Q&A: Be Like Mike….Robertson???

Mike, I’m a 22-year old up-and-coming trainer, and I’ve followed your stuff for the past year.

Basically, I’d love to be where you’re at in the next year or two – own my own gym, write for money, etc.

Got any tips or tricks that can help me out?

I got this e-mail a while back, and couldn’t decide what to do with it.

Send a snarky e-mail back?

Ignore it all together?

Or possibly, write something up that everyone can benefit from?

Obviously, I chose the latter.

Let’s start with a brief intro, and then we’ll get into the big picture stuff you need to be focusing on.

Firstly, there are no “tips and tricks,” no “shortcuts,” and there’s definitely not an easy path to success.

Depending on how you want to view it, I’ve been training people since either 1999 (friends and associates), or 2000 (when I got an internship in the Ball State athletic weight room).

So that puts me at 12-13 years in. And that’s not counting the years I spent bench pressing and curling, reading Flex magazine, and just being a general moron in the gym from 1994-1999.

First things first: There’s no exception for time. The longer you do this, theoretically, the better you should be at it.

Chances are you’ve only been training clients for a year, maybe two tops.

Do you really feel like 1-2 years is going to match up well against 12-13?

But instead of focusing on the negative, I can applaud you for having goals and wanting to achieve something worthy for yourself.

Let’s look at the advice I would give myself, were I just starting out in the industry today.

Stop reading blogs

Of course I see the irony here.

I’m telling myself not to read blogs, yet I write blogs on a weekly basis!

Here’s the issue: The barrier of entry is incredibly low now. Anyone and everyone can set-up and host a blog.

How do you know if this person knows what the hell they are talking about?

Or if they’re having any modicum of success with their clients and athletes?

Or even worse – do they even train clients and athletes at all?

This is what I’m talking about. It’s far too easy to label and declare yourself an expert, before you’ve ever done anything noteworthy within your field.

Along those same lines, while blogs are great, they’re incredibly low-level information.

As I mentioned in the Fitness Business Blueprint, even if I write an epic blog post, that’s still only a fraction of my true knowledge on the topic at hand.

Instead, I’d much rather read a book, or attend a seminar, that gives me a more all-encompassing view of someone’s thought process on a given topic.

I don’t dislike blogs – they can be fun, entertaining, and we can definitely learn a thing or two from them.

But if this is the sole focus of your “continuing education,” you’re doing yourself a disservice, and you’ll limit your long-term growth as a result.

Go to Seminars

This one is non-negotiable.

Want to get better at training your clients and athletes?

You absolutely, positively must attend seminars.

Not only do you get a very good idea of someone’s thought process on a given topic, but you also get to interact with the other coaches, trainers and speakers who are in attendance.

Everyone knows that as great as a seminar may be, the real nuggets are found in the hallway in-between sessions.

This is the time when you can chat and interact with other like-minded people, to see what they’re doing to achieve success.

And if you’ll allow me, give me just a second to rant….

In two weeks, we’re bringing Charlie Weingroff in to speak at IFAST. Keep in mind, Charlie is one of the premiere guys in our industry – he’s really pushing the envelope and melding the worlds of physical therapy and performance training.

On Facebook, a guy asked Charlie “hey man, when are you coming to Chicago?”

Now I don’t know this guy’s particular situation, but I wanted to jump through my computer and strangle him.

Chicago is a 3-hour drive from Indianapolis. I’ve flown across the country to attend seminar’s by people whom I felt I could learn from.

Nobody said this would be easy, or wouldn’t take a bit of effort. Sometimes, I think we’re all a little too comfortable these days, and want things plopped down right in front of us.

If you want to be at the top of your game, you need to seek out experts and learn from them first-hand. A seminar is one of the best ways to do that.

Buy Stuff at Seminars

Beyond just attending seminars, I’m a huge believer in buying stuff at seminars as well.

There are two reasons I do this:

  1. Products sold at seminars are typically sold at an awesome discount, and
  2. If I like what I hear from someone, I want to learn as much as possible from them.

This is especially true in a seminar setting where each presenter is only given 1-hour. Unfortunately, you just can’t take away all of that person’s knowledge in a short session like this.

As a speaker myself, I know by the time you’ve given an intro, delivered 2-3 key points, and then wrapped it up, the session is over.

BUT, that 1-hour is an ideal time to figure out if you like this person, if their philosophy jives with yours, and if you should learn more from them.

If you want to be great at what you do, you need to find a million and one ways to feed your head.

Picking up products at seminars is a great way to save some money, but more importantly,  expand your knowledge base.

Read Books and Watch DVD’s

Here are some amazing stats with regards to reading books:

  • 1/3 of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.
  • 42 percent of college graduates never read another book after college.
  • 80 percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year.

(Source: The Jenkins Group)

This one is simple, and I’m not even going to harp on it because the stats don’t lie.

Along those same lines, DVD’s give you a much broader perspective on someone’s thought process or philosophy.

If you want to own your own business, teach people for a living, and become the best trainer or coach possible, you need to spend time every week reading books and watching DVD’s.

But now that we’ve covered some of the basics on learning, let’s discuss some of the nitty gritty stuff that people often look over.

Work Harder than Everyone Else

I once read an article by Louie Simmons talking about weaknesses. The article was geared towards powerlifting, but here’s the synopsis.

He led with a story about a martial artist who was lagging behind his peers. His sensei told him to practice all the time.

When his peers were playing, he should train.

When his peers were sleeping, he should train.

Quite simply, he should strive to outwork his peers at any and all times, and he would excel.

I’ve taken this to heart in all aspects of my life. I know that there are no shortcuts, no easy roads.

And perhaps most importantly, I know that hard work is the great equalizer in any and all fields. Genetics and “talents” obviously play a role, but you can make up for a ton of deficiencies by simply outworking your competition.

Strive to Learn Deeply

Here’s something I’ve noticed more and more with some of the young up-and-coming coaches whom I’ve spent time with.

These guys are sharp – there’s no doubt about it.

But when really pressed to explain something, they can’t do it.


I think the biggest issue is that they want to learn everything – program design, assessments, coaching, energy system training, etc., which is great.

But, they never spend the time necessary to really own a topic; to know it inside and out.

It’s the proverbial 1″ deep and a mile wide analogy. The know a little bit about everything, but nothing in great depth.

Instead, focus on the opposite – if you’re going to learn about energy system training, focus on being 1″ wide and one mile deep.

Which leads me to my last and final point…


There’s no better way for you to learn than to teach others.

Over the years I’ve taught interns, employees, other trainers and coaches, etc.

Every single time I teach something, I learn more about it. Or better yet, I learn more about my own philosophy and why I feel the way that I do.

If you want to master a certain realm or topic, you absolutely, positively must take your knowledge to the next level by teaching others.

Because if you can’t – if you theories and ideas don’t hold up under scrutiny or questioning, you need to go back and figure some things out.

I’m not sure that totally answers your question, but I hope if nothing else this post inspires you to become a better trainer or coach by doing the things I outlined above.

There’s no shortcuts, no quick and easy routes, but if you put the time and effort into becoming the best you possibly can, the rewards are limitless.

All the best



Leave Comment

  1. Ehhh those are depressing statistics Mike.

    Recently I’ve been reading a book on creating your own business. The amount of detail necessary to even start a business is in another league of its own. Opening a gym is no small feat and even if you open one, be sure you are able to attract clientele. Otherwise it’s going to be a BIG bust.

    • You’re absolutely right Niel!

      As I’ve always said, Bill and I were great trainers going in – that doesn’t mean we were running a great BUSINESS, though. Big distinction.

      Thanks for chiming in!


  2. Mike,

    Very well stated when you said…”Firstly, there are no “tips and tricks,” no “shortcuts,” and there’s definitely not an easy path to success.”

    Too many trainers looking for ‘quick fixes’ or immediate gratification when they need to learn dedication to their craft, hard work, and delayed gratification.

    According to Malcolm Gladwell (Outliers) and others, it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at something. In other words, lots and lots of practice makes perfect.

    Personally, I have over 47,000 hours of one-on-one training sessions under my belt since 1986…and I’ve only just begun. Like Henry Ford once said…”Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.”

    Thanks, in part, to your blog, I continue to stay young.

    • Great stuff Greg!

      And 47,000 hours huh? I haven’t tried to figure mine out but I’m pretty sure I’m not there yet. Better get back to work!

  3. Hi Mike,

    Awesome post! I look forward to your blog every week. The Strive to Learn Deeply part, in your opinion is there an order of focus on what to learn first, second, third, etc. that would help. It sometimes does gets overwhelming, especially when trying to be a great trainer, because there is so much to learn that it is easy to focus on multiple skills and never become an expert at one.


    • I would say it’s really dependent on you and what you’re interested in. I won’t tell you to focus on strength if that isn’t something you’re passionate about.

      Basically, find one thing that you’re really passionate about and go from there. Once you’re feeling confident, then find another thing.

      Repeat until you’re a guru/Jedi master 🙂

  4. The issue with owning your own gym is that you have less time to read fun blog posts, like this one!

    One the things that I am most proud of is that both my son and daughter each read 5-10 books per week just for enjoyment and beyond school. In fact, my daughter brought a book to the Pacer’s game the other night. Talk about the other extreme!

  5. There are many conferences and seminars I would die to go to, it’s unfortunate that they are so expensive to attend. I’m 22 like the trainer you’re making this post in response to and it’s hard to imagine ever having the money to be able to do that kind of thing, especially on a regular basis. So in the meantime I get most of my information from blogs such as this one – it’s free which works well for a recent graduate!

    But I find that, as with blogs, there are thousands of books (and I’m sure speakers at seminars as well) out there related to the field – some reputable, some not so much – so one must practice the same discretion in choosing those. I wouldn’t discourage reading blogs even if sometimes they do have incorrect or misinformed advice / information on them; part of the beauty of having SO MUCH information at our fingertips is that it is integral we develop the skill to sift through the information and attempt to determine on our own what is useful and correct and what is not.

    Though, that’s not always easy to do.

    • Kat –

      Keep in mind that the goal is to trend upward with your continuing ed over time.

      So right now money is limited, so blogs are a great resource for you.

      Over time, though, as you make more money as a coach, you have to re-invest that money into yourself. Continuing to read blogs won’t get you to the top of the pack.

      Then again, if that’s not your goal….


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