USA Physique
The Coaching Authority

Chet Nichols // Author

Author based archive
03 May

Recently, A member of our “Bikini, Wellness and Figure Guidence Facebook Group” made a comment about how much she (her coach) dropped calories in her last prep. To summarize, after the initial cut, each adjustment was two hundred calories! I’m glad she shared this because it inspired me to write this.

I do not know for certain if it was meal plan based or macros. My guess is meal plans since this is a typical structure of meal plans during prep, though there have been some variations over the years. If it was macro counting, it completely misses the target.

First, in prep the goal should be to consume as much food as possible while maintaining an appropriate, and STEADY, weekly Rate of Loss (ROL). Our bodies respond better, helps preserve our metabolic rate and muscle mass, and makes hunger more manageable.

The method described above is counterproductive to the goal of prep. Sure it may work, but at what cost? Just about anything will work, but what we are looking for is “OPTIMAL” results.

After the initial cut, calorie adjustments are an AUTOMATIC two hundred calorie drop. Nothing should ever be automatic. Each adjustment needs to be based on its own merits. In addition, those calorie drops are too big. Your ROL should NEVER be allowed to slow down to the point you need a two hundred calorie drop. Adjustments should be made well before you get to that point.

It is completely unnecessary and forces Metabolic Adaptation to occur at an ACCELERATED rate. It also can cause muscle loss at an ACCELERATED rate and increases the level of hunger.

None of this works to the athlete’s advantage.

When macro counting, the focus is on macros and easy for macro counters to adjust. For most people, all it takes is a reduction of 10-15g of carbs and about 2-3g of fat to keep Active Fat-loss occurring. Compared to those big drops above, this SLOWS DOWN the rate of Metabolic Adaptation and SLOWS DOWN the rate of muscle loss.

Not to mention, a slow reduction of calories INCREASES adherence compared to large reductions. Now, lets look at some examples.


Official Prep started on March 24th. One month out the Client (Bikini) entered the downshift phase of prep. In this phase, we are “priming the pump” for the beginning of official prep. As with the previous 2-4 weeks, we MODIFIED the client’s CURRENT program (we did not change the foundation) from Hypertrophy focus to Strength Focus. We are setting up for an optimal environment when we MODIFY the client’s CURRENT program back to more hypertrophy at the start of prep. We are also working on cleaning up the diet, dropping calories just a little (103 calories) to get the client to their ideal offseason weight and start tapping the Metabolic Switch toward body fat loss as muscle glycogen levels will drop.

On March 24th, Official Prep started and it only took an initial 381 calorie drop to get her into Active Fat loss. About 4 weeks later, we start with just two sessions of 20 minutes of HIIT. Still no Steady State Cardio. About 2 weeks later, we dropped a mere fifty-eight calories (10g of carbs and 2g of fat) to get her to her weekly ROL of 1.4lbs per week. In fact, it may have been too soon or too much. After I put all this together, this morning her ROL increased to 1.58lbs, which is too fast so we may add those calories back.

Still no Steady State Cardio and I’ll see where she is again on Thursday. She is trending to be stage lean 10 weeks out, but that may change if an earlier National Show falls in line with her progress at the time. Her Adjusted Metabolic Factor is 17.3. That is REALLY high.


Just like Client 1, Official Prep started on March 24th. One month out the Client (Wellness) entered the Downshift phase of prep. The same method was used.

On March 24th, Official Prep started, and it took an initial 523 calorie drop to get her into Active Fat loss. This is a little bit more than Client one. Based on her history and the previous response in the Downshift Phase, I knew it would take a little bit more. Individual response should ALWAYS be taken into consideration. We also started her off with two sessions of 20 minutes of HIIT in the beginning. It is great for fat loss, less impact on metabolic adaptation than Steady State Cardio, and it is GREAT for legs.

If done correctly, it’s more like resistance training. Still no Steady State Cardio. About 3 weeks later, we dropped a mere sixty-seven calories (15g of carbs and 2g of fat but did not decrease fat on refeed days) to get her to her weekly ROL of 1.0lbs per week. Three weeks later, she is still within her ROL goal and no adjustment needed.

Still no Steady State Cardio. She is trending to be stage lean 6 weeks out. Her Adjusted Metabolic Factor is 16.3, pretty darn high as well.

This is how it typically goes for most when adherence and consistency is on point. Both clients nail their macros, nail their workouts, keep NEAT up, and follow the plan as written. Sometimes there are little stalls, but when you have a weight loss trend to follow, like Natalie posted about yesterday, then we understand the history of the client. Accurate history is the best indicator to predict progress. If I know a client will have stalls on the weekend, or right after leg day, that pattern will help determine if we need to wait or drop. And, to the point of this post, it doesn’t take a big drop of calories to get right back in your ROL trend.

Neither of these situations are anomalies. 6 weeks into prep and both still have a Metabolic Factor of sixteen plus. Both of their calculated maintenance calories are over two thousand.

How is that possible? Because fat loss is occurring based on a Weekly ROL of .8 to 1% of weight. It is no coincidence that current research tells us that is the best rate for Active Fat loss while preserving as much muscle mass as possible, therefore added protection to one’s metabolism. That is what the studies tell us, and that is what we are seeing here.

When prep is started CORRECTLY, and the necessary steps are taken in the final month or two prior to prep to set the athlete up CORRECTLY, this is how things go. A reduction of 5-7% of total calories is usually all that is needed after the initial cut. I can’t think of a time in the last five years where we had to drop more than 7% when the client followed the plan. And I have never had anyone do sixty minutes of cardio every day.

This method is not difficult for any coach or individual to do. But what it is, is time consuming. You must know and treat each client on an individual basis. Observe their data. LEARN how each client (or yourself) responds to get a good idea of what to expect. A lot of it is basic math. You do not get this with downloadable and/or cookie cutter plans.

It also makes prep less difficult for the Client. Would you rather have sixty to eighty calories cut, or two hundred? Which one do you think is easier to adhere to? Which way will protect all that hard earned muscle that you worked for? Which one will allow you to enjoy more calories and less cardio in the final phases of prep?

These are things I hope you consider the next time you get ready to start prep. But keep in mind, you start setting the stage to start prep in the final month or two of the offseason. If you do not take care of business there, it can make prep more difficult than it should be.

DISCLAIMER 1: All this information I am providing, it’s out there. This is not exclusive to us (though my spreadsheet is). This is how most Science Based Coaches coach. This is why it is becoming more popular. This is why you are seeing more and more flexible dieters win shows and why the old “bro science” methods are starting to fall to the waste side.

DISCLAIMER 2: This is based on prep going without unexpected and unforeseen circumstances that are out of anyone’s control. There can always be exceptions to a rule, but should not be standard practice. Examples include sickness, injury, unexpected travel, relationship or work problems, etc. These things can cause delays and the need to play “catch-up” which may create a need for a temporary more aggressive approach. But then again, if you add enough time to your prep for the unforeseen, you wouldn’t have this problem if the situation arises.

14 Nov

Executing a Reverse Diet correctly immediately after Contest Prep can go a long way to set your next Contest Prep under more favorable conditions.  Doing so you can increase your rate of muscle gain while keeping body fat accumulation down.  This will have a very positive effect on increasing your Metabolic Rate, and decrease the time of your next Contest Prep.

08 Oct

How are you handling weight loss plateaus?

When we diet down in contest prep, or any other diet really, we are going to run into weight loss stalls.  These stalls, or “Plateaus” are a normal part of the dieting process contributing to Metabolic Adaptation.

Why does this occur?

Well, there are many factors that can contribute to Metabolic Adaptation but the most common ones are weight loss itself, loss of lean muscle mass (the more muscle we have the more calories we need to maintain said muscle), reduction of NEAT (Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis), reduction in hormone levels, and more.

How do you make adjustments to keep you in Active Fat Loss?

When weight loss stalls, it’s a simple indicator that there is no longer an energy deficit.  This means your body is no longer using more calories than it is consuming because it is becoming more efficient in its use of calories.  Much like an economy car is more efficient in its use of a gallon of gas than a high-performance sports car.

In order to get back into Active Fat Loss. We have to create an energy deficit by making our body use more calories than we consume.  We do this by reducing calorie intake, increasing activity or both.

Increasing Activity:  Increasing cardio is one of two main things people do when fat loss stalls, but is it necessary?  The answer is, perhaps not. 

There are other ways to increase activity like monitoring step counts and usually a 10% increase can get you back into a good Active Fat Loss rage.  Other things you can do revolve around your workouts.  Adding a few more sets to your workouts, perhaps another exercise or two, combining exercises into supersets, increasing the Density of a workout.  All these things can increase your daily use of calories.

NOTE:  Adjustments to workouts are superior to increases in cardio since cardio can increase the rate of muscle loss, and resistance training is what protects muscle the most in a deficit.

Decreasing Calories:  Decreasing Calories is the second most common thing that people do when fat loss stalls, and usually it is a necessary evil.  However, how the adjustment is made matters. 

Large adjustments are usually not needed.  Typically, a simple reduction of 60-100 calories is sufficient to bring someone out of a stall, other than a “Set-Point” stall which is a different topic.  Bigger adjustments are usually not needed and only contribute to a faster rate of Metabolic Adaptation.  If it takes more than 100-150 calories to get you moving again, you should probably look at other things you are probably missing.

The bottom line is, you should strive to keep calories as high as possible while achieving an appropriate Range of Loss (ROL).  Furthermore, your ROL should be no more than 1% of your body weight in lbs per week.  More than that and you risk an increased rate of muscle loss AND an increased rate of Metabolic Adaptation.  Both are counterproductive to the goal of Contest Prep.

Are you looking for a coach, or new one? Interested in joining Team USA Physique? A good place to start would be learning about our Coaching Methods, setting up a FREE consulation and going from there.

17 Sep


Looking to compete in the Bikini class in 2022? Let me shed some light on the physique of Today’s Bikini Competitor. If you think coming in soft without well developed muscle from lifting a lot of weight, but doing hours and hours of cardio and circuit training will put you in the top spot…think again. A few years ago, maybe. But not so much anymore.

Before you blast me and remind me of what the Judging Criteria is for Bikini, let me remind you…I am an NPC Regional Judge and I keep up with the local trends, as well as trends in each district, national level and pro. And let me tell you, the trends are very different at each level. Rarely will you find that written “criteria” followed. For one, the criteria is subjective. Two, judges see things different and have different perspectives.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying soft won’t win. You will find a few shows here and there that place the more “soft” competitor at the top…but that’s usually only when today’s bikini competitor doesn’t show up.

Sorry if that gives some of you butt hurt or it pisses a few coaches off, but this is an industry where truth and reality is required to get to the next level. Hold that back and you will have even more butt hurt when an underdeveloped/unconditioned competitor expects to win, but gets placed in 3rd call-outs. So save the sugar coating for the drama folks or sports where everyone gets a Participation Trophy.

Let me be the first to tell you, there is a distinct difference between the “judging criteria” and “judging trends.” The written criteria is one thing, but the trends are based on how Regional Judges are actually scoring since they are the ones that are sending competitors to the National shows. lately, that “trend” is fuller muscles, moderate hardness (and probably harder in 2022) with shoulders and arms that have a good amount of “distinction” between the shoulders and triceps. Notice I did not say “seperation” because that is not entirely accurate. But you can tell where the shoulder ends and the tricep begins so the word “distinction” is more accurate. That said, we are still seeing some overall winners that actually have a bit of striations in their shoulders. Just 2 years ago, they would have been marked down.  Not any more.

It sounds confusing, I know. But again, judges can only judge based on who shows up, and thats what is showing up more and more at the bigger shows, and someone has to win.

Of course, well conditioned with solid glutes and hamstrings (see Team USA Athlete Valeria Ocano to the left) are still staples for Bikini, as has been the case for awhile, but a little harder now with tie-in’s that slightly show have been scoring better.

Indulge me for a moment and let me try to explain it a different way.

Take the bikini girls on the Olympia stage as a true representation of the Judging Criteria.  They are there because in one way or another, they are as close to a perfect based on the judging criteria and every other competitor is missing something.  At the national level, most of the time it’s going to be something related to conditioning.  If the difference is one competitor being less conditioned and/or too small and the other competitor being more conditioned and/or a little big, who do you think is going to get the call?  And keep in mind, this is BODY-BUILDING!


Take a step back and look from the outside for a minute. The reality is, Bikini is a part of bodybuilding. We’re not judging models or beauty pageant contestants. And when most of the competitors that appear before head judges Tyler and Sandy at national shows are harder and more conditioned than the criteria, that’s all they and the other judges have to go off of and someone has to win. So bite your tongue if you feel they are not judging based on what the criteria is. Again, that is what is showing up at National Shows these days. Softer athletes may fit the criteria better, but Regional Judges are not sending many to the National Shows. They are the ones setting the trends. And quite frankly, I like the harder look myself. Again, this is BODY-BUILDING!

So, how do you get to the current “trend” and standout among your fellow competitors?

You have to lift, HEAVY…PERIOD!

When I say lift heavy, I mean it. You have to start building your base up. You have to have body curves, and some muscular curves too. You need to hit your shoulders (arms too) just as hard as you hit your glutes. As glutes are the standard from the back, shoulders are becoming the standard from the front.

Light weight, high reps, lots of cardio and circuit style training is now a thing of the past. Get over it. Those who follow this style of training will most likely continue to fall down further and further in the standings.

Don’t get me wrong…cardio and circuit training has its place. But it would be a mistake to make them the foundation of your training program. They are tools…nothing more. Anf if you are doing more cardio than resistance training, you need to re-evaluate your programming.

I recommend lots of big compound movements like squats, deadlifts, barbell hipthrust, shoulder press, and a lot of lateral raises too. I recommending putting a program together that utilized both strength (4-7 rep range) and Hypertrophy (8-12 rep range) to maximize growth.

Bikini Athletes should lift heavy with compound movement for better glute development.

If you think squats and deadlifts make a thicker and blocky waist, think again? That’s rubbish!!! There is absolutely zero scientific evidence that suggest such a thing. That’s just bro-science coming from people who have little to no knowledge of recent scientific research regarding bodybuilding. Byt the time our clients are stage lean, they have some of the tiny waist on the stage…and they all lift heavy. But, need visual proof? Go look at many of the top figure athletes (they need to maintain tiny waist too) these days…many are powerlifters in the offseason…just saying!

Need more proof? Go take a look at Team USA Physique Coach Molly Greer picured at the top. She does a lot of squats, deadlifts and barbell hipthrust…and she lifts heavy. Just missed her procard by one spot at her first Pro Qualifer. How about Team USA Physique Coach Valerie Ocano. Just look at those glutes and tiny waist; all built with heavy compound movements. It’s only her second year competing, and placed third at the NPC USA Championship Pro Qualifer.

Just one more? Sure! Just look those glutes, hamstrings and shoulders on McKay George. She missed her IFBB Procard by 1 spot at her first pro Qualifier, which just happened to be only the thrid time she every stepped on stage. I built her workout program with a lot of heavy Squats, deadlifts, shoulder presses and barbell hip raises. Got a problem with her waist or frame?

The point I’m trying to make here is that you need to pay attention to the trends from show to show. And in most instances now, you have to work hard, lift HEAVY and have the mindset of a bodybuilder to take it to the next level as today’s Bikini Competitor. If not, those who do will keep raising the bar out of your reach.

Lift hard. Lift Heavy. Lift Often.