Make Progress, Even While "Off"

It takes a pinch of divine intervention and a ton of blood and sweat to maximize a 12-week mass building cycle. After that kind of sacrifice, even thinking about another set of agonizing squats makes you want to blow chow. So between these grueling cycles, many of you adopt worthless habits in the gym.

During one of these "off cycles," you often forget about smart fats, nutrient dense calories, and quality protein. After all, if you're only half-assing it in the gym, why not do the same in the kitchen too?

I know of several high level bodybuilders that'll go so far as to substitute two Budweisers for a protein shake during such times! Because of this, muscle nitrogen levels will drop off... fast! Free radical concentration will increase as well. This, combined with elevated estrogen and lowered Testosterone levels, leads to an increased catabolic state. This mental and physical burnout will soon erode your hard earned gains faster than doughnuts at a Weight Watchers convention.

But how can you maximize this off time, restore your mind, and still avoid being flooded with guilt, laziness and cortisol? I'll tell you how: by shifting your attention to weak points. These points include muscular imbalances, neglected muscle fibers, and deficits along the muscle contraction itself.

Additionally, maintaining the cross sectional muscle mass you gained during your cycle is critical. A rep range from 6-12 is therefore the best approach with a mandatory concentric (lifting) muscle failure occurring on at least one of the sets per exercise.

A 33% decrease in set volume and workload must be observed. This offsets the increase in catabolism and mental burnout. Along with this, you'll shift from barbells to dumbbells to foster joint recovery and strengthen stability for the next barbell intensive phase.

Exercises are to be performed in a slow concentric, paused isometric, controlled eccentric (negative) fashion. This is opposite to the slow eccentric/fast concentric method most trainees consistently employ. This method will help correct the static and positive strength deficits most bodybuilders have by eliminating the plyometric effect characterized by the "bounce" between negative and positive phases.

Simply altering joint angle, hand positions, and reversing movement patterns produces subtle variations of traditional exercises. These variations will be enough to "shock" the system into new development. In fact, during the first workout you may feel like you've never trained before!

That's the physical, now let's look at the bio-chemical side. First, we squash the estrogen and cortisol along with re-stimulating Testosterone. This is handled with a shift to supplements such as Alpha Male along with 5 grams of vitamin C. Twenty-five grams of glutamine is also quite helpful to heighten recovery.

The Program

This is a four-week program. Day one and day two are designed to be repeated twice per week. Twenty minutes of interval (capacity) training is to be performed once per week, preferably on a non-weight training day.

For a productive progression, decrease the reps by 1 and increase the load 3-5% each week. Example:

Day 1: Upper body

A1) Underhand incline barbell press – In the mid 1980's, the Barbarian brothers were renowned for their gargantuan triceps and bench strength. This exercise was a mainstay in their routine. Additionally, 99% of all trainees have tight wrist pronators and wrist flexors. This backward grip will fix that quickly.

With the bench set to 60° incline, grasp the bar with hands 16" apart using an underhand, supinated grip. Lower the bar 2" under the collar bone, pause, and slowly press the bar to a full lockout.

Sets: 3

Reps: 9-11

Tempo: 224

Rest: 90 seconds

A2) Dumbbell one-arm row to hip – This is performed similar to a traditional one-arm row with greater isolation on the lat fibers. In fact, many trainees tell me they never truly "felt" their lats before this exercise!

Grasp a dumbbell with a neutral grip with the left hand. Position the right hand and right knee onto a flat bench and arch the lower back slightly. Extend the left arm to its maximal end range. Using the left lat, slowly flex and retract the left arm to the left hip at the belt line. Pause two seconds in the top contracted position. Don't forget to train the other side or people will point and laugh.

Sets: 3

Reps: 10-12

Tempo: 224

Rest: 90 seconds

B1) Decline dumbbell pullover – Use a slight 10° decline with the feet flat. Grasp two dumbbells with a parallel grip and hold them to your side. Maintaining 90° elbow flexion, flex the shoulders and rotate the dumbbells overhead to your maximal end range (shoot for the floor). Return to the original position by extending the shoulders.

Sets: 2

Reps: 9-11

Tempo: 224

Rest: 60 seconds

B2) Lean away lateral raise/scaption – Warning: If you're insecure, don't perform this exercise in public as the loads necessary can make GI Joe look like GI Jane!

This exercise increases joint range and time under tension to the medial and anterior deltoid fibers. Grasp a dumbbell with the left hand using a neutral grip. Position the feet side by side, within inches of the cable crossover machine or rack. Grasp the crossover machine post with your right hand and lean away to maximum right elbow extension. Laterally raise the dumbbell to shoulder level, then rotate your grip from neutral to supinated as you continue the movement to your ear. Lower the weight by reversing this pattern.

Sets: 2

Reps: 10-12

Tempo: 303

Rest: 60 seconds

C1) Low incline hammer curls – Set an incline bench at 45° and grasp two dumbbells using a neutral grip, thumbs up. Lie down with the shoulders and glutes firmly on the bench. Keeping the elbows tucked into the sides, slowly flex them to 30°. Lower to elbow extended position.

Sets: 2

Reps: 10-12

Tempo: 204

Rest: 60 seconds

C2) Lying "push away" triceps extension – Grasp an EZ-curl bar with a close pronated grip and lie on a flat bench. Next, position the bar behind the head. Extend the elbows and flex the shoulders fully using a horizontal movement (parallel to the floor). Flex the elbows and extend the shoulders to return to the starting position.

Sets: 2

Reps: 10-12

Tempo: 303

Rest: 60 seconds

Day 2: Lower Body

A1) Barbell alternating "cross-under" lunge – Position a barbell on your shoulders with the elbows directly under the bar. Use a shoulder width stance. To begin, adduct the right leg to "cross under" the left to a maximal position beyond the left leg. Pause briefly in this position to fully stretch the IT band, then return to the original position by abducting the right leg. Alternate sides.

Sets: 3

Reps: 9-11

Tempo: 212

Rest: 90 seconds

A2) Low cable pull-through (single handle attachment) – Stand wider than hip-width with your back facing the low cable machine. Grasp the rope through your legs. Keeping the knees fixated at 20° of knee flexion and with a low back arch, lower the rope through your legs to maximal end range. (You should feel the stretch in your hamstrings) Then slowly contract the hams, glutes and lower back to "pull the rope through" your legs to an upright position.

Sets: 3

Reps: 12-15

Tempo: 204

Rest: 60 seconds

B1) One arm deadlift – Grasp an Olympic barbell with one hand using a neutral grip. (The barbell will be perpendicular to the torso). Keep the elbows locked and the feet shoulder-width and toed out slightly.

Using an arched back, lift the bar from the floor (and keep constant contact with the body) to slightly higher than hip level. Lower the bar by scraping it along the body to its paused position on the floor. Keep the chin and neck retracted and head in a neutral position. Don't use lifting straps!

Sets: 2

Reps: 10-12

Tempo: 222

Rest: 60 seconds

B2) Standing single leg curls – I don't think I need to describe this one. I'll just mention that the foot position should be slightly toed out.

Sets: 2

Reps: 9-11

Tempo: 224

Rest: 90 seconds

C1) Barbell standing calf raise – Stand in a power or squat rack. Position a barbell on your shoulders with the elbows directly under the bar. Use a shoulder-width stance with your knees slightly flexed. Using the "balls" of the foot and not the toes, raise by plantar flexing the ankle. Balance and pause for two seconds at the top. Lower the bar slowly before performing the next rep.

Sets: 2

Reps: 10-12

Tempo: 222

Rest: 60 seconds

C2) Low cable oblique extension – This nifty little motion works the internal and external oblique fibers in the reverse order from its twisting cousins, that is, from spinal flexion to extension. You may recognize this pattern in such field sports as discus, shot put, and javelin throwing.

To perform, attach a short straight bar to the low pulley. Next, kneel down perpendicular to the machine so that the leg farthest from the machine is propped up and forms a 90° bend at the knee joint. Grasp the short bar with a pronated grip. Contract the obliques by flexing the spine and drawing in the belly button, then twist and extend the spine as you flex the shoulder joints to create the twisting motion. Reverse this order to return to the starting position.

Sets: 2

Reps: 12-15

Tempo: 222

Rest: 60 seconds

Conclusion

After four weeks of Refinement Training, you'll be physically and mentally prepared to hit that next big mass program and get the most of it!

Now, about that crappy "off cycle" diet of yours...