Who Does MR Train?

Last week about this time, I was having coffee with a good friend and former IFAST intern Eric Oetter.

Eric is one of the most driven and curious individuals I’ve ever met, so it’s always great to have a chat and see where his head is at.

Since we don’t get to catch up as much as we like, we were trying to cover a whole bunch of topics (both personal and professional), in what little time we had.

At one point, Eric asked me a great question:

“Does it ever bother you that some people say you haven’t trained anyone?”

(And by “anyone”, he meant I don’t train a bunch of professional athletes, celebrities, etc.)

It’s a fair question – after all, to the lay person who isn’t in our industry, working with professional athletes or “famous people” must mean that trainer knows what they’re doing right?

They must be the best of the best.

So people like Tracy Anderson, Jillian Michaels, Bob Harper, etc. are obviously the best trainers out there. (Please note heavy sarcasm here).

Furthermore, if we look at the other end of the spectrum, someone like Dan John, who works primarily with high school athletes, obviously has no clue what he’s doing. Right?

Hopefully you get where I’m going with this.

I’m 100% ok with where I’m at in life, as well as with the athletes I’ve coached.

If you dig deep enough, you’ll see that I’ve been blessed to work with athletes from the MLS, MLB, NBA, NHL, NFL, and the US Olympic Team.

But to be honest – does any of that matter?

Does the fact that I’ve worked with those people automatically mean I know what the hell I’m doing?

What if I’d never worked with those clients – but I was still the exact same coach?

Here’s how I look at it – either I know what the hell I’m doing, or I don’t. It really doesn’t matter who I work with.

I’ve known coaches who work with professional athletes that probably didn’t deserve the gig, and I’ve seen middle and high school strength coaches that blew my mind and were so far overqualified it was ridiculous.

Working with that caliber of athlete is awesome, don’t get me wrong. But when it’s all said and done that’s not how I’m going to judge the quality of my career as a coach and educator.

At the end of the day, that’s an extremely limited segment of the population – professional athletes.

What about all the people who I have trained – does that mean they’re somehow unimportant?

Or that making them better somehow doesn’t count?

What about the young woman whom I’m worked with over the past two years who will play soccer at Purdue in the fall?

What about the 165 pound kid I helped deadlift 500 pounds?

What about the lady that came into our gym 50 pounds over weight and couldn’t get through a single-training program without getting injured. She is know 50 pounds lighter and preparing for her first Olympic lifting meet.

Does that not matter or mean something?

I could argue that taking an average client and making them above-average is far cooler than working with the pros. Last year at the NFL Combine I had dinner with Mark Uyeyama and Joe Kenn, head strength coaches for the San Fransisco 49ers and the Carolina Panthers. Joe gave me a quote I’ll never forget:

“High-school athletes figure out an exercise over the course of 3-years.

College athletes figure out an exercise over the course of 3 weeks to 3 months.

Professional athletes figure out an exercise over the course of 3 sets.”

What’s more challenging – working with someone who can figure something out in 3 years? Or 3 sets?

Look, (almost) everyone likes training pro athletes. They’re amazing specimens, they make you look great as a coach, they give you an incredible amount of clout, etc.

But if I never train another professional athlete again, I’m totally ok with that.

The clients and athletes that I work with at IFAST spur me on everyday to become a better trainer and coach.

The fact that I get to go around the world and help other trainers and coaches get better at what they do, as well, keeps me motivated and in the game.

At the end of the day, I couldn’t care less what other people in the industry think of me. There are really only two people who matter to me:

  1. The people who I work with in my gym and online, and
  2. The people who seek me out as an authority via my blog, products, newsletter, and speaking engagements.

Those are the two groups of people whom I generally care for, and am willing to listen to their opinion of me.

If I need to do something better, or step my game up, then I want to hear it from someone who actually knows me as a person and human being.

But if it’s just another talking head on the Internet or some bigwig “in the industry,” quite frankly, I couldn’t care less.

All the Best



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  1. I thought this was great! I’ve learned so much from you Mike. You have helped mold me into the coach I am today through your writing, products, and seminars. Furthermore, I look to you as an example of a coach who has time under the bar; something I truly value in a person I want to learn from. Thanks Mike!

    • Thanks Greg! I really do my best to blend it all – training experience, coaching experience, theory, etc. Hopefully I’m doing that well enough to keep you guys coming back!

  2. You nailed this post Mike! As a soon to be physical therapist graduate I feel the same way. I just wish I knew about IFAST when I was living in Indy for undergrad. Keep it up!

  3. So true Mike. It’s amazing how often people associate a celebrity roster and name dropping with trainer ability. It’s not to say that training pro-athletes or celebrities isn’t difficult and doesn’t take just as much (if not more) skill, but celebrities and pro-athletes tend to have resources (time, money, natural ability) available to them that “regular” clients don’t, so yeah, if the trainer is good they should get good results.

    Train a working soccer mom who only has 2 hours a week or a masters athlete who gets banged up every weekend and need constant program modifications to train around the weekly bumps and bruises. Get awesome results in those, less than stellar situations consistently, that’s when you’ve “made it”..

    Mike Boyle wrote this a while back which basically had the same sentiment: http://strengthcoachblog.com/2011/02/28/an-apology-letter-to-personal-trainers/

  4. Mike Robertson–hardworking, humble, honest and magnanimous, am I forgetting anything? Your kid has one great role model to look up to

    -Keep leading by example!
    Dylan Coleman

    • Hahaha – thanks Dylan! I try not to take myself too seriously and realize there’s more to life than just being a coach/entrepreneur. Little ones will do that to you 🙂

  5. Mike,

    In my opinion it is the high school athlete that requires the most coaching. The athlete at this level of development may be the most difficult as they usually require the greatest amount of instruction and development. As S&C coach’s isn’t that what is most required of us, to teach? Isn’t that the art of coaching?

    Professional athletes have the advantage of genetics. As S&C coaches it is this high level athlete that may at times, hide our “sins” so to speak. This is not to insinuate that there aren’t some great strength S&C coaches performing outstanding jobs training these high level athletes, as certainly there are. However, the genetics of these great athletes, at times, make us as S&C coaches look very good.

    I know of some very reputable and renowned S&C coaches, some whom have won World Championships in their particular sport of expertise who do not believe in having “record boards” in their weightroom. Their reasoning (opinion) for this is that a record board is a recording of genetics.

    • WOW! Thanks for commenting Rob.

      I couldn’t agree more. I’ve worked with a handful of high-level clients, all of whom are cued easily and figure things out quickly. That’s fun in its own right as you look like an awesome coach and feel great about yourself.

      On the other hand, the people that take more effort and demand more of us from coaches are often just as fun to work with, albeit in a different way. They force you to grow and expand your knowledge base.

      As the saying goes, “Success is a lousy teacher.”

  6. Very enjoyable read, Mike!

    I, too, currently train and have trained professional athletes for many years, but take much greater satisfaction in working with my “regular” clients.

    It’s not that I don’t enjoy working with with high level athletes, but I think it can lead to a false sense of how good a trainer is, based on the athlete’s performance, or lack there of.

    By the way, great comparison between Bob Harper and Dan John…you can learn more from a 30 min. conversation with Dan John than a life time of Jillian, Bob, and Tracy combined.

  7. Nice post Mike. Always fun to train the best of the best, but as a coach we learn a lot more training the novice athletes.

  8. “…and I’ve seen middle and high school strength coaches that blew my mind and were so far overqualified it was ridiculous.”

    This is incredibly true. I’m amazed by the coaches I’ve seen working with a younger client base and how talented they are in the field.

    • Joe Kenn and I had dinner again last night, and while we agreed on numerous things, one is always true:

      Some of the best coaches in S&C are the ones you’ve never heard of, and never hear from. They’re tucked away in some remote part of the country, just kicking ass and taking names.

  9. Mike,

    Well said, you and your ideas, as well as the other coaches you network with have had the biggest impact on my career, and all I can say is DON’T STOP!

  10. Thanks for such a well written and honest article. It’s great to see how much your blog has evolved over the past few years.

    You’re no longer solely an authority on strength and conditioning/training in general in my opinion. A lot of what is written in your articles applies to the benefits of correct instruction and application across various fields and disciplines.

    Before I started reading your articles, I could barely do a single bodyweight lunge or squat without pain. You have helped to teach many people like me to not only train hard but to train SMART through your own hard work.

    I look forward to the next knowledge bomb!

    Thanks Mike

    • I firmly believe that we need great coaches at the bottom of the food chain. If we develop a strong foundation in our young athletes, every coach up the food chain will benefit from our work.

      I know you’re doing work brotha – keep it up!


  11. Whether you like it or not I think that yourself and the like of Eric Cressey are training the worlds elite athletes. It may not always be in a direct sense, but the quality of your tuition and the contemporary platform that you provide it from is inspiring and developing health professionals the world over. Some of these people are inevitably the ones who are training these athletes, and I can guarentee your methodolgies and philosophies play a huge, huge part in the way the perform their job(atleast the people who know what they are doing).

    Keep teaching and inspiring because in the process you are developing this industry in more ways than you are aware.

    Very appreciative follower from Australia

  12. Hey Mike, thanks for posting this! Your blog, along with a few others, are great to read as they get beyond the guru marketing hype that is sadly becoming way too prevalent in our industry. Keep up the great work and writing!

  13. I’m looking to obtain an intern position with the IFAST staff this summer and this blogpost pretty much summarizes why. In the past I’ve had people argue that they don’t listen to someones opinion unless that coach trains big names and my go to response is always “Dan John.” To piggy back on the professional athlete remarks, there are tons of athletes who are great DESPITE how they train, not because of what they do. So when we look at NFL teams still performing their strength work HIT style, all you can think about is how lucky these guys are to have won the genetics jackpot.

    As long as it’s quality coaching (whether evidence, research, science, or client-based), who the hell cares who the clientele is?

  14. Dan John was an Olympic competitor. In order to assess as Mike does,”What it looks like” and “what it feels like”, there is great benefit to finding out just what IT is, by studying Olympic, national, world, pro coaching of the skills, even to determine what GPP to use for high school athletes. The excuses for hs athletes taking three years to learn an exercise are, no stability built, no strength built, no form, no skill base; but the biggest reason is voices of mediocrity holding political sway because they don’t have to answer. I coached kids I could tell something radically different to and they’d go into a high pressure game and do a makeover, and look good against a future NFL #3 pick, just by applying a pro skill tip, but then that entrenched mediocrity would lynch us again. But the point is without peeking into pro skills we could be training high schoolers for the wrong thing, such as pros never swing a baseball bat like that barn door so don’t train to be a barn door. A dad coach was written up in the paper for coaching because he’s a *colonel*, wow, so what, he coaches barn door swing while a janitor coaches pro chop from pro camp and lip-read Bonds from his youtube(BB only hint of barn door exception to ubiquitous pro chop). Elite skills can be absolute, *then*,”What does it look like”, “feel like”, and Mike here is a pro with his prereq and insights and in-the-trenches “art” and “science”. With hs it’s norm to take failures to high success by gpp, specific training, and skills. Genetics can be buried in probs Mike can unwind, diamonds in rough, at hs level. Brad Lewis, buried alive at O level, then gold, self-coached but still a switch of coach/training turned him around from nat non-qual to world gold in a few months.

  15. Herniated a disc and, at one point, could barely walk, loss of strength and reflex. Got your core training program. Learned so much from it and far more than anyone in my locale could impart. One year and two months later, am 75% better and still improving. You gave me the tools to heal myself without surgery. Further , I have a pretty good grasp on the biomechanics related to my core function such that I can avoid the mistakes that led to the herniation to begin with. I’m not famous but, damned appreciative.

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