Mike Robertson joins the show today to talk programming, shapes, propulsion, compression, VBTs, power development, kangaroos vs gorillas, ferraris vs mack trucks, game intensities, and periodization. This is an all around great conversation and a must listen!
Like most who become strength coaches, Mike enjoyed sports but found himself drawn to the training more than the actual sports themselves. The weightroom helped him stay in shape and he began to ask questions about how the body works, why it moves the way it does, and 20 years later he is still pursuing these questions. Mike has two sides to his career, which include Robertson Training Systems, an online continuing education platform for trainers, and IFAST, a brick and mortar gym where he still has a passion for training clients.
We dive in discussing internships and their importance for young coaches. Both James and Mike agree that their internships were worth so much more than their college education. The internship allows for building critical thinking skills outside of the textbook while building real world practical experience. Mike wants all of his interns to be able to walk into any big box facility and be their best coach upon completing their internship. The main thing he stresses is that it’s all about the client and ensuring that when they walk out of the session, they feel like they’ve been successful.
Next we discuss some recent changes in Mike’s system. He immediately identifies a new outlook involving the shapes that clients make and the breath cycle associated with them. Mike credits Bill Hartman for recognizing that some humans are in more of an inhaled state while others are in an exhaled state.This has allowed Mike to be able to look at what he had been previously doing with clients and better understand why it was or wasn’t working.
A powerlifter is the most extreme example of this, often losing degrees of freedom in order to make the groove of their lifts more efficient. They have essentially become “locked in” in many ways. While this is advantageous to them, we still need to give them enough range of motion so that they can continue to train without pain and be a healthy human. A gymnast or field sport, on the other hand, would have extremely different needs and therefore different interventions. At the end of the day, Mike is trying to find the best strategy to help his athletes find the balance between health and performance.
Next we use a field athlete as a case study, to look at the patterns involved in between the extremes. James asks if an athlete throughout an offseason training cycle becomes more compressed as they move through various periodization phases. Mike makes the point that oftentimes coaches lose sight of what an athlete’s needs actually are in the offseason, and uses the off season to restore athleticism by working on expansion and increasing degrees of freedom. The first question he asks when designing an off season program is what the athlete won’t get in season, which makes his list of priorities more clear so that he can reverse engineer the process and give the athlete back what they may have lost. Mike explains how he puts athletes into buckets in order to evaluate what they need to build or maintain depending on how much play time they get in season and how much stimulus they get from their sport. He wants coaches to understand if they’re developing the athlete or managing the athlete, and the differences that each of those require for optimal performance.
We switch gears here and discuss technology in coaching and the different systems Mike has tried. Mike uses the oura ring personally, as well as Bioforce for heart rate variability readings. In the gym, Mike’s favorite tool is velocity-based training because it’s cut down on a lot of the disagreements with athletes on how much load to use on a given exercise. If he prescribes a certain bar velocity, he knows that he’ll get a specific adaptation, which is more objective and takes ego out of the equation. A significantly different weight may be able to push adaptation from week to week, which leads to more optimal training and less stigma about the weight on the bar.
On this note, we discuss the trade off and relationship between strength and power. If your goal is to be super strong, at some point you are going to move weight slower. Force (force = mass x acceleration) will go down at this point, and a 9 second lift isn’t going to transfer to sport very well. All things being equal, the athlete that is quicker is going to win.
Back to VBT, we discuss the difference in velocity profiles for athletes. Some people move weights slow all day, and others move them fast through a 9 RPE. Mike compares lineman and basketball players, stating that some athletes are naturally slower and stronger while others are quicker and more powerful. He will aim to create the opposite end of the spectrum for these athletes to balance them out. He can also work an athlete through a range of loads and find the optimal force development for them and train power vs strength according to what they need.
We then jam on energy systems and game intensity. Mike discusses his periodization throughout both in and off seasons, and the way he integrates his training with the athlete’s sport. Mike explains how It’s important to remember that sport is training in itself, and you need to realize you won’t be able to mimic game intensity in a training session. While he previously thought that he could manufacture game speed and intensity in the gym, he has learned that some of those things just can’t be replicated. When giving the example of a 12 week off-season program, the first 4 weeks are very much standard strength and conditioning, but as the off season transitions into more sport specific prep, he will back off and give more of a minimum effective dose. As a strength coach, Mike believes that he needs to be ok with letting go of his ego and giving athletes what they actually need for their sport versus being consumed with weight room numbers.
Lastly, we discuss the dynamic with young athletes and their parents, and the way to go about addressing their goals. Mike discusses the cases he sees, including injury, rehab, or pure performance motivated training. It’s most important to talk to the kid and make sure their goals align with what the parents claim. Realistically, most kids are not going to play D1 sports (let alone become a professional), so Mike takes the approach of not only getting them back to play, but providing the tools so they can be healthy and functioning human beings for the rest of their lives.
Enjoy and hit that subscribe button if you learned a thing or two.
4:00 – Mike’s background
7:45 – Shapes, breathing and patterns
23:00 – Technology in training
32:30 – VBT specifics
38:00 – Energy systems
46:00 - Young athlete development
52:30 - Mike’s recommended resources
Links and stuff:
Steal my best training templates so you can spend less time thinking and more time training hard, fast and heavy. These are the same templates we've used to help athletes like Mickey add 410 lbs to his squat, bench, and deadlift, improve his vertical by 4 inches and drop his mile time by 60 seconds.