The Smartest Man in Fitness?

An Interview with Bill Hartman

Bill Hartman

"Bill Hartman is the smartest man I know," Alwyn Cosgrove said recently at a seminar. I don't know about you, but that's pretty esteemed praise, especially from someone like Alwyn who's considered one of the foremost minds in the performance enhancement industry.

Here's some more Hartman praise from another respected coach:

"Bill Hartman is was the best kept secret in fitness." – Brian Grasso

I whole-heartedly agree with both comments. It's about time the good people of T-Nation learned what Bill is all about.

I had the pleasure of meeting Bill around a year ago. Alwyn had pointed out to me that Bill lived in the Indianapolis area, and said that I should look into meeting up with him at some point in time. A few days later, I received an e-mail from Bill saying that if I ever needed any ART (Active Release Techniques) done to drop him a line.

Was he serious? Free ART? To a powerlifting meathead? This is on par with a drug dealer offering free hits to crackheads on the corner. And if you've ever been to a weight-training seminar where someone is offering free ART, you know exactly what I'm talking about.

So I took him up on the offer a few months later, hoping to get some good ART and hopefully talk a little shop. I got all that – and then some.

Bottom line is this: Bill Hartman is one of the smartest individuals I've ever met in any field. He works his ass off, managing two physical therapy clinics, writing for numerous publications, training clients, doing ART, and staying jacked-to-the-max as well.

Simply put, this man needs to be heard, and this interview is just a little preview into the mind that is Bill Hartman.

T-Nation: Let's start off with a little bit of the mandatory BS. Tell us about yourself with regards to education, background, etc.

Bill Hartman: Believe it or not, I actually started my college career as an economics major with the intent of going to law school. I quickly found out that economics wasn't my thing. So I transferred schools and switched majors to Movement and Sports Science, which is what most would now call kinesiology.

Keep in mind this was the mid 1980's, so the exercise and sports training fields weren't what they are now. Most of the research at that time was focused on aerobic exercise, which was a bit of a struggle for a young musclehead.

I then did a year of Masters work in exercise physiology and did a lot of research on Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption. Not the most exciting of topics, but it certainly remains popular in regard to studies on training and body composition. It was about this time that I realized I wasn't a good lab rat. I applied to several physical therapy schools and made the jump to PT, graduating in 1991.

Over the last fifteen years or so, I've worked in just about every PT environment you can think of, but if I have a specialty or focal interest it would be in orthopedics/sports medicine. At least that's where I have the most fun. All during this time I've stayed active in the fitness field, working my way through school in gyms and training fitness clients and athletes in addition to my PT practice.

I've got your typical certifications like my CSCS from the NSCA and Sports Performance Coach from USA Weightlifting. I've also been an Active Release Techniques practitioner for the last six years or so, and I sit on the board of directors of the International Youth Conditioning Association ( along with T-Nation's Dr. John Berardi and Alwyn Cosgrove.

I'm a big believer in constant education and I read and watch everything I can get my hands on. This is getting harder every year because of the exponential growth of information that gets released each year, but I keep up pretty well.

Ultimately, it's the ability of applying the concepts that I've learned over the years that has made me effective in what I do. I've been lucky enough to work with a broad spectrum of high school, collegiate, and professional athletes, so I've seen and done some cool things.

Lately I've worked with a lot of golfers, which doesn't seem to T-Nation-ish, but I've got several who are actually quite strong and squat over 400 pounds, and one who at 34 years old and 6'2" can now dunk a basketball from a standing jump.

Can I stop with the boring BS now?

T-Nation: Please do! Now, beyond being a smart SOB, you actually trained and competed hard throughout college as well. Tell the readers a little bit about your bodybuilding and track & field background.

Hartman: The track & field thing evolved from learning how to throw the javelin from my brother, who at the time held the school record at Purdue University. The summer before I started college I was good enough to place tenth in the nation for my age group at the National Junior Olympics. I kept throwing for another three seasons in college, but my real love at the time was football. I was retired from that after two seasons by my third concussion.

Remember, this was the 80's, so bodybuilding was the "in thing" and my training for sports transitioned into a phase of competitive bodybuilding. I did okay for a drug-free guy and got a couple of seconds and thirds, but after a while I cut off my mullet and decided that the competitive side of things just wasn't much fun. Anyone who's been down around 5% body fat for any length of time can attest to that.

I also competed a bit in Tae Kwon Do over a period of years after my formal education was over. The competitive aspect didn't last too long as I found out that I was just a good enough martial artist to get my ass kicked.

T-Nation: Okay, enough about you. Let's talk rehab. I have a tendency to bag on PT's, mostly because the overwhelming majority that I've dealt with just haven't been that competent. However, I can honestly say that between yourself and Mike Hope, you've revived my hope in the field. Now I'm not asking you to throw your fellow PT's under the bus, but what are some common issues you see in the physical therapy field? What can we do to improve the field as a whole?

Hartman: In defense of PT's everywhere, I think the PT profession is just like any other professional field. At one end of the spectrum you're going to have the stars – the ones that really set themselves apart from the rest by their education, their experience, and their ability to apply what they know.

At the other end you have the ones that tend to coast through life and may not necessarily enjoy what they do, but they've pigeon-holed themselves as PT's and can't make a change and say good-bye to making descent money. This makes the quality of care go down.

The rest just fall somewhere in between. It's like the old joke: what do you call the guy who graduated last in medical school? Answer: Doctor. Same thing happens in every other profession.

There may be an issue within the PT profession as far as some PT's not keeping up with new research, techniques, and simply maintaining their skills. In my home state, it's not even a requirement that a PT participate in continuing medical education, so we may have a slew of PT's performing outdated treatment protocols or poorly designed rehab programs.

You also have to consider the fact that many PT's aren't exercise experts, though they may be perceived as such. They may not have the interest in pursuing the latest trends in fitness and sports training, which may skew the perception of their competency, especially for someone like yourself who spends time learning outside of your typical field.

T-Nation: Very true. Now, you've endured some pretty nasty shoulder injuries in the past. How has this influenced your training, and what advice could you give to the T-Nation readers to help keep their shoulders healthy for years to come?

Hartman: Yeah, I've got an inoperable rotator cuff tear that probably stems from a shoulder injury I got playing football many years ago. And then I tore my glenoid labrum about ten years ago while bench pressing. The major result from all this is the degenerative arthritis that follows.

Not fun, but I can still train hard with some modifications. If there's a good thing about such injuries, it's that your expertise in training shoulders increases exponentially because you can relate to a patient's or athlete's complaints.

In my case, I have a pretty typical list of "no's" like no overhead pressing, no dips, no upright rows, and no barbell snatches. I rarely use a barbell for pressing, but I'll occasionally do some partial range work or yielding isometrics.

If I do any pressing it's usually with dumbbells and I'll play with angles and loading parameters to get some variation. Any direct shoulder work that I do is in the form of lateral raise variations and cuff work, of which there are countless if you put your mind to it. I also spend a helluva lot of time on upper body mobility and scapular stability exercises.

If there's a benefit to all this, I've gotten a lot more creative from an upper body training standpoint with the use of dumbbells, cables, and even push-up variations. Never underestimate the value of different types of push-ups as a corrective exercise, for injury prevention, and even for increasing performance.

Most pulling and lower body training isn't really affected too much at all other than the limitations from my advancing age and "old football injuries."

As far as keeping your shoulders healthy, you guys here a T-Nation have done a good job of providing a lot of the necessary information. I think the thing most guys need to realize when it comes to healthy shoulders and training is that the shoulder isn't an isolated body part; there are relationships that need to be maintained or the stress on joints and connective tissue increases.

By the time most guys end up complaining about shoulder pain or rotator cuff problems, it's the result of cumulative adaptations closer to the body. In other words, the shoulder problem is related to the position and stabilization of the scapula, which is related to your posture, your trunk strength, and even your hip mobility and strength.

For instance, when you look at scapular and shoulder muscle strength, we do have ideal relationships. When trainers talk about balancing pushes and pull, what they're really talking about is balancing the strength of the scapular and shoulder muscles in the various planes of movement.

If you look at the research, the movement balance looks something like this:

Abduction/scapular upward rotation to adduction/scapular downward rotation:

  • Vertical push to vertical pull
  • 0.85-0.95 to 1 (almost 1 to 1)

Protraction to retraction:

  • Horizontal push to Horizontal pull
  • 1 to 1

For the rotator cuff:

  • Internal rotation to external rotation
  • 1 to 0.67 (according to Kevin Wilk, PT, throwing athletes need about 1 to .75. I'd recommend the same for strength athletes.)

So there's a reason to try to balance your planar movements.

Here's the kicker. Most forms of stabilized horizontal pressing, like the bench press, don't fulfill the requirements for the horizontal push balance because the scapula isn't free to move. Think about how we teach the bench press. Stabilize the scapula by retracting and depressing the scapula, which results in limited scapular movement.

Overtime what I've seen is a developing weakness in the serratus anterior and a "rhomboid dominance." This ends up limiting upward rotation function of the scapula and results in impingement with overhead exercises.

If you're trying to balance horizontal presses with typical rowing with a rhomboid dominance issue, you tend to feed the imbalance. That's one of the reasons that I think push-up variations are valuable as corrective and mobility exercises. The scapula is free to move and fully protract and approach more of a true movement pattern balance.

T-Nation: Interesting. Now, it wouldn't be a good interview without at least mentioning our new DVD and manual, Inside-Out: The Ultimate Upper Body Warm-up. Why is this product unique compared to the other upper body training DVDs out there?

Hartman: The analogy that I've been using is that of a race car. If you want your race car to perform at the highest level and avoid breakdown, you have to do regular and appropriate maintenance to assure that all the moving parts are functioning optimally. That's what the Inside-Out concepts address.

The feedback that we've gotten back so far indicates that this has been something that's been missing from a lot of programs at all experience levels. Lifters and athletes are finding that their movement and upper body mobility is improved from the first time they perform the Inside-Out progression of exercises. They're seeing immediate changes in feeling the groove of exercises and increasing poundage because of better muscle activation and more effective stabilization.

The sequence that we use is really one of the keys to success for maintaining optimal upper body mobility and increasing performance, especially for those athletes or lifters who find that they're constantly in a state of prehab or rehab or who tend to emphasize specific movement, like powerlifters who focus on the bench press.

Many of these athletes tend to look to rotator cuff exercises that may have only a minimal effect on their shoulder function. This is because it's actually the scapular mobility and stability that's affecting the rotator cuff function.

To take it one step further, the scapular function is dependent on strength and mobility relationships with the trunk and even the hips. This means that the only way to effectively make improvements in mobility and function of the upper body is to do so from the middle outward, or rather, Inside-Out.

T-Nation: Cool. Where can the T-Nation crowd find out more about you?

Hartman: I have a site right now, you can check me out at

T-Nation: Awesome Bill, thanks for your time. Hopefully we'll get to see some articles from you in the near future!