Exclusive: Interview & Fitness Program With The Rock’s Trainer, Mike Ryan
We chat about all things Mike’s career, from running Gold’s in the 1990s, to meeting Kobe Bryant & Michael Jordan, to training The Rock, to launching the Ultimate Fitness Program
– as written by Solin founder, Mathew Rosenburg
When I joined Gold’s Gym in Venice as a member, one of the first people I remembered seeing in the gym was this man that looked like the fittest man on earth.
He was decked out in Patriots gear from head to toe, seemed like he knew everybody in the gym, and was throwing around weight like it was nobody’s business.
The first day I saw him – he must have squatted 500+ lbs for 6 reps like it was no problem.
Shortly thereafter, I saw him featured on SportsCenter hitting the most squats of the day in a competition outside of Gold’s Gym – again rocking Patriots attire – even Tom Brady commented on the Instagram post.
Fast forward a few months and I was introduced to Mike by a mutual friend. We started chatting, and I soon found out a bit of Mike’s story.
Boston born and raised – the Patriots gear now made sense – Mike grew up playing every sport under the sun. His father was a competitive bodybuilder, and Mike was a gym rat. He went on to play college football at the University of New Hampshire before moving out to Los Angeles and becoming the General Manager at Gold’s Gym in Venice in the 1990s – the Mecca of Bodybuilding.
In those days, everybody came through the gym – from Michael Jordan to Kobe Bryant to Arnold Schwarzenegger to Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. Gold’s Gym was the place to be, and Mike was at the center of it.
I only later learned that Mike was the trainer for ‘The Rock’, Edward Norton (for his impressive performance in Fight Club), Priyanka Chopra, Mickey Rourke – and we’re just getting started – the list goes on and on.
What sets Mike apart is that he not only talks the talk – he walks the walk. He’s in the gym daily, putting in the work to stay healthy and attain a physique most people could only dream of.
After sitting down with Mike, it was clear his knowledge of fitness & nutrition combined with his passion & ability to motivate others is unparalleled. It’s these things that make Mike one of the most sought-after trainers in the world. And it’s these things that enable Mike to continue to blaze new paths in this industry.
I remember one Saturday in the gym a couple months after meeting Mike – I was just about done with my workout (or so I thought). Mike called me over to the green turf at Gold’s, loaded up a sled of weight, and told me to finish my day with some sled pushes (I don’t have the video of me, but check out this video of Mike so you can get a sense for what I’m talking about):
I was so gassed by the end of it, I could barely remember where I was. I think I lied with my back flat on the turf and face up to the sky for what seemed like an hour before I could muster the energy to walk out of the gym to my car in the parking lot.
It’s these types of moments that are common with Mike. Whether he’s training the most famous person in the world or pushing somebody who’s casually working out at Gold’s to hit that last rep, Mike is always motivating.
It was an honor to sit down with Mike and briefly chat. We cover some fun stuff – I hope you enjoy.
Mat: How did you get into fitness?
Mike: I’ve always been the quintessential gym rat. My dad was a bodybuilder, so he was definitely my inspiration and motivation to get off my ass and start training. Growing up, like every kid in my day, you play every sport under the sun. American kids are overwhelmed with sports, which is fantastic.
My dad wanted to give me a competitive edge learning about fitness & nutrition, so I was the first one to start an offseason training program out of all my friends. It’s funny, one day during football season, I even went in and told the principal we had to leave school early to carb-load ahead of the football game and took the entire team to the pancake house.
Later in my childhood, I went to Herman Sporting Goods and saw Arnold (Schwarzenegger), Frank Colombo, Lou Ferrigno, & others host seminars – it was this kind of inspiration that got me hooked.
Mat: So after falling in love with fitness, which came first – training clients or running Gold’s?
Mike: Believe it or not, I actually started in management at Gold’s first. And it was the best training I could have ever gotten. We allowed all the major training certification entities to use Gold’s Gym for seminars, so I was able to get some amazing training education straight from my office.
The cool thing was matching up the actual training from my dad as a competitive bodybuilder, with my football training, and the training I received at Gold’s. And then understanding the nutrition stuff from personal experience and seminars – it was a true masterclass over the course of a decade or two.
Mat: What was it like running Gold’s Venice in the 1990s?
Mike: It was fantastic – one of the greatest jobs I’ve ever had and could have ever dreamed of. The experiences, the education, the people you meet, the friends you make. It was a great time to be at Golds Gym in the 90s. Everyone came through that door. You had Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Arnold, the best actors, the best musicians - they all came through that door.
It was amazing the people you would meet. But one of the coolest things about it is – because of that persona – you always had your ego in check. You think you’re cool and then, all of a sudden, Michael Jordan walks in. That will humble you pretty quickly.
Mat: What was Michael doing – was he there to train?
Mike: Yeah, so Michael’s trainer would get in touch and ask if Michael could come in and train. And I would always tell him to bring the whole team. So, the entire Chicago Bulls team would roll up to Gold’s. The craziest thing about it was that Michael would come in and train like he was competing in Olympia. We’re talking hang cleans, push-ups, everything. He was training like an absolute lunatic on the day of a game, like 5 hours before gametime. And I’m just looking around thinking – wow this guy has a drive like nobody else. It was incredibly motivating.
Mat: Being in Los Angeles, did Kobe ever come through?
Mike: He did, he started showing up as a kid. His Philadelphia strength coach would bring him out to Los Angeles in the summer and he’d train at Gold’s. He was driven just like Michael. Everybody’s heard or seen the stories of Kobe, so I don’t need to recount those. But the truth about Kobe and the side that a lot of people didn’t see – he was such a funny person. Most people never got to see it.
The best Kobe story is during Olympia – every bodybuilder would come around for 1-2 months and train for Olympia. All these huge guys are dieting and running around the gym training, and Kobe would come in with a big wet bag full of McDonald’s french fries. Kobe’s walking up to all these people with a handful of fries, and all these bodybuilders are absolutely freaking out… yelling at Kobe to get away from them. And Kobe’s just joking around, laughing, having the time of his life. All the guys at the desk are laughing with him. It was the best. He was just so cocky & confident to come into these bodybuilders’ home gym and do that – it was hilarious. It’s something I’ll never forget.
Mat: Okay, so you had an epic run at Gold’s – when did you start training people?
Mike: When I was running the gym, I had all this knowledge about what to train and eat. This is when The Rock was wrestling, Stone Cold was wrestling. They’d all come in and see me hitting the gym hard, putting on muscle, learning and talking about the importance of timing in nutrition, and how to do cardio without losing your gains. And one day, Mickey Rourke wanted to work out together. And the next, Dwayne wanted in. And I started casually working out with these guys.
Then, it just so happened that Gold’s was going to be sold, and I had a great opportunity to go work with EAS (a sports nutrition & supplement company) and develop some deeper relationships with these celebrities. So, I took this client roster and these close friendships I had built up at Gold’s, and I told these guys we should partner on some stuff together with EAS. I’d tell these guys – like Mike Piazza and others – "hey we can endorse you and write up a program together." And that’s how it started with EAS – we created this whole celebrity division. We’d sponsor athletes to drive sales for EAS and get in deep with them.
Before I knew it, I was going on movie sets with celebrities, making sure everybody is eating properly and following nutrition guidelines. It was really fun. Then one day, the guys at EAS decided to sell and so I just went off on my own and started training these guys personally.
Mat: Why do you think these big celebrities gravitated towards you?
Mike: You know, there are a lot of people who understand training, and fitness, and nutrition. It takes a certain level of knowledge & experience. And some people are better than others at it. But it isn’t rocket science – it can be learned.
I think the difference for me is that people buy into me. I practice what I preach. My clients can’t say “Oh I’ll take it easy today… Mike just squatted 500lbs and is working his butt off, but I don’t need to.” No, that would never work for them. They’re competitive. And so when they see me out there putting in the work, making the gains, putting up weight – that’s motivating to them.
I think people often want to be motivated more than taught. If you’re going to motivate and push these people daily – then they’ll buy into the program 100%. And so that’s always been my goal and I think it’s resonated. I gotta walk the walk, talk the talk, and work just as hard as any of my clients – because I’m never going to ask them to do something I wouldn’t go out there and be willing to do myself.
Mat: Love that. So I know we’re going to be launching The Ultimate Fitness Program together this week – is there going to be an element of motivation in that program?
Mike: ABSOLUTELY. That’s a big part of this program, a big part of this community that we’re going to create here. Of course, we’ll have the underlying fitness & nutrition components and the training plan, but I’m going to be incredibly active for everybody who purchases.
We’ll have a private community area built directly into the program where I’ll be answering questions, posting videos, telling stories, and building a group of people that supports and motivates each other.
The motivational component is key – and so just as with my celebrity clients – I need to hold myself accountable first and foremost so that we can hold the community accountable and help create some big time change.
So yeah, I’m going to be hands on 100% in this program. With all these people. I don’t want you messing around, I want you to kick ass. We’re here for results baby (said in a thick Boston accent)!
Mat: Okay a couple more fun questions – how do you think about crafting a plan for an actor / actress?
Mike: Well, first we start with the script. When are we going to be shirtless? When do we need to look the best? When are we filming the ‘glamour shots?’ And then we work backwards from there. The principles are the same 80-90% of the time. Whether the goals are to lose weight or gain muscle, I’ve typically always got you on a weightlifting + cardio regimen. The nutrition and the timing of calories is really what we’re changing around the most.
But generally, I have a heavy focus on compound lifts so we’re activating all the key muscles, I make sure we’re doing cardio, and I’m prioritizing protein in the diet. Carbs are going to shift around depending on the goals, and we’re going to get very granular with timing of calories & carbs especially as we get closer to those glamour shots & key scenes.
The cool thing about this type of programming is that it’s transferrable, so we use a ton of the same programming principles in the Ultimate Fitness Program as we do in the plans for celebrities.
Mat: And you need to tell people your fun pro tip for increasing vascularity during a crazy photo shoot or movie scene?
Mike: Oh yes, this is one of my favorites. I know we’ve talked about this a couple times. And I have to say – don’t try this at home kids. I’m putting out all the appropriate medical disclosures – I don’t recommend any of this – consult your physician before changing around your diet – you know the drill.
But the trick is when you’re dieting & restricting calories or carbs, your body is also dropping water weight for that big money shot. So, when I’m on set with these celebrities, coaching them on a minute-by-minute-basis for that money shot – we’re thinking about doing anything we can to make the shot look next level.
Right before that shot, I’ll often have them eat a donut and drink a cup of red wine. That sugar influx with red wine dilates your veins and makes you look like a roadmap. So, we’ve done this with everybody from Dwayne to Mickey to the Bollywood guys – it’s always a lot of fun.
Mat: That’s great. So last question before I let you get on with your training for the day – why’d you create this program?
Mike: You know, this has been something I’ve been thinking about for the last decade or two. And I’ve just never really had the time or the right partner to do something like this. I’ve always wanted to help a ton of people at scale, because I know that we can motivate thousands of people to get healthier and fall in love with training the same way I have.
I’m just pumped that everything has fallen into place over the last several months to finally get this in action, and I’m excited to bring the same foundational protocols I’ve been using for years to the public. Excited to bring my Evaluation Day Saturdays into the mainstream, and encourage people to train hard so they can have some of those epic cheat meals like the ones you see on Dwayne's Instagram.
So it’s truly a dream come true, and I’m excited to help tons of people and build an incredible community around this!
Mat: Agreed on all of that, thanks so much for being here with us today, Mike!
Mike: Thanks for having me – it was a blast!
How to Get in Touch
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