Over the years I have heard various claims, some nonsense and some with merit, regarding how lean to stay in the offseason. I have heard IFBB PRO Guru George Farah state that once you can’t see your abs you’re too fat. I’ve heard Chris Aceto say something along the lines that once you stop gaining muscle and are gaining more fat than muscle time to change things(please note I am paraphrasing). I’ve heard other guys say just push it and worry about it later. I’ve heard others say as long as there is visible separation between muscle groups your fine. I asked IFBB Evan Centopani once and he gave what I thought was a great answer, although a little ambiguous, go by feel, see what feels right to you. This is great if you’re someone who’s in tune with their body and knows what they are looking at. I agree and disagree with all of these perspectives. I am a firm believer that like life, physique competition is not black and white but quite a bit of gray.
What I think- I think the answer to this question varies so greatly from individual to individual that we need to really examine the variables before discussing further
What went wrong at your last show- This, in my opinion, is by far the most important variable to consider when evaluating how lean you should stay in the offseason. For example if the feedback you got from the judges and other trusted people in your circle was: “you have great shape and great muscle, but conditioning really held you back”. To me this means stay leaner in the offseason so you can get peeled come contest prep time so you have a much better starting point. I was once told this so I made a huge effort to start my prep leaner. That next year I started my contest prep out at 9% body fat 19 weeks out. That was the same year I won my first open overall. Now if the feedback you get tells you: “you just need to be bigger”, well you may want to consider pushing the limits a little more. I’m not saying get fat but be a little more aggressive.
Body type- ectomorphs are going to need to eat to grow, getting fat isn’t a huge concern so don’t be afraid to eat to add the size. Mesomorphs have the most flexibility here as they tend to grow more easily than the other body types and usually don’t have issues getting lean if they do things right. Endomorphs get a little tricky. This task, in my opinion, just really calls for close monitoring being that their body type predisposes them to fat gain and makes it really hard for them to gain muscle. A vigilant eye and constant adjustments when needed are my recommendation.
How hard or easy is it for your individual body to get in shape every year?
My conclusions and observations:
Going over 12-15 percent body fat is RARELY productive so don’t fool yourself into thinking going to 25 percent body fat is going to change your physique for the better once you diet down. Chances are you will lose a majority of the muscle gained trying to get that fat off.
Pushing your body fat too high results in varying degrees of insulin resistance which make it harder to gain muscle and easier to gain fat.
Find the right body fat for you during the offseason that addresses your specific physiques needs to place better at your next show ( remember, if you came in soft last year don’t try getting overly fat this time)
Although I encourage some fat gain in the offseason I think overall from a perspective of achieving goals and keeping overall health in mind staying somewhat lean is definitely advantageous for any physique competitor.
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