Strength Coach Mike Boyle Shares His Best Fitness and Diet Advice

Mike Boyle has been coaching and training people for many years. He has worked with clients ranging from total beginners to world-class athletes like the Boston Red Sox and Bruins.

The founder of Body by Boyle is in his 70s, but he is still more active than many trainers that are decades younger than he is. Boyle’s also still seeing a lot of success. His philosophy is simple: the client as a person matters more than the objects being moved or the trainer’s preferences and ego.

Boyle credits one piece of advice he learned in his younger years that he carries with him in his career as a trainer and coach today: “We don’t coach weights, we coach people.” Boyle shared that sound advice with MH, along with some more insights on nutrition, training, and more that can help a lot of people save steps on their road to wellness.

Who would you consider a fitness mentor, and what was one piece of advice you received from that mentor?

Johnny Parker was a longtime strength coach for the Patriots and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I remember him saying “we don’t coach weights, we coach people.” I really remember that because I was young and I realized that your connection to people is what’s going to make you successful. That is missing in fitness because way too many people are into themselves. We tell our coaches all the time that they have to be into the clients. If you pay more attention to the client’s needs or the athlete’s needs, you’re going to be pretty successful.

What is the first piece of advice you would share with a new client if that person wanted to lose weight?

This is going to sound incredibly stupid, but eat less. Many people think they have something drastically wrong with them like a metabolic disorder or something unique. What we found most of the time is that people simply eat too much. The number one thing is to make the conscious decision to eat less.

Is there a particular diet or food plan that you feel more people should try to lose weight?

I’m particularly a fan of intermittent fasting. I’ve done several presentations over the years, and unfortunately, when you say “eat five small meals a day,” they hear “eat five meals a day.” They don’t hear the word “small.”

Whereas with intermittent fasting, people can and will speak against it, but when you tell people to eat less meals less frequently, you have a good chance to reduce total calories. Ultimately, that is what is going to get you in the right direction.

What is one mistake that people could stop making in order to see positive changes?

Another good piece of advice I’d gotten is to not drink your calories. We’ve had really good success with people who had failed to notice the quantity of liquid calories going into their system. It could range from beer to wine to coffee. There’s a lot of ways that calories slip into your diet without you thinking that you’re eating.

What is one thing people could start doing to improve their chances of success?

Many folks don’t take in enough protein. I think that’s because they don’t know what protein sources are. They don’t explore the unadulterated world of protein. People that are struggling probably don’t understand that they need to have protein with every meal.

Would you rather people eat their protein sources or do you feel protein shakes would be an acceptable form of drinking calories?

I’m okay with protein shakes as long as people can understand that the shake is the meal. When you’re trying to lose weight, you’re trying to restructure the relationship with food. It’s incredibly psychological. There’s a big difference between a double mocha latte and a protein shake.

I really like the Precision Nutrition program by John Berardi. Getting people to change their behaviors, like accepting that a protein shake is a meal instead of a part of one, is what it takes to be successful. That is as opposed to putting them on a diet or saying they can only eat this.

What is your personal favorite protein shake recipe?

I like a combination of vanilla whey protein, frozen bananas, ice cubes, a little almond milk, organic psyllium fiber, glutamine, and a greens product that doesn’t make your shake taste like grass clippings. That isn’t easy to find, but they’re out there.

How can people who are new to fitness figure out what information is sound and what should be ignored?

You have to develop a filter while you’re trying to learn. Really try to look for reputable sources. A friend of mine likes to say “you have to look for someone who’s been there, done that, and is still doing it.” That is a really good way to qualify the information you’re studying. Look for people that have had success doing this, not just with themselves, but with other people as well. They should still be involved with it too.

What is the biggest myth or misunderstanding that you feel should be corrected when it comes to losing weight?

The biggest misunderstanding is that you can exercise to lose weight. Particularly for women, they feel forced to do hours and hours of cardio without looking at the caloric expenditure of what they’re doing.

I think people should do total-body workouts every day.

A year ago, I posted a picture on my Instagram of a ball-peen hammer and a sledgehammer. I wrote that diet is the sledgehammer and exercise is the ball-peen hammer. Most people have it completely backwards. I’m pro exercise, but people have believed that it’s a great weight loss tool, and it’s really not because it takes a lot of effort to burn a small amount of calories.

You’ve worked with clients ranging from beginners to elite athletes. What is one exercise that you feel the vast majority of people should be doing, regardless of experience?

This is going to surprise a lot of people because I’m viewed as the “anti-squat” guy, but if we’re talking about general fitness, I would say a squat. If you want something that is going to provide a lot of bang for the buck, a goblet squat is a really good place to start.

Why are you not a fan of the traditional barbell back squat?

I don’t think it’s a great exercise from a spinal stress standpoint. However, a goblet squat could be beneficial for beginners or people looking to improve overall fitness. The goblet squat is great because you have to use the upper body to support the load. On the back squat, the bar is sitting on the shoulders. Even though you’re holding it, the upper body isn’t as involved.

What have you found to be the biggest mistake beginners make in the gym, and how can they correct it?

They work on the mirror muscles. Since this is Men’s Health, we’ll talk about men for this. They’ll walk on the treadmill for five minutes, bench, do a couple curls, then go home. Realistically, you couldn’t come up with a worse program than that.

As for correcting it, I think people should do total-body workouts every day. I feel they should abandon body part workouts. They’re still way too many people training like it’s 1985. With our adult clients, it’s total-body sessions each workout.

What is the format that you follow with these total-body workouts?

Basically, we do push, pull, legs, core. If we can get someone to go in and perform one pushing movement, one pulling movement, one lower body exercise, and something for the core, we’ve touched all the bases.

Now, if you went in and did chest one day, then shoulders, then arms, but you don’t go back the rest of the week, you missed the back and the lower body. As strength coaches, we fight human nature for a living. People are always going to be drawn towards what they like or what is easy. Our job is to bring them towards things that are good for them. Just getting people to do things like a total-body workout will make a big difference.

Do you have any cardio workouts that could help people challenge themselves without taking too much time?

I like the air bike, myself. I’m talking about those that pedal and the handles go back and forth. You can do a lot of work in a little amount of time. Someone starting out could start by doing 10 seconds of hard effort followed by 20 seconds of rest. Do that eight times in a row, and within four minutes, you’ve done a pretty intense workout. That is the Tabata training backwards. People more advanced could do that workout the opposite way with the 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest.

What should people be doing every day to maintain or improve overall wellness as they age?

I think everyone should be foam rolling and stretching when they go to the gym. The recommendation I like is that they should do that one day for every decade they’ve been alive. A 40-year old should stretch and roll four days a week, someone in his or her 50s would for five days a week, and so on. I like for people to roll on the cuffs – hip cuffs and rotator cuffs. Those are two areas where we hold tension. Rolling those and the T-spine would do a world of good. As for stretches, I like the seated “v”, where you sit with legs straight as far apart as possible. Most people are losing their ability to move on the frontal plane. We also like doing pigeon variations like in yoga. In general, we want people to stretch their hamstrings, adductors, hip rotators and hip flexors.

What strategies could someone use to help determine whether a personal trainer is good to work with?

I think you stalk them a little bit. Go in and watch them when they don’t know it. That’s easier to do in a big box gym than in a setting like mine. Are they into the client or themselves? Are they paying attention or are they on their phones? I think that too often, we pick trainers by how they look. It’s not a beauty contest. You want to find someone that can actually help you. You want someone that wants to help you get better.

How important is setting goals, and what type of goals matter most?

I think it can be very important, but you have to know what the goal is. If you look at the research, people that set goals are more successful than people who don’t. Most people have very unrealistic goals. If it was me the client was working with, the goal I would focus on is going eight for eight this month. Come twice a week for the next four weeks with no misses. That is goal number one. If we can start with the habit of coming in and not missing, then we’re going to start making great progress, and we can think about goals that most people think of that are tangible.

Many people struggle with motivation and training on days that aren’t perfect. How do you suggest people move forward when a day like that comes?

I call this checking the box. You don’t have to set the world on fire. Just make sure you at the very least get that box checked today. Again, this is fighting human nature. Someone thinks “I don’t feel great.” What does that person do? Skip the workout. In actuality, that’s the worst thing you can do. Whatever you do, don’t leave that box unchecked. There have been times I literally told my athletes to just go through the motions. That may be counterproductive in the eyes of some trainers, but it can be beneficial sometimes to just go in, do a couple pushes, a couple of pulls, a leg exercise, and something for the abs. Just don’t miss a day. It just keeps coming back to just showing up.

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