Gain Quality Weight This Off-Season
As the high school wrestling season draws to a close, wrestlers (and parents) around the country are preemptively already looking ahead to next season. I’m familiar with the line of thinking - well my kid placed X this year at ___, and next year with so and so graduated we can win the state title at that weight. Sound familiar? While it’s natural to want to an idea of where your athlete will fit in the line up next year, the biggest mistake you can make is to try to hold their weight down in anticipation of fitting in to a certain weight class. Even if your wrestler is competing year round, I am a huge advocate for letting them lift weights, eat and grow during the spring and summer months. I am not trying to minimize the importance of Virginia Beach Nationals, Disney Duals, or even Fargo, but I guarantee that letting your athlete grow and wrestle closer to their natural (new) weight is better for their long term athletic development than cutting weight all summer.
With that being said, gaining weight just for the sake of “bulking” is not in their best interest either. I have witnessed athletes gain a considerable amount of weight in the off season only to look and weigh the same the following season. Why? If their nutrition is not dialed in the chances are that most of that summer time weight gain will be body fat. If you eat properly and get enough rest at night, your body will respond favorably to an intense strength regimen by gaining muscle. So how do we ensure that your athlete gains quality weight this off-season? Here is their off-season growth cheat sheet:
-Lift Heavy - there is no way around it, you gotta lift big weights to get big and strong. Seems simple enough, right? As your bodyweight increases due to the drop in practice volume, your body can handle a little more strain in the weight room. I typically have my athletes shift away from Barbell Back Squat in favor of split squats, step ups, and other uni-lateral movements in-season. Now that the off season is here, prioritize moving heavy weight and hitting PRs on the squat and other big compound movements.
-Turn up the volume - while my athletes still lift relatively heavy late in the season, the number of sets and reps is relatively low. During the winter we don’t want their body broke downed constantly under repair, but the spring and summer is the perfect time to maximize hypertrophy by increasing volume
of sets, reps and overall load. This goes for accessories as well as the big lifts. Think outside the box by picking a different variable each workout to manipulate. Feeling strong on those 5 sets of barbell curls? Try 10 sets. Dips feeling smooth? Add an extra 100 after your chest workout. Added volume is also a great way to maximize growth on days where your absolute strength feels lagging. Pulled 315 x 3 but not sure if you can move up to 335 for your last triple? End with 12 singles of 315 instead. While each rep of 315 will feel “easier” than that 335 triple, you will have dramatically upped your load-volume for the workout and set the stage for some serious growth.
-Increase Time under Tension -The process of repairing exercise induced muscle damage (hypertrophy) is how our muscles increase in size. Studies have shown that the most damage to muscle fibers occurs during the eccentric (lowering) phase of a movement. While it doesn’t make sense to utilize an eccentric emphasis on movements during the season, the off season is the perfect time to add heavy negatives to your lifts to increase growth. Try a 2 week training block with negatives added to the last 3 reps of EVERY exercise - just be prepared for the soreness that comes along with it.
-Prioritize recovery - All the hard training in the world won’t get you to your goals if you are not recovering properly. I hear coaches preach all of the time about over training, but I think that people underestimate the human body’s capacity for work if recovery is prioritized. I train 2-3 times per day year round at nearly 40 years old…but I also eat properly, go to bed early, drink plenty of water and take the right supplements. Make sure that you are getting some protein and healthy carbohydrates within a half hour of lifting. Shoot for 7-8 hours of sleep per night. Take BCAAs and Glutamine during and after hitting the gym. Max Effort Muscle’s Amino Recovery contains ample amounts of both and was formulated specifically for wrestlers.
-Don’t skip leg day…increase it - During the season I try to keep my athletes legs as fresh as possible. We still deadlift or do a heavy squat variation once per week to maintain strength even late in the season, but now that the season is ended it’s time to prioritize lower body training. It’s no secret that the key to packing on mass is heavy squats and deadlifts. While most of my off-season programming calls for two heavy leg days per week, don’t be afraid to throw some extra leg workouts in the mix. Hit some sets of front squat as a warm up on bench day, or add 15 minutes of walking lunges after each upper body workout and watch those quads balloon up.
-Feed the machine - in order to gain wait the body has to experience a calorie surplus, so it’s time to up the portion size and add an extra meal or two per day. The key is to make sure those extra calories are not junk - surplus sugar will help your body gain fat but will do little to aid in hypertrophy. I encourage my high school athletes to always eat breakfast (eggs and toast), snack on almonds or walnuts during the school day, take a Max Effort Muscle protein shake after school (especially if heading to lifting or practice) and eating right before bed - whether they are hungry or not. Scrambled eggs, cottage cheese, or another protein shake are all excellent options to prime your body for growth while you sleep.
-Creatine - Creatine is the most heavily researched supplement on the planet, and at the cellular level it serves as the initial fuel for intense muscle contractions. For an athlete to get enough Creatine from food sources is almost impossible, so the only way to make sure your body has ample stores of this swole fuel is thru supplementation. The Max Effort Muscle Tri-Blend Creatine is safe to use year round and will not cause excess water retention like some brands. I take 5g before and after each lifting session, but I usually recommend my high school athletes do half of that amount for a total of 5g.
-Maintain your baseline - Conditioning is not the focus of the off-season, and with all of the heavy leg training you will be doing it would be counterintuitive to do a ton of biking and running if you are trying to gain weight. However, by maintaining a baseline of conditioning, you can keep your body fat at a reasonable level and make sure these surplus calories are going towards growth rather than your waistline. Keeping some type of conditioning on your radar twice a week - one low level, one higher intensity - is a good strategy.
-Eliminate weaknesses - I have never met an athlete and thought “man, his lower back is too strong”. The same goes for core, hamstrings, grip and neck strength. Every athlete could stand to improve strength in those areas. So besides improving performance on the mat by getting a stronger low back and grip, how is that going to help you gain weight during the off season? Well, if your lower back is weak it is going to limit the amount of weight you can deadlift. Underdeveloped hamstrings are going to put a damper on your squat. And if your grip is weak how can you keep moving heavier and heavier weight on rowing movements? By prioritizing these universal weak links you will be able to handle bigger loads on your compound lifts which are the main drivers for adding mass and increasing strength.