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It’s more than just giving a diet plan

Client Nutrition.

Our Responsibility?

Nutrition. Food. A polarising topic but most of the time simply misunderstood due to lack of education.

And without doubt, however, In my opinion at least, the missing link that connects the dots and holds the key to progress for many of our clients.

As coaches, In the gym, we lead the dance. We supply the hymn sheets, manipulate the variables, and we make sure the work gets done. Physically we can help.

In the other 160 odd hours of the week, however, we lose control of those variables. Progress is out of our hands. Recovery. Diet. Sleep. Stress. That’s on them not us. Right?

Well, it depends.

I’m only going to deal with diet here. It’s my thing. It’s what initially gave me a foothold in this industry and something I’m fiercely passionate about.

When it comes to a clients dietary habits we can advise, lecture, guide, and talk until we are blue in the face but if it isn’t having the desired effect then maybe we need to start looking at ‘what we are saying not what they are doing‘.

In light of this, I’m going to give my top 5 points that we need, as coaches, to address and get right.

The object of this blog is to simply give food for thought. Pun intended. So that we can go away, reflect, and further discuss as coaches our own thoughts on the matter.

1. Meet the client where they currently are

Meet the client where they are at now not where you think they should be.

Each client’s dietary intake will be as unique as their DNA.

It’s mindless to just assume they are nailing the basics and eating the foods we expect them to be eating on a daily basis. It’s rarely the case.

Each and every client will be on a different chapter of their book. Find out what page they are on now and help them rewrite the next chapter which ultimately results in a happy ending to their story.

For example If someone struggles to eat breakfast, usually grabs lunch on the go, works long hours, and maybe finds time to sit down and eat one proper meal a day at 9pm at night then It’s ridiculous to try and convince them that they need to eat 5 or 6 meals a day with a macro split of 40/30/30.

It’ll never happen straight away. Instead starting with something like helping to streamline their morning routine so they can consume a balanced nutritious breakfast will be a massive step in the right direction.

Similarly, if a client’s current protein sources come in the form of Big Macs, spare ribs from the local Chinese takeaway, and the odd protein shake after training, then don’t expect them to start buying grass fed organic beef, pasture raised chicken, and wild-caught salmon.

Ditching the takeaways and giving them a list of lean protein sources to choose from would be a much better idea, to begin with.

One of the unique things we do as Combined Strength Coaches is have a P1 & P2 protocol for our clients. Basically two priorities that need to be addressed to improve movement, mobility, and assist their main training focus.

Well I use the same principle for clients nutritional needs as well. What are the P1 & P2 issues that need addressing to help progress and improve eating habits. Figure those out and have the client work on them daily. It generally gets things moving in the right direction straight away.

2. Avoid huge calorie restrictions

Clients with a goal of fat loss need to be in a calorie deficit. We know that. But encouraging them to cut out so much food that it puts them in too much of a negative energy balance is massively counterproductive in the long term.

Point in case. Recently I have worked with an influx of new members to our gym. These people have come to us from another local facility that runs ‘transformation challenges’ that promise your money back if you hit ‘weight loss’ targets. These people are put on strict diets of around 800-1000 calories per day and exercise programs of 4-5 days of high-intensity work every week.

The ‘weight’ drops of them. They get their first 2 months money back. And immediately sign up for another 6 months. Fast forward another 6 weeks and they are starving, exhausted, and unmotivated to train. They binge. Revert back to the unhealthy lifestyle they used to live. They have learned nothing. Other than to hate the sight of plain chicken, tuna fish, and broccoli.

Tied into a 6-month membership to a gym they now can’t face attending and a hate of ‘clean eating’ they end up putting all their weight back on plus more.

I’ve literally spent hours upon hours re-educating these people on diet and nutrition when they come to us looking for a solution.

Helping them find their own maintenance calorie levels using diet diaries and sensible guidelines to follow. Then looking to move into gradual energy deficits to aid long-term sustainable fat loss.

3. It’s an education process

This leads on nicely from the last point.

Just as in our exercise programmes and coaching sessions where we aim to educate our clients, our nutrition guidance should be just as educational.

Do this.

Follow that.

Eat this.

Don’t eat that.

Good fat.

Bad fat.

High carb.

Low carb.

The outcome is confusion.

Why why why. Giving a reason for asking a client to do something or follow a certain protocol should be immediately followed up by a reason why.

The problem stems from the old adage of ‘a little knowledge is a dangerous thing’.

Your clients will have read all about the latest diet trends, superfoods, eating protocols, and meal timing miracles. Their favourite celebrity or sports star who followed this diet and lost 30lbs of body fat and built 10lbs of lean muscle…. in a week.

They suddenly think ‘hey that’ll work for me too’ and spend a fortune on detox teas, spirulina powder, and mass gain 5000 powders. Blend them all together and voila, an expensive trip to the toilet.

Now there’s a distinct possibility they may well actually see some good early results from these diets. But then the whole sustainability problem arises again and it goes out the window. Back to square one again.

One of the first things I teach is the 80/20 principle. Eat well 80% of the time and allow 20% for less optimal but frequently craved food choices.

Give and take. But much more sustainable for the client in the long run.

If a client wants to trial a particular eating style then explain why you think it would or would not be a good idea for them. They’ll probably do it anyway. But being there to support and explain why it is or isn’t having the desired effect will be crucial.

4. Don’t force our own dietary preferences on others

Don’t force our own dietary preferences on others.

We all have our preferred eating styles. Personally, I like a higher fat, lower carb diet. When I’m looking to lean up a little I really enjoy the Intermittent fasting approach. It works for me and suits my lifestyle. But that’s just me. Years of trying different methods, feeding times and windows, eating different macro splits etc have led me to the point where I know what works for me and what I enjoy doing. And quite honestly it’s just the 80/20 rule done consistently.

One thing I never do however is to try and force what works for me onto a client.

Yes, of course, we get asked all the time “what do you eat”, “what do you think of keto”, “won’t eating all those carbs make me fat!”….. don’t even get me started on that!!!

And this now goes back to the educational process.

We should be trying to help our clients find out what works best ‘for them’.

  • What suits their lifestyle?
  • What foods do they enjoy most?
  • What is the one thing they can’t-do without?
  • Do they work shifts and eat at obscure times of the day and night?
  • How do they feel energy wise 30mins after eating a particular meal?
  • Is breakfast something they genuinely struggle to consume because they can’t stomach big meals early in the morning?
  • Do they train better after eating something?
  • Or does training in a fasted state make them feel lighter, faster, and able to push more intensely?

These are all things that will work, or not, for different people. And it’s our role as coaches to advise and educate on each one.

Most people will tell you what has worked for them in the past. But when I ask “well why aren’t you eating like that now?”. You often get the response “I just couldn’t stick to it”.

Well, it didn’t work then.

One of the biggest things I work on straight away is trying to get clients out of the diet mentality. To stop looking at eating a particular way as ‘being on a diet’.

Start looking at what you are about to consume as food. Not ‘how many calories are in that’. Yes, of course, we can talk about a time and place for calorie counting but again that’s for a different day. This is basics. Get them right with people. Consistently. Day on day, week on week, and build from there.

Ultimately that’s what we should be striving for. Results. Long-term sustainable results. Not quick fixes.

One thing I will add here is we should always be helping a client achieve their own particular goal too. This might not be fat loss. It may be adding some muscle mass. Or achieving balanced energy levels throughout the day with no crashes. Or an athlete who needs to peak for a certain show, event, race, or fight. These may take certain dietary interventions for a specific goal.

In short get to know your client better. Focus on their own particular goal. And don’t simply recommend what works for you. We are all different.

5. Set the example

As coaches and fitness professionals we have a responsibility. People look to us for help. To help change physically and more and more so I’m finding mentally.

We have the power to do that and it should never be taken for granted.

As Uncle Ben said, “with great power comes great responsibility”.

(Not Uncle Ben’s rice…..the ‘other’ uncle Ben….)

Without going into a rant about the Instagram population who try to convince us that eating donuts, dominos, and pop tarts every day can lead to the shredded look they portray. The fact is people look at that and think it’s possible for them to do it.

Rightly or wrongly what our clients and followers see us doing is what they will deem acceptable to do too.

I’m a realist. I’m not a hypocrite. I will never ask a client to do something that I wouldn’t nor will I lie and say I never have a beer or an ice cream.

I’m a father. I’ll never turn down an ice cream with my daughter once a week ‘because I’m on a diet Mila sorry’. I also love steak and a couple of well-earned beers on a Friday night. Lifestyle. Sustainably. 80/20 remember.

But I will never plaster my social media with pictures of chocolate cakes and food binges and try to convince others this is what I do all the time and it works for me. Because it doesn’t. For anyone.

Paint the picture of your own real life by all means. As responsible professionals, that’s what we do well anyways. And that’s why people gravitate towards you. Because honesty is what builds trust and respect.

But just remember there is always someone watching and listening. That’s what we put ourselves forward for when we decided to become coaches, trainers, and public service professionals.

Set the example. My own tagline I like to use is ‘Be the change’.

I might not be able to change the world. But I can help change someone’s world. And that’ll do for a start.

Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Mark Middleton Nutrition

Mark Middleton is a Combined Strength Coach based in Newcastle, working out of The Fitness Rooms.

You can check him out on his website:

Instagram: @middmag

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5 things big guys need to consider when doing bodyweight training

"Big Guy" Tom Morgan demonstrates a press up.

Bodyweight training, gymnastics, calisthenics, whatever you want to call it, has been around since the dawn of training and is currently back in fashion.

Many are currently pursuing goals towards a freestanding handstand or a ring muscle up, and for good reason. Adding in bodyweight skill work to your training not only keeps training interesting longer term, it has also got people working on other qualities of fitness such as mobility, coordination, and balance which are generally neglected when most think about going to the gym.

Both as a coach and also someone who loves to train, keeping training varied and interesting long term is essential for long term health and longevity.

Bodyweight training and calisthenics is usually synonymous with 65kg-75kg guys, not those hovering around the 100kg mark and for good reason too. It’s incredibly hard, requires a huge amount of strength and mobility.

However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t learn to master your bodyweight if you have a large frame and a serious set of legs to shift.Tom Morgan Combined Strength

Ever seen a 100kg straight arm handstand press or freestanding handstand press ups!?

It is possible, I promise you.

There are, however, certain things that you need to appreciate being a larger build and pursuing bodyweight mastery.


1. Regressions need to be very specific and methodical.

Having a decent set of legs on you may slow your progress but doesn’t need to halt you in your tracks. The majority of books on calisthenics training are quite general and have large jumps from one progression to the next, which seems to increase in difficulty exponentially with more bodyweight.

When training a specific movement like a front lever, even a very slight change in position or leverage may increase the difficulty quite significantly. You are never going to be able to jump from a tuck position to a straddle position over the course of one session.

Practical application:

Choose 1-2 skills at any one time. Any more than this and you will likely struggle to dedicate enough time to each.

There is not one way to programme for this and will vary depending on the skill you are working on. Programming in a linear fashion by simply adding in 5-10 mins of skill will work well for some, particularly if the skill is new to you. For those who are at a slightly more advanced level, using a more undulated approach might work better. The goal here is still to create progressive overload over time.

Tuck lever Linear programming example:

Week 1 – Tuck lever 4x10s

Week 2 – Tuck lever 5x10s

Week 3 – Tuck lever 5x12s

Tuck lever Undulated programming example:

Session 1 – Skill block at the start of a session – Single leg Lever 4x10s

Session 2 – Strength work after a skill block – Ice cream maker chin ups 4×3 reps

Session 3 – Core/grip work at the end of a session – 3 sets of Tuck lever hold 5s, Scapular pull ups 3 reps, hanging knee tucks 10 reps.

2. Build a MASSIVE foundation.

You need mobility.

You need strength.

You need control.

If you are lacking in one of these area, you will not be able to progress effectively. There is no way to skip steps without it catching up with you later on, either by hitting a plateau, or getting injured.

Particularly with more bodyweight to move and control, if you are throwing yourself into positions your body isn’t ready for or you don’t have the mobility for, you will likely end up injured.

The bigger you build your foundation of mobility and relative strength, the greater your capacity for progress will be, no matter what weight you are. Spend time slowly increasing range of movement and building active control through greater range.

Soft tissues such as ligaments and tendons actually take several months to build strength and capacity to handle increased loads required for some bodyweight skills. This is a warning to take things slow as healing soft tissue injuries can also take months.

Practical application:

  • Daily Mobility work  (10-15mins)
  • Daily skill work (5-10 mins)
  • Training with the bodyweight fundamentals such as press ups, rows, chin ups and dips 2-3 times per week to help build relative strength.
  • Focus on increasing range of movement as a progression rather than simply adding load or reps.









Two relative strength tests to see how you match up:

  • Max rep chin ups (perform 1 rep every 3s)
  • Max rep press ups (perform 1 rep every 3s)

3. Intention: It’s not just what you do, but how you do it that will determine the end result. 

With bodyweight training as with any kind of skill work, the quality of the reps you complete is going to have direct impact on how well they transfer to the next level or key skill.

“Muscling through” won’t cut it here, particularly with the extra weight.

You need to take the time to build control through a full range of movement.

Practical application example:

If you aren’t working through full range on chin ups and dips, don’t expect to be able to master a muscle up as you will need that end range control.

Make your strength work and accessory work specific to the skills you are working on.

For example, if you have a muscle up skill focus, your strength work might consist of false grip chin ups and ring dips.

4. Progress will be slow at points.

Don’t get disheartened if you feel like you don’t make progress from one session to the next. Start this journey with this expectation and you will succeed long term.

Building up to a perfectly aligned handstand, or smooth and flawless control through a ring complex won’t happen overnight.

Some sessions will feel great, some sessions will feel awful, the majority of sessions will be average. Don’t always compare one session to the next, but compare over the weeks as you train consistently.

Practical application:

Assess and review progress on a monthly basis. Make note of weaknesses or areas holding you back with the skills you are working on, whether that is mobility, strength, or a particular aspect of a skill etc. Set goals and plan for the next month and go again.

If you don’t feel like there is much progress over this time or aren’t sure where you are going wrong, consider hiring a coach.

5. Start where you are, and progress from there.

Where you start your journey from depends on, your ability to move, your strength levels, depends entirely on your background and your current lifestyle.

Some people will progress much quicker than others; That unfortunately is a fact of life and depends on your current start point, but also your background, your training history, your current lifestyle etc.

Practical Application:

Assess and test often. Highlight weakness and areas for improvement and try not to get too frustrated when things aren’t going your way. The only way you will succeed with this long term is if you are consistent.

Practise, play and enjoy the process.

IMG_4852 copy

Tom Morgan is one of the Head coaches within the Combined Strength Group, specialising in Bodyweight training.





Check his website:

Follow him on instagram:



Based in Starks Fitness, Bristol, Cathedral Walk.

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Combined Strength Shoulder SFN

Hands up who can remember anything from the SFN Expo last week?

Strangely it feels longer than a week – which must be due to the amount of information that we are succumbed to daily.

At this year’s expo, we had a large presence from the coaches over both days – and genuinely superb to have some guys travel just to be with us and support each other.


The demo area was superbly kitted out by ClydeBuilt Fitness, who we must extend a genuine thanks, for giving us all that was needed to deliver some informative workshops.

I personally decided to step back from speaking this year to give younger coaches a chance to step up and hone their skills in presenting to an audience.


What has it got to do with the delivery of 1-2-1 training?

It’s a test of what you really know.

Under pressure, you can’t memorise everything you may have scribbled down the night before (point to note- Grant Ford had a seriously impressive set of cue cards, left unused…).

The height of your career will depend on the depth of your knowledge.

Presenting will magnify this, especially at a fitness show.  Add on top of that your peers and mentor looking on and it really does sink you to the level of ‘what do you really know?’.

My only worry for the coaches was that people might not show- which can often happen at shows when there is a lot on and it’s hard to focus on one thing.

Every single person that turned up, were there to learn and no ‘passing trade’ to convince!

Key Points from the workshops

Tom Morgan ran a well-received ‘stand on your hands’ hour of fun on both days.  The boom of bodyweight and calisthenics has seen a rise in interest and rightly so. It is the fundamentals block of the Combined Strength Training System.

Here are some points from Tom-

Practice what you preach” and “personal application leads to better understandingAlso, the “little tweaks and nuances of positioning, movement, training come from immersing yourself in the practice”.

From a group perspective, this is something that makes us standout in the industry. We ‘immerse’ and come together, train, coach, with real ‘in the moment’ feedback that sets the standard for the next meet.

Nikki Banks was the lady with the iron core and we had some people return on the Sunday to convey their delight in DOMS from places they never knew existed.

Here are some points from Nikki-

Breathing and core go hand in hand- practice engagement with breathing, inhale engage, exhale and slowly release”.

Progress from standing to kneeling, then seated with legs in front- in each stage think about scooping and hollowing from the belly button”.

Sean Brady is one of the youngest coaches in the group, who I am sure won’t mind me saying- that he was a little shaky.

It quickly subsided and he really put out some great content ‘Building the squat from bodyweight to barbell.

Here are some points from Sean-

Start from the feet and work up to the next available joint in succession”. Over the weekend the ankle was one of the main priorities that needed work and several people showed dramatic visual improvements after 30 minutes.

Warming up properly is vital and you must allow time to do this before you consider loading up”.

If you can’t squat then lunge until you solve the issue that is preventing you from doing so”.

Movement Preparation and working on priorities is a key part of the Combined Strength Training System. It’s the quality and quantity of movement that gives us the right information on the why, allowing the coach to program effectively.

Tom Morgan Combined Strength







Grant ‘Cue Card’ Ford was on point with a very popular ‘Bulletproof Your Shoulders’ workshop delivered on both days. It was great to see many Crossfitters getting stuck into the drills and movements shown; a testament to their commitment to improving!

Here are some points from Grant-

Daily full range movement of the shoulder is the key to health

Think of the shoulder as more than just raising the arm above the head- active internal and external rotation needs to be considered as part of movement prep

Active shoulder extension before progressing onto ring work such as skin the cat and German hang is vital to prevent injury”.

Recently we have incorporated Active Shoulder Extension to the existing movement assessment, which has now been upgraded to ‘Movement 7’.

Rob Clark of Hashtag Bobs Garage went full on with a live demo of Interval Weight Training (IWT) and showed the strength of his gym members as they came down to be the guinea pig on the session. He even brought his own Air Dyne which clearly, he meant business as always.

Here are some points from Rob-

Firstly, the importance of a 10 min cv warm up when it comes to conditioning and getting most out of your body.  It’s crucial to gradually increase blood supply to the vital muscles going to be used, heart rate, breathing and metabolism steadily rising to meet the demands of the session”.

If you want a body that works, then combine both weights and conditioning for performance that translates to real life”.

IWT is all about choosing a full body ‘weighted’ movement and then 2 minutes of cardio based activity that should work you around an RPE of 7-9/10 in simple terms, you shouldn’t be able to talk….

David Lees was giving out free drinks on both his workshops, with the focus around kettlebells and the Turkish Get Up.

A key take home from Dave was slowing the movement down and really focusing- moving from the simple use of a shoe to teach and groove in the pattern to a cup of water.  Yes, there was a few wet faces J

Here are some points from Dave-

Adapt and thrive, have a plan but expect to end up going off course to meet people where they are

Slow the movement down and break it into parts that will help making something complicated more achievable”.

A great warm up for Eddie Hall and his deadlift seminar- well done ‘Die Hard’ and I still owe you a forfeit…

Brain Milligan from FITPIT in Troon delivered a Sunday afternoon session based around maximising training with limited equipment.

Here are some points from Brian-

Get stable on the rings before using them for movement- think straight arm strength before bent arm”.

Maximise the use of leverage when it comes to bodyweight training”.

Don’t feel the need to rush straight into ring training- earn the right to progress and ensure you can achieve 30+ reps on the press up before levelling up”.

A thank you to coaches, Malky White, Luke Tarbatt, Mark Middleton and Ollie McCarthy who made the trip to hang around fellow coaches on a great weekend.

Ollie leaves us with this –

Face to face interaction and quality hands on coaching will always trump social media, videos and online presence. Seems simple but was very evident in the workshops”.

Couldn’t agree more and cements the reason that a huge part of our continual professional development as a coach is done in person.

Always a little further.

Coach Andy McKenzie