Saturday, March 13, 2010

An Interview with Mike Robertson

1. Mike thank for your time. Could you give my readers your background, and how you came to be a strength and conditioning coach?

Sure thing Robbie! I was actually a guy who loved sports growing up, and I realized later on that strength and conditioning was a natural way to take my performance to the next level.
During my masters program in college, I realized that I could merge these two loves into a job that I was passionate about. I was an assistant strength and conditiong coach at Ball State, and I’ve been in the field ever since.

Mike in Action as a Powerlifter

2. What, in your opinion, is the biggest problem you see within the fitness industry today?

There are two really big issues, in my opinion:

- Too great a focus early on with business/marketing
- Not enough desire to really be great.

I was in the field for 6 or 7 years before I started getting interested in business. Now, it seems as though many coaches want to come out and immediately release an information product, or start their own gym. There’s a natural lineage and progression that should be followed if you want to be successful.

The other issue is that so many people in the field aren’t really passionate about what they do. I don’t see this as much in strenth and conditioning as I do with personal training, but so many people are just in it to make ends meet until the get a “real job.”

I wake up everyday knowing that I can make people better. Whether it’s coaching them in the gym, teaching them something with my blog/newsletter/products, I realize that I can make an impact every day. If you think about it like that, how can you not be passionate about what you do?

3. You recently open up your own facility (IFAST) with Bill Hartmann recently (Congratulations by the way). How have you found this experience?

It’s interesting. Bill and I are both technicians – we love training and coaching people, but we definitely aren’t seasoned businessmen.

What I’ve found is that we’ve been extremely successful thus far because we’ve gotten results. Our clients get stronger, lose body fat, and generally feel better overall. It’s not sexy, but being effective at what we do has provided us some lag time until we develop our business acumen to the necessary levels.

It coincides with our previous point – too many people are focused on selling, business, etc., that they forget about just being good at what they do. If you’re good, people will seek you out and want your services.

The next step for us is bringing our business and marketing up to speed, which is what I’m currently working hard at.

4. Who has had the biggest influence on you as a coach?

As a coach, it would be hard for me to say anyone other than Bill. I tell our interns that every single day I’m in the gym with Bill, I learn something that makes me a better coach.

Beyond that, Bill is someone who has such a vast range of abilities, it’s hard not to learn from him. People know he’s a fantastic physical therapist and his assessments are second to none, but the guy knows every joint of the body pretty well, his programs are sick, and the thing he really gets that a lot of people miss the boat on is energy system training.

I’ve been lucky to learn from a ton of great coaches, trainers, and therapists in my day, but Bill is far and away the most influential to me.

Bill Hartman

5. Sometimes there seems to be a huge gap between some physical therapists and strength and conditioning coaches. How in your opinion can this gap be bridge?

It all comes down to communication, learning, and a real focus on briding the gap.

In a perfect world, therapists and coaches know enough about each others job to make any transition seamless. Too often, we want to argue about stuff like this – “this is a therapists job,” or “this is the coaches territory.”

It’s bullshit.

I don’t claim to be a therapist, but I’m going to read therapy books. If I don’t understand what they’re trying to do, how can I help? How can I further the post-rehab process when the athlete is back in my hands?

The same goes for therapists. If they don’t understand my goals as a coach, how can they rehabilitate them in the safest and most efficient manner?

There’s a definite crossover, and that’s what people don’t seem to understand. There isn’t this clearly defined line in the sand that says – therapy ends here, strength and conditioning starts here. There’s overlap, and it can only be done successful when both parties are willing to expand their knowledge base and work together.

6. What are you all-time favourite books in the following areas:

Strength Training: Science and Practice of Strength Training – Zatsiorsky, Reactive Training Manual - Tuscherer

Physical Therapy Rehabilitation: Diagnosis and Treatment of Movement Impairment Syndrome – Sahrmann, Both of McGill’s books

Nutrition: Precision Nutrition – Berardi, Naked Nutrition Guide - Roussell

Business: 4-Hour Work Week – Ferriss, Crush It – Vaynerchuk, E-Myth - Gerber

Random: If it’s not in my fields of interest, I probably won’t read it. Outliers by Gladwell is the exception, though.

7. What do you do to for your continuing education (Seminars attended etc)?

I generally attend about 1 seminar every month. I read for one hour every night, either about business, personal development, or strength and conditioning. I also typically review a dozen or so websites daily for training/coaching information. Plus, I still coach a minimum of 30 hours per week. That’s down from the 50 or 60 I was at 4 months ago, but it’s still pretty significant!

8. What resources that are out there, would you recommend to young up and coming coaches (Podcasts, Websites, Blogs, Products)?

While I don’t agree with everything on there, I think the Strength Coach website is probably the best out there right now. I also think Elite has some quality materials from real coaches, and T-nation still has the occasional piece that’s good for coaches/trainers.

For blogs, I review a ton everyday. Bill Hartman, Eric Cressey, Mike Boyle, Alwyn Cosgrove, and just about anyone who actually trains people for a living.
I don’t really listen to too many Podcasts, as there are only so many hours in the day. I think mine (In the Trenches Fitness) has some quality content, as do the Strength Coach Podcast and The FitCast.

9. If you could chose one exercise, and one exercise only, what would it be and why?

You realize I hate this question, right?
I would have to say some sort of squat – either a front or back squat. Total body development, strength, mobility at damn near every joint. It’s hard to argue against squatting.

10. Could you give my readers a basic summary of what your methodology on training is (eg. how do you assess, and design, and periodize programs)

This could really be an entire interview in-and-of-itself.

Let me give you a brief, bullet-point synopsis:

- I evalute every client I work with. Without an assessment, we’re just guessing.

- The assessment gives you the exact information you need to develop a great programming. When you take a clients needs (from the assessment), and pair it with their goals, you should have a great idea of what it will take to get them on the path to success.

- Periodization is really based on the client – their training age, level of development, needs, goals, etc. I think too often we try and progress too quickly, versus focusing on technical mastery of exercises. Beginners need to stay on basic programs a lot longer than you think. It’s not sexy, but if they learn the basic motor skills (push-ups, lunges, squats, bends, pulls, etc.) then everything you do from that day forward is much easier.

11. Last question. What advice would you give to young coaches, like myself getting into the field?

Don’t expect succes to be fast or easy. It takes time to build a solid, sustainable coaching base. If you’re passionate about what you do, it shouldn’t feel like work. You should be energized about the idea of learning, or about helping a client improve his/her physique or athletic skills.

I’m telling you, if you’re passionate about what you do, it’s going to be hard to hold you down. Use your passion to become the best coach possible, and you’ll do just fine.

If you’re in it for the money, it won’t take long for you to be moving on to the next profession.

RB: Mike, thank you so much for your time. Where can my readers find out more about you, and any projects that you may have coming up?

MR: The best place to find out more about me is my website, There you can read my free blog and articles, download my Podcasts, and even sign-up for my free newsletter. For a guy that “sells” stuff, I give a ton away for free!

As well, if you’re interested in the gym, definitely check us out at It’s not updated nearly as frequently, as it’s a more “static” site.

1 comment:

  1. "9. If you could chose one exercise, and one exercise only, what would it be and why?

    You realize I hate this question, right?
    I would have to say some sort of squat – either a front or back squat. Total body development, strength, mobility at damn near every joint. It’s hard to argue against squatting. "

    Amen Mike & Robbie!