Interview with Richard Mulder – Lead By Example

Interview with Richard Mulder, strength & conditioning Coach and facility owner. Richard has a lot to share with us including tips on opening a facility of your own, speed and agility training, periodization, and a whole lot more. Let’s get started!

richard mulder interview

Richard Mulder – Strength & Conditioning Coach – Pheonix, Arizona

Rich, thanks for chatting with me for an interview. Im really excited about this, so let’s dive right in. What excites you right now?

Honestly, it’s pretty hard to find something that doesn’t excite me right now!  I have a lot of great athletes doing a lot of great things across so many different sports it’s just a lot of fun. Just the other night, I watched a

Just the other night, I watched a 158-pound man who happens to be 72 years old deadlift 340 pounds which was just incredible.  But, selfishly, I would have to say the thing I’m most excited about right now is the opening of my new facility.

All kinds of great new equipment, an indoor turf, and space to train harder and smarter.

Wow. How would you describe that 72 yr old man in one word?


Richard Mulder 71 year old man deadlift

Walk me through your career and how you got to this point. A short or as long as you want…

Well, my interest in fitness and performance started back while I was in college at West Point.  When I showed up, I thought I was going to be one of the top performing cadets there physically.  But I could not have been more wrong as I was ‘asked’ (told) to do all kinds of things that really stretched the limits of what the human body can do whether it was ruck marching, running, completing obstacle courses, etc.

So, I started to become obsessed with being in shape and, more importantly, being as strong as I possibly could be.  It wasn’t until I was a Platoon Leader in Afghanistan that I really saw the merits of physical fitness because when you are deployed and out on a mission, your physical readiness really can mean the difference between life and death.

After my 5 years in the Army were up, I immediately started attending Arizona State University where I got my Master’s Degree in Exercise and Wellness with a Concentration in Fitness and Conditioning.  Then in 2015 while I was still working on my degree, I opened up Liberty Performance Training as a tiny little 1000 sq ft training studio in a pretty rough neighborhood in Phoenix.

I did absolutely zero marketing for it and saw it primarily as a way to help put me through school until I could follow the usual career progression of graduate assistant, assistant strength coach, blah blah blah.  But, word started to spread as people started seeing results and I went from training only about 8-11 hours a week to over 40.

I have so many different clients that are just so incredible and have really taken care of me.  I have horse trainers who see the benefit of strength and conditioning, beach volleyball players, high school soccer players, softball players, powerlifters, and I even have a national champion winning Argentine Tango couple.  So, it is a pretty eclectic group I work with these days but it makes everything so much fun and we’ve seen a lot of success with all our athletes.

Next month, we are opening up a brand new training facility that will truly reflect what our clients deserve and I am bringing on another coach who I’m very excited about as well!

That’s some serious growth in a short time. What advice would you give to someone opening up their own facility? Anything that they should be aware of?

Every coach or trainer or entrepreneur will run into his or her own problems and snafus but so long as you have a solid plan to weather whatever storm hits, you’ll be ok.  I honestly think the best thing I did was surround myself with people I love and trust.

My coaches and employees are all a major part of my inner circle so not only are they committed to my brand and growing it with me, they know that I am committed to them.  And even though it almost seems a little taboo of a subject, some of the best advice I can offer to people expanding their practice is to PAY YOUR PEOPLE WHAT THEY EARN.

As much as we all like to pretend money is secondary to principle and enjoyment and all that other fun stuff, it is still really important and people deserve to be paid appropriately for the hard work they put in for you.

Always pay your employees before you pay yourself.  You will see the return on the back end.

I honestly think the best thing I did was surround myself with people I love and trust.

What is something in the fitness industry that you wish you knew when you were starting out?

A couple things.  First I wish I would have known the difference between all the different jobs in the field.  There is a HUGE difference between strength and conditioning coaches, personal trainers, athletic trainers, physical therapists, etc…

And I wish I would have really known enough about all the different opportunities to get a little head start on my working knowledge of strength and conditioning.  Which brings me to the next thing I wish I would have known more about: SPEED AND AGILITY TRAINING.

My expertise certainly developed in the weight room around weights.  I knew a lot about functional movements, Olympic lifting, powerlifting, hypertrophy, strength training, etc.  But, I had no clue what I was doing on a turf until I worked an NFL camp with Chip Gosewisch at Fischer Sports.

Then I fell in love with that type of training and made it an integral part of how I train daily.

Richard Mulder interview

I imagine a lot of trainers/coaches don’t include speed & agility because of space limitations. Is there any drills you can do in a small space and anything that would specifically aid in helping out a trainer coach with their clients?

Speed is an easy one to answer even in limited space.  Use resistance bands.  They are so awesome for developing that burst of power that is so necessary in sport.  Agility is a little bit tougher without a decent amount of space.  And this is coming from a person who knows all about limited space since I worked in a tiny little 1000 sq ft studio gym for the first 2 years of starting my own business.

Obviously, increased strength equals increased force production equals better ability to accelerate, decelerate, and change direction so in limited space, your strength training better be extremely important.  But you can also drill agility with ladders and cones even if you don’t have a ton of space.

Take your classic agility drills (5-10-5, T-Test, Illinois Agility, insert whatever drill you want here) and just cut the distance in half.  You’re going to get the same types of improvement even though the distance is shorter.  But, don’t think your kid training for a combine is going to do well on the actual 5-10-5 because he or she has trained on your half-distance drill.  At some point, you absolutely must train the drill.

Go to a park and wear cleats if the weather allows or go to a YMCA basketball court and do the best you can if it’s December in New York.

What’s one book that changed your game and what did you take away from it?

I absolutely loved Dan John’s book Can You Go?  I think part of the reason I loved it so much is because I was reading it during my Master’s program and the language in it was about 1000 times easier to understand than any research article I had forced my way through.

It simplified training so intelligently that I couldn’t put it down and I often go back to it when I feel lost in a program I’m making for someone.  The best little nugget I gleaned from it made its way into my own coaching philosophy as the bedrock of my programming: “adaptation is the king of performance.”

Are you currently reading anything right now?

I am actually reading Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.  I love to write in my spare time, both professionally and as a hobby, and this book is a must read for any budding authors.

Can you talk about a breakthrough with a client, and what led up to it?

I think a lot of times the biggest breakthroughs happen on things that don’t necessarily happen in the gym per se.  The clearest example I’m thinking of right now happened with a 13-year-old female softball player who is beginning to feel and hear the normal high school societal pressures of being ‘too bulky’ or ‘too muscular’ which is, of course, ridiculous.

I personally try to be a strength coach that people feel comfortable talking to and telling their problems to so I stopped the session where we were and talked for a good 10-15 minutes about why athletes are different than non-athletes, why that’s ok, and why in a couple years when she is raking in that softball scholarship and she still looks fit, trim, and athletic she’ll realize it’s ok to operate outside societal norms every now and then.

Also, there is no such thing as a hater who is doing better than you.  Since then, she has rededicated herself to her workouts, hit the gym harder on her own, and she’s crushing it on the field.

Liberty Performance training

Great story and advice! Working with kids, is there on big challenge or obstacle for them that you consistently run into?

There are a lot of problems you run into!  But generally, you see the same problems with kids that you do with adults and they usually center around distractions.  For many adult athletes or clients, working out and training is either a job they see a return on in the form of money from their sport or it’s an escape from the mundane 9-5 they work Monday to Friday.

For kids, it’s neither of those.  So it can either be fun and rewarding or it can turn into just another source of pressure.  Helping them figure out how to prioritize the things in their life and guiding them into healthy habits is the first step in getting them to buy into your programming.

What are your top 3 favorite questions that you ask a new client? Your top 3 questions for someone you’ve been training for a while?

Top 3 for a new client: (1) What kind of workouts are you doing now?  (2) What kind of workouts have worked for you in the past? (3) What is one time in your life you felt immensely proud of something you accomplished?

Top 3 for a client I’ve been training for a while: (1) What did you eat for breakfast?  (2) How’s your family?  (3) Want to try and out-deadlift me?  😊 😊 😊

Hah! Has any client out deadlifted you or tried to?

I’ve got some people chasing me right now for sure, but I’ve still got the Liberty record at 540 on video (talk to me a year from now, it will be 600…  I think…) 😊

Hitting one rep maxes aren’t really that important for most people’s actual performance, but I’ve got a female powerlifter/strongwoman who already holds a national deadlift record in her division of the Natural Athlete Strength Association.

She hit a 379 pound deadlift the other day (check out my Instagram for the video) and I promised her a steak dinner if she breaks the 400-pound mark so she’s motivated to get there!

Steak is very motivating. How has your programming changed since last year?

I think the biggest change to my programming has been the way that I organize it and lay it out for myself as well as my clients.  I never used to take the time to explain the difference between macrocycles and mesocycles to anyone but now I do and my clients have a visible roadmap of where we are now, where we want to end up, and a plan for how to get there.

How do you string your mesocycles together?

I’ll give you the best answer a strength coach can possibly give anyone in response to any question: ‘It depends.’  I take my programming very seriously so the first step is looking at the big picture which usually involves taking a look at when an athlete is in or out of season, when they’re on vacation, when they’re in school, etc.

And then (more importantly, in my opinion) looking at their individual strengths and weaknesses or if you’re coaching a team looking at where your team needs to improve the most.  And here is where I kind of stray from the traditional path of many other strength coaches.

Many coaches will set their macro cycle and determine their power/strength/taper/whatever phases and then stick to them very rigidly.  I like testing after each mesocycle and seeing if we achieved what we set out to achieve.  If we didn’t, and the goal of that particular mesocycle was important to us, then I relook the program and if it’s possible, I rewrite it to try and achieve that adaptation over again.

I’m not sure my way is any better or worse but I have seen success with it so I’m going to keep on trucking.

Has there been any recent continuing education that you really enjoyed?

Nick Winkelman gave a great talk on external coaching cues and using the environment to assist in correcting movement patterns at one of our last regional clinics that I loved.  I have definitely used a few of his ideas to fix improper hinges in a few of my clients.

I saw Nick a few times last year too – amazing. What cues did you pick up from him that really work well for the hinge? Did you come up with any on your own that worked well?

Nick was just so smart.  Loved everything he had to say and he had A LOT to say.  😊  I think the best stuff I got from him was how manipulating the environment around you in order to produce a more perfect movement pattern can be so much more effective than verbal cueing.

One example I have used from him is in a kettlebell swing if someone is having trouble keeping their chest up, just put them in front of a wall and tell them not to hit it.  No one has hit the wall yet.  I have always been a much more external-cue focused coach but I have absolutely loved integrating the environment into my ‘cues.’

Having trouble keeping your knees behind your toes in a squat?  Put your toes up against a big box and don’t let your knees touch it throughout the movement.  Having trouble getting your knees up in your sprint?  Repeats up a hill.  Having trouble with the bar path on a bench press?  Put a piece of tape on your chest where the bar should hit every time and hit that.

There are so many ways to get people to move more effectively and the best of them involve very little speaking.

richard mulder interview farmers carry

Brilliant and easy to implement. What’s something else that you think is really easy, but works well with many of your clients/athletes?

Especially with the younger crowd, one of my favorite things to do is record them and show them their lifts or drills in slow motion.  It is really easy to pick apart every minor detail with them and it helps my coaching cues hit home when they get to watch what it is they’re actually doing.

Rich, thanks so much for this! As always, I’ve learned a ton and I think our readers have too. Any parting advice for us?

Tough question…  I could go with the normal stuff: don’t compromise, work hard, be yourself, have fun, yada yada.  But that sucks so I’ll say for any athlete or person who is in training that is seeing this to try and find a better balance in your life.

You can’t take anything you make or do in this life with you when it’s all over so make sure you enjoy yourself too.  Try to figure out what makes you happy in the moment and then do that more than you’re doing now.  For any coach or trainer that is seeing this I would like to say to take a look at strongman movements.  I have made them a huge part of my training and programming regardless of the population I’m working with and I’ve seen a huge return.

There is a stupid stigma of injury surrounding them that discourages coaches from using them, but treat them like any other exercise (study them, understand them, don’t overdo them) and you will see strength, power, and motivation returns.

Push a truck every now and then, press a log, carry heavy shit for a while, and pick up an atlas stone.

And finally, the most important advice I could ever give anyone attempting to make any sort of a difference in anyone’s life: LEAD BY EXAMPLE.

How do we get in contact with you?

Feel free to follow or link up with me on Twitter @MulderRich but beware you will get a healthy dosage of my own personal feelings on plenty of things outside the training realm.

You can also check out the great things our athletes are doing in Phoenix on our Instagram page @libertyperformance or our Twitter page @LibertyPerfTrng!

Thank you!!!

Resources Mentioned:

Dan John Can You Go?

Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Nick Winkelman – Coaching Movement