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★FitStars: Celebrity Trainer Mike Heatlie

mikeheatlieBack in July, I had the pleasure of going to one of No Doubt’s reunion tour shows. (Okay, I didn’t just happen upon it. I’m a huge fan and was obsessive about getting tickets the exact moment they went on sale.) And I ended up sitting in the seventh row. And IT WAS AWESOME. Not just because I’m a geeked-out Gwen Stefani/No Doubt fan, but because their energy was off the charts. And, even seven rows back, Gwen—who has two children for goodness sake—had the most amazing abs I’ve ever seen. I don’t think a “6-pack” does them justice. Maybe a “12-pack.” Or a “case of awesome.”

Regardless, after I watched her and her abs dance wildly around the stage while she sang for the entire two-hour show, I picked my jaw up off the ground, composed myself (believe me, I acted a fool at that show, screaming and jumping like I was a 13-year-old at a Jonas Brother concert), and had one question: WHO IS HER TRAINER? So I asked my buddy Google, who replied, “Mike Heatlie.”

And that’s why today’s FitStars is with this amazing celebrity trainer. Sure, his pic is a little cheesy, but he has his own personal-training studio in Scotland and has been named Scotland’s No.1 personal trainer. I can definitely see why. Read on for the inside scoop on training No Doubt and for Mike’s tips on eating for weight loss and making your workouts effective! Enjoy!

  • FBG: There are a lot of celebrity personal trainers out there. How are you different than others?
  • MH: Most celebrity trainers don’t have a great reputation. Some are too gimmicky, some are wannabe actors, singers and dancers, and most are poorly qualified. I have three degrees, including two master’sdegrees, all in an exercise-related field. If I have the time this autumn, I will begin my third master’s degree. I am 100 percent committed to continuous education and learning. I also don’t do fads, gimmicks, etc. I rarely use Bosu balls, gym balls, bands and would never use hula-hoops or damn lap dancing poles! I use what works to get my clients the results they want. I don’t do any circus training or advertise nor promote anything I’m not passionate about or don’t believe in.
  • FBG: Who do you prefer training? Celebs or everyday folks?
  • MH: It doesn’t make any difference, as long as the person has the right attitude, commitment and determination. I’d rather work with someone who cleaned the streets and who gave me their all in training and showed the appropriate discipline and desire, than a celebrity who wasn’t committed. It’s all about the individual. Whether they’re famous or not makes no difference to me. I believe in people.
  • FBG: What’s the biggest misconception or misunderstanding that you see in regards to fitness or health?
  • MH: Wow, where do I start? The industry is full of myths. Firstly, one misconception that still exists is that women should train with light weights and use lots of repetitions in order to get “toned.” That’s like trying to wash a truck with a toothbrush! Women need to lift heavier weights in order to create lean muscle tissue. They won’t get big. They don’t have the hormonal make-up to get big, but still I see women training with 1- to 5-pounddumbbells because they fear if they train heavier, they’ll wake up in the morning with a hairy back and start talking like Barry White! Other myths include “cardio training is best for fat burning.” Nope, it isn’t. Resistance training beats it hands down. Thirty minuteson the cross-trainer is not going to do you much good for burning fat. Many people feel they need to stretch prior to exercise, but there’s no real need to do this unless you just want to relieve some tension from your muscles. It also doesn’t make sense to do cardio training prior to lifting weights. You should just warm-up through lifting lighter weights—specificity is important. You shouldn’t train for more than 45 to 60 minutes. If you are, you are either not training hard enough, or you have too many friends at the gym! Some fixed weight machines are not safe as the health clubs make them out to be. Many are ineffective and potentially dangerous. The leg-extension machine, for example, is not good for your knees, so avoid it! There are plenty of other misconceptions out there, but these are the main ones that I hear fairly consistently.
  • FBG: Say you have a client who has only 20 minutes to train. What do you have them do in that 20 minutes to maintain or make gains in their fitness?
  • MH: I would do one exercise, either squats, deadlifts, chin-ups, pull-ups or dips. That would be an awesome workout! Do ten sets of ten, and that would be better than the majority of workouts lasting more than an hour! We have to choose the exercises that provides the greatest bang for our buck. Tricep kickbacks are useless; front raises are a waste of time. The exercises you want to do are the ones that create the greatest hormonal and metabolic response. The problem is, people won’t do them, as they’re difficult or they don’t know how to do them. I train a 60-year-old grandmother, and she does deadlifts, squats, dips, pull-ups, chin-ups—everything—but she does them at her own level, She doesn’t deadlift 500 pounds, but she lifts at her level. She’s lost more than 30 pounds in a few months and down three dress sizes, and she couldn’t be happier. Focus on what works.
  • FBG: In your e-book, you talk a lot about how bad the concept of dieting is, and we couldn’t agree more. (It’s a four-letter word in our minds!) How can people who are in the cycle of yo-yo dieting break free?
  • MH: Yo-yo dieting is common because people do not set multiple goals. Take the actress Kirstie Alley, who lost 75 pounds and went on Oprah wearing a bikini to show off her new figure. I bet for months she dieted and trained hard to get down to a target weight. Her problem, like so many, was that she didn’t have any other goal apart from that. As soon as she had arrived at her target weight, she stopped exercising and dieting like she had and, consequently,  she began to gain the weight back again as she dived back into her bad habits. This is a journey, not a destination. Oprah did the same thing. Set a target for yourself and incorporate regular exercise and good dietary practices into your lifestyle, and continuously set goals for yourself. You are a product of what you do every day, so make sure you’re doing more to help your weight/fat loss than to hinder it.
  • Mikey & Gwen2_2FBG: You’ve worked with some pretty big names, including Gwen Stefani, who have some pretty amazing bodies (especially abs). How do you get them in such great shape and how strict do you and they have to be to get results?
  • MH: An old saying is that you get out what you put in. The problem is that those disgusting, unethical, greedy, money-driven companies that try and sell you diet pills, food plans, exercise products, etc., all greatly over-promise and under-deliver. The best marketing for weight/fat loss is to promote eating your favorite foods as much as you like, exercise very little, and yet see all your weight and fat melt off in a matter of days! Some of these companies should be ashamed of themselves with their exaggerated claims. I remember in the UK some company was selling chocolate bars with herbal ingredients that burned fat! Now that’s genius: Eat chocolate and lose weight! People bought it though…and got fatter. You want to look like Gwen Stefani? Then you have to train and diet like she does. It’s hard work. Getting in shape, losing fat, dieting and training is not easy, and we have to accept that. It requires daily discipline, organization and motivation, and we’re up against Western society, where we live in a highly stressed environment where we can get high-carb, processed foods cheaply. Portion sizes are out of control, and people are simply eating too much of the wrong foods. I train my clients with weights, very little cardio training,and a diet program that is used by bodybuilders and fitness models. Say what you want about bodybuilders, but they have the highest level of musculature and the lowest levels of body fat than any other athlete, maybe as low as 3 percent. Now many people do not want to look like bodybuilders, but we do want to increase our lean muscle tissue and lose body fat, and those guys are experts at it. We need to model success, follow what works, and the plan I use for my clients is a calorie/carb cycling plan that allows you to eat bread, pasta, potatoes and your treats. Life would be miserable without it. I’ve had incredible success with this plan, as it works and isn’t too stressful. The key is training and dieting smarter and following what works. We have less and less time these days in our busy lives. There’s no point in working hard up the wrong road. Model success. It leaves clues.
  • FBG: What sort of unique challenges are there to personal training bands for tours? How do you get them physically ready to rock the stage?
  • MH: Bands have more responsibility these days. Previously bands made a lot of money from record sales. That’s now no longer the case with iTunes and illegal downloads. They make their money through touring. We are in a recession though, so people have less money to spend, so when they go to see a show, they expect bands to give them everything. I went to see Bruce Springsteen in LA recently. He played for two and half hours. I heard he does over three hours some shows. Do you think he goes out drinking every night? It wouldn’t be possible for him to do his shows the way he does—he’d be cheating the public. Look at No Doubt whom I’m training right now. You would think they’re 22 again. They look incredible and have a high-energy show that the public loves. They’re giving incredible value for money, and they take seriously what they do for a living. It’s not easy on a band touring. It’s tiring and a lot of work every day and isn’t as glamorous as people think, although it does have its moments. You have to make sure the band gets enough rest and recuperation, and you have to balance the workouts correctly. I would not train a client hard on a show day, but on a day off I would, as long as they took sufficient rest. The main challenge is food. On tour, you’re at the mercy of catering, restaurants, etc. You don’t cook for yourself, which is important. There are always treats around every day, so one has to be focused. For myself, I’m hindered by my environment. I can’t train bands in my personal training studio in Edinburgh, Scotland, where I have all the equipment I need and none of the useless equipment that health clubs and hotels have. If we arrive in a new city and need to use the hotel gym, they usually house the same useless equipment. I don’t think I’ve seen one squat rack in any of the hotels I’ve stayed in, but tons of leg extensions! So I have to improvise more, which is frustrating—a bit like a chef not getting to use the great ingredients they would normally use for their signature dishes!
  • FBG: In your e-book, you discourage people from doing crunches. (I hate crunches so that part of the e-book totally made my day.) Why is that and what do you think the most effective ab exercises are?
  • MH: In my studio, if people are doing sit-ups, they are immediately banned and sent straight down to England! Sit-ups are a complete waste of time. Firstly to achieve a “six-pack” your body-fat percentage must be low enough in order to see abdominal development, and this is difficult for most people, so focus on diet is incredibly important. Secondly, what are the abs used for, and why are they there? They’re not used for forward flexion like a sit-up, and how often do we do that every day? Hardly ever. They are used for stabilization of the torso and to resist forces placed upon the body, such as gravity. Look at gymnasts. They don’t do sit-ups, and I would bet they hardly do any direct ab training. Yet they have probably the most incredible abdominal development of any athlete, possibly including bodybuilders. They achieve this through the impact on their abs through their activity. They are constantly rotating and twisting their torsos, and their abs are under incredible stress trying to stabilize their body. I use a decline bench for ab training where I have my clients lower themselves slowly with their backs straight as possible. With more advanced clients, I use weight resistance or throw medicine balls at them as they decline in order to provide extra stress. Cable rotations and woodchoppers are also excellent exercises for ab training, but always remember to be explosive with your initial movement and then slow with your return. Ab rollouts with a gym ball are good too. Remember that the key is diet. Youhave to get the body fat down far enough to see those abs!
  • FBG: Do you always practice what you preach? Be honest (we’re all about moderation up in here), what’s your typical workout week and eating plan like? What are your splurges?
  • MH: Well, I don’t have any lapses in my exercise habits. I love exercising and the feeling I get from it! This is what people really miss out on who don’t exercise. When I run five to six miles in the morning with some hills and sprints, I feel incredible once I’m finished and showered. After I eat breakfast, I feel like I can take on the world! Exercise relieves stress, boosts your positive mood, alleviates depression and gives you plenty of energy. Who doesn’t want that? If you’re training and dieting correctly, it’ll also make you look fantastic! I work out five to six times per week, sometimes twice a day. I may run in the morning and lift weights for 45 minutes in the afternoon. If you can split it up, it’s better for you. I have the luxury to do this, as I train clients in my personal training studio and therefore I don’t have to travel to a gym to work out. It also depends on my schedule. I keep a very tight, meticulous and highly organized scheduled. On the weekends, I may train four times, which allows me to rest during the week when I’m busier with clients, my studio, interviews, etc. We have to choose and fight our battles accordingly! I have a very good diet, but of course like everyone, I love food! I love chocolate, ice cream, bread, pasta, pizza, burritos, pastry, everything! Now do I eat these every day? Of course not. Follow the 90/10 rule, 90 percent of the time your food and fluid intake is very good, and 10 percent you treat yourself. It’s not what you do once in while that will affect you. It’s what you are consistently doing every day. Your habits will show you who you are. So, yes, I eat ice cream, chocolate, etc., but I also plan for it. I take my mother to the movies every Sunday, and sometimes we’ll have ice cream. I make sure for that day I’ve exercised and my diet has been good, then I can eat my ice cream without guilt or it affecting my physique. If you discipline yourself too much you will become miserable and crash, hence the yo-yo syndrome.
  • FBG: In your e-book, you also talk about your love of music when working out. What artists are on your exercise playlist and what songs always pump you up?
  • MH: I have a different playlist for every workout…Did I say I was organized?  I do it the night before on iTunes. Music stimulates us, makes us want to move and dance, and can really help to motivate you for working out. Would I have an athlete train with music when he/she was performing a technical lift? No. But for the general public training, absolutely. I couldn’t train without it. My playlist today included: The Foo Fighters: “Times Like These,” The Kings of Leon: “Use Somebody,” Madonna: “Give It 2 Me,” The Rolling Stones: “Sympathy For The Devil,” The Cure: “In Between Days,” and Elvis Presley: “Tiger Man.”
  • FBG: If you could recommend only one piece of equipment, what would it be and why?
  • MH: That’s easy: a squat rack. Look, the greatest exercise in the world is the squat. No doubt about it. The deadlift perhaps can battle for the number one spot also, but the squat has everything! It uses the most amount of muscle motor units, it requires the greatest amount of hormonal and metabolic stress, expends the most amount of energy, burns the most fat, it’s the most functional exercise (how many times do women squat in a day!), and gives you the greatest bang for your buck, no question. A squat rack can also be used for bench press and various other exercises, so it’s multi-purpose, and yet how many do you see in health clubs? You certainly see more in North America than you do the UK. Health clubs like to look safe, user friendly and appealing to the eye. That’s why they’re filled with ineffective fixed-weight machines: They look safe and easy-to-use. The squat rack, however, looks like a bodybuilder’s piece of equipment. It’s not placed in health clubs because that would mean they would have to hire more qualified staff to teach the squat, deadlift, etc. If you have a lot of cardio equipment and fixed weight machines, then all the health clubs have to do is hire young, inexperienced gym instructors to baby sit and show people how to leg press. That’s the dark side of the fitness industry—Money comes first, not the exercisers.
  • FBG: Any final thoughts or words of wisdom?
  • MH: Commit yourself to regular exercise and sound nutritional habits. Don’t think about it too much, just do it. Get organized, and plan your meals and exercise sessions. Knowledge is everything, but nothing if you don’t apply it. Learn how to exercise correctly so that you get the greatest benefits for your efforts. Cycle your diet so you’re never miserable with dieting, and appreciate that losing weight and getting in shape requires daily commitment, desire and determination. Best wishes to all of you.

Bet you’ll never look at a health club the same way again, eh? I know I’ll start paying more attention to the squat rack. A big thanks to Mike for doing this interview and giving us a sneak peek into what it takes to get that case of awesome. Tomorrow we’ll review Mike’s e-book (he’s going green!), so stay tuned! —Jenn

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  1. Maggie says:

    Oh wow, I’ve never even heard of a squat rack, so I google imaged … yeah I have no idea how to use that.

    EXCELLENT interview! 🙂

  2. Amanda says:

    Excellent interview, but he’s wrong about gymnasts and ab training. We do a ton of core conditioning, including crunches, although it’s not the exercise of choice. There are insane numbers of v-ups, plank holds, hanging leg lifts, handstand holds, back extensions, lying leg (and body) lifts, and more. That’s not containing training that is meant to simulataneously improve core strength and teach body positions, like holding a hollow or an arch on the floor or hanging from a bar, or banana and superman rocks. That said, gymnastics moves in and of themselves are pretty intense conditioning too!

  3. it's a secret says:

    i’m so proud of the peeps at my gym…they advocate all the above info mike gave. this guy is flippin amazing by the way! your guys’ interviews keep getting better and better!

    you can tell he’s passionate just by the length of each response. guy makes me want to get organized!!!

  4. Hi Amanda! What I mean is that gymnasts tend not to do the normal sit-up and crunch style exercises that most people do. Most of their exercises are centered around rotation and stabilization, so yes they do core work for sure, but differently from most gym users.

  5. Leah says:

    Great interview! I love his unique and educated opinion. That is definately not the advice/instruction you would get at any regular gym. Sometimes I feel like I am more knowledgeable about some topics than my trainer is.

    I can’t wait to read your review of Michael’s e-book! AWESOME!


  6. Kat says:

    I would love to use the squat rack but find that my back is sore afterwards and my knees hurt. What can I do to avoid this?

  7. Mark says:

    I like this guy. Very honest and knows what he’s talking about. Do you need any help in Scotland? I’d move there and help you train clients haha.

  8. Janet says:

    If diet is the most important part…how much exercise do we really need if we eat clean??

  9. renae says:

    Great interview!!
    I’m so surprised about the squat being the best exercise! Usually I hear that the push up is. Also good to know that cardio before weights is a waste of time….I always jump on the treadmill before my strength training class, woops!

  10. This was so enlightening. I’m trying to get more into weight training and do less cardio, but I still fight the fears that I will bulk up. This was a very convinvincing interview for me to read! I’ll get on those squats now for sure 😉

  11. HI Kat,

    Your technique may be wrong and you’re more than likely doing half squats. You need to squat until your hamstrings touch your calves:


    hope this helps.


  12. Mr Heatlie lives in Scotland so it is hard to imagine how he could train GS in Hollywood each day from so far away.

    I have been Gwen’s personal trainer daily since 2007 and I became her trainer straight off her Sweet Escape tour, right through her 2nd pregnancy and into the best shape of her life that created the “ab-buzz” for her 2009 tour. I have worked with her ever since.

    It is correct that Mr. Heatlie travels as trainer/bodyguard when the band is on the road, arriving just three just weeks before the 2009 US tour.

    Please check your facts before posting articles such as this. These stories constantly misinform the public and openly discredit my five years of hard work with Gwen, and her total commitment to the program that I specially designed for her situation, one that would not only help her shed baby weight, but create a body that would reflect new core-strength development, post-baby, while also allowing her to perform on stage at her very best without injury.

    Inquires may be made to AGK Media Group: assist@agkmedia.com

    1. Jenn says:

      Emailing you now, Katie! 🙂

      –FBG Jenn

  13. Rosy says:

    Good to see other Scottish personal trainers doing well.

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