then you have the folks that are more on the moderate side of the equation. I tend to be more moderate in my approach to cardio. There are some clients that we work with who can get away with doing very little cardio. These people tend to have a higher metabolism in any case, and are often smaller in frame, so using cardio as a tool for fat loss is a more detrimental move as muscle loss can become a major issue. Then we have clients who tend to fall where most people do – those who need to use cardio as a TOOL, but have it intelligently applied to their program to see the best results by showtime. For us, that can mean sometimes 45-60 mins of cardio programmed a few times a week, interspersed with shorter duration and higher intensity work (HIIT, metabolic circuits, longer aerobic type intervals, etc) for 20-30 mins a few times a week. We as a team/staff NEVER prescribe more than about an hour of cardio in a single day for any client. If you need to do that much, then in our opinion, you need to either look closer at your diet or pick a different show. But the truth of the matter is, most people need to SOME form of cardiovascular training in order to get show ready.
Now depending on how your cardio has been programmed, much like your diet, it’s not a good idea to just stop doing it completely. You have to remember that the weeks and months of dieting for your show has left your body in a more vulnerable state. Your metabolism is slower, certain hormones have become downregulated, and physiologically, you’re just in a better position to gain and store fat at a greater capacity. So aside from watching your diet post show, you’re definitely going to want to slowly take the cardio duration down as well.
I like to generally start off with taking cardio down about 10-15 mins for the first week post show. So if a client has been assigned 45 mins on one day, they’ll do 30 mins instead. If they were assigned 30 mins on a day, we’ll do about 20 mins on that day instead. I like to recommend that cardio is simply kept to moderate intensity steady state cardio (keeping HR above 75% MHR), and/or with intervals of 1 min on/off during this deloading period. I’m not a big fan of low impact cardio at any point on a plan, so we tend to stick with what a client’s plan has been based on throughout the dieting phase. Now if YOUR plan included low impact work, then you can simply stick to that since it’s what your body has somewhat adapted to, but simply take the duration down gradually as explained above.
The second week after the show, we’ll take a look at how our client is progressing. It’s really important to listen to your body and train smart at all phases of the game. We’re looking to make sure fat gain isn’t too much/rapid, hopefully water retention by week two is starting to subside, and their energy is coming back full force in the gym. If things are all going great, we’ll simply take a look at their cardio days, and then work to reduce them. So if a client has been assigned a 6 day cardio schedule, we’ll take that down now to 3-4 days instead. If they are doing about 4-5 days, then taking cardio down to about 3 days is where we’ll end up by week 2. The duration we’ve set in week 1 will remain the same, taking down the frequency does indeed decrease training volume, allowing the body to recover further.
By week 3, we are doing the same process all over again as we had in week 2. Taking a close look at client progress and feedback, allowing those to be the determining factor on what our next moves will be. It’s at week 3 that we will likely take cardio down another 10-15 minutes until that client is hitting around 10-15 mins for the days assigned. We’ll alternate these cardio sessions between moderate intensity steady state work and intervals.
Week 4 finishes off our deload with setting things up for a client’s off season. Typically we like to keep cardio at an absolute minimum – if done at all – for our off season clients. This is a thing that is goal specific, and based upon the individual. Some clients we prefer to stay a little leaner in the off season. These would be the ones we’ll leave cardio in the picture for. However, cardio would be kept at an absolute minimum. No more than a duration of about 15 to 20 mins maximum, and up to about 3 days or less a week. For clients who we decide don’t need cardio in the off season, we’ll take cardio down to about 1-2 days during this final week, then by week 5, remove it completely as we’ll be swinging into a new phase focusing on improving their bodies for the season ahead.
Taking A Closer Look at Strength Training Post Contest
By the final week going into your show, your training has likely ramped down. Many competitors are dying to get back into the gym full force to make improvements right after their show – and that’s a very valid idea indeed. With the influx of carbs and sodium that has been reintroduced into your diet (after few days of celebratory eating), you definitely want to put those calories to good use.
I like to see this time after a show as a time for active recovery. What more time than now to take a small step back and allow your body to recover a bit before hitting it hard with your off season training. In the first week after a show, we like to set up a reduced training schedule for our clients. This will usually include a 4 or 5 day training split where we will have them hit two or three full body workouts (one day of a circuit workout, and one day of a heavier/high tension workout, if a 3rd day is assigned then it’s either one of these two protocols repeated), an upper body day, and a lower body day. We’ll usually instruct our clients to definitely keep the intensity high, but simply play things smart and listen to their bodies. You’d be surprised how much strength can often decrease after weeks of dieting, so when you jump back into the game it’s important to acknowledge where you are presently and not try to overexert yourself. Train and lift heavy, but play smart so that you avoid injury.
We’ll spend a week on this kind of 4-5 day protocol, and reassess at the end of it. Once again, we are paying close attention to how the body is responding. If fatigue is an issue and they need more recovery, taking training down to a 3 or 4 day split is a better idea. Remember, you are deloading cardio at the same time, so total volume is coming down accordingly. If energy levels are not an issue, and they are on track physically, we’ll sometimes leave their set up as is and simply have them repeat this for a second week. Although, sometimes we will take training to a 3-4 day split for the second week to allow a little more recovery time.
Weeks 3 and 4 of our deload are focused on setting up a client’s training split that will lead into their off season. By week three, we are moving into a training split that is reflective of their training set up for the initial mesocycle of their off season. As a coach, I tend to be very OCD when it comes to program design, so myself and our coaches actually set up meso- and macrocycles for every client’s plan. These cycles clearly define what we’ll be focusing on for a 6-12 week cycle before setting up planned deloads, and essentially act as a plan for periodized training for a clients goal. So the final two weeks of our 4 week deloading phase is all about setting up for the off season ahead. Typically that will mean taking out the full body days, as well as the upper and lower body days, and programming a more specific split based on bringing up weak body parts, and improving overall structure. The intensity for these two weeks will be more on the moderate side, still focusing on lifting heavy, but mostly focused on establishing a base for training that will set up the rest of the off season period.
Always remember one thing, in this process you always have to play smart, and plan ahead of time. Competing can offer SUCH an amazing experience for anyone who takes on the challenge. But much like any athlete, in any sport, a smart exit strategy post show is essential as you transition into real life and normalcy once again.
Part 3 will cover supplements that you may want to include to help your body recover in the days and weeks after your show. Be sure to check it out, so stay tuned!
Part 3 – Coming Soon!