Posted 1 year ago

Training post show/shoot

In the later stages of extreme dieting, it’s no secret one can lose their love for training. This is mainly because you’re experiencing constant low energy levels and fatigue; paired with the fact that strength isn’t nearly as high as it was during the off-season/gaining phase, it can be hard to find the same enjoyment as before.

However, once your show/shoot is done and you eat a bit more, you feel instantly better, and as a result, your training performance skyrockets, the enjoyment factor increases, and you feel back to being yourself again. This is of course a good thing, but you must be aware of the fragile state your body is in, and it might take a while before it’s advisable to go 100% again. Therefore, the purpose of this article is to discuss my thoughts on how to approach training post show/shoot.

Considerations: The state of the body

Once your show(s)/shoot is done, there are two things you WILL be: very lean AND absolutely exhausted.

Firstly, if you have been dieting for 16-20 weeks, your body fat levels will be undoubtedly low. However, one of the roles of body fat is to create a cushion around our connective tissues: as we are moving heavy weights, it aids to support our joints, helps cushion impact, and helps disperse load that is going through the joint. And now that you’ve created the desired look for stage/shoot, the essential body fat that protected your joints, tendons and ligaments is all gone.

What this means is that without this cushion, your body is in a very fragile place. As such, one of your primary focus-points post-show should be to regain body fat – not just for this purpose alone, of course, there are many others – but in order to get back to training heavy again, it’s essential we regain some of the fat we have lost.

Secondly, after such a long season and dieting phase, you probably feel like you’re a shell of a human. In fact, one thing you may have heard about but never really understood is the concept of “neural fatigue”. We have electrical signals that run from the brain, down the spinal cord and throughout the nerves, that innervate muscles being downregulated. When we experience neural fatigue, these signals cannot fire as quickly or as strongly as they usually do, which ultimately affect exercise, performance, and muscle function. As a result, you’d observe/experience a decline in performance, a flat looking physique, and rock bottom energy levels. However, when we neural fatigue is low, we have a greater ability to contract muscle, higher levels of strength, and a “fuller” looking physique.

When you put these two factors together – no support around joints and high levels of neural fatigue – you can see that the body is in a fragile state; therefore, going into your training with all guns blazing might not be the wisest idea. In fact, it might be the quickest way to pick up an injury or drive levels of fatigue even higher, meaning you need to take ever more time off. So, what should you do?

Where to begin?

If you’re reading this article, it’s likely that you approach training with the “give it the beanz” mindset on every set, taking yourself to failure, and aiming to hit a PB in terms of weight on the bar, total reps at same weight or improved form/execution at same weight and reps. It is also likely that, because of this, at the end of prep, you got frustrated because strength was stalling, right? Also, you may have felt a little frustrated because you felt stuck with your progress!

So when you put a bit more food in and energy levels increase, strength is going to increase with it. Why? Well, food in general will help fuel muscle contraction, your recovery will be improved and, you’ll have less neural fatigue. What does this mean? In short, when you’re training, you’ll suddenly feel like a new person! Weights that you were struggling with towards the end of the dieting phase become very easy to shift, and you’ll easily fly by previous numbers you’ve got written in your logbook.

You then can easily think “f**k it” and shove on an extra 20kg either side of the hack squat and try to get a new PB because of how good you feel. Let me start by saying this is the worst possible thing to do if you’re trying to optimise your recovery post show/shoot.

Instead, what we need to do is focus on adding a much smaller amount of weight for progression and focusing more on execution. I wouldn’t advise you go to the usual failure point you seek in the off-season when you are at the bottom of the hack squat and your training partner must help you out the hole. I’d actually shy away from failure, by about 1-2 reps. This is mainly due to the fact that if you were to go straight back into failure sets or forced reps, the recovery demands it will elicit on body are too great for the compromised state it’s still in. It would continually compound the high levels of fatigue you are already experiencing, not allowing you to ever feel “normal”, or prolonging that state for longer than is required.

What can you focus on instead?

In the first 3 weeks or so post show, I strongly urge all my clients to “relearn” some movements. I don’t mean this in the sense that they have forgotten how to perform them; instead, I place emphasis on tidying up some movements where we know form and muscle contraction have gotten sloppy on.

This is really the perfect opportunity to do so, and it will ensure set yourself up nicely for your upcoming offseason. Think about it: if you connect more with the muscle you are trying to target, you will elicit more muscle damage! Keep that form standardised throughout your gaining phase, and you’ll undoubtedly add more muscle mass.

Therefore, my best advice is for you to go through your program, critique your form on each lift, obsess over execution, tempo and the general ‘feel’ of the move. Perhaps your coach has made you up a new rotation to bring up some weaker/lagging body parts. In either case, I find that video analysis is hugely beneficial for spotting things we can’t feel ourselves, but that could ultimately make a huge difference with regards to where the muscular tension is being biased. This could be something as simple as elbow position, or direction of pull. All of these are crucial factors in getting the most juice out of the squeeze by targeting the specific body area you are looking to hit. Imagine how frustrating it would be if you didn’t focus on these, and then spend months with a slightly “off” form, and thus, not getting the most amount of growth in an area you’re trying to bring up?!

If you are passionate about bodybuilding, you’ll know how key this can be to bringing about that balanced look and physique. If we are hammering a move with poor execution, then we will not bring up that area we need to bring about a more balanced physique for the stage. Hopefully now you can see what I mean by “relearning” movement patterns.

Once you’ve nailed this, you can start adding more load. What you’ll probably see is that very quickly, you’ll be back lifting the same if not more weight than you used to for your top sets (pre-diet); not only this, you’ll also be connecting more with the move and getting more out of it.

Take the opposite scenario and suppose just start lifting as much weight as you can, you don’t focus on form/execution and before you know, it the move is more about momentum than anything else, and you feel it less and less where you want to. If you’re there after a few weeks of training post show, where are you going to be 10-15 weeks post show? The move itself will no doubt begin to look sloppy, i.e., something completely different than what’s it’s intended to look like, and it’ll be inefficient at stimulating the muscle you are trying to target.

Time off

I fully understand the want to keep training post show/shoot. It’s all your life has been for the past 16-20 weeks, and it’s helped create that structure/routine that you thrive off. However, what you need to understand is that to allow the body time to recover, you’re going to have to schedule in some time off.

This could be a strategic deload, in which you take a full 5-7 days off with minimal activity and a large amount of focus on rest and recovery. Alternatively, it could be a couple of weeks of de-volume sessions, in which your training intensity and weights are lowered. I’ve always found these sessions rather tedious and boring as I like “getting after it” in the gym. Therefore, I always opt for the former and take a solid 5-7 days completely off training. The time off, alongside the increase in food, allows the body to get rid of some fatigue and will have you feeling fresher when you do get back to training. It also allows any niggles and aches you were experiencing towards the end of prep to recover. Time off in general is essential, whether you choose to do it straight after a show/shoot or a couple of weeks after, but trust me when I say your body will thank you for it.

If you go hard from the get-go without a break you will not only increase your likelihood of being injured, but it will also compound the accumulated neural fatigue, meaning that when you do take time off, you’re going to need a lot longer than just 5-7 days to recover fully!

In summary, training post show must be approached smartly. Your body will still have a big build-up of neural fatigue and not much fat around the joints to cushion the impact from weight training. A better approach than going all in straight away would be to relearn some movement patterns, focus on execution and tempo before progressing the load significantly. If you do this, you’ll avoid injury, avoid needing to take more time off and set yourself up for a productive off season.

Vaughan Wilson Bsc Hons