“What goes up,  must come down.”  When ‘70’s music sensation Billy Preston immortalized those words in his catchy tune,  he must have been thinking about some of the professional bodybuilders gracing the posing dais these days.  In case you haven’t noticed,  it’s in vogue again to “bulk up”  or should I say, “pork out”  in the so-called off-season. This was a common practice from the 1950’s through the 1970’s,  but I thought that common sense had prevailed during the bodybuilding renaissance of the 1980’s and that bulking up was as passé as bell-bottom jeans.  I was wrong!  These days, you’d think that reverse anorexia and dysmorphia were spreading like SARS in the pro bodybuilding community.  I mean,  in the off season,  some of these guys look like they are pitching their tents at the local all-you-can-eat buffet! 

Let’s look at the facts.  You DO have to eat extra calories and protein to pack on quality muscle.   But bloating yourself up with a lot of extra pounds of fat and fluid doesn’t just look bad,  it hurts your health,  not to mention not doing a thing for gaining muscle mass. My philosophy is that you can get just as BIG as the guys that are porking out,  without overeating.  That means you can stay leaner and healthier,  not to mention looking better,  year-round .  I mean, who wants to look like a porker for 9 months out of the year?  I want to be able to proudly display the results of my training efforts when I have to take my shirt off, without making excuses for my condition! And now, with summer just around the corner, you can’t afford NOT to look good! 

Here are some thoughts on those things that help me to stay in my best shape year round,  while still gaining muscle… 

Consistency is at the heart of any successful program, regardless of what your bodybuilding goals are. The surest way to succeed is one day at a time.  That means planning your meals in advance, so that you’re not caught off guard with nothing to eat at regularly scheduled feeding times.  That also means planning your training on a calendar,  so that at a glance you can see not only you’re your planned workouts are,  but the “big picture” ; how all of your workouts are fitting together over the course of a month.  It’s amazing what this little habit has done for me.  My calendar holds me accountable.  At the beginning of each day I look at what body parts I am training that day.  At the end of the day, I put a check mark on the calendar, indicating that I have succeeded. And at the end of month, I can tally up how many workouts I did for different body parts, and make adjustments if I need to.  If you don’t do this, you are setting yourself up for haphazard results: “Fail to plan, plan to fail.” 

Another success factor is having a good training partner.  Yes, that’s right.  A training partner can help keep you consistent by showing up and helping you stay motivated.  Just make sure that you choose a reliable partner that shows up and is truly interested in working out,  not wasting time yapping or visiting. It’s more fun training with someone than by yourself,  and it will help to keep you on track when you know that you are accountable to someone. What’s that? You say  workouts aren’t supposed to be fun?

Then get a partner because misery loves company. Consistency is key when it comes to bodybuilding.  Training partners help. 

Staying lean year round is also easier when you commit to exercising every day.  This is a mentality that has served me well.  Now, I don’t lift weights every day,  but I do some form of exercise every day.  On days that I don’t lift, I do aerobics,  typically riding the stationary bike, swimming, or running.  (Running to the fridge doesn’t count.)  Doing some form of activity every day stimulates your metabolism and helps you burn unwanted calories.  It also improves recovery time from workouts,  as long as it’s not overdone.  That’s because anytime you exercise,  your blood circulates through your body,  bringing muscle-building nutrients and oxygen to your muscles,  and improving your body’s ability to eliminate waste products that are generated during weight training.  

When it comes to weight training,  keep your workouts short and intense to stimulate muscle growth along with your metabolic rate.  I find that working out at a fast pace helps me get leaner and more muscular.  But how fast is fast enough?  I usually perform a set,  then rest only long enough to catch my breath before beginning the next set.  In that manner, I don’t exceed my cardiovascular capacity by not resting long enough,  nor do I let my muscles regain all of their strength before starting the next set.  After all, my goal is to fatigue my muscles more and more with each succeeding set until they hit what I call the “growth threshold.”  The growth threshold is the point at which the level of fatigue in the muscle is high enough that a growth response is elicited. Your goal during a workout should be to fatigue the target muscles you are training more and more with each succeeding set. In other words, you want the muscles to progressively get more and more tired out,  until you reach a point where the muscles are functionally “worn out.” What you are doing is creating  overload  in the muscles. Creating overload is a good thing,  because this is a stress that your muscles are temporarily unable to handle. Signals are sent to the brain that set up the compensation, or growth process during the post workout period, so that in future workouts,  you can handle the increased workload. 

Rely on your weight training workouts to stimulate your metabolism and keep you lean.  Weight training stimulates muscle tissue and muscle tissue is the most metabolically active tissue in your body,  burning large amounts of calories, even at rest.  If muscle is the currency of the bodybuilder,  this is definitely where the “rich get richer.”   You see, the more muscle you carry the more calories you burn.  The more calories you burn the leaner you get.  Get the picture? Train with weights 4-5 times per week.  Do cardio on your off days,  and on days when you can tag them onto the tail end of your weight training.  Personally I like a two-on, one-off, three-on, one-off program, alternating push muscles (chest, shoulders, triceps), pull muscles (back and biceps) and legs.  Abs and calves get worked three times per week.

 Cardio is fine for the heart,  lungs and circulation,  but do little for body fat levels and overall body composition when compared to the combined effects of weight training and a high protein, controlled-calorie diet. Aerobics are great to improve your recovery from workouts and keep your heart and lungs in good shape for those 400 pound squats!  

When it comes to fueling yourself for those 400 pound squats, there’s nothing that beats small frequent feedings during the day.  You should be eating like a bull,  and not a pig,  if you want to get big and  lean.  Bulls graze all day long. Bulls carry a lot of muscle.   Pigs eat too much at one time. Pigs carry a lot of fat.  Pretty elementary, right?  Eating excess calories does not “force feed” your muscles at all.  Once your muscles have all the nutrients and calories they need from a meal,  excess calories are deposited as body fat. By eating small, frequent meals during the day,  you will stimulate your metabolism more,  especially when they are foods that are high in protein,  such as chicken breasts, egg whites, fish, turkey, and protein drinks. Protein is a metabolically intensive macronutrient, requiring more calories to digest than carbohydrates or fats.

 Eating smaller meals will also help to keep your stomach smaller and tighter.  Abdominal distension is a reality for those who are in the habit of gorging themselves.  Over time,  the stomach stretches.  To compound matters,  over-eating can result in excess intra-abdominal fat,  which further exacerbates the “beer gut” look.  Check out the bellies on some of the current pro bodybuilders.  Where did the tight, wasp-like waists that the bodybuilders of the 70’s and 80’s go?

 Eating smaller meals throughout the day will be easier when you pack your meals ahead of time.  Don’t wait until it’s time to eat and start scrounging up food.  That leads to no-win situations where your appetite gets the best of you. I usually cook up a bunch of potatoes, yams, rice, beans and chicken breasts on the weekends,  then bag up individual serving size portions in Zip Lock bags and freeze them.  Then, at the beginning of each weekday, I pull what I need from the freezer,  and pack it into my cooler along with fresh fruit and water. I’ll throw I a couple of Lean Body® RTD’s or MRP’s for extra measure,  and I am off to the races. I like to eat my own food whenever I can,  because that way, I know that I am not getting any hidden fat calories,  which is often the case with restaurant food.  By the way, if you want to get a steady supply of nutrition tips in your email inbox each week,  log on to my  www.leanbodycoach.com website and sign up for my free weekly e-newsletter.  

Some last words on your diet: Don’t deprive yourself.  Look, you can’t eat everything you want,  whenever you want because you’ll end up looking like a sack of guano.  But, on the other hand,  if you constantly deprive yourself of every single food that catches your fancy, you’ll derail your dieting efforts,  and you’ll end up binging on the wrong foods,  which is an  unhealthy behavior.  The key word here is behavior, and when it comes to the psychology of eating,  what we want to develop are sustainable behaviors,  or habits.  Food deprivation or the perception of food deprivation is as much a mental thing as it is a physical thing.

 Often times, the more you deny yourself a food,  the more the craving for that thing grows.  That’s why I recommend a cheat meal at least once a week.  I can stick with my diet all week if I know that I can splurge a little at one meal on the weekend.  That doesn’t mean I scarf down a half gallon of ice cream and a pizza in one sitting either. I always only eat until I am comfortably full,  and then I stop.  What happens if I crave something during the week?  One of two things.  First, I make sure that I eat a meal with some protein in it,  then I wait an hour.  That usually normalizes my blood sugar levels,  which is often at the root of any sort of cravings.   If that doesn’t work, I go to step two; choosing a healthier alternative to what I want.  For example,  if I crave ice cream, I will have a low-fat frozen yogurt.  If I crave a candy bar, I will have one of those delicious Lean Body® GOLD bars with nuts and caramel.  Heck, I’m getting 30 grams of protein and only a few measly grams of sugar, so why not?  

Try some of these ideas and keep your physique leaner as you pack on the muscle.  You’ll feel better and look better year round. Remember that Rome wasn’t built in one day, so stick with your program.  Nothing worthwhile is accomplished over night, and it takes consistency to keep your physique sharp.    

  1. Will Brink 14 years ago

    Some solid words of wisdom here Lee! I particularly liked:
    “Cardio is fine for the heart, lungs and circulation, but do little for body fat levels and overall body composition when compared to the combined effects of weight training and a high protein, controlled-calorie diet.”
    Viva La weight lifting! 🙂

  2. GunNposes 14 years ago

    Great article Lee. I have admired your work and accomplishments for a long time. It all shows that even us little guys have a chance against those who carry a lot more mass around. Even in my late 40s, I maintain 6% bf year round by following a similar training and nutrition plan to what you described.
    I would add that finding the right training partner is very important and must be done carefully. That person must have share the same self-discipline, goals and training philosophy in order to achieve the right synergy for success. Otherwise, it can be far worse than doing it alone.
    PS. Love your Lean Body Gold bars too. Keep spreading the word!

  3. Julie 14 years ago

    What is your opinion of a workout plan like Nick Nilsson’s?

  4. Donnie 14 years ago

    Great article Lee, thank you, have always been a fan of yours and love the taste of your products.

  5. Hugo Rivera 14 years ago

    So glad to see that Lee is setting the record straight on the myth of bulking up. To me, bulking up is the oldest excuse used by bodybuilders who simply do not want to diet in the off-season.
    Awesome job at addressing this subject Lee! Thanks!

  6. Deb 14 years ago

    Fantastic article, thank you.
    Being off season is a real challenge, I actually find it easier to be prepping as I feel more focused and able to stick to the meal plan.
    I love training and it’s never an issue, I just need to learn to break some habits in the off season so I don’t gain to much body fat and am able to look and feel good all year round 🙂

  7. Eugene Malush 14 years ago

    Lee does know his stuff. I haven’t seen many classic shapes lately. Look at Ronnie and Jay and although they are great champions and seemingly nice guys, I wouldn’t really want to look like them or carry that weight. Of course, they don’t have to work 9-5 but if I could look like Lee, Barry DeMay, Rory Leidelmeyer, or Bob Paris…that would be great. They even may be a bit too heavy for my 42 years of age…I concern myself now with my blood pressure numbers now than my squat weight…HAHA…

  8. Angel 14 years ago

    Great article, Lee.
    Way back when I started getting into bodybuilding, around 1987, I would buy the M&F mags and I would see these big behemoths and then I’d see Lee Labrada, and really couldn’t understand at the time why couldn’t bodybuilding competition be more about aesthetics, and not how enormous one could get.
    Without really thinking and realizing it at the time, I admired Lee’s muscle proportion a lot more than the other guys. Now that I’m older, I tend to appreciate a proportioned body over one like most of today’s professional bodybuilders.

  9. George B. 14 years ago

    Frank Zane and Lee Labrada in their prime … the two body builders that I most admire in terms of a classic, beautiful physique. Great article by Lee, I bought his book a while back, read the articles on his site, and buy some of his products. Can’t think of anything I would disagree with in this article (just like I can’t think of anything to disagree with Tiger Woods in terms of golf tips). The only minor comment I’d make is that it’s great to work out every day, but I don’t think you should beat yourself up if you miss a day now and then. In fact, some might argue that taking off one day a week and maybe just stretch, soak in the hot tub, do some extra meditation, take an easy stroll with the wife in the park etc. might not be a bad approach for some people. Anyway, thanks Lee for the great article and thanks to Will for having top of the line experts on his blog.

  10. Mopar360 14 years ago

    The comment about cardio and keeping low body fat is very important. I am probably late in this “discovery” but cardio SHOULD NOT be used to reduce body fat and maintain muscle mass. I know I used lots of cardio to prep for a contest in Apr 08 and probably lost leg size. Next year it will be more about posing, increased workout intensity, and just doing more work (pushing a car, flipping a tire, running hills) to burn the fat. As they say doing cardio will adapt your body to the task : more efficient runner, stair climber, or elliptical rider which is not the goal of a weight trainer. As your body the bodyfat burning capacity will reduce. The body becomes more efficient at burning calories and less bodyfat is burned.

  11. Will Brink 14 years ago

    Mopar, as I have said for many years, aerobics has its place, but is far far overrated as a means of altering bodycomp. Lee knows that from his own experience as a top level pro, most of your best trainers (Poliquin et al), and wise guys like me, all agree: aerobics burns some calories, and does little else. On reduced cal diets, while busting hump to drop BF, excessive aerobics does more harm then good. Some people never learn that….
    I’m like Lee, I try to do a little something every day, but don’t mind taking a day off if I sense I need it. Hey, I’m getting old, so stuff hurts some days! 🙂

  12. Tommy Tucker 13 years ago

    Thanks for the article Lee and Will! I agree 110% with everything said. I stay lean year round (under10%) and competed in my first BB show last June and didn’t have to go crazy with the “dieting” down as I got closer to the show. I basically just ate like I do year round, which is really clean with a few treat meals thrown in there. I love my pizza and cheese cake! I don’t do traditional cardio and now throw in some jump rope, tire flipping and sprinting at the end of my training sessions or on off days. Of course I have to thank mom and dad for the genetics but still bust my ass to continue to improve my physique. Keep the great info coming guys!

  13. lean muscle x 12 years ago

    Great information thanks for getting this out there for people like me to read.

  14. Restaurant Devon 12 years ago

    Nice post, good work. I have recently started my own blog so its handy to pickup tips from what you have going here. Many Thanks. Restaurant Devon

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