Q: How are you able to stick with your off-season program pre-contest, while other bodybuilders ditch heavy strength training in favor of lighter weights and higher reps?
A: The purpose of a precontest period is to make your muscularity as visible as possible. That means getting your bodyfat as low as possible and your muscles as big as possible. Contrary to popular misconception, the two are not incompatible.
Prevailing myths hold that "as you lose weight, you lose a lot of strength" and "higher reps burn more calories," but I think those are cop-outs by low achievers who use contest prep as a vacation. To me, contest prep is just the opposite: a moment of truth, a trial by fire.
If I can do it, you can, too. By reducing your bodyfat, you increase your body's muscle-to-fat ratio. Since you then have more muscle relative to the weight you're lugging around all day, you will have more endurance, intensity and comparative strength.
Continue training with your heaviest weights, and you'll burn more calories than if you use lighter weights and higher reps. Heavy weight makes you exert more energy, use more muscles, work each muscle deeper and fatigue the muscles to a greater deficit. With higher reps, even in prolonged sets, the total calories burned will still come up short, compared with a heavy maximum-intensity workout.
Unfortunately, many bodybuilders are in worse condition -- small, wan, drawn and exhausted -- before a contest than when they're not competing, all because they back off from everything that made them massive and cut in the first place, namely, power-packed food and heavy intense training.
EASY DIET Precontest, don't reduce the muscle-building nutrients in your diet. Maintain or increase your protein intake, and find the calorie level that supplies you with enough energy to sustain your customarily furious workouts, while allowing you to gradually burn excess bodyfat without burning muscle. Break down your total consumption into six meals a day, but have a sufficient portion of protein in each of them. (To accelerate bodyfat loss, I have chicken or turkey, but that's because I don't like fish. In meals one and six, I substitute a protein shake. The rest of the meal is a baked potato, rice or grits.)
SIMPLE WORKOUTS People have a hard time believing that I still use the same workouts, the same exercises, the same sets and reps, and the same six-day schedule I had in the previous century, but it's absolutely true. The only difference is in the weights. I'm stronger now, so I can lift more. That's the only change I make, and I recommend the same for you. Once you've settled on the routine that gives you the best muscle growth for a bodypart, stay with it and try to gradually increase the weight.
Above all, don't waste a rep with sloppy movement. Use as many reps as it takes to pump a muscle full of blood, but always control the movement. Make that muscle contract so hard that you can feel it growing.