One fairly common question I get is about cardio in the "off season." First I'd like to say I don't really like the term "off season" as there really is no such thing, especially for a drug free bodybuilder. I prefer to look at the training year in phases as they relate to a contest date. You have a maximum muscle building phase where you are gearing things towards gaining fat free mass as your primary goal and as you enter the pre-contest time frame (for me that's about 6 months prior to a show) you gradually shift your plan to emphasize maximum fat burning. Or as I like to say you shift the pendulum from maximum muscle building to maximum fat burning.
(The photo to the right illustrates my "off season" condition 15 weeks out from a contest. I did more cardio during that maximum muscle building phase then ever before and really emphasized staying in good condition all year. The additional cardio didn't hurt my muscle building phase as I was a very solid 227 lbs.)
Obviously the primary goal in a maximum muscle building phase is exactly as the name implies - build maximum muscle, so why do cardio you may ask? One big reason is during your quest to pack on mass you also want to keep body fat levels in check and that’s where Max-OT cardio fits into the equation. You don't want to gain weight just for the sake of gaining weight if a large percentage of the gain is from fat and not muscle. The more fat you gain, the more fat you will have to lose to be shredded on stage.
I hear some people say they steer clear of cardio in the off season because they don’t want to disrupt the muscle building process in any way but with Max-OT cardio that doesn’t need to be a concern. The short duration and intense nature of Max-OT cardio has very little if any negative impact on the muscle building process. In fact, after Max-OT cardio you create a period of potential increased nutrient uptake similar to after intense weight training so it can be anabolic in that sense.
Cardio should remain a part of your schedule all year and is a training variable you adjust depending on your specific emphasis at any point and time. If you are in a maximum muscle building phase I recommend 2-3 sessions per week and you increase the number of sessions from there as you start to shift your emphasis towards maximum fat burning.
Aside from keeping body fat levels in check, Max-OT cardio also provides important cardiovascular health and endurance benefits and that’s another reason I feel Max-OT cardio should remain a part of your plan all year.
The maximum muscle building phase is not an excuse to get fat so don't forget to keep a spot open for Max-OT cardio in your "off season" training plan.