An Interview With Vegan Strength Coach Mike Mahler

Check out this awesome interview with Mike Mahler and find out his ideas on training, being a Vegan, and kettlebells.

Strength Coach Mike Mahler has only been active for a year. However, you would never guess when you see how many articles he has written and where they have been published. In addition to having two columns in FightScene magazine, Mike's articles have appeared in Ironman Magazine, Exercise Magazine for Men, Testosterone Magazine, and several online sites.

In addition, in just a little over a year, Mike has done over fifteen kettlebell workshops around the US and the UK, including a workshop with top strength coach John Davies. I had the opportunity to talk to Mike recently regarding his ideas on training, being a Vegan, and kettlebells.

Mike, tell me a little bit about your background?

Well, I have been a strength athlete for over ten years and got hooked when I was eighteen. Ever since then, I have read hundreds of books on training and probably thousands of articles. It has been an obsession of mine for a long time and I have literally tried dozens of different training programs.

When did you decide to become a strength coach?

I actually got started a little over a year ago. I made the mistake after graduating from college in 1996 of letting other people influence me on what course I should take instead of going after what I really wanted. I ended up doing sales and then later business development in the IT world for several years before coming to my senses. However, I do not think that anything is a waste of time and I learned a lot about how to communicate effectively and how to apply effective marketing techniques. Without those years of sales experience I would not have been able to progress as quickly as I have in the strength-training world.

What are your qualifications?

First and foremost I have ten years of training experience from the school of hard knocks. I have been and still am my own guinea pig and spend much of my free time researching training methods. In terms of formal qualifications, I am a senior level certified kettlebell instructor under Pavel Tsatsouline. Senior level means that I have assisted Pavel in certifying other kettlebell instructors.

Do you have any degrees in strength training or anything related to fitness?

I have a bachelor's degree in Religious Studies from the College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio. I focused on Sufism, Buddhism, and Hinduism. I think that having a strong spiritual foundation is one of my greatest assets as a strength coach and it has helped me build a strong moral foundation and made me a more interesting person to be around, ha ha. All that I know about training comes from my research and trying things out in the real world.

Sounds like you are not a big proponent of formal education for strength training?

Not exactly. There are a lot of incredible strength coaches such as Charles Poliquin, Pavel Tsatsouline, and Tudor Bompa that have formal backgrounds. However, all of these strength coaches also have a lot of practical experience and know how to market themselves. I have no doubt you can learn a lot in the classroom. Nevertheless, how do you really know what works until you try it in the real world. I would rather work with a strength coach that has no formal education and a lot of real world experience rather than someone that only has a formal education. Just look at strength coach Louie Simmons.

He is absolutely brilliant and has trained some of the strongest men and women in the world. In addition, he is strong as hell himself. Louie does not even have a high school degree but does that make him less qualified than Charles Poliquin and Tudor Bompa? Not in my opinion.

What are some of the common mistakes that trainees make?

Great question and there are a lot of things that I come across:

  • Not having any definite goals
  • Not keeping a training journal
  • Trying to do too many things at the same time
  • Placing too much focus on supplements instead of a proper diet
  • Not training hard enough
  • Training too hard and too often

Let Me Elaborate On Each Point

1 / Not Having Any Definite Goals

Often when I ask people what their training goals are, they have general answers such as: I want to lose weight; I want to get stronger; or I want to get bigger. Those are very general responses and you are not likely to achieve your goals unless you get specific. Imagine if I opened a computer company and said that my goal was to sell a lot of computers. What does a lot mean? Does it mean five sales; does it mean twenty-five?

When I was in the dotcom world I came across companies all the time that did not have definite goals and those companies are all gone now. Not many people would get in a car to drive from the East Coast to the West Coast without a map or directions. Why should your training be any different? Sure you might make it from the East Coast to the West Coast, but it will take much longer if you do not have any directions and your chances of failing are much higher.

2 / Not Keeping A Training Journal

If you do not know where you are, then you have no idea where you are going. With all the things that we have going on in our lives, we cannot just rely on our memories to keep track of each workout. We have to be smarter than that and keep a journal. Would you start a business and not keep track of what you are spending and how much money is coming in? That would be insane and your business would go under in no time. We see it happen all the time.

Another reason to keep a journal is that it is human nature to improve performance when you know what your numbers are. When people are trying to lose or gain weight, they get on the scale all the time to beat their last numbers. The same thing will happen when you keep a training journal. My clients are amazed with how they progress when they keep a journal.

3 / Trying Too Many Things At The Same Time

I come across this one all the time and used to have the problem myself. In today's world we are literally on information overload in just about every area. The strength-training world is definitely no exception. For many people, your mind and body can only absorb so much information. For example, if you try to learn kettlebell training, clubbell training, tornado ball training, Olympic lifting, and bodyweight training all in one training cycle, chances are that you will not progress very well in any of them and if you are lucky maybe you will do okay in one or two of them.

However, it is highly unlikely that you will excel at any of them. My advice is to pick one or two things at a time and get proficient at those. Then you can put those things on maintenance and add in a few other things.

4 / Placing Too Much Focus On Supplements Instead Of A Proper Diet

In today's world, we like to save time wherever possible and the supplement industry is well aware of this. Why learn how to prepare a proper meal, when you can just have a few protein bars, a multivitamin, and a protein shake instead? None of those supplements can take the place of a well-designed diet based primarily on real food.

I encourage my clients to spend their money on high quality organic food first. Then if they have any money left over, they can pick a few high quality supplements. I am definitely a firm believer in the power of high quality supplements and use many myself. However, my first priority is to ensure that I have an abundance of healthy food in my diet.

5 / Not Training Hard Enough

I see this all the time in the gym. Guys who like to talk to their buddies in between each set of the bench press or read the Wall Street Journal in between each set. I have even seen guys talk to each other while they are doing some exercises. Come on! Give me a break! You cannot take your training seriously and give it your best effort when you are that casual about training.

When I train here in Santa Monica on the beach or at the park, and someone tries to talk to me during a set or even in between one, I politely tell them to get lost. I am not there to socialize and I expect the same level of commitment from my clients.

6 / Training Too Hard And Too Often

This is not as common as the last point. However, it is still a major problem with many athletes. Some athletes have incredible determination and drive and if not channeled properly can prove to be disastrous. Many athletes train too often and go to failure on every set on every exercise and some of them do this six times a week. At best, they will maintain their strength and size, at worst they will end up with a serious medical condition such as depression, pneumonia, and major physical injuries. Now you do not need to become paranoid and avoid training every time that you feel a little bit off.

That would be ridiculous as very few off us feel 100% great all of the time. However, you need to be sensible and know when you need an extra day or two off or when it is time to cycle to a different phase of training. Applying what Tudor Bompa calls periodization is a good way to plan a training program to avoid training too hard all the time. I think that it is fine to train to your limit for a few weeks, but after that you need to back off and do some moderate training.

I understand that you follow a vegan diet. Can you elaborate on that?

I would love to. I have been a vegetarian for almost fifteen years and a vegan for close to ten years. When I was fifteen my parents took me to a game park in Kenya. When I saw a variety of beautiful animals in their natural habitats, I felt a feeling of oneness and knew that I had to make some changes. At the time I was really into a self destructive lifestyle and was drinking a lot of alcohol and using a lot of drugs. However, after that trip I felt the power of believing in something strongly and wanted to do something to alleviate the suffering that animals go through in the world. In addition to not eating meat or any animal products, I do not wear leather, and do my best to avoid products that were tested on animals.

Companies that do not use any animal ingredients or test on animals for example made all of my personal care products. I got into this after watching the movie the Fly II in which a beautiful Golden Retriever is mutilated during some experiments and then kept alive in agonizing pain. I literally cried when I saw that scene as one of my best friend when I was growing up was a golden retriever named Teddy. Teddy was always there for me and loved me and my family unconditionally. It always amazes me when I hear about the amazing things that animal companions do for their guardians.

As someone that wants to live as peacefully as possible, I feel that it is not possible to do so while eating animals. How can you talk about peace when eating a steak? That animal died in agonizing pain unnecessarily. I do not know how anyone can continue to eat meat after learning how these poor animals are treated at factory farms and slaughterhouses.

Having seen you in action, I can attest that being a vegan has not hampered your progress as a strength athlete?

Thanks a lot for saying that and I believe that you can get strong and big on a well designed vegan diet. It just takes planning like any other diet.

Lets get into training. Are kettlebells superior to dumbbells and barbells?

It depends on how you define superior. I find that kettlebell training has a fun factor that I do not get from dumbbells and barbells. Each time that I see a kettlebell, I feel like picking it up and throwing it around. I do not get that feeling with dumbbells and barbells. Thus, from that perspective, I could say that kettlebell training is superior for me. However, when it comes right down to it, resistance is resistance. I have trained with barbells, dumbbells, sandbags, bodyweight drills, and kettlebells and feel like all of them can get you to where you want to go and all of them will make your stronger.

Just use what you enjoy and avoid being a fanatic. You do not have to prove to the world that what you are doing is better than everything else out there. Just pick what you like and have a good time. That said, I do think that kettlebells have several advantages over dumbbells. First, kettlebells have thick handles and turn just about every exercise into a grip exercise. Second, the way that the weights with kettlebells are displaced forces you to use more stabilizer muscles and work your muscles through a longer range of motion. Third, the way that the kettlebells flips on many exercises increases coordination and propioreception. Finally, people are scared of kettlebells and I like scaring people, ha ha.

What services do you provide?

Right now, I offer private sessions in LA, online personalized programs worldwide, I do kettlebell workshops around the country and Europe, and I will be teaching kettlebell classes in LA at the Downtown Fitness Center starting this month. For more information, people can go to my website at or email me at

I also understand that you write a lot of articles?

Yes, I have two columns in FightScene Magazine and I am a regular contributor to Testosterone Magazine, The Code, and I am also working on a new online magazine with five-time UFC champion Frank Shamrock and the first issue should be out soon. Visit on a regular basis for the latest updates.

Do you have any new projects that you are working on?

Yes, I have a training video that will be out this year and I already have several websites that want to distribute it, so I am excited about that. I was on UPN news in LA last week and thought that I looked pretty good on TV, ha ha. I cannot wait to get my video out there.

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