The Control And Variable Approach - How We Train Our Clients

It's no secret...

Over the past 22 months we have utilised a range of strategies for clients with varying goals, experience and lifestyles. With regards to nutrition, we can see that some clients have used low or high carbohydrate, constant or varying energy intakes, and flexible or rigid meal timings. None of these nutrition systems is inherently better than the other, but some suit the individual's goals, experience and lifestyle much better than another.

The one component of our system that does not change is method used to implement changes - the control and variable approach (hereby referred to as CVA). If you are a current or previous client reading this article, this will no doubt be old news and you might be tempted to skip this article. However, or you may want to learn more about the method behind your personalised training & nutrition programs (without having to see my face on Skype!) read on!


What it is the Control & Variable Approach?

The CVA is the underlying system we use to develop personalised training and nutrition programs that facilitate ongoing progression. To put it simply, we aim to control as many training/nutrition/lifestyle factors as possible and vary only a few at a time. This not only makes adherence easier - due to smaller changes - but it allows both the client and coach to understand what systems work well for the individual. 

As discussed last week, personalisation drives adherence because it allows solutions that suit the individual. When adherence is present, the program's desired outcomes will be achieved. It does not take a genius to write a system to lose weight or gain muscle, but creating a program that the individual will stick to is wherein lies the challenge. 

The aim of the CVA is to simplify any changes to be implemented, assess what works for the individual and facilitate continual progression. This method works well for clients of any level, but in particular for beginner and intermediate level clients. 

Quite often, Coaches (myself included) have started with training & nutrition recommendations that are a little too advanced for the client at that point in time. The client then has to overhaul their entire lifestyle to meet these new requirements, which often become unstuck when a road block emerges or progress halts.

The coach then puts the failure down to the clients non-adherence, the client accepts this blame and both move on to new clients/coaches. Sure, the client failed to adhere to the program, but the coach also failed to create a program they would adhere to. It is hard to blame either party because coaches need clients and clients want rapid results, which can lead to a rushed process.

The CVA puts the emphasis on the coach to modify the program if things are not working and also building on progressions when it is. The coach works in close consultation with the client to continually alter the program and ensure adherence. 


How it Works

1. Assess

The first thing we need to do is establish a base-point, which is essentially what the client is currently doing. For this phase, we use the Tracking Challenge to better understand a clients training, nutrition and lifestyle. 

This is an important step for two reasons: information is gathered that can be used to personalise training & nutrition programs and the client also gets a better understanding of what they are currently doing. It is a bit like getting a Fitbit - you had no idea how few steps you were doing per day until you were able to track it!

The Tracking Challenge is available for free as part of the Body Recomposition: Initiator Pack that you can use to assess your own intake and areas for improvement. You can use this tool alter your own training & nutrition without ever having to speak to me!


2. Design

Once the base-point is achieved, a framework is developed for working towards the client’s goals. 

The first change for most clients is exercise – either adding sessions (for beginners) or changing the type (for beginner-intermediates). This allows the development of a training base that can also be used for future variation. Adding training sessions often requires an assessment to 'find time' for training. As new training is now increasing time demands, it makes sense not to worry about adding new nutrition strategies until the training has become a habit. 

Nutrition alterations as a first point of call are for more advanced clients or athletes with set training structures.


3. Implement

The client will now implement the initial recommendations that have been identified in the design phase. I typically check in with the client quite a bit during this phase of a program, to make sure everything is tracking OK and answer little questions that pop up. As a client, you will get an email every second that is titled 'Check In' and asks you little questions to assess the implementation. Boring? Maybe. But the the frequent prompts for information and feedback is beneficial for personalisation.


4. Refine

We now take the information from the implementation phase and see how the strategies fared. If they went well, we move to next training or nutrition strategy that we want to incorporate, which might be adding more structured training sessions or varying a certain meal. If they did not work well, we need to understand why this is the case and either retry or change the strategy.

For example - if a strategy did not work because the client had an busier than normal week at work and could not train, we would retry their training regime. However, if the client could not complete the training sessions due to fatigue, we may need to alter the program. 

The refining process is what really personalises the program. Even though the initial recommendations are based on assessing and designing something personalised, but these are still educated guesses of what should be adhered to. The refining of implement systems allows the individual to better-understand what actually works for them personally!


The Benefits of CVA


The primary benefit is adherence. Since we focus on altering one thing at a time, it is a lot easier for the client to implement this. If the focus is implementing three training sessions per week, that is all we care about. Likewise, if the emphasis was on implementing four meals per day regardless of food intake/size, they could report back to me having eaten burgers four times per day and I would be happy for two reasons – meal timing is on point and they are comfortable enough to provide an honest account of their intake! 


Individual Assessment

Early on, this is about adherence. If we recommend eating five meals per day but the client is continually eating four, the onus should be on the coach to look at that situation and change the meals. As the client advances and the basics are in place, then we can use the CVA to test different training & nutrition strategies to see their suitability for the individual   

You would have noticed that the variables become more finite and specialised a client progress. At first, a variable might be adding an entire training session while later, it could be adding 50g of carbohydrates before a workout or altering nutrition timing.

The CVA approach often accelerates quite quickly. Due to the increased adherence of recommendations, it can quickly lead to more advanced recommendations. If we set a solid foundation and then build quickly, it’s not uncommon to see a complete novice client progression to testing nutrient timing and other advanced nutrition strategies six weeks into their program.



The CVA is an important component of the Body Recomposition System. The CVA works by making small changes while keeping other aspects consistent. This makes adhering to new changes easier and allows an understanding of what works for the individual. The CVA can be utilised by assessing current regimes, designing a program with specific alteration/s, implement the alteration and refining the alteration based on success.