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Strength Coach Success Secrets: Exclusive Interview with Mike Robertson Part 1

KN: First off, I want to thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to do this.  Can you please introduce yourself to those readers that may not yet know you?

MR: Sure thing Kevin!  My name is Mike Robertson and I’m a strength coach/personal trainer in the Indianapolis area.  Bill Hartman and I are the co-owners of a gym called Indianapolis Fitness and Sports Training (I-FAST).  As well, I am the president of Robertson Training Systems, where I do consulting, public speaking, and writing on the topics of strength training, injury prevention, etc.

KN: What were some of your stops along the way?  Where did you work previously, intern, volunteer, observe, etc.?

MR: It seems like I’ve done a little bit of everything along the way!

I started out like most of us; reading muscle rags like Muscle and Fitness and Flex.  I always knew in the back of my mind that I didn’t necessarily want to look like a bodybuilder, but I enjoyed working out and this was the only real information I could find on the topic.

In the summer of 2000 I interned in the Ball State University athletic weight room and fell in love with coaching.  I spent the next 2.5 years of my life volunteering time and soaking up everything I could.  I was going through a Masters program at the time, and I also began competing in the sport of powerlifting.  Needless to say, I was totally immersed in the field!

Upon completion of my Masters Degree I moved to a small city in northern Indiana called Ft. Wayne.  There, I continued powerlifting and was the director of the Athletic Performance Center.  The name was a little misleading, as I was really doing more chiropractic-based rehab than anything else.  This is where I really started delving into corrective exercise, posture, alignment, and figuring out how the body worked as a functional unit.

After 3 years in Ft. Wayne, I really missed my friends so my wife and I packed up and moved back to Indianapolis.  This is when I started Robertson Training Systems, and I also did quite a bit of in-home personal training.  After 3 years doing this, I decided it was time to buckle down and get the gym open.  The rest, as they say, is history.

KN: Sometimes I think people assume that coaches with a bodybuilding or powerlifting background only train their athletes like bodybuilders or powerlifters.  Despite your history in powerlifting, you’re often thought of as a “corrective exercise” guy.  Can you expand on how your athletic/lifting background influenced your training philosophy?

MR: I think I get pigeon-holed a lot as a “mobility” guy or a “corrective” guy, but I like to think of myself as a results guy.  I’m not really a slave to any system or dogma; I just want the best for my clients, and I want them to get results.

I think my powerlifting background will always push me to load up the weights a bit, but again, I try and keep perspective as to how I train people.  Just because I like to powerlift doesn’t mean it’s the best thing to help my clients achieve their goals!

If anything, I think my background as an athlete is more evident than my experience as a powerlifter.  Whether I’m working with an athlete, a fat loss client, or anything in between, I want people to train more like athletes.  Simple things like med ball exercises, including tire flipping or kettlebell work, etc.  seems to be more enjoyable for all my clients and makes them work harder in the long run.

KN: I’ve noticed that some of my “general population” clients really enjoy training like athletes too.  I think it’s important that they enjoy what they’re doing so that they continue to stay active, even beyond our time together.

On a different note, among academics it doesn’t seem like the strength and conditioning profession gets much respect.  Why do you think this is?  Are all strength coaches genetically predisposed to intellectual inferiority??

MR: Honestly?  I think we don’t get much respect because we don’t educate ourselves enough!  There’s far too much bro-science in the industry, and it’s got to stop if we want to take our industry to the next level.

Now understand, I do my best to balance the science (i.e. studies) and the practice (what works in the gym).  If you lean too far one way or the other, you’ll miss out on some good info.  I think you’re seeing a shift to this mindset now; some of the old-dogs that are using outdated methodologies are being replaced by coaches who are well-read, but also have the in-the-trenches experience to bring it all together.

KN: Brian Tracy talks about investing 3% of your income in professional development.  I know I’ve heard Eric Cressey talk about the thousands of dollars he spends on professional development every year.  Any idea on how much time/money you spend on new products, seminars, etc.?

MR: Probably too much!  In all seriousness, I have no clue how much I spend at this point in time, but for a while I was taking 10% of all my business profits and putting it back into continuing ed!

I can’t tell you how many seminars, books, DVD’s, etc. I’ve reviewed in the past year.  I know that pretty much every night I’m reading something related to the field or my business.  It’s weird; I almost feel like I’m doing something wrong if I just read a powerlifting USA or something similar at night!  I feel like if I’m not reading something educational, I’m going to miss something.  There’s so much to learn – on one hand it’s kind of daunting, but on the other hand the more you read and learn the more you respect how cool the human body is.

KN: Can you talk about how continuing education has been instrumental in your success?  What resources/seminars do you rely on for new information/ideas?

MR: I will constantly tell people that I learned more in the 6 months I got out of college than I did in the 6 years I was in college, simply because I focused on what I needed to learn!

Continuing education is hugely important.  All school does is a lay a foundation, but it’s on you to fill in the gaps.  As well, in the information age there’s so much great info being spread around my great coaches, if you don’t continue to learn you’ll be left behind!

Coming out of school I always felt comfortable coaching and teaching exercises, but my knowledge of functional anatomy and “corrective” exercise was pretty weak.  I think over the years I learned how imperative these tools were, and now that’s actually a strong point in my repertoire.

As far as resources go, I always say I’m willing to learn from anyone who has something of value to teach.  This could be websites like T-Nation or Elite Fitness, research articles from sites like Pubmed, DVD’s, seminars, etc.  And finally, don’t forget that just like you need a network of other great professionals, always try and network with other trainers as well.  What are they doing to get great results?

Stay tuned for Part 2…
Kevin Neeld, BSc, MS, CSCS is the Director of Athletic Development at Endeavor Fitness in Sewell, NJ and the author of Hockey Training University’s “Off-Ice Performance Training Course,” a must-have resource for every hockey program.  Through the application of functional anatomy, biomechanics, and neural control, Kevin specializes in guiding hockey players to optimal health and performance. Kevin developed an incredible ice hockey training membership site packed full of training programs, exercise videos, and articles specific to hockey. For a FREE copy of “Strong Hockey Core Training”, one of the sessions from his course, go to his hockey training website.

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