Meet Mike Robertson

An Interview with Mike Robertson


You've seen his name on a lot of recent T-Nation articles, and you've seen him pass out some outstanding training advice on the forum. And you've probably thought, "Man, that guy is smart, but who is he anyway?"

Let's find out. We sat down with Mike Robertson to find out who the hell he is and what the hell he does.

T-Nation: Okay, Mike. Who the hell are you, and what the hell do you do?

Mike Robertson: Well, I'm currently the Director of the Athletic Performance Center in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. At the APC, I work with a myriad of patients and clients. On any given day I could be helping someone heal an injury, helping someone to lose weight or get in better shape, or helping take an athlete to the next level. It's really a pretty exciting gig since no two days are ever the same.

T-Nation: What flavor of lifting to you personally do?

Robertson: I've been a competitive powerlifter since December of 2000, so all my training has been geared toward trying to get as strong as humanly possible in the squat, bench press, and deadlift. Training is like my second job!

Powerlifting was really a positive thing for me. I'd just graduated with my undergraduate degree and didn't have any desire to stay active playing intramural sports. Plus, I'd always wondered how strong I could be if I really focused on my training, versus just hanging and banging in the weight room.

T-Nation: I did some banging once in the weight room. Lemme tell ya, that bench smelled funny for a week! Anyway, how did you first get involved in lifting?

Robertson: Well, before I ever got into lifting, I was a diehard basketball player. Go ahead and make all the jokes you want about basketball and Indiana folks, but I definitely had the bug growing up!

After my junior year of high school, I had an assistant basketball coach who was also an ex-football player from Ball State, and he said I could really grow my game if I started working out. He put me and my buddy on the original "Gettin' Thick" program. It was basically a bodybuilding routine, and I remember after the first day we were so sore and swollen up we couldn't take our shirts off. Needless to say, I was hooked!

After high school, I realized that I really enjoyed the iron, so I was typically in the weight room three or four days a week throughout college. I'd love to say that I was the biggest, strongest, most knowledgeable guy in that weight room, but I don't like to lie! I was probably more like the average T-Nation guy reading this article: I did a lot of things right, but I didn't realize how important all the little things were to getting bigger and stronger. And I didn't have any direct goals that I was training for, so I never really got out of my training what I could've.

T-Nation: I think we all wish we could have a "re-do" on our first couple of years of lifting! Now, what's with this growing dispute among powerlifters who use gear (suits, wraps), and those who don't or choose to use a limited amount? Has powerlifting gear gone too far? I heard one of those new fangled shirts won a bench meet in Bloomington all by itself with no one in it.

Robertson: To be honest, I've always kept quiet on the gear debate because it's just one man's opinion verses another. Who am I to say what one person can or should do? If I would say that gear has gone too far, then one of the raw lifters out there would chastise me because I use single-ply gear. I compete in the USAPL because it's most in-line with my preferences regarding judging, gear, and drug-testing.

I couldn't care less what others are doing. If you enjoy lifting raw and feel it's the way to go, then great. If you want to lift with three layers of denim and Kevlar reinforcement, then that's great as well. As long as you are training hard, achieving your goals, and keeping your ass in the gym, I'm all for it.

I really just get annoyed with all the bitching and moaning that goes on over the Internet. I feel if more powerlifters would talk training, recovery, nutrition, etc., we'd all be better lifters and coaches in the long run.

T-Nation: You're a nice guy, Mike, so it's fun to get you stirred up and pissed off. Let's do that some more. What makes you really want to impale people on an Olympic bar?

Robertson: Hmm, that's a tough one, because there are a lot! Here's the short list of my pet peeves. First, training without specific goals in mind. You might as well be saying, "Well, I'm kinda hoping to achieve something, but if not, that's okay too!" I made this mistake long enough myself. Set some specific goals and you'll be amazed at how much faster you'll progress.

Second, people should practice what they preach! As this business gets bigger, better, and more lucrative, I've seen an increasing number of trainers and coaches who are either weak, out of shape, or both. Trust me, athletes are a very intuitive group and they can tell if you really know what you're talking about or not. Plus, they can also tell if you practice what you preach! If you aren't consistently in the gym trying to improve yourself, you either need to make it a priority or find a new profession.

T-Nation: Good point. I don't see how anyone could coach or work in this biz and not actually do the sport or train themselves. Moving on, what's one exercise that every T-Nation reader should be doing, but probably isn't?

Robertson: It's tough to say one specific exercise, simply because T-Nation readers are a hell of a lot more educated than the general public! However, if I could have all T-Nation readers incorporate more rows into their programming, I'd be ecstatic. However, I might not have as much business with regards to rehabbing peoples' shoulders!

Think about it, though. From the second we enter the weight room, we're going to bench press. In fact, when I first started lifting I was benching two or three times per week without doing any rowing! After a few months, my buddies and I couldn't figure out why our shoulders were rounding over so much and our posture better resembled Quasimodo than a strength athlete.

Beyond the ability of rows to keep your shoulders healthy, the improved stability that you'll gain in the bench press from strengthening the upper back is astounding.

T-Nation: What do you think about rounded-back lifts? I've seen smart people go both ways on this topic.

Robertson: After I've thoroughly read Stuart McGill's stuff, I just can't prescribe this kind of lifting to anyone. I know that some people want to employ the "chaos theory" of lifting, but rounded flexion is the number one way to injure your lower back. If you're lucky, you sprain a ligament and you're out of the game a few days or weeks. But you blow a disc and you're out several months or even a year or more.

The purpose of rounded-back lifting is to strengthen the erectors, but if you're lifting correctly you should have a neutral spine or slight lordosis anyway. Whether it's squatting, deadlifting, Olympic lifts, whatever, proper technique is to maintain this position, so why wouldn't you want to train that way?

Finally, let's say two trainees are identical, but one decides to incorporate rounded-back lifts into his program and the other doesn't. Even if our rounded-back guy gets stronger in the short term, if he blows a disc his buddy is going to pass him up in a heartbeat. It's the case of the tortoise versus the hare, but I'm going to try and minimize setbacks any time it's possible.

T-Nation: The Ian King fans are going to snap at you for those comments, but let's hit another subject. Is it important for the average gym-goer to know and test his 1RM on various lifts? Not talking about competitive powerlifters here, just the typical T-Nation reader.

Robertson: I don't really think so. I mean, if someone has a burning desire to know what his one-rep max is, then he can go for it, but it's not a necessity.

I should preface that statement, though, and say that you'd better train for it! Don't go from sets of 8-12 with slow tempos and expect a huge transfer to your 1RM. However, if you're cycling your sets, reps, intensities, etc., you should be getting some low rep training in your programming anyway, so it should be okay.

T-Nation: Agreed. Low rep training can be hugely beneficial even for the "cosmetic" lifter. Now, you work with a lot of injured athletes. What's the most common lifting injury you see and how do we avoid it?

Robertson: As far as acute injuries go, it's got to be back injuries. Preventing those could be an entire article series in itself! Some of the best tips I can give are to always lift with a slight lordosis/neutral spine/chest up, work to ensure flexibility in the hip flexors, hamstrings, and glutes, and to perform each and every rep with perfect technique.

I see plenty of knee and shoulder injuries due to lifting as well, but those are typically longer term/chronic injuries. Typically, someone is doing multiple things wrong in their training for quite some time before these issues manifest themselves.

T-Nation: Let's flip to nutrition. Are powerlifters paying more attention to nutrition these days? The old advice was just to eat a ton. Are things changing?

Robertson: If powerlifters care about their totals, they care about nutrition! The old school advice was just that: old school. We know so much more about nutrition now; it just doesn't make sense not to utilize it. Think about it like this: Are you still using linear periodization as the basis of your training routine? I certainly hope not. So why would you employ nutritional habits that people followed two decades ago?

The big three components to improving in the iron game are training, nutrition, and recovery. We've gone a long way to improve our knowledge of training, we're learning more and more about nutrition daily, but we'll really be covering all the bases when we start to address the third aspect – recovery.

T-Nation: And nutrition itself plays a big role in recovery.

Robertson: Yes, because nutrition directly influences the way our body repairs and improves itself following our workouts. Why have a great workout and then stuff your face with terrible food choices?

Powerlifters are always looking for the latest and greatest training program, performance gear, etc., but why not focus on something that we can do every day to improve our performance in the gym and on the platform?

T-Nation: Makes sense. What about supplements? Which ones are particularly helpful to performance athletes and powerlifters? Are these hugely different than those supplements that bodybuilders use?

Robertson: I don't think the differences are all that great. Powerlifters and athletes alike need a ton of protein, so a supplement like Low-Carb Grow! is almost a necessity unless you can eat solid food every two to three hours. You need to re-fuel your body after intense workouts too, so Surge is the best available product out there. Antioxidants should be taken by all athletes to beat down free radicals and keep your immune system kicking. After all, it's not fun to train when you're sick!

One of the supplements that I don't think enough powerlifters take advantage of is Power Drive. I've been taking it post-workout for the last couple of months and I really feel recovered and fresh between workouts. One of the biggest differences between powerlifting and bodybuilding is the increased role of the nervous system, so I'm going to do everything possible to keep mine fresh. Also, ZMA has really improved the quality of my sleep, allowing me to bump up the training volume while still recovering well.

T-Nation: Cool. What does the future hold for you? What's coming up?

Robertson: I'm calling this the "Summer of Strength" as I'm absolutely swamped with stuff! In May I had a meet and then traveled to Killeen, Texas for USAPL Men's Nationals. In June I'm going to Detroit for APF Seniors to help one of my best friends, and then the following week we have our 3rd Annual Sports Performance Camp here at the APC. To cap it off, in July I'm headed to Vegas for the NSCA Conference, and I'll most likely finish out the summer with a push-pull meet in Michigan. Needless to say, I wish gas was a little cheaper right now!

With regards to T-Nation stuff, I have several pieces that are about halfway done: a piece on form, function and injury prevention of the knees, and then an article series devoted to body types and lifting. Needless to say, I think that piece is going to revolutionize the way people of differing body types train!

Finally, I'm going to be a fixture on the Prime Time feature, so hopefully T-Nation followers will take advantage and learn as much as possible from us!

T-Nation: We look forward to those articles and having you on the forum, Mike! Thanks!

Chris Shugart is T Nation's Chief Content Officer and the creator of the Velocity Diet. As part of his investigative journalism for T Nation, Chris was featured on HBO’s "Real Sports with Bryant Gumble." Follow on Instagram