Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Interview with Mike Robertson

I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike Robertson. A few years ago Mike, along with Eric Cressey, developed one of the most influential training products ever. It was titled Magnificent Mobility and it changed the way we look at warm-ups and flexibility. It made us focus on tissue quality and extensibility. I was forwarded a copy when it was released and it has changed my personal workouts and my outlook at my client preparation. But what many people don’t know is Mike Robertson started his career way before that product. Mike is an accomplished power-lifter, author, lecturer, and strength coach. Together with another info juggernaut named Bill Hartman, they established the Indianapolis Fitness and Sports Training (IFAST) facility where athletes and clients take their training to a higher level. Mike is repeatedly asked to lecture at Perform Better seminars; authors many articles on; and creates some very interesting blog posts that allow you to take something away every time.

So with all these accomplishments in less than 5 years, why wouldn’t you want to learn more from Mike Robertson? I chose to interview Mike because I know he can make me a better fitness professional. Period. In this age, of trainers pulling each other down like crabs in a barrel, it is important to learn from others that will make you better. There are those that will enable you to stand apart from others and identify you as a results-driven professional. I have identified Mike Robertson as one of those people.

JOHN: Mike, you are known primarily as a "knee" guy--and I am sure you have heard this multiple times--but what do YOU consider yourself and how did you come up with your specialty?

MR: You know, John, I’ve been known as a lot of things in my day – a powerlifter, the mobility guy, and now the knee guy.

In all honesty, though, I consider myself a results guy. Let me explain.

I don’t care who you are, what your discipline, whatever – if you get results, I want to know what you’re doing. If you watch what I do in the gym, I take pieces from all sorts of different backgrounds – mobility gurus, Olympic and powerlifters, athletes, Yoga, whatever. The only thing that I’m really concerned with is results – and I’m willing to go to the “specialists” in just about any discipline to figure out why they get results, and how I can integrate their thought processes into my programming.

JOHN: Mike, along with Eric Cressey, you guys developed probably one of the most influential information products in contemporary fitness and performance practice--Magnificent Mobility. How has that product changed the way most lifters view warm-ups?

MR: If nothing else, I hope it has convinced people that there’s a lot more to warming-up than just moving on a treadmill for a few minutes!

In reality, the warm-up process greatly influences how we perform within our training sessions. Rather than just cardio to get the tissues warm, we have to prepare the joints to go through their full range of motion. We have to prime the nervous system to allow us to handle heavy weights. And maybe most importantly, we have to re-train our bodies to fire and activate the appropriate muscles, regardless of the movement pattern. 
 Quite simply, there’s a lot more to warming up than just getting warm and static stretching – we have to optimize our body in order to get the most out of our workouts.

JOHN: You've hooked up with a pretty smart guy in Bill Hartman. Tell us more about your facility in Indianapolis, IN called iFAST. What type of clients do you see? How much involvement is there from Bill and yourself?

MR: At IFAST, we see clients of all shapes and sizes – everything from rehab to fat loss to elite and professional athletes. The common thread at our facility is that everyone has goals, and they are serious about achieving them.

Bill and I are there every day, and I feel like our entire process is unique. Everyone who comes in the gym is assessed on day one to determine strengths, weaknesses, inefficiencies, etc. We take the results of their assessment, combine that with their unique goals, and then we create programming that allows them to achieve those goals.

JOHN: When I think of exercise videos on YouTube® or elsewhere, I always think of the Ball State University exercise video catalog that I discovered on-line back in 2003. You were involved with that, correct? Tell me what--in your opinion--is happening within the industry with exercise video tutorials on the internet. Good or bad? What types of things should people look for when trying to find a good instructional video?

MR: You know every now and then someone reminds me of that site and it brings a smile to my face. I actually created that database as a summer project for my biomechanics degree; it was really a way for me to better learn and understand how anatomy correlated to movement. It wasn’t flashy, but I felt like it probably helped quite a few people out along the way.

I love the fact that video is so readily accessible these days. The problem, however, is like anything else – too many people are using video as a means to promote their online business ventures, yet they don’t really have the coaching or training background to create quality content. 

Even worse, many people just view online clips as an exercise goody bag - “Oh, here’s a cool exercise, I’ll do that today!” Instead, it’s important to think about why it’s a good exercise, how it should fit into their programming, or how it might it into a long-term program with regards to progression and their specific goals.

So it’s really a double-edged sword – it’s awesome that we have the resources to share information, but now we need to do a better job of explaining why it’s valuable and how best to use it.

JOHN: In your experience, what would you say is the number #1 reason why an athlete doesn't reach his/her goal? Fat loss client? Post rehab client? Normal gym rat

MR: Athletes often don’t reach their goals because they can’t stay healthy. Especially with high level athletes, the biggest chore is keeping them healthy from day-to-day, and season-to-season.

With regards to fat loss, this is extremely simple – DIET! Training for fat loss really is simple, but changing your lifestyle and convincing yourself that you don’t really deserve 5 cheat meals in a week is the real challenge.

Post rehab clients are a different animal – the hardest part with them is attention to detail. It’s not easy coming into the gym day after day and making sure your knee doesn’t cave or scapulae doesn’t wing, but that’s what it takes for long-term success.

Finally, the normal gym rat doesn’t reach their goals because they don’t have any! If normal gym rats simply had goals and action plans to achieve them, they could be more successful than they’ve ever imagined.
JOHN: You're in the trenches training individuals. So why is it so easy for trainers to become burnt out on training?

MR: Because contrary to what people think, this is hard work. Beyond the everyday grind of working split shifts or getting up at 4:30 in the morning, you have to deal with people on a very personal, intimate level.

Let’s be honest: An accountant goes into that field because he’s good with numbers. A lot of trainers come into the industry because they understand anatomy or training. What a lot of trainers fail to understand is that there are plenty of people out there I call “energy vampires.” They aren’t happy with themselves, their lives, or a host of other things – and they are more than willing to bring everyone around them down to their level.

So it’s not just the physical wear and tear of training, but the emotional wear and tear as well. Dealing with unhappy people can wear on you much faster than any kind of physical discomfort ever could. Now please don’t get me wrong – not everyone is like that, and I’m sure you’ll come across mostly kick ass clients in your time. But even if you have 90-95% kick ass clients, those other 5-10% can really wear you down.
JOHN: I have found through my networks and experiences as a fitness lecturer, that there are not that many "why" trainers out there...only "how" trainers. Too many trainers over-prepared to kick a client's ass, but under-prepared as to why they are kicking a client's ass. You have been doing your part on educating exercisers and trainers. But why do you think, not everyone is on board?

MR: Because it’s a lot harder to think about why you’re doing something!

Let’s be honest – not just in our field, but every field, people like the easy out. It’s a lot easier to pass the buck, or put the onus on someone else, than to hold ourselves accountable.

It’s a lot easier to curl up on the couch and watch TV every night, or play Guitar Hero, than it is to read Shirley Sahrmann and Stuart McGill. But the people who are really interested in the why’s are the ones that will continue to lead and change the face of the industry.

At the end of the day, I feel like every coach should have a rationale for everything they do. If you give someone Bulgarian Split Squats, why did you give them Bulgarian Split Squats? Why did you choose 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps? Why did you choose a 60 second rest period? The tempo?

When you can rationalize every aspect of your assessment, programming and coaching, you’re well on your way to becoming a top level coach. 
JOHN: Mike, in your you think there is a difference in the "strength coach" and the "personal trainer" in the eyes of the potential client, athlete, or consumer? In other words, is one more revered than the other? Please explain.

MR: I’m not sure that one is more revered than the next, at least not now. A few years ago, I would’ve said that a strength coach was looked at as a more knowledgeable person, but I don’t really think that’s the case any more as consumers are becoming more educated about the industry.

A few years ago, I was actually embarrassed to tell people I was a “trainer”! I think there was such a negative connotation there. Now, I just tell them I’m a trainer because there’s no explanation necessary! A lot of people still have no clue what a strength or performance coach does.

Either way, I firmly believe the most important thing is what you know and how you carry yourself. Regardless of whether you’re a personal trainer, strength coach, accountant or doctor, you can either be really good, really bad, or somewhere in-between. Make it a goal to be really good and you’ll be just fine.

JOHN: If you can give other fitness professionals 3 keys to success, what would they be?


1 – Never stop learning. The second you assume you know everything, the industry starts to pass you by.

2 – Surround yourself with people smarter than you. If you want to get strong, you hang out with really strong people. If you want to get smarter, the same rules apply.

3 – Act like a professional. Show up on time. Take the time to actually groom yourself. If you have tattoos, cover them up. Where a shirt with a collar and tuck it in. It may sound minor, but the way we carry ourselves determines how other people treat us, and determines whether they respect us or not. If you’re serious about being a professional (and getting paid like one), you have to ACT like one. [END]


  1. Excellent point about the need for reflection on the "why" of training. It's good advice for other fields as well.

  2. Thanks Hans. Mike gave a great interview here!


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