Mike Mahler is one of the top level figures in the international kettlebell and fitness community today, and a man whose name and reputation loom larger than life. Known and admired for his straight talking, no-nonsense approach to personal development and physical fitness, he is one of those modern day personalities that lead by embodying the essence and veracity of their own teachings. I recently had the chance to ask Mike a few in-depth questions about his own path as a sportsman, the development of his business Aggressive Strength , his ongoing research and study into the field of hormone optimization, and the trials and tribulations of his own personal journey. Here is a rare insight into a remarkable man.
GKJ- Hi Mike, thanks for taking some time out for us at Gaijin Kettlebell Japan. As you probably know, although kettlebells are still very much an unknown quantity here in Japan and still in the early days, you are quite well known. Your name, your books and dvd’s pop up on Amazon.jp and the Japanese internet regularly. How is your own kettlebell practice progressing? What other forms of exercise do you use to supplement your personal physical development?
Thanks for doing the interview. My kettlebell training business has come a long way. I went through Pavel Tsatsouline’s RKC course in early 2002 and started my kettlebell training business full time in May of 2002. My very first workshop in Northern Virginia had eight people. Now there are probably hundreds of people doing kettlebell workshops all over the US and all over the world. There are several certification options now and more kettlebell information than ever before.
The first few years of my business were very difficult. Very few people even owned kettlebells and it was not something that people were either familiar with or cared about. I kept pushing hard and in 2005 my business hit a critical mass and my income tripled. Workshops started filling up fast all over the country and my DVD’s started to sell really well. I pushed hard for the next few years doing tons of workshops and producing several Kettlebell DVD’s.
Regarding my own training, from 2001 to 2006 kettebell training was my primary source of working out. I used other tools as a supplement such as clubbells, resistance bands, body weight drills, but kettlebells were the primary focus. In 2006 my wife and I moved to Las Vegas. Going from an apartment to a big house allowed me to set up a nice home gym and add some variety to my workouts. Now I use kettlebells in addition to thick barbell training, trapbar for deadlifts, I have a pull-up station for pull-ups, chin-ups, and hanging leg raises. I also cycle in clubbells, power rings, resistance bands, sledgehammer training, and battling rope work. Finally, I like to do some 2-3 mile walks a few times a week with a 106lb weight vest. My goals are more strength, power, and conditioning these days and I like to have a fair amount of variety to keep things enjoyable.
GKJ- Your work now with Aggressive Strength expands to cover a wide range of topics and disciplines. What is it you look for in a topic of study to expand your base of knowledge?
I look at real strength as much more than how much weight you can lift or how fast you can run. Being in great physical shape is no doubt important and a critical component of being strong and fit. However, I like to encourage people to take what they learn from training and carry it over to other aspects of life. Be a better person. Be more assertive and pursue the life you want, rather than settling and just coasting through life. Being strong in the gym but weak everywhere else is not real strength.
I like studying things that improve the quality of one’s life. This is what led me to the field of hormone optimization as you are only as healthy as your hormones. If you do not optimize all the major hormones: insulin, growth hormone, DHEA, Testosterone, DHT, androstendione, progesterone, estrogen, thyroid hormones, glycogen etc you can forget about being your best and enjoying life fully.
GKJ- Recently, you released some very interesting work on hormone optimization for health and well being. What brought this about? As an athlete and trainer that is getting older, does this type of issue become more and more important to you? In a nutshell, what advice do you give people who approach you with these kinds of questions? How much of this is really a “science” ?
Often we study things that are self serving and then we realize that other people can benefit from the information. This is why it is important to share our stories in life as many can benefit from our personal journeys.
This is the case with my devotion to learning about hormone optimization. I went through some stressful periods during the first few years of my training business. In addition to financial stress, I was dealing with personal stress on many levels, which eventually resulted in a severe case of pneumonia. I almost died from this and by the time I had medical treatment they had to pull 40 liters of fluid out of my lungs. I realized full well where an overload of stress will take you.
Stress literally kills and ironically many people are addicted to stress. Stress causes the hormone cortisol to rise and an increase in cortisol activates the fight-flight mechanism which makes us very alert. Many people are actually addicted to this state and that is why they crave stress. Stress makes them feel important and alive. Some level of stress is no doubt important as we do not grow and feel enthusiastic when everything is easy. However, too much stress kills healthy hormone production and places you in an accelerated aging state. If your cortisol goes up and stays up for too long you will eventually crash hard.
When I was going through high stress I was literally in an andropause state. This is what many men experience when they are in their 50s. However, I was only 29 at the time. My sex drive was non-existent, my sleep was off, my workout recovery was declining, and my overall zeal for life was low. I was getting depressed often even though I was doing the line of work that I always wanted to do.
I just did not want to live life this way and started studying endocrinology. The more I studied the more I realized the strong connection between optimal hormone levels and overall well being. When your hormones are healthy, you are healthy. When your hormones are optimal you have a feeling of being able to take charge of the world. Your sex drive is high, your mood is great, your strength is solid, and you sleep well every night. This is where I am now and have been for several years. My hormones levels are great and I feel strong, energetic, and excited about life.
When people come to me asking me advice on optimizing hormones, I tell them that they need to get detailed blood work to see where they are at. If someone does not have blood work then I am not willing to offer any advice. It is like someone saying they want to add 50lbs to their bench press when they have never bench pressed before. How I am supposed to help them if I do not know where they are?
Regardless, some basic information that helps with hormone optimization is:
- You must get 8 hours of deep sleep every night. Deep sleep meaning no tossing and turning and sleep where you dream vividly. Without adequate sleep you will not produce growth hormone, testosterone, DHEA, and all of the other important hormones. Sleep lowers cortisol and increases Melatonin. It is the ultimate anti-aging practice.
- Eat organic at least 90% of the time. 100% is even better. If you eat meat or any animal products (dairy-eggs) you must eat 100% organic. Meat, dairy, and eggs that are not 100% organic are loaded with hormone disrupting chemicals. They are loaded with chemical estrogens with disastrous effects. Look at the way animals are treated on factory farms and do not have the illusion that consuming factory farmed meat is even remotely healthy. Even if you could care less about the animal’s welfare at least show some respect for your own body and health and feed it only the best. Develop a relationship with a local farmer and get all of your meat, eggs, and dairy there. This is much cheaper than getting organic meat and dairy at the supermarket. However, it is worth paying the extra money for your health. What you spend now will save you money later on expensive medical bills. I tell people that if they are not willing to invest in high quality food then I am not willing to help them with hormone optimization as clearly they do not care. Don’t expect me to think about how to help them all day when they are not even willing to do the basics to help themselves.
- Have a balance of protein, fat, carbs at every meal. Barry Sear’s The Zone (30% fat, 30% protein, 40% carbs) is a good place to start. This keeps Insulin stable and a good amount of healthy fat is required for adequate hormone production.
- Do high intensity training 3x per week such as sprinting, sledgehammer striking, circuit training. This kind of training ramps up growth hormone and helps keep body fat low. When you are fat you have more estrogen receptors which lowers testosterone.
- Don’t drink beer. Beer is loaded with hops which is highly estrogenic. At least look for old Scottish Ale which is made with “gruit” instead of hops.
- Work on stress management. Meditation, chi-kung, tai-chi, yoga are all great ways to handle stress.
- Take magnesium lotion twice per day. Magnesium is a critical mineral for optimal hormone production. The lotion is a more efficient delivery system than tablets or powder. Rub on 2 teaspoons twice per day. Works very well to increase DHEA. The brand I use is Dr Shealy’s Magnesium lotion: http://www.springvalleyherbs.com/catalog/item/2872
Also make sure to take 30mg of Zinc Citrate daily. Zinc is critical for testosterone production and also helps block the conversion of testosterone into estrogen.
Beyond the above, I only work with my online clients for personalized hormone optimization advice. I have spend too many years and dollars studying this field and I am not willing to offer more free advice. People can also learn more from the Collision Course DVD set which contains a hormone lecture and comes with a hormone optimization e-book.
GKJ. You have an upcoming book: Live life aggressively: what self-help gurus don’t want you to know. What is the book about?
It is basically a protest to all of the self help books out there now. It is a more brutal and in your face approach to how to take charge of your life. I am tired of moronic advice such as attitude is everything and fake it until you make it. I am tired of the focus on positive thinking and sayings such as everything happens for a reason. Thus, I am basically putting down some very straight forward information on what you must do to take charge of your life and be successful and why the advice that many self-help gurus espouse is flawed and ineffective. People are loving the information that I put out in my online magazine and the book will be in the same vain.
GKJ- One great thing about you Mike is that you do a lot of collaborative seminars and projects with other sports and training personalities, sharing your own knowledge and making the joint project stronger because of it. Do you see value in collaborative projects such as these?
Collaborating with the right people is powerful. It gives people much broader and more comprehensive information. In 2008 I decided to stop doing kettlebell beginner workshops to focus on other interests and put on more progressive and innovative workshops. For example, last year I put on a big 2-day workshop called “Collision course” which covered battling ropes, strongman training, body weight training, and kettlebell training. This year I am putting on a course called “Kettlebell Training In the Age Of Quarrell.” It will be a three day course that covers all of the many ways to use kettlebells effectively. The course has an incredible line-up: Steve Cotter, Ken Blackburn, Jason Dolby, Andrew Durniat, and myself. It is going to be a three day course that breaks through all of the confusion on how to use kettlebells effectively for a variety of goals. It is going to be an incredible course.
GKJ. Well Mike, this has been a rare glimpse inside for many of us, and you have certainly given us plenty to think about. What is the future for you? Where do you see yourself in ten years? What would you like to have achieved?
Thanks and I do not look at life that way. There is no point planning on where I will be in ten years now as that is too far out. Instead I trust my abilities and work ethic and do not worry about where I will be. I know what I am capable of and what sacrifices I am prepared to make to keep growing as a human being. Focus on the moment and apply myself now and the future will take care of itself. Achievements, while important, are also illusory. Achieving goals is often anti-climatic as put people put off living now for some hopefully future happiness. Work hard and achieve goals but learn to enjoy the process where ever possible. Be serious about your goals but do not take yourself too seriously. As the Hindu Text The Bhagavad Gita states you have a right to your actions but not the results of your actions. Make your actions count.
With regards to this year I will have my book completed and I am looking forward to having a great course with the all star Age of Quarrell line up which will in turn be filmed for another information packed DVD set.
Thanks Mark for taking the time to do the interview.