Well, as I’m certain you have heard before, there is a slight difference in working out off-season versus pre-contest.
For myself, the difference comes in the way of rest in between sets, the increase in poundages used and the amount of workouts per week. During the off-season I usually rest more in between sets and go a lot heavier in my weight training. During pre-contest, I usually use a lot of super-sets and limit my rest times in between sets. I also usually workout four to five times per week during the off-season and six to seven times per week during pre-contest. For example, off-season schedule would consist of one body part per week and during pre-contest I would hit the smaller parts two times per week. This would include arms and shoulders; however, even though the abdominals and calves are considered small muscle groups also, I would train them on an average of two to three times per week all year long.
There are a couple of reasons why I use lighter weights during pre-contest. First and foremost it allows me to limit my rest periods in between sets while increasing my intensity. This in turn burns more calories, which helps me lean out at an accelerated pace. The second reason is to reduce the risk of injury. During the pre-contest phase, staying healthy is crucial to looking your best. The heavier the weight is, the higher the risk of injury will be. However, that being said, I still perform each and every set to failure, whether it’s during the off-season or the pre-contest phase.
I also use the PYRAMID method during the post and pre-contest seasons. After implementing this method into my training regime about four years ago, I have witnessed some unbelievable results! In fact, it is very simple to follow. You basically start out using a lighter weight and increase the poundages with each set, while decreasing the reps. Once you have completed your last heavy set, you can do one of two things. You can either reduce the weight or increase the reps with each following set, or you can simply reduce the weight and perform one last “burn-out” set. Personally, I prefer the later. I have seen a tremendous amount of muscular gains and muscle refinement while using this method. One thing I would like to mention though, is that I always hit my heavy exercises at the beginning of my workouts…not at the end. After I hit my “heavy mover” exercises I will then move to more isolation-type exercises such as dumbbell flys or lateral dumbbell raises.
Believe it or not, but a good workout partner is worth their weight in gold! They can help you achieve maximum results and in my opinion, allow you to reach a superior level of training which is often times difficult to reach on your own. You just can’t quite achieve the same intensity level on your own as you can with a motivated and focused partner. Notice that I said, “motivated and focused partner“, because if they are not then you’re right; you’re better off training on your own. A good workout partner is not only there to motivate you, but they can also assist you with forced repetitions and any negative work. In addition, the help of a good workout partner will always (or should always) make the workouts more productive and interesting. A partner will also hold you accountable so you are less apt to miss your workouts. This will be very helpful if you are just starting out and need a little motivation to get you to the gym. In my experiences I have found that I enjoy the company of someone who I can try to challenge, or someone who I can try to keep up with. I find myself working off of my partner’s intensity, which makes my next set that much more intense! Believe me, the increased levels of intensity and motivation are extremely worthwhile and beneficial when building an impressive physique.
Previously, I mentioned forced repetitions and negative training. I believe that each of these lifting techniques is crucial and vital to an all-natural, bodybuilding routine. I consider each of these a definite must if you want to get as big as possible without the aid of anabolic steroids. Forced repetitions are used with the help of a partner. They will enable you achieve the last two or three reps that you could otherwise have achieved on your own. Forced reps on your own need to be limited because this usually means sacrificing your form to achieve a couple extra reps, which is not worth the added risk of injury. Negatives reps, on the other hand, can be performed more easily on your own. Basically, a negative rep is one in which the eccentric phase (when the muscle lengthens) of the repetition is performed at a much slower tempo than a “normal” speed repetition. When the tempo is reduced on the eccentric phase, the amount of time that the muscle fibers are under tension is increased, thus causing an even greater recruitment of muscle fibers. About four years ago I read an article on how beneficial negative training could be and I’ve incorporated them into all my workouts and witnessed tremendous success! I’ve also experimented with what I’ll call “forced negatives“. An example of a “forced negative” would be when your workout partner actually applies even more resistance to the bar while in the negative phase. I must point out that this still training can be very dangerous and one must exercise extreme caution when performing them! They can be very hard on your joints; hence, I would suggest not performing more than two reps for approximately three to four seconds each. It is important to note that the longer you resist the weight, the greater the risk of injury, so be careful!
Another crucial element is using the ISOLATION technique. This is crucial for developing an awesome, all-natural physique. It is imperative that you are able to focus on the specific primary muscle you intend to work. This is what’s called “putting your mind into your muscle“. By concentrating on the primary muscle, you should actually be able to feel those fibers as opposed to using secondary groups to complete the lift. Not to say that the secondary muscles aren’t important or aren’t working because they are; however, it’s just not where your main focus is held. Generally speaking, I would suggest using a light to moderate weight when incorporating this technique into your workout and place it either at the end of your workout, or perhaps even set aside an entire workout every now and then that focuses on isolation-type exercises.
The last thing I want to discuss is heavy weights versus light weights. In a well rounded and complete workout program, it is best that you incorporate both heavy and light weights. In my opinion heavy weights should be used all year round, but with more emphasis during the off-season. Heavy weights allow you to reach the fast-twitch muscle fibers called Type IIa and Type IIb. For maximum development of the muscle you need to train both types. I have read literature from renowned strength coach, Charles Poliquin, in which he points out that “lifting weights between 90-100% of your 1-repetition maximum produces maximum hypertrophy in the Type IIb fibers.” Alternatively, lighter weights have their benefits also. They are better used for muscle isolation, especially when learning a new exercise or with a inexperienced lifter. In addition, lighter weights can play a significant role when the lifter decides to implement modified drop sets in the workout due to time restraints. In conclusion, it is my opinion based upon my years of training as drug-free athlete, that one must utilize both heavy and light poundages in order to progress. I realize that there are many different arguments on both sides (lighter weight/higher reps vs. heavy weight/lower reps); however, I feel that in order to continue to unlock your true muscular potential, it is vital that you incorporate both. Until next time, train hard and STAY FOCUSED!