Some contest-prep coaches recommend taking an extended rest after competing, but others say to get right back to the gym. How do you feel about this?
Without a doubt, I can empathize with the powerful desire to take some time off from the gym and a strict diet regimen right after a competition, since preparing for a show is absolutely grueling— both physically and mentally. But I consider it a grave mistake to shut everything down at this key time.
While preparing for a competition, you spend a good 12 to 24 weeks training with the utmost focus, concentration, and intensity, since you are keenly aware that you will soon be standing onstage, basically naked, in front of a packed audience, flashing cameras, and a critical judging panel. But during this (prep) time you are also following a hypocaloric diet, practicing posing, performing hours of cardio, fighting stress and anxiety, and likely utilizing fat-burning supplements—all of which severely stress your muscular, hormonal, and nervous systems. This is why it is nearly impossible to grow lean muscle during contest prep, with the best scenario being that you are able to simply hold on to muscle previously built.
Once the competition is complete, however, your body is in a unique (and sensitive) state—if things are handled correctly, you can slingshot forward and suddenly become an anabolic (muscle- making) machine. It’s as if all the effects of the previous 12 to 24 weeks of training are finally able to manifest—and actually to a greater degree than under normal circumstances. This magical effect can be thought of as supercompensation.
Here are some guidelines to follow so you can take full advantage of this four- to six-week period.
1. Take the day after the competition completely off, and eat some of the foods you missed the most.
2. Begin training on Monday, and follow this training schedule: two days on, one day off, one day on, one day off, one day on, one day off.
3. Hit each muscle once per week with the exception of a lagging body part, which can get a second, mini-workout (using half the normal volume).
4. Use a repetition range of 10 to 12 for upper body and 12 to 15 for lower body.
5. Stop short of failure by one to two reps on every set.
6. Do not do cardio on training days, but try to get in 20 to 30 minutes on off days. (Note: Utilize steady- state and not HIIT cardio.)
7. Consume the same high–quality foods that you did during your prep diet, but increase calories to about 1,000 over maintenance on training days and 500 over maintenance on off days.
8. Of the additional calories, about 50% should come from carbs; the remainder should consist of complete proteins and essential fats.
9. Get as much sleep as possible, and include a nap during the day if possible.
10. Do not use any supplements that contain stimulants, while also limiting caffeine intake.