You might not know this month’s cover star. He’s not a celebrity – at least, not to those who aren’t counted among his 141k Instagram followers. But Marchon’s status as one of the UK’s smartest fitness coaches is well earned.
A former professional rugby player, Marchon founded his first online coaching platform in 2014, long before hybrid training was the norm. Today, he and his team mentor more than 1,000 aspiring athletes remotely via the Marchon Training app. He’s the owner of two functional fitness gyms, Marchon HQ in Harpenden and Marchon LDN in Stratford, and is a familiar face (and physique) on the functional-fitness competition circuit.
But professional success and – let’s face it – an incredibly ripped physique are not enough to qualify him as a MH Guest Coach. What does is his attitude. A father of three, Marchon knows staying in shape isn’t easy for the average guy. And while he may be at the very top of his game at age 34, his true passion is helping others break down the barriers obstructing them from their own goals, however unassuming or ambitious those may be.
He sat down with Men’s Health fitness editor Andrew Tracey and executive editor David Morton to share his hard-won insights.
Andrew Tracey: You’ve been putting in the hours on the gym floor for well over a decade. What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in that time?
Ollie Marchon: One of the big ones is participation. There are people of all shapes and sizes engaging with fitness now, whether that’s in a gym or running or cycling. More people are looking to get started, and they’re being met with a more sophisticated offering, too. The old-school bodybuilding gyms, static machines, treadmills… that’s all changing. There are far more independent gyms. And obviously, there have been advancements in technology, with more people doing home workouts using apps, and so on.
However, that visceral thing of training in spit-and-sawdust gyms – sweaty high fives, community, camaraderie – that’s what’s coming back around now. And that’s what the fitness industry really represents for me.
AT: It’s not a stretch to say that you’ve got one of the most recognisable physiques on the gym scene, too. How has your body changed in the last five to 10 years?
OM: Probably not that much. When I retired from rugby at around 27, that was when I was my biggest, in terms of how much I weighed, how strong I was. I was fit for function, trying to stay robust.
When I moved into the fitness industry full-time, I spiralled into a place that wasn’t constructive. You start looking at other people’s physiques… Back then, the industry was a different place. It was all about protein supplements and clothing brands.
AT: It was very aesthetics-based.
OM: It was bodybuilding, it was fitness models. It wasn’t about what you could do with your body, but how you looked. And I fell into that. I applied the same passion I had when playing rugby to looking a certain way. I was still trying to stay fit, but over time, you subconsciously start to sell yourself on how you look, rather than how you function.
When I had my first child, I suppose my values changed. Around that time, the fitness industry was also beginning to shine more of a light on what people could do with their bodies. It wasn’t just about being an ornament. By now, I had the foundations of my business in place, so I could start to think about rejoining the athlete world. At Marchon, we use the term ‘Athlete 2.0’. It’s like a second version of yourself. I wasn’t going to play rugby again, but could I find new challenges?
I also stopped controlling my nutrition to the nth degree – you know, logging everything on MyFitnessPal. I haven’t done that for five or six years. But what I have done is be consistent with my routine. I don’t train as hard for as long as I used to, which means I need fewer days off and don’t get injured. That’s probably the biggest change I’ve made as I’ve aged.
AT: You mentioned earlier that you didn’t have to make significant dietary changes to achieve the physique people can see on the cover. And you’re not counting calories. But you have a wellspring of professional knowledge, and you’ve tracked your nutrition closely in the past. Do you think there’s a middle ground, in terms of finding out what works for your body?
OM: I think – speaking to whoever’s reading this – we have to appreciate that I’d gone from being a professional rugby player who wanted to be at the top of his sport to moving into the fitness industry where I wanted to be at the top end of coaching. I put everything into it. I was neurotic. But, for me, it served as a lesson. I would never go back there now.
For other people, it’s an unnecessary lesson, because they’re not a fitness professional or a model. They’re using fitness as an outlet; it’s about longevity, health, happiness. For me, it wasn’t those things. It was about trying to compete. I also think a lot of people who are in good shape and don’t track their calories can be a little self-righteous. You know, ‘I can eat whatever I want.’ I tracked my nutrition every day for four or five years, and it gave me a great education in fats, proteins, carbohydrates and calories. It helped me build habits and find foods I enjoyed that were conducive to my goals.
Even though now I say, ‘I don’t track my calories’, my breakfast is the same every day. My lunches and dinners are on rotation. There are always constraints for people who look in shape. It doesn’t just happen overnight. My physique, as it stands today, is a result of the best part of 15 years of work.
AT: What about someone who’s new to it all? What nutrition advice would you give to a complete novice?
OM: It’s about bringing awareness to what you eat and drink. And whatever tool or method you use to create that awareness is up to you.
There are basic rules, such as understanding energy balance, calories in versus calories out. But there’s no 24-hour clock. This is something that stretches out over seven days a week, four weeks a month. You’re looking for consistency over time. Then, once you understand calories, you can start to get into the minutiae of proteins, carbs and fats.
A food-tracking app is the best way of giving people flexibility, while maintaining a calorie deficit, if they’re looking to lose fat. And making sure they’re getting enough protein, which most people struggle with. But if tracking food becomes a nuisance, you won’t stick to it. That’s where other constraints come into play, such as intermittent fasting or limiting certain food groups. There’s no magic answer, though. It’s just finding what works.
AT: I think that’s a fundamental truth: the minute you bring awareness to what you’re doing, things get better.
OM: It also depends on your goal. If most people add protein into each square meal and reduce the calories they consume from liquids, they’ll probably see some positive changes.
AT: That’s the low-hanging fruit, right? Eat protein at every meal. Stop drinking your calories. For people who are perhaps 3st overweight, the changes they need to make to lose that weight don’t need to be extreme. You’re not talking about going from 8% body fat to 6% body fat.
OM: And for the person that does have a lot of weight to lose, tracking calories might be a tool to use further down the line, once they’ve gained momentum.
AT: A lot of people look up to you in this industry, not just because of your physique or the brand you’ve built, but because you’re very open about being a father. And a father of three. Do you think our culture has conditioned people to believe that becoming a dad is the end of the road for their fitness goals?
OM: Without wanting to sound too harsh, I think some people use it as an excuse. It’s tough to stay in shape – with kids or without them. But, for me, I know I operate at my best when I’m looking after myself and my training is on point.
David Morton: You mentioned that, following your rugby career, you wanted to find new challenges. Do you feel like taking part in fitness competitions fits well with your lifestyle because it gives you a specific goal to work towards, within a certain time frame? Busy people need focus, right?
OM: Five or six years ago, work was almost like a side hustle along with my training. The two went side by side. Now, I might only have 60 minutes to train. In which case, I need a goal so I can make sure that those minutes are productive. A little bit of pressure helps to keep people on track.
And now there are accessible competitions for everyday people, whether it’s Turf Games or Hyrox. They’re anchor points – flags in the ground at certain times throughout the year, when you need to make sure you’re turning the dial up. Otherwise, you can end up going through the motions.
It also gives you something to measure yourself against. You can repeat the same event and try to beat your performance, a bit like with a marathon or triathlon. Like I said, one thing we’re big on at Marchon is this idea of the Athlete 2.0. A lot of our members – and maybe a lot of your readers – will have competed in sport, whether that’s in school, at university or in their early twenties. And then corporate life takes over. Parenting takes over. But there’s no reason why you can’t come back to competition in some way, shape or form. It might not be rugby or football. But it could be things like half marathons, for example.
AT: Training for events provides more accountability than just saying, ‘I’m going to get in shape.’ Because that’s a wishy-washy goal, isn’t it? If you don’t end up quite where you expected to be, it’s no big deal. But when you’re in a hole in the middle of an endurance event, wishing you hadn’t skipped all those training sessions… it gives you impetus.
Look, we’re all dads sat around this table. I’ve always thought being a parent is the ‘unbeatable excuse’. Not so much the logistics… I find it hard to swallow when people say ‘I can’t exercise, I’ve got kids’ because that implies that no dad can do it. But the one excuse you can’t get past is, ‘I want to spend more time with my kids.’
But when you’re working towards a goal, you’re showing your kids that when you set out to do something, you get it done. Kids prompt self-reflection: what is the example I want to set here?
I don’t know if this is something you’ve given thought to, but when your kids become older, will you give them a nudge towards fitness? How will you approach that?
OM: Growing up, I was never pushed into it because my dad was more of an academic. He was a doctor. Sport wasn’t a big thing for him. With my kids, I want to give them a broad introduction to sports. At the moment, it’s swimming and gymnastics. In time, we’ll integrate some ball sports such as rugby and football and just see where they thrive, just see what clicks, without putting pressure on it.
AT: You’ll often hear people saying, ‘I’m gonna make sure my kids know how important fitness is.’ But something I’ve reflected on is that I’d rather my daughter not think it’s this huge important thing, but just the most normal thing in the world. Put too much pressure on it and they might end up thinking, ‘Well, if I can’t go all the way, what’s the point?’ How do you feel about that? Because obviously you’ve achieved a lot. I mean, you’re on the cover of Men’s Health magazine!
OM: My kids come and see us at the gym. They’ll often be there at lunchtime. If my wife can’t get childcare, she’ll bring them in and they’ll run around while we’re training. To them, it must feel natural.
You know, in terms of a real representation of success with training when you have kids, my wife’s better than me. She looks incredible. And she’s not a fitness professional. She just makes time to get to the gym three or four times a week.
DM: Your business is very family oriented. How has that helped you?
OM: The success of Marchon, particularly in the the early years, hinged on the fact that we were such a tight-knit group. I founded the business with my brother and my best friend. It’s a bit like a sports team – you’ll do anything for your teammates. We were all going above and beyond. And then when my sister, Sara, came on board as the operations manager, I knew I could hand things over to her, and she would bring the same level of attention to detail that I would have done.
That’s not to say there aren’t challenges. Because, of course, some of those tougher conversations are harder to have. You need to find ways to communicate that won’t impact the weekend when you’re all out for dinner!
AT: You’re someone who other people in the fitness industry look up to from a business point of view. What are the biggest mistakes you’ve seen young trainers and coaches make?
OM: The industry is vastly different [compared with when I started]. People are looking for instant gratification. But if you can spend the first 10 years of your career looking to learn from as many people as possible, giving as much of yourself as you can, then you should come out the other side having accrued a hell of a lot of skills and a network of trusted peers.
If I look at the early part of my career, it was all about reinvesting in my own learning and trying to get in among the people who seemed like they were doing the right things. So, if I were to offer advice to a young coach – although it’s not terribly sexy – it would be this: be patient. Play the long game.
DM: ‘Community’ has been a buzzword in the fitness world for at least the past five years. Obviously, bricks-and-mortar gyms can help to cultivate fantastic communities. But is that hard to achieve with the clients who access your services remotely?
OM: I’d argue that we try to do as good of a job with our online community as we do with those we coach in person. We just try to make ourselves as available as possible, through the use of our app and social media.
But I think community is built around brands, first and foremost. If you can build a brand with which people have a real sense of connection, they automatically want to identify as part of that community, whatever that represents.
AT: I think this ties back to what you were saying earlier about the rise of accessible group fitness events. Perhaps these two things have risen concurrently to complement one another; events allow you to meet up with people who’ve been part of your virtual training community. Do you think that people who only train solo are missing out on something?
OM: Coming from a team sports background, I think that working out with people is far more fun. When an experience is shared with someone, then you have common ground, things to talk about. It builds deeper bonds.
AT: I think particularly among men, it can be difficult to send a text message saying, ‘Hey, mate, I’m a bit concerned about your mental health.’ But just to reach out to someone and say, ‘Do you fancy a workout?’ is such a great first port of call. We dissolve so many barriers in the gym. Our egos dissipate a bit.
OM: Yeah. It might mean taking your earphones out and approaching someone who looks as though they’re training on a similar path to you, then just see if you can buddy up for a bit.
AT: I began my career in a bodybuilding gym, and you would often see people training together whom you could not picture meeting outside of those four walls.
Your own gym’s mantra is ‘Without Limits’. What does that mean to you personally?
OM: It’s a mindset, an outlook on life, a belief that anything is possible. It’s tattooed on my arm. It’s a reminder that there’s always work to be done. If you can wake up and attack each day with everything you’ve got and earn your rest by the time your head hits the pillow, then good things will come. If I think back to when I started out as a personal trainer, I would never have thought Marchon could get to where it is now. But slowly you gather confidence.
I also want to make sure I always believe the best is yet to come. Because if you stop believing that, then it’s a decline. It’s like the infinite game thing. I think I’ll live and die in the gym.
The gym has brought me all my happiest moments, outside of family life. It’s brought the best connections and friendships. It’s afforded me the ability to travel. And when I do travel, the first place I go is a gym. They’re special places. It’s like church – people go there for a common purpose.
AT: If you only had 60 seconds to speak directly to the Men’s Health audience and tell them everything that you think they should know about optimising their time in the gym, what would you say?
OM: It’s a fine balance between playfulness and trusting the process. You can’t just go to the gym and mess around. You have to go with intention. Show up continually, but when you’re there, make sure you engage in something you find fun. And I would just appreciate that it’s a journey. You want to be doing this for as long as you can.
The new issue of Men’s Health is out now!
Scarlett Wrench is the Senior Editor at Men’s Health UK.
With more than 12 years’ experience as a health and lifestyle editor, Scarlett has a keen interest in new science, emerging trends, mental well-being, and food and nutrition. For Men’s Health, she has carried out extensive research into areas such as wellness in the workplace, male body image, the paradoxes of modern masculinity, and mental health among school-age boys.
Her words have also appeared in Women’s Health, Runner’s World and The Sunday Times.