Discover the transformative power of periodization in strength training, especially if you’re new to lifting. Learn about linear periodization, how it helps break through plateaus, and why it’s crucial for injury prevention. Practical tips and examples included.
Navigating the world of fitness and nutrition is a journey filled with evolving insights, unique challenges, and breakthrough moments. As individuals embark on this transformative journey, it’s crucial to have reliable tools and metrics that offer clarity and guidance. Drawing upon my extensive background as an analyst, I crafted and introduced the concept I termed the “Metabolic Factor” – a simple yet profound metric that bridges the gap between data-driven insights and holistic coaching. This metric not only provides a snapshot of one’s metabolic health but also serves as a roadmap to optimize training, nutrition, and overall well-being. Dive into the following chapter to unravel the genesis, workings, and applications of the Metabolic Factor, and discover how it can revolutionize your approach to fitness.
As a coach, my utmost passion lies in assisting clients in accomplishing their fitness goals. I have refined and enhanced a basic pre-existing formula that was not being utilized to its fullest potential; creating a universal rating system to accurately determine metabolic readiness for dieting. It’s remarkably simple and everyone can use it. Maintenance Calories divided by weight. If you are in a surplus or deficit, you will need to use your “calculated” maintenance. I took that calculation, added some enhancements, and devised a rating system, which I refer to as the Metabolic Factor.
This tool has been a major asset in helping me determine if a client is metabolically ready for prep, or any dieting phase. But the story behind the Metabolic Factor goes back to my previous career as a management and data analyst. Let me explain.
I’m a data junkie. Prior to embarking on a coaching career, I was an Analyst and Process Improvement Specialist for the Department of Defense, Centers for Disease Control and Department of Veterans Affairs. For 20 years, I was sniffing out hidden trends and finding ways to optimize processes for a living. Little did I know that those very same data-digging, and process improvement skills, would make all the difference when it came time to take my career in a new direction – becoming a coach! My background has been invaluable ever since.
One of the things I love about the Metabolic Factor is that it’s not just about aesthetics. Yes, it’s important for clients to look their best, but it’s even more important for them to be healthy and able to sustain their progress over the long term. By focusing on metabolic readiness, I can help clients avoid crash diets and other harmful practices that may yield short-term results but ultimately do more harm than good. Of course, the Metabolic Factor is just one tool in my coaching arsenal. But it’s been a game-changer for me and my clients. I’m constantly refining and improving the calculation based on new research and my own experience, but the basic principles remain the same.
If you’re looking to grow and build muscle, the speed of your progress matters. While it’s important that we consume food for growth, going too quickly can cause an increase in body fat accumulation instead of healthy muscle gain. Eating right is key but having a good body composition plays just as big a role when building up our strength! Body composition has just as much impact on anabolism as calorie intake. I encourage you to read that article, it will put more things into perspective.
“Remember that the more fat you gain, the longer you’ll have to diet and the deeper you’ll likely have to hammer into a calorie deficit. In 25 years of coaching, that always means less lean body mass retained. I know it’s counterintuitive—we like to think the size and strength we gain at higher body fat levels is worth it—but once you’re moderately above your metabolic setpoint, the law of diminishing returns isn’t in your favor. You gain much more body fat than lean body mass and you lose both on your way back to the stage.” ~Joe Klemczewski, PhD
If body composition gets too skewed towards fat, it can impede the process of building muscle. Trying to push more food can make the situation worse. Though many believe that size and strength go hand in hand, it is only true to a point. There comes a point of diminishing returns. Once you go to far, you are adding much more Fat Mass than Fat Free Mass, and more weeks to your next prep. We talk about this at length in our 5 Phases of Off-Season and 5 Phases of Contest Prep E-book, in particular during the Transition Phase of Off-Season
Metabolic Factor Zones
While the Metabolic Factor zones and rating scale are primarily described in the context of athletes, it’s important to note that these principles are applicable to a wider audience. The underlying physiology remains the same, whether you’re an athlete or not. Following the zone descriptions, we will discuss how to interpret and apply this information from a non-athlete perspective.
DANGER ZONE: For those with a Metabolic Factor < 10, maintenance calories are calculated to be less than 10 times body weight in pounds and often below the Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). Sustaining such a low caloric intake for a prolonged period can have significant health implications. It suggests an inadequate energy supply for basic bodily functions, leading to serious energy shortages, nutrient deficiencies, and metabolic disturbances. This scenario can cause muscle loss and hormonal imbalances, adversely affecting performance and overall health.
Additionally, it raises the risk of psychological issues, including an increased likelihood of developing eating disorders. Raising caloric intake in this context presents a complex challenge, as many individuals in this situation experience a suppressed metabolism, resulting in low energy and difficulty in achieving strength gains, despite consistent training efforts.
Precise management of caloric intake is crucial during this phase; even a slight surplus, such as an additional 60 calories per day over maintenance needs, can lead to undesirable weight gain. While adequate nutrient intake is vital for muscle growth, exceeding caloric needs may lead to fat accumulation instead of muscle development. This phase requires a careful balance to prevent rapid fat gain, while also avoiding the risks associated with consistently consuming calories below 10 times one’s body weight, especially when aiming for muscle growth. Therefore, calorie adjustments should be minimal and infrequent to effectively navigate this sensitive balance.
CAUTION ZONE: For those with a Metabolic Factor 10 & 11, this stage marks a significant stride in the fitness journey, where modest increases in caloric intake can lead to appreciable gains in strength and an enhanced sense of well-being, all while keeping fat accumulation to a minimum. Progress at this juncture may appear gradual, but the positive shift in momentum is both perceptible and motivating.
It is during this phase that the fruits of your unwavering commitment and hard work begin to manifest in concrete outcomes. While the progress is steady and observable, it’s important to continue exercising caution with caloric increments to optimize strength gains alongside metabolic improvements.
BASELINE ZONE: Athletes with a Metabolic Factor 12 are leveraging a well-structured diet to lay the foundation for energy and strength gains. Incremental increases in calories, judiciously implemented, are designed to boost vitality without significant weight gain. As athletes progress through a Metabolic Factor 13, the subtle caloric adjustments continue to support energy levels while beginning to sculpt a more defined physique. Remarkably, the transition through the Baseline zone is marked by sustained strength improvements and minimal weight gain, showcasing the body’s remarkable adaptability to a fine-tuned balance of nutrition and training.
OPPORTUNITY ZONE: Once athletes reach a Metabolic Factor 14, they often experience a pivotal shift: they not only maintain their current weight amidst an upsurge in calories but may also start to see a refinement in body composition. As they incrementally increase their caloric intake, their bodies adapt with promising improvements. This zone is characterized by obvious metabolic improvement, where each calorie serves a precise purpose—energizing workouts, facilitating recovery, and supporting muscle hypertrophy, all while keeping fat accumulation to a minimum. It’s a critical phase for fine-tuning the body’s metabolic capabilities. For those not in competitive lanes, this zone serves as the starting point for noticeable body composition improvements.
ADVANTAGE ZONE: In general, starting a prep with a Metabolic Factor 15 marks a pivotal stage and heralds the onset of body recomposition. It’s the zone where many find themselves leaning out even as they reverse diet, offering a significant edge for those about to embark on contest prep. Those who wait until hitting this zone to begin prepping for competition require fewer caloric decreases than typically seen in the industry. Our extensive client history underscores this, with over 99% of those starting their prep from this advantageous metabolic state achieving Top 5 placements, attesting to its efficacy as a contest prep baseline.
The metabolic adaptability within this zone is not just advantageous for those entering prep; it’s also a period of positive change for those still in a reverse dieting phase, potentially leading to a leaner physique as calories continue to rise. This zone serves as a crucial point where metabolic efficiency synchronizes with training to optimize strength and muscle definition.
OPTIMAL ZONE: At a Metabolic Factor 16, the achievements of our clients are particularly striking, with a surge in class wins, overall titles, and pro cards. At this stage, caloric intake is substantially high, propelling energy to peak levels and facilitating notable increases in strength. A remarkable aspect of this phase is the minimized role of cardio; it often becomes an ancillary component of the fitness routine, sometimes only becoming necessary during the later, more intensive stages of contest prep.
This allows athletes to concentrate on refining their physiques with an emphasis on detail and symmetry. The dieting phase becomes markedly more manageable, as the high metabolic rate provides a buffer against the typical challenges of prep, underscoring why this zone is often seen as a precursor to competitive success.
ELITE ZONE: Athletes with a Metabolic Factor 17 or higher with their hyper-upregulated metabolism, are sometimes referred to as “macronators” because of their capacity to consume substantial amounts of food while maintaining an optimal physique. A remarkable feature of this zone is the minimal, sometimes even non-existent, need for cardio during contest prep.
A prime example is Amanda Wright, one of our Wellness clients, who earned her IFBB Pro Card without any steady-state cardio during prep. Her metabolic base was so strong at the beginning of her prep that, even when weight loss slowed, she had ample calories to reduce, making the addition of cardio unnecessary. This illustrates the immense benefit of building a solid metabolic foundation through careful nutrition and strategic training.
Being in the Elite Zone equips athletes with a significant advantage, allowing for a more flexible approach to prep. These athletes are able to focus on fine-tuning their physiques to division standards and enjoying more food while those who start prep at a lower MF than advisable are struggling to retain muscle mass due to their reliance on hours of cardio. They experience better recovery, improved cognitive function, and a more positive mental state.
Additionally, they start the next offseason with a significant advantage over their peers who deal with lower calorie intakes, high rates of cardio, and a heightened risk of rebounding weight gain and developing eating disorders.
Beyond the Competition: Metabolic Factor Zones are for Everyone
Having explored the various Metabolic Factor zones and their unique characteristics, you might be curious about their relevance beyond the realm of competitive athletics. You might be wondering, ‘These Metabolic Factor zones sound geared towards athletes. How do they relate to someone like me who’s not competing?’ It’s an excellent question, and one that we take seriously.
While our descriptions have primarily focused on the athlete’s perspective, the core principles are applicable to anyone interested in improving their body composition and overall health. In competitive circles, a Metabolic Factor of 15 or higher is the gold standard for us before entering a contest prep phase. This is essential for those who need to reach the intense levels of leanness and muscle definition required on the competitive stage.
However, if you’re not planning to compete, the stakes are different. Extreme leanness may not only be unnecessary but could also be counterproductive for your general well-being.
For non-competitors or those focusing on lifestyle changes, we recommend aiming for a Metabolic Factor between 13 and 14 before starting any serious dieting. This ensures that you’re well-prepared for the physical and emotional challenges that come with modifying your diet, and allows you to achieve your health and fitness goals in a balanced and sustainable way.
Now that you have a better grasp of the significance of the Metabolic Factor, let’s delve into how you can apply this formula to yourself. Keep in mind that when computing your metabolic factor, it is crucial to consider your maintenance calories rather than your caloric intake while gaining or losing weight.
Let me give you an example, and we are going to use the previous example used to formulate maintenance, surplus, and deficit calories.
If you recall, losing or gaining weight is alla bout the numbers. A ~500 calorie deficit each day will cause you to drop1pound per week, while a surplus of this amount causes the opposite effect. Knowing your maintenance or calculated maintenance calories is crucial when determining your metabolic factor. Here are the reference points, and previous example again to help with that calculation.
- 1.0lbs = 500 calories
- .75lbs = 375 calories
- .50lbs = 250 calories
- .25lbs = 125 calories
Let’s assume you weigh 130 lbs. and are gaining 0.75 lbs. per week on 2100 calories, you’re in a 375-calorie surplus. To find your Maintenance Calories, you’d subtract this surplus from your current caloric intake: 2100 – 375 = 1725 calories. This is your “Calculated Maintenance Calories.”
To determine your Metabolic Factor, you’d then divide these Calculated Maintenance Calories (1725) by your weight in pounds (130). The equation would be 1725 / 130 = 13.269. Rounded up, your Metabolic Factor becomes 13.3. This number serves as an individualized metric that you can use for further nutritional planning.
If you are losing weight, you do the same thing, but you would add the calories back in. In the example above, the Calculated Maintenance Calories would be 2100 + 375 which equals 2475, for a Metabolic Factor of 19.
It’s essential to note that the Metabolic Factor is not a guarantee, it assumes that the client’s nutrition, workout, and other relevant variables are on point. While all factors matter, ensuring consistent nutrition and training practices are especially crucial for harnessing the benefits of one’s metabolic rate in their bodybuilding journey.
In summary, the Metabolic Factor is a simple yet effective tool to determine when your metabolism is ready for a dieting phase. It involves dividing your Maintenance Calories by your weight, or by using “calculated maintenance” if you are in a surplus or deficit. By using this rating scale, you can have a better idea of where your metabolism should be before starting a dieting phase.
Accomplishing contest prep and off-season goals together used to be a pipe dream. Not anymore. When done correctly, you can achieve both at the same time.
THERE IS A DIFFERENCE IN THE JUDGING CRITERIA AND JUDGING TREND
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!
THE BIKINI DIVISION HAS FINALLY EVOLVED
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.
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.
For those who compete in Bodybuilding, cardio is a big issue and philosophies are all over the place. We consider ourselves “cardio minimalists”, with respect to offseason and contest prep.
Cardio is fantastic for general health purposes and it does well for fat loss, and keeping fat gain in check when used responsibly. However, cardio is not your friend when it comes to building an “optimal physique”. Yet on the same token, it will eventually become a necessary evil when it comes to getting stage lean.
I know that sounds confusing, so let me explain.
As a Physique Readiness Coach, our job is to help you reach your genetic potential so that you look your absolute best come stage time. To do this, you must optimize your metabolic rate which is actually quite simple.
It all starts in the offseason by putting emphasis on increasing your food intake as high as possible (while keeping your body fat gain reasonable) and lowering cardio to an absolute minimum. The reason is based on science, and quite frankly…common sense because the more cardio you do in the offseason, the less effective it is during contest prep. And this is why your offseason should be based on your workout program, nutrition and NEAT (Non-exercise Activity Thermogenesis) and little to no cardio depending on how active you are outside of the gym.
Even though bodybuilders have loaded up the cardio in the offseason and more so in contest prep, current research tells us that may not be optimal. A recent meta-analysis was conducted and found that the more cardio a competitior does, the more it hinders progress from lifting. And a second study concluded that the interference had an even more negative effect on advanced athletes such as bodybuilders.
There are two sides of this coin. Once you start your prep, calories should be high enough that you have plenty of room to pull from when fat loss stalls, and it will stall often. On the flip side, cardio should be low enough that you have plenty of cardio to add in, over time, without having to rely on hours and hours of it to keep fat loss going. Extreme doses of cardio typically lead to a slower rate of fat loss (and an increased likelihood of an all out fat loss stall), increased rate of muscles loss, slower recovery time, extreme fatigue at the final stages of prep, a less than optimal physique and a horrible rebound after the show is over.
Have you ever seen a competitor in the final weeks (or months) of prep doing hours of cardio multiple times a week? More often than not, progress stalls (a common problem in the lower half for females), the physique starts to show less muscle mass retention, and they are just plain worn out. Too much cardio is often the problem.
But in full disclosure, there may come a time for some that we have to flirt with the “extreme” in the final stages due to unforeseen circumstances that may arise during prep like sickness, relationship or work issues, extra travel, etc. But, if you allow extra time in your prep to give yourself a cushion for the “unforeseen” situations, diets breaks and stalls, you should be fine.
The bottom line is this: Keep cardio at a minimum (and in many cases, none) during the offseason, so it becomes merely a last resort tool during contest prep, instead of the main focus for fat loss.