Until recently, the thought of being in contest prep and off-season at the same time was just a pipe dream. By traditional standards, off-season and contest prep are two different animals. The goal of off-season is to regain lean muscle mass and increase your metabolic capacity as quick as you can while limiting unnecessary body-fat and eventually get to a point where we are no longer regaining lost muscle, we are adding more.
This is the way it has “always been done.”
But that is not case anymore. You can most certainly accomplish contest prep goals and off-season goals at the same time. I would strongly argue, that should be everyone’s goal.
The next logical question should be, “what are you doing differently?”
If you have been following us for a while, you are aware of the Five Phases of Contest Prep. Afterall, this is how we prep our clients. For those who are new to this concept, let me give you a brief example of how it works. I will use first year competitor and Team USA Physique Bikini Competitor, Diana Lagunas as an example.
After passing her set-point in the Set-Point Phase, Diana hit her lowest calories of the off-season 3 months prior to her last competition of the 2021 season. She was consuming 1190 calories and weighed 108 lbs. About a week later, we moved Diana into the Metabolic Building Phase and started adding calories back in. As the calories went up, her weight went down. By the time we increased her to 1520 calories a day, Diana hit her new low of 105lbs. That is an increase of 330 calories a day while losing 3 more lbs.
At that point, Diana was about 6 weeks out and it was time for her to transition into the Fine-Turning Phase. Fat loss was no longer an issue. Conditioning was on point. Calories were used for hunger and energy if needed, and to make subtle adjustments to her physique as the stage approached. Sometimes we dropped calories a little, other times we added more. The goal was just as the name of the phase implied, to “fine tune” Diana to meet the judging criteria and local trend. Prior to the start of Peak Week, Diana was maintaining weight consuming 1770 calories. By contest day she was back to a fuller, but much leaner 109 lbs.
Over those 3 months, we added 580 calories back in while only gaining 1 lb (see image left). Muscles appeared harder, strength dramatically improved, and her Metabolic Factor went from 11.01 to 16.2. By the time her prep was over, Diana took home and Overall Win, four 1st place finishes, a 2nd and a 3rd.
It was Diana’s 1st year to compete.
Since we started with this concept two years ago, class wins, overall titles, pro cards, and pro wins have increased tremendously. Not to mention, our clients off-seasons have been more efficient and effective, leading to a less difficult prep the next time, and greater success.
Following the 5 Phases of Contest Prep, the goal is to get our clients in the fourth phase, the Metabolic Building Phase, about six to eight weeks out from contest day. We do this by virtue of the third Phase, the Set-Point phase, which is designed to break through the competitors set-point a couple of months out.
Once in the Metabolic Building Phase, the process of reverse dieting into the show begins. If done correctly, off-season begins as well.
At this stage of the game, we are regaining muscle fullness and lean muscle mass lost during the “dieting” phases of prep as calories increase. Fat loss continues, usually at an accelerated rate, while increases in strength, energy, and metabolic capacity shifts to an upward trajectory. Given enough time, additional lean muscle mass is possible before contest prep concludes.
If that is not the definition of off-season, I do not know what is
Sound crazy? Indeed it does, but it is very real.
To tie both off-season and contest prep together, I will use our wellness competitor, Amanda Wright (pictured right) as a case study.
Amanda is a second-year wellness client who placed in the top five at the NPC Universe Pro Qualifier. She ended her previous off-season weighing 142 lbs. and over the course of her prep she dieted down to 120 lbs.
During the Set-Point Phase of contest prep, she hit a stall and hovered around the same weight for about two weeks. Instead of panicking and dropping substantial amounts of calories, risking an increased rate of downregulating her Metabolic Rate, we remained steady in our approach of subtle adjustments as normal, giving adequate time for observation and assessment. Around the fourth week of her stall, she broke through her Set Point and fat loss resumed at an accelerated rate. After two weeks of subtle adjustments with further observations, she entered the Metabolic Building Phase as we shifted gears and started introducing more calories.
Over the course of the next 8 weeks, we reduced steady state cardio to a mere 15 minutes a day. Calories increased from 1139 per day at 125 lbs. to 2145 calories per day at 121 lbs. All prior to peak week. That is an increase of 1006 calories a day and a loss of 5lbs. This gave her an impressive 17.6 Metabolic Factor which is 2.6 points higher than our threshold of 15 to start prep.
As a result, she ended her prep deep into off-season territory. Her physical, physiological, and mental state remained healthy and stable. Hunger was manageable which goes a long way towards avoiding the disastrous rebound effect where post prep weight gain is out of control. Instead, weight increases were steady and appropriate, muscles gained density and popped more while strength continued to increase.
As she progressed, we put more emphasis on strength adaptations. We continued to push calories further, while staying within her new rate of gain goal as she continued to hit multiple personal records on a weekly basis.
Fast forward three months into off-season, calorie increases slowed considerably. As you recall from earlier, her Metabolic Factor was already 2.6 points above our contest prep threshold, so we had the luxury of increasing calories further or holding steady where she was. Since we started shifting programming emphasis from increasing her metabolic capacity and shifting strength adaptations more towards hypertrophy adaptations, we are able to use food increases as needed based on hunger and maximum performance in the gym. Her Metabolic Rate was taken out of the equation because that goal was accomplished before her previous prep ended.
Sitting a mere three months post prep she is holding steady around 127 lbs consuming 2328 calories a day. This is less than one hundred calories away from her highest calorie level from her previous off-season, yet 14 lbs. lighter with noticeable muscular gains and an impressive MF of 18.33. All that remains now is balancing her physique based on division criteria and current judging trends. All other boxes are checked off, just a little over three months post prep.
Most people do not see these types of improvements over the course of an entire off-season. Yet here she sits, just like many of our clients, 3 months into off-season with significant improvements that started 2 months before her last contest came to a close.
Making off-season progress while still in contest prep is no longer a dream, it is reality. By successfully executing the Five Phases of Contest Prep, anyone can make substantial strides towards off-season goals. And with the right off-season plan in place to follow the phases of contest prep, that progress can continue resulting in less time in off-season. In addition, your next prep will be shorter, less difficult, and allow you to deliver a much better package the next time you step on the stage.
Plan ahead, and plan wisely!