Mindset, Motivation, & Mistakes: Interview With Martin Rooney

I’m a big believer in coaches. I spend money each year being mentored and coached by others. It’s a mentality I plan to keep for the rest of my life; if you’re not learning you’re not growing and becoming better, no matter how much success you experience. After all, there’s only so much you can learn from your own experience. That’s why I try to surround myself with smart people who can teach me a thing or two about business, life, fitness, nutrition, relationships, motivation, mindset, and being happy.

One of those mentors is Martin Rooney, founder of Training for Warriors, one of my favorite training and coaching programs. I’ve known Martin for about six years, and during that time he’s not only become a close friend but also a big influence. He was the one who taught me about a “true” warmup. He also helped me bench more than 300 pounds, help me hit 225 pounds for 11 reps during a “combine” style training session, and has provided endless motivation, coaching, and innovative fitness lessons through Training for Warriors—a program that is really designed for anyone (coaches and fitness lovers) to become better.

I recently jumped on a call to catch up with Martin to talk about motivation, mistakes, and what’s wrong with the fitness industry. Here’s what he had to say.

You’re a strength-lifer. You live the game, teach the game, and are constantly learning. So what have you seen as the reason why you have succeeded at living a fit life?

Funny, but I seem to get this question a lot these days.  I believe that this repetitiveness is not because people are interested fitness, but because they are hoping to hear I will validate a person’s challenges with time management or the “complexity’ of nutrition and exercise.  This will not be one of those answers. Everyone I meet tells me they are so “busy.”  This statement is usually followed by the proud proclamation that they don’t have time to eat right, get enough sleep and exercise.  Now I know my and your schedule Adam, and I am amazed at the prodigious amount of work you are able to produce while still training and living an interesting life.  I have learned from you and many of the greats in history that 24 hours is a really long time to get everything done.  We all have the same amount of hours that everyone else has in a week.  With 168 available hours, if you are going to tell me you are too busy to eat, sleep and exercise, I will not agree you are too “busy,” I will conclude you are INSANE.

The simple reason I have succeeded living a fit life (and had a good professional life as a result as well) is that I have not allowed my sleep, exercise and nutrition to be “expendable.”  To me, exercise, food, and sleep are the three most important medicines for the body.  In fact, I believe that if we took the correct dosages of these medicines, we probably wouldn’t need most of the prescribed medicines that are consumed daily in the first place!  But most people just can’t seem to get the dose right.  We fill our plates with too much of the wrong things and overdose on food.  We can’t turn our television, computer or stress off and underdose on sleep.  We inherently know these dosages can hurt us, but we cannot control ourselves.  Now, even exercise has fallen into this category and we see most people are simply underdosing with activity.

In addition to time management, people will also cite the complexity of training as a reason they can’t get things done.  My answer: Humanity doesn’t have a eating, sleeping, or exercise knowledge problem, we have a eating, sleeping and exercise dosage problem.

I believe we know what to do.  We just don’t do what we know.  Ask anyone for the correct dosage of sleep they need and they will tell you 7 or 8 hours.  Ask people to name 10 healthy foods and they will rip off a quick list with 100% accuracy.  Ask about a healthy amount of exercise per week and people know the statistics.  Ask how many follow their own suggestions…well, that is a different story.  My secret?  I was just able to take action each day and train, eat and sleep like it was my job, while other people wait in paralysis by analysis.

But what about mistakes? We all make them. Where have you gone wrong and what did you learn?

I think this is a great question.  Not because it is important to understand that we will all make mistakes, but that in order to grow as a person, we must also learn from them.  And we cannot be afraid to make a lot of them either.  We spend so much time looking at errors and reasons why we can’t do certain things today perhaps we miss the value in taking chances and how those mistakes turned us into the person we are today.

To set the record straight on things done “wrong,” I trained in a day when I drank out of the backyard hose, didn’t have a foam roll, Y’s and T’s were just letters of the alphabet, and it was ok to say you liked “burn” the seated calf machine produced.  My first gym was a bench and lat set with 200 pounds of sand-filled weights in my basement and yes, I invested in and used the Weider Arm Blaster, an ez curl bar, and actually thought my lifting gloves were cool as hell.  My warmup consisted of a glance at a Muscle and Fitness, admiring a double bicep pose and my Zubaz pants in the mirror and loading a bar with my first exercise.  Yes I did Sissy Squats, Donkey Raises, and (god forbid) Quad Extensions all while wearing my zebra-striped Valeo Belt.  My pre-workout was a soda, I ate fast food after school and finished training sessions with high rep abs in which I flexed my spine and had raw eggs and ice cream in my post workout shake.  By today’s expectations, the “smart” people of the training world might not only consider me lucky to have gotten results, but even more lucky to be alive!  I consider myself more lucky to have learned the lessons these experiences taught me on how to do things “right.”

I am sure 30 years from now some current youngblood will write about how he used to “roll” his butt cheeks before leg day, tried to pick up his girlfriend doing Turkish Getups, and tried to cure a staph infection from a Mud Run with dry needling and going “Paleo” for a time all in the name of getting Facebook likes and Twitter retweets.  Maybe these will be seen as mistakes, but they will probably get the four principle lessons I am about to share.

First, regardless of your training style, the main secret to improvement is consistency.  For the last 25 years I have not missed training for more than a few days.  I may not have been the strongest or most gifted when I started, but after 25 years of consistent work, I appear to be one of those people now.  Short version, put a bunch of days in a row and a little eventually becomes a lot.

Second, DON’T WAIT.  I see so many people that are unsure if they are doing the right thing and they do nothing.  As I spoke about, I may not have been doing what current science accepts as the “best” possible training, but I was doing something.  If you wait for all the lights to be green before you get in your car, you will never get going.

Third, make sure you keep the “fancy” stuff as an extra.  Want big, strong muscles, get on a diet of heavy IRON.  Remember that bigger arms in reality will score you more points than creativity in fantasy land.  Just like you wouldn’t put on your tie before you put on your shirt, make sure you build a foundation before you start worrying about the one legged, stability ball, kettlebell, pistol squat.

Finally, take a solid direction and focus.  You can’t ride three horses with one ass.  Too many people spread themselves thin trying too many styles and become the classic “jack of all trades and master of none.”  If you want to be great remember that “multitasking” doesn’t make you effective, it makes you mediocre.  

What’s your current pulse on the fitness community?

Right now as I present around the world on my TFW system, it has proven to me that Metabolic or High Intensity Training is one of the hottest fitness trends.  In fact, this style of training has become the new “revolution” of the fitness industry.  With programs like Crossfit and P90X and huge events like Tough Mudders spreading completely around the world, millions of people are becoming aware of and experimenting with intense and extreme styles of training.  Big box gyms are getting smaller and privately owned.  People are seeking out exciting and new tough workouts.  The days of the treadmill, dumbbells and one on one personal training are slowly going away.  The Good News: These programs have identified that there is a big percentage of the global population looking for new ways to challenge their physical limits.  The average gym goer no longer wants to bang dumbbells and walk twenty minutes on the treadmill at the gym.

Both men and women now understand more intense and interesting new training methods exist and may be the quicker and more enjoyable way to results.  The Bad News: There are many flaws with the way this style is being exposed and promoted today. Right now, this style of training is like the Wild West.  Most training is nothing more than a free-for-all mentality of one-upsmanship to see who can do the craziest things possible or get the most Facebook or youtube likes. This misleads the average gym goer into trying things for which they are unprepared.  As these people are unknowingly jumping into this style, many of them are getting hurt.

As legions of followers crush themselves with high intensity workouts and 20,000 people per weekend are showing up and gladly risking broken bones at mud runs, you may ask why this is happening?  The answer: I say it is easy to make someone tired and sore.  The problem I have with this?  It is not so easy to make someone better and for every ex-athlete this style may attract, we are scaring away many other people hoping to become fit.

Face it, people buy things with the word “extreme,” “intense,” or “insane” attached to it. People pride themselves on banging down a few maximum strength energy drinks and training until they puke.  Although this makes sense, we must understand that people want to feel they are doing something “hardcore.”  My TFW system satisfies this since it has originated with some of the best and toughest athletes on the planet, it also has the edgy, “hardcore” feel in which people want to be a part.  But I have also worked hard to make my training understandable to the common fitness enthusiast in a user-friendly fashion that people can quickly apply.  So, the trend for brief and intense training is here.   Everyone from elite professional athletes to weekend warriors want a simple formula to get results, feel badass and have fun.  I think my TFW system is going to let millions get a chance to do the same. 

What is the biggest area of improvement you see trainers needing to make? 

I say that the future for improvement with trainers will not be in technical knowledge, but in the ability to coach and get the clients to apply that knowledge.  Last week, I was in Munich, Germany spreading the TFW philosophy.  I had the pleasure to perform my Hurricane training for over 300 people at the Perform Better Europe Summit!   This incredible experience again demonstrated that a coach’s ability to transfer power and energy are more important for results than simply learning a new exercise or tool.

While I was at the event, I realized that most of the people there were quite fit.  This told me that they all had strategies, methods and the discipline to improve their own personal fitness.  The challenge that most of them had, however, was not in being fit, but helping all their students to do the same.  When I asked them if they thought broccoli was important, they all said “yes.”  When I asked if they ate broccoli, they all again smiled and said “yes.”  When I asked if every person they trained ate broccoli, however, they all put their heads down and said “no.”  Although most of these people were able to modify their own behaviors in order to get results, they lacked the skill or direction to help their students make the same modifications.   This skill is housed in a trainer’s ability to coach and inspire.  I believe this is my greatest gift and what I share and teach at my events around the world.

You see, many trainers believe they are more valuable if they learn another pushup or exercise with a new tool.  Unfortunately, that tool means nothing if you can’t develop the skills to engage someone and get them to use it.  As I constantly mention, the difference between my TFW and other systems is our COACHING.  If you are a young trainer reading this and want to be more valuable, improve as a coach.  In other words, I don’t care if you eat broccoli if you can’t get anyone else to do it.

Your success will be based on the results you produce.  Those results will be based on your student’s ability to change his or her behavior.  Those changes will depend on your ability to engage and coach.  That coaching will depend on your commitment to excellence.  Commit this week and start making the results happen.

Your three favorite exercises. GO!

Ah, there it is Born, the Silver Bullet question. This always gets me to reflect on the state of both the fitness industry and human nature.  The fitness industry and its enthusiasts seem to be on the hunt for the same thing: A Silver Bullet.  Whether it was about health and fitness, nutrition, or money, most people believe in the concept of a Silver Bullet.  Although I think if there was a “best” we would all be doing it, I do like the question because I think it pushes us toward “better.”

So to rephrase the question, “If you were on a deserted island and could only do one exercise, what would it be?”  Since this is a fun, yet difficult question, I need to decide the most effective and realistic use of my time.  Although I like to dead lift, chin up and bench press, they have no barbells and hundreds of pounds of plates on deserted islands.  If I was on a deserted island and could only do one exercise, I would choose to SWIM.  Since I am not a great swimmer, that would be something I would have to practice to get off that island!

Seriously though, if I had to get down to my three favorites, and possibly three most productive exercises, I would go with bench press, chin up and deadlift.  Between those three, I could maximally load most of the muscles of my body, develop strength and hypertrophy as well as build a little cherished functionality as well.  I know people may argue the bench, but I think it is not only a great way to load your upper body, but what else would Monday’s be for anyway?  So, overall if I look at my current program (and the program that I have followed for the last decade) they have all revolved around those three.  While other people I knew instead jumped to gadgets and gimmicks, I still kept a steady diet of IRON as my main gym sustenance.  And while they continued to search for the next thing to keep them from boredom in the gym, I kept moving ahead of them in terms of results.

Want to Be Coached by Martin?

For a chance to learn from Martin, please feel free to visit his Training for Warriors site and enjoy his free video series.


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