Mike Robertson’s Words of Wisdom

Originally posted at www.t-nation.com

Packing our picks, shovels and tin pans, your dauntless editors went prospecting once again in the Authors’ Locker Rooms for more golden nuggets of wisdom. It took some digging, but we hit pay dirt big time.

Mike “Ass Master” Robertson is always generous with his limited time and copious knowledge, and here he talks about (among other things) the benefits of pitching manure, what you can do with a tennis ball, and why you should always finish with the butt.

Getting Big and Strong: the Basics

A: If your only goal is hypertrophy, here’s what will make things easiest:

– Big, compound lifts taken to within a rep of failure

– Lots of good, clean food and supplements (especially protein)

– Adequate rest/recovery strategies (especially sleep)

Those are the basics; once those are taken care of, it’s more about details than anything else.

A: Using big, compound lifts (sounds familiar, right?)

– Having a great training environment (both gym-wise and partner-wise)

– Using the max effort (ME) method

– Training what’s weak (this includes specific body-parts, training where you miss in the specific movement, and training what you need with regards to the strength curve. This is covered in the Lousy Leverages series.

A: If you are a true beginner you can go as high as 12-15 reps/set, although I generally prefer 10-12. For beginners I use a total body split and then progress them down the line to an upper/lower split.

A: Everyone needs to get stronger and faster, not only athletes. However, I find no point in focusing solely on strength and speed at the expense of my clients’ true goals.

So heavy fives, triples, and maybe even singles would be worked into their programs from time to time. Certain cycles may focus on speed work as well. Both the client and I recognize that these are a means to an end, to help them achieve their aesthetic-based physique goals.

However, I think that speed and strength are absolutely critical. The stronger and faster you get, the more space you have for growth. It’s all just part of a balanced program.

Correcting Imbalances


A: I’d bet money that you have a tight hip flexor (tensor fascia latae, psoas, iliacus and/or rectus femoris) on the right side. Several (of these muscles) are also lateral rotators, and if they are shutting your glutes off, then your piriformis could be working overtime to externally rotate the hip.

This would increase your lordotic curve (e.g. increase back pain) and put your hamstring in a constant stretch.

Increasing your lordotic curve can be painful

I’d start all your workouts off with static stretching of the right hip flexors and piriformis, followed immediately by glute briding, X-band walks, and other similar exercises that recruit the gluteus. Then, take this into your workout by forcing the glutes to do their share of the work on lunges, pull-throughs, Romanian deadlifts, etc.

How Wide for Romanians?

A: I’d say it’s primarily a comfort and technique issue. I tell my clients that their feet should be pointed straight ahead using a hip-width stance, and the weight should be shifted towards their heels. I don’t want their feet too close together, but if they are comfortable and maintaining good form (e.g. neutral spine and movement around hips), then they should be okay. See Perfecting the Romanian Deadlift for details.

Good form is more crucial than foot position (remember not to arch your back too much!)

Yard Work = GPP

A: Hell yes, that counts as GPP! I grew up on a farm, so shoveling shit, baling hay, and the like were part of the business. Let’s just say that after baling hay for 12 hours straight, hitting the iron was not high on my list of priorities.

Especially because your goals are strength oriented, count the work as GPP and save your adaptive reserves for the gym work.

Schleppin’ a sled, or shovelin’ shit: it all counts as GPP

Rehab for Slipped Discs: Stay Mobile and Neutral

A: Here are the basics that I’ve used with my back pain clients/patients over the years:

– Focus on hip mobility. Stick with exercises like A-P swings, S-S swings, knee hugs, pull-back butt kicks, etc. As mobility improves, then you can move into different/more challenging exercises. If you don’t already have the Magnificent Mobility DVD, you should!

– Focus on core/lumbar stability exercises. Depending on how acute your condition is, I wouldn’t do any movement-based exercises at all; start off with basics like bird dogs, glute bridges, and front/side pillars.

The biggies to avoid here are excessive movement at the lumbar spine: excessive extension, rotation, and especially flexion could all be problematic. If you’re going to do lower body exercises, you may have to focus on single-leg lifts for the time being.

My best advice, however, is to consult with a qualified physical therapist, if you haven’t done so already.

Weighted Implements and Plyometrics

A: My opinion is “probably not.” It’s a complicated issue, but the short answer is that weighted implements can affect muscle memory and the underlying motor engram, leading to a loss of performance. You’re better off in most cases to get the appropriate muscle stronger and then use that strength/power in the movement you want to train.

A: If you are strong and slow, plyos could help these movements. If you’re already explosive, though, you’re better off focusing on getting stronger. As for a specific plyo program, I can’t give you a cookie-cutter answer, as there’s a ton of factors involved, including:

– Your current strength level

– Your training age

– Your chronological age

– Your injury history

– Your previous exposure and results with plyometrics.

So what would be appropriate for one would be totally inappropriate for another. If you are just starting out, do less than you think is necessary and build from there.

Too Big to Climb Rocks?

A: I would focus on strength maintenance and relative strength. In other words, fewer sets and reps, higher intensity.

Slowing down hypertrophy is pretty easy: just eat less. Watch your calorie intake, and try to maintain your weight while improving your relative strength for a while. If this doesn’t get you where you want to be, then you should try to lower your bodyweight while maintaining your strength levels, thus increasingyour relative strength.

Benefits of Sumo Deadlifts

A: A lot of people have issues with conventional deadlifts because they have terrible hip mobility; The Magnificent Mobility DVD could be just what you’ve been looking for.

The biggest difference between sumo and conventional is the emphasis of the load: in a conventional deadlift there’s more stress on the low back musculature, while sumo deadlifts puts more stress on the hips. I would think that any differences in upper back hypertrophy between the two would be negligible.

Designer Athletes

A: It depends. You should alternate the reps if your strength is balanced. If one side is weaker, perform all on one side and then switch.

A: For the posterior chain, another good exercise that comes to mind are kettlebell swings.

Kettlebell swings: don’t forget to clench your butt cheeks at the top

Becoming a Strongman


A: You won’t lose any strength whatsoever by training your lifts out of the bottom for a while. After having watched tons of different events, I find most people really do need better starting strength, so yes, that could work really well for you.

As for the “cardio side of things, it’s not so much “cardio” that you’re concerned with for strongman events, as it is strength, power and endurance. Until you get the implements to do the events, you can start off with heavier “finishers” like sled dragging, farmer’s walks, prowler pushes, car pushes, etc.

Get on the Ball for Plantar Fascitis

A: Here’s my quick-and-dirty fix for the plantar fasciitis people:

– Stretch the calves; knees straight (gastrocnemius) and knees bent (soleus). The best stretch for this is the one where you lie on your back with your leg straight and a towel over your toes. Pull the leg back into a hamstring stretch, then really pull on the towel to bring the toes toward your shins. This will hurt like hell, I guarantee.

– Foam roll the calves, peroneals, and plantar fascia. Rolling a tennis ball on the plantar region (bottom of the foot) is very effective as well.

Secret weapon in the fight to alleviate plantar fasciitis

– Work on strengthening your anterior tibialis (dorsiflexor) muscle. See Designer Athletes for three cruel and unusual (and therefore great) exercises.

– As the doctor recommends, ice the plantar fascia to reduce inflammation. I’d also suggest cranking up your intake of a high-quality fish oil supplement like Flameout.

Kill inflammation: crank up the Flameout

Always Finish With the Butt


A: This is tricky, because you want strong hamstrings, especially if you’re in anterior tilt. The abs, glutes, and hamstrings work together to posteriorly tilt the pelvis. The problem arises when the hamstrings become your primary hip extensor, rather than your gluteus.

Here’s how I determine how heavy to go on posterior chain movements: if I can finish the lift with my glutes (e.g. hip extension) rather than my back (lumbar hyperextension or just trunk extension), then it’s a good weight. If I have to use my back rather than my ass to finish the movement, I’ve gone too heavy, and have shut my glutes down.

So to answer your second question, you don’t have to take any time off at all: you can still pull, do good mornings, RDL’s, and pull-throughs, as long as you’re using your glutes to produce the movement.

Finish heavy lifts with your glutes: you don’t want to be the guy on the left

Assorted Posterior Issues

A: As with the glutes, typically one of the hip flexors is tighter than the other. I’d figure out which it is (psoas, iliacus, rectus femoris etc.) and stretch the hell out of it, pairing that with glute activation and strengthening work on the same side. My right rectus femoris is way tighter than the left, and things are finally starting to come together.

A: I like the glute-ham raise as long as you can actively contract the glutes first and keep the hips extended throughout. This is harder than it sounds, though!

A: As I mentioned above, always focus on firing the glutes when you are coming from a hips flexed position; pulls, RDL’s, good mornings, everything.

A: I generally cut the back squatting volume, but front squats may be ideal. Play around with it and see what works for you.


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