Talking Shop With Mike Robertson

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This week’s interviewee certainly doesn’t need much of an introduction from me. Throughout my years in the industry, I’ve been fortunate enough to surround myself with some really smart people, and Mike is certainly no exception. Not only do I consider him a good friend, but he’s undoubtedly someone who’s had a huge impact on me as a coach, and whom I have the utmost respect for (even if he is a Peyton Manning fan).

Nevertheless, Mike was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to talk some shop. Enjoy!

TG: Lets cut to the chase. People know you’re kind of a big deal. That being said, looking back, what (if anything) would you do differently with regards to making a name for yourself in the fitness industry? I get e-mails all the time from up and coming trainers asking me for advice on this matter, and I’d be curious what your thoughts are.

MR: When I first came up, I had no interest in making big bucks. I easily spent eight hours in the gym training clients, even while taking Masters level courses and spending a good deal of time in the biomechanics lab. Quite simply, I realized I knew nothing and needed to spend as much time around clients and athletes as possible to get better at my craft.

I’m not sure I would do a ton differently, even if I had the chance. I never wrote an article until I’d been training clients for four years or so – and while that might not be acceptable to everyone, it all depends on who your target audience is. There’s a definite cycle when it comes to learning – if you simply learn and keep it all to yourself, it’s not the same.

When you learn something, you need to pass it on. Coach somebody, write an article or blog, I don’t care. But once you think you understand something you need to pass that information on to others.

Pay it Forward

Just because you “think” you know something doesn’t mean jack -when you can teach someone else that same concept and help them understand it, then you’re starting to wrap your head around things.

TG: Well said. As an adjunct to the previous question; personally, I think the vast majority of new trainers have an overwhelming sense of entitlement to begin with. Many (not all) are so focused on making the quick buck and marketing themselves as some internet guru (e-books, etc), that they often fail to see the big picture. Like, you know, actually making an effort to get better. What’s more, these same trainers often have trouble naming the four rotator cuff muscles, let alone write a coherent program. If they spent more time actually training people, rather than Twittering on their Twitter, they may find that they’ll be more successful. But I digress. Your thoughts?

MR: I’m in total agreement with you here, Tony.

It wasn’t until I’d been in the business six or seven years that I realized I didn’t know jack about business. Now this was relevant to me because I wanted to open a gym someday, and lack of business knowledge would certainly lead to an epic failure.

The problem now is that many trainers come out and think, “I need to learn the business side of the industry,” before they understand the training side of the industry!

The best basic business advice I can give you is that if you get really good at training clients and delivering results, it will cure a lot of ills when it comes to your business. Bill and I are growing each and every day as businessman, but we’re able to get by just fine right now because we’re pretty decent at training clients.

TG: Speaking of your business with Bill (Hartman), last year Men’s Health Magazine named I-FAST one of the Top 10 Gyms in America. Congrats! I made a little cameo appearance earlier in the year, and I can say first hand that you and Bill have done an amazing job with your facility. How’s life as an entrepreneur treating you?

MR: Already, Tony? More business talk?

In all seriousness, the gym is going great. We actually just hired our first full-time trainer this past week, and I’m very excited to have Wayne on board.

So since you asked about the entrepreneurial side of things, here goes – it’s hard. Definitely harder than I would’ve expected. If we’re going all E-Myth on things, I’m definitely a better technician right now than an entrepreneur (or manager).

When it comes to coaching and working with clients, that’s where I thrive. Marketing, creating systems, and the other entrepreneurial stuff definitely isn’t as easy for me just yet. But I’m working hard at it, because I believe 110% in what we’re doing at IFAST. I see it day in and day out with people losing fat, getting stronger, or building muscle. But not enough people know about us right now, and that’s where I’ve got to step up and make a difference.

My goal right now is to really focus on the entrepreneurial side of the equation – I will still coach six or so hours per day, but it’s not going to be the 12, 13 or 14 hour days that I’ve done over the past year and a half. I need to better divide my time between being a technician, and being an entrepreneur if I want IFAST to be as successful as I’ve envisioned it being.

I expect massive business growth in the 2010, but we’ll have to wait and see how that works out!

TG: I have no doubts you’ll be kicking ass and taking names in 2010. Speaking of which, I know you and Bill train a ton of athletes, as well as your fair share of weekend warriors. However, I also know that you recently trained a few figure competitors too. That doesn’t suck! What was that like?

MR: It’s a little known secret that I do, in fact, train physique athletes – not a ton, but I’ve probably worked with a half dozen figure girls over the years.

Side Note: Mike’s being modest here. He recently trained two figure competitors; Brandi, who took 3rd in the Masters division, as well as Alonia, who took 1st place overall, and is currently the reigning Miss Indianapolis.

One thing I’m consistently shocked by is how hard these girls work. I’ve worked with Division-1 athletes, and many of them didn’t have half the work ethic that these girls have.

I’m not sure if it’s something in their DNA or what; they’ve all had a little bit of neurotic, obsessive-compulsiveness that makes them successful. Or, it could always be the simple fact that they have to stand on stage in a skimpy bikini in front of complete strangers!

What most people don’t consider is the rigidity that it takes to be successful in physique sports. Now to a degree I’m talking out my ass here, as I’ve never dieted down and competed in a physique sport myself, but I think I have at least a rudimentary understanding of what it takes.

Imagine eating the same low calorie diet day-in and day-out for weeks. You’re tired, probably a little malnourished, and not feeling all that hot.

In this already fatigued state, imagine training 2, 3 or even 4 hours every day. You’re probably going to have to get up at the crack of dawn (or earlier) to get in an AM cardio session. At some point in the day, you’re going to lift, and at night you’re probably going to get in another cardio session.

You’re not giving your body the energy it needs to recover, and training your ass off, so you fill in the gaps with stimulants.

Basically, you feel like shit every day. Sounds like a good time, right?

Let’s be honest here – this kind of training is brutally hard. Many people I know get worn down by the grind; the same routine, day-in and day-out for months at a time, can test anyone’s mettle.

But if you’re man (or woman) enough to subject yourself to this, then you can bet that you’re someone I want to train. That kind of diligence and work ethic doesn’t grow on trees, making these girls an absolute blast to train.

TG: Great stuff! Moving on, it’s been two years since you released your Bulletproof Knees Manual. As such, it’s no secret that you’re the guy to talk to when people bang up their knees. Lets talk programming. Top 3-5 common mistakes most trainees make with regards to their knee health?


1 – Not foam rolling

I can’t fathom people who still don’t foam roll, but it’s still the exception versus the rule.

While I wouldn’t ever test this theory in real life, I would imagine I could clear up a lot of cases of minor knee pain by simply having people foam roll. It’s amazing what happens when you improve that tissue quality even a little bit.

2 – Failing to understand that everyday postures add up

Believe it or not, that sitting you do all day really does add up. You lose length in your hip flexors, putting you in a constant position of hip flexion.

This sets off a cascade of events – your femurs internally rotate, your tibiae internally rotate, and your foot sits in pronation far too long.

Then, to make it worse, you take this flawed posture and try to lift heavy shit, play sports, etc. You have to rebuild that foundation first – stretching, foam rolling, mobility work, changing your behavioral habits, it’s all important. Acting like your strength training program design is the only important factor is retarded.

3 – Horrible program design

However, program design is still important 😉

Ian King was talking about balancing hip and quad-dominant lifts years ago. But, yet again, there are still tons of trainers who are oblivious to this basic concept. It’s a little bit more complex than that, but this is a great starting point.

Early on in a program, I’ll often massively skew things in the opposite direction – tons of hip dominant work, and very little quad-dominant work, until structural balance is restored (or at least moving in the right direction).

TG: Lets talk Assess and Correct, the dvd you just released alongside Eric Cressey and Bill Hartman. Why do so many people fail to recognize the importance of an assessment to begin with? It often amazes me how people will just haphazardly follow some program they find in a magazine, and then wonder why they’re jacked up five weeks later. Furthermore, who is this product targeted for, and how can it help people?

MR: I think a lot of people fail to recognize the importance because they’ve never been exposed to the concept. It’s not so much ignorance on the client/trainees part as it is lack of education.

When you tell someone, “Hey, we should see where you’re strong, weak, flexible, inflexible, etc. before we start training you” it makes sense to them immediately. Most people will buy in simple because they’ve never done anything like this before!

Assess and Correct is built for the end-user, or a trainer who is new to assessments in general. It will give you a great foundation for figuring out what’s working well, what’s’ not working well, and how to develop warm-ups that improve your movement foundation.

On the other hand if you’re a high-level physical therapist, orthopod, etc., you’re probably not going to get a ton out of the product. It’s not geared towards the high-level practitioner. At some point in time Bill and I would love to present our entire assessment process as a three-day seminar, but we’ve got a few more projects to tackle first and foremost.

TG: Oh snap, that’s a tease if I ever heard one! Finishing up, lets have a little fun:

1. Favorite movie in the past year?

I’m woefully behind on my movies, but I would have to say The Hangover was pretty damn funny.

If you’re into Michael Jackson, This Is It was pretty good too – dude could still sing, and his movement was effortless. Crazy.

Finally, I just saw The Shawshank Redemption all the way through for the first time this past month. It’s fantastic.

TG: What in the what!?!?! Jesus Mike, that movie is shown like every 17 seconds on TBS for crying out loud. What’s next, admitting you’ve never seen GoodFellas?

2. Who originally gave you the nickname the ass-master? On that note, who has the best badonkadonk out there?


You know, I’m not sure who originally gave me that title – I think it was someone over at T-Nation, probably either Chris Shugart or TC.

As far as booties go, I’ve got a pregnant wife sitting next to me as I write this; do I look like a man with a death wish? Although you typically have some pretty good selections on your blog….not that I look at them or anything.

3. Most overrated exercise?

MR: Anything on a Bosu, but that’s too easy of a target.

I know I’ll probably catch some heat for this next one, but here goes – I think TRX training is a little over-rated. Don’t get me wrong it can be quality, when performed as part of a properly thought-out progression, but I see too many people incorporating it with the wrong people, or at the wrong times. Let me expand a little bit here.

I realize that TRX trainng does an amazing job of hitting the core – that’s one of the inherent benefits. But when you see somebody with horrible core/lumbar stability, and then you use a compound exercise such as push-ups where the core ends up being the limiting factor in exercise performance/technique, you have a hot mess on your hands.

You have to bring that core/lumbar stability up within an easier progression, or using a more stable variation, before getting to the cool/sexy stuff.

4. Who would win in a fight- a ninja or Bill Hartman (who I’m convinced is a cyborg)?

MR: Obviously the ninja – he would realize that Bill is a cyborg and use that information against him.

5. When will Kevin Larrabee realize that in order to bench press 300 lbs, you can’t miss a lift every……..single………session?

MR: On the same day Lance and Kyle (two 20-something powerlifters at IFAST), realize that a 7 RPE doesn’t correlate with max-effort, missed lifts!

BTW – did you know that Lance and KevLar actually have a running bet on who will hit 275 first? Lance did hit a 275 bench in a raw powerlifting meet in November, so as soon as Kev get’s done with Project Abz he may want to get his strength back up before he gets beat!

TG: Hahahahaha. To be continued, I suppose. Anyways, thanks for your time Mike. How can people find out more about you and your products?

MR: The best place to find me on the web is my site, That’s where you’ll find my blog, newsletter, articles, and my podcasts. The best part, all of that stuff is FREE!

Thanks again for having me Tony – it’s always a pleasure!

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