Diet and Nutrition

I Wannabe Like Mike – An interview with Mike Robertson

Do you want to know what it takes to become an overnight success in the fitness industry as a trainer or coach? I’ll let you in on a secret. Start by reading every book you can get your hands on and watching endless hours of training DVDs and tapes. Attend seminars and workshops and look for people who have a lot of under-the-bar experience, so you can pick their brains. Then go to the gym, get under the bar and lift some damn weight. Once you start to see some changes, try applying this to others. Now work up to doing this for 12-16 hours a day, 5-7 days a week, for the next 5-10 years straight.

Forget vacations, and weekend binges at the bar or pub. If you’re serious about being a good trainer/coach, this is what it takes. Along the way you’ll even find out you can make a living training people. Just don’t be fooled that the money will come first. Work hard, get results for your clients and athletes, and the rest will fall into place.

There’s a new breed of trainer and coach emerging upon the weight lifting scene. People who have actually put in the time learning the technical and practical aspects of lifting (and no, that doesn’t mean they took a weekend crash-course on how to become a six-figure trainer). Sometimes they fail and other times they’re successful. The key point is that as time passes their successes outweigh their failures, and this means that not only are they learning but they understand how to apply everything they learn along the way. This tells you a lot about a trainer/coach; that they’re serious about what they do and only want to reap the best results for their clients. This means endless hours in the weight room, training others . . . and themselves.

One of these up and coming trainers who’ve stormed onto the lifting scene is Mike Robertson. He’s the real deal when it comes to being a trainer/coach. He not only talks the talk, he can actually walk it, and he actually lifts weights – heavy ones.

Wannabebig: Hi Mike. So who exactly is Mike Robertson?

Mike R: I’m a performance coach, author and power lifter from Indianapolis, Indiana. I’m the President of Robertson Training Systems and Director of Custom Athletics.

Wannabebig: So what attracted you to lifting heavy weights? Were you picked-on as a kid or did you have aspirations of showing up your ex-girlfriend on the Maury Povich show (“Look at me now! I’m not a fat cow”)?

Mike R: Lol. The fact that when I started I was a total wuss was a big motivator for me to get my butt in gear! Coming out of college I knew I wanted to be an elite-level strength and performance coach, but I definitely didn’t have the strength or physique to command that kind of respect. As well, I always knew that the better I was as a lifter, the better I’d be able to coach others in performing those same lifts. So I always saw the inherent similarities between being a good lifter and being a good coach.

Like any gym rat would, I have to ask, how much do you bench press?

Mike R
: My worst lift is definitely the bench press, although it has come quite a long ways since I started, as well. I feel like at my last meet I had the strength to press in the 360-370 range (I locked out 365 in training), but was having a ton of issues dialing in the bench shirt. But, thus is the sport of power lifting.

OK, so seriously the two big lifts that really matter to anyone who actually knows a thing or two about picking up or pulling heavy objects in the gym, are the Squat and Dead lift. What are they like?

Mike R:
Well my dead lift has always been my strongest lift. However, as I progressed in power lifting, I’m definitely most proud of my squat – I worked extremely hard to bring this up to an acceptable level, as at one meet I actually dead lifted well over 100 pounds what I squatted. That wasn’t cool!

What are your biggest achievements in power lifting?

Mike R:
I don’t know if you’d really call them achievements, but at a body weight of 198 pounds I squatted 530, benched 335, and dead lifted 535 for a 1400-pound total. All this was done with a strict 2-hour weigh-in and I competed in single-ply gear. It’s weird that you have to preface that nowadays with all the different feds and regulations, but I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished. It’s definitely a long way from the 950-pound total I put up in my first meet!

I still have a long-term goal of competing at the USA Power lifting Men’s Nationals, although that’s been temporarily put on hold as I rehab my knee and get it back to 100%.

Wannabebig: As someone who spends a lot of time in the trenches training a variety of people, what is the number one mistake you see them making?

Mike R: The number one mistake I see people making is not working hard enough. I’ve seen people make gains on every training program imaginable: A 1×20 Super Squats program, 5×5, 3×3, a Westside-style split, everything. What is the unifying factor in all those programs? Someone busted their ass to make gains. I firmly believe you can take a decent program and have great success if you work hard. However, you could have the most perfect program imaginable and if you don’t train hard, you won’t see nearly the same amount of progress. People make it out to be a lot more difficult than it needs to be, sometimes.

Wannabebig: Nowadays everybody who is anybody espouses that his or her approach to training is the best way. What is your training philosophy?

Mike R: I don’t know if I have one specific philosophy, per Se, as I’ll take the good info from virtually anyone and integrate it into my own belief system. I’ve taken info from PT’s, chiropractors, massage therapists, personal trainers and strength coaches, and then of rolled it into my own form of training.

I guess if I had to summarize, I would have to say my goal is always to promote what I call “Movement Efficiency.” By properly aligning the body via all the tools out there (strength training, movement, mobility, flexibility, soft-tissue work, etc.), you give yourself the greatest potential for long-term success, whether that’s lifting massive weights, playing sports, or just being healthy. And by success, I not only mean with regards to sports performance, but with regards to keeping yourself healthy for the long-term as well.

Wannabebig: Do you have any mentors, people you hold a great deal of respect for in the industry?

Mike R:
I’m not really sure I had any mentors up until the last year or so. My major advisor, Dr. Robert Newton, is a brilliant fellow who really got my brain going with regards to improving sport performance. I only wish I had more time to work with him before he returned to Australia.

As of right now, I really consider both Alwyn Cosgrove and Bill Hartman as mentors to my development. These guys have both seemingly been around forever, and their philosophies are very similar to mine as well. The fact that they are so bright, yet so humble and down-to-earth makes them great to learn from.

As for general people in the industry, there is a ton as well, and these include but are not limited to: Eric Cressey, Mike Boyle, Dave Tate, John Berardi, the late Mel Siff, Kelly Baggett, Jim Wendler, Ian King and Charlie Francis. I’ve learned a lot from all these gentlemen over the years.

After dropping some well-known names of people who are positively impacting the fitness industry, there is a flip side. That is, trainers who think they’re doing something for the good of their client but aren’t. What’s the number one mistake you see trainers/coaches make when training their clients/athletes?

Mike R: Trying to be too esoteric or gimmicky with their training. It’s funny but everyone wants to have a “selling point” with his or her training, programs, etc. Whether it’s unstable surfaces, “speed camps,” or kettlebell training, they feel like if they don’t have something unique or catchy that they can’t be successful, and that’s pretty sad. If you ask me, RESULTS is the best thing you can give an athlete, and the factors that produce results haven’t changed all that much in the last 10, 20 or even 30 years.

Mike can you finish these sentences

  • Eric Cressey is … Mike R: Quite possibly the brightest, hardest-working individual I’ve ever met. I’ve met a lot of smart people in my day, and I’ve met a lot of hard-working people in my day, but it’s rare the two meld into one. It’s only a matter of time until he’s at the top of the heap.
  • People in the gym need to … Mike R: Shut the **** up and train hard – if you’re not, you’ll never realize what you can become.
  • Don’t forget to …Mike R: Check out Eric and my “Magnificent Mobility” DVD; it will revolutionize the way you look at warming-up and mobility training in general.

Wannabebig: Thanks for your time.

Written by Maki Riddington

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