Episode #28: Coach PJ Nestler, Director of Performance at Velocity Sports Performance

PJ Neslter is the Director of sports performance at Velocity SP in Irvine, CA.

He works with a wide variety of athletes, including some of the best fighters and grapplers in the world.

He has developed a unique plan of attack that he uses to help his athlets get stronger, faster and more explosive without overreaching and burning out.


In this episode we discuss:

  • Assessing an NEW athlete
  • The foundation of Speed and Power
  • Monitoring recovery between sessions
  • Using different types of workouts throughout the week
  • Coordinating with other coaches
  • and more.

If you’re interested in talking with PJ, you ca contact him here:

Instagram: @coachpjnes24

Also check out PJ’s articles that he has written for fightcampconditioning.com:

6 Ways to Improve Explosiveness for MMA

8 Ways to Recover From Your Toughest Workouts

4 Part Warm Up for Brazillian Jiu Jitsu


Full Transcription of Our Podcast with PJ Nestler 

COREY:         Hey guys, this is Corey Beasley with Fight Camp Conditioning. I’m on the phone here with PJ Nestler. Coach PJ, how’re you doing bud?

PJ:    I’m doing great Corey, how are you?

COREY:         Good man, thanks so much for joining us. I appreciate you taking time out of your schedule.

PJ:    Yeah, thanks for having me.

COREY:         Yeah of course, but PJ, just to give everybody a quick idea of who you are and what you’re doing, give us your two minute version of who you are and what you’re doing.

PJ:    I’m the Sports Performance Director over at STACK Velocity Sports Performance in Irvine, California. So I run all the training programs and everything there at that training center. And I work with a wide variety of athletes. I work with primarily combat sports athletes, hockey players and football players. But I still work with a variety of athletes in high school and college athletes of a wide variety of sports and I oversee all the programs for all the athletes that we work with over there.

COREY:         Right on. And how long you’ve been doing that for?

PJ:    I’ve been the Performance Director over there for almost four years now. When I moved out here to California just over about four and a half years ago, I was a trainer out there for a couple months and then I got promoted to Performance Director about six months into being there. So I’ve been Performance Director there ever since.

COREY:         That’s awesome, dude. So you oversee how many athletes coming to your place?

PJ:    In the summertime months right now, it’s crazy. We have hundreds of athletes in and out of our facility and we start training athletes at ages eight and up. So we run group classes for elementary school, middle school, high school athletes, and then we’ve trained collegiate athletes and then professional athletes from a wide variety of sports and then we also have some general fitness type clients. So I’ve got a staff of eight performance coaches that work underneath me and they’re all pretty much full time employees so we have a good amount of athletes coming in and out every day.


COREY:        It’s awesome. So PJ, when you’re overseeing hundreds of athletes coming to your place, obviously there’s different ages, there’s different ability levels, there’s different goals for different sports. What’s the first step guys walk through your door, they’re wanting to get bigger, stronger, faster, what do you guys do day one?

PJ:    We take everybody through performance testing evaluation. We’ve got integrated assessment that’s come through the velocity system and it’s a pretty in depth assessment, but it gives us a great snapshot of where athletes are when they start. So everybody who comes through the door they go through that. After we sit down, we do an initial consultation where we have different intake forms. We’ve got some basic athlete profile forms that we go through, injury history and then I have a fighter intake form, it’s a little bit more in depth when I work with combat athletes. But then we take them through the integrated assessment which has the FMS. I’ve actually got a couple of other ones from the SFMA where we can assess all their movement qualities, and then they go through performance testing, where we’ll test vertical jump, testing their power output, we’ll do some speed testing, we’ll do some agility testing, quickness, we do a grip strength measurement. So we’ve got a lot of different performance tests in there to give us a kind of a snapshot of who they are as an athlete and give us a baseline for where they’re starting from so we can track progress.


COREY:         Right on. That’s awesome. So what are some common things that you’re seeing with different people that are coming through, just maybe like common weaknesses, tightness, like little holes in their game so to speak that you’re seeing across the board? I know a lot of times these days people are so sedentary and especially with your combat guys, I know there’s a lot of common things that we’ll see with our athletes that are coming through the door. What kind of things are you seeing with those guys?

PJ:    I’d say in general our athletes, biggest area they’re lacking is most of them are just not strong enough. Most of them come in our door – Velocity [inaudible] is well known for speed training, we’ve got a very elite speed training protocols and we’ve done a lot of good things in the past decade in speed training. So a lot of the athletes that come through our doors are looking to get faster but they don’t understand that speed is a function of strength, and most of them don’t even have the strength to control their bodies, let alone produce the force necessary to run really fast. So that’s one of the biggest problems we see with our general athletes is most people are just not strong enough. So that’s kind of really our baseline that we start people on. But with our combat sports athletes, a lot of them it’s kind of the opposite. I get a lot of combat athletes that are very strong. A lot of them have come from a wrestling background or whatever where they do a lot of fundamental, conventional type strength training and that’s what they’ve done their whole career but they’ve never really had a legitimate strength and conditioning coach who knows how to apply those things the right way and a lot of them we kind of see that they lack speed and power aspect. So I’ve had a lot of athletes I’ve worked with who are very, very strong but they don’t produce force quickly. So that’s one of my biggest things I work with a lot of athletes on.


COREY:         Right on. Now when guys are coming in and you’re measuring their strength levels, what are some tests that you guys do to measure strength?

PJ:    We use a grip strength test, and there’s a lot of research behind using grip strength for not only upper body strength but also full body strength, there’s a lot of correlation there. So we use that test just because it’s such an easy measurement. Unfortunately, in our situation we get a lot of athletes who are coming in getting ready for a tournament, a lot of fighters coming in and they say hey, I got seven weeks till I’m fighting. So we don’t have the luxury of taking people through a 1RM Max Test on a bunch of different strength exercises. So we use the grip strength test because it’s very simple and there’s a lot of correlation there.

And then with my fighters, I’ll use some different — I’ll do a Max Pull Up Test, I’ll do a kneeling med ball toss so I can get some kind of sense of their upper body strength and upper body power, and then relative upper body strength with the pull up test.


COREY:         Right on. So I know a lot of people these days with social media and all the different YouTube and all these different things, there’s a lot of different videos and ideas and things like that that are out there floating around the web. Can you talk a little bit about the importance of strength and how that converts to power just so people are super clear. I think maybe people think they understand what power is, it’s being powerful. But can you just really easily describe the difference between strength and power?

PJ:    Yeah absolutely. Strength is such a huge component of athleticism. I think people hear the word strength and they get lost on conventional strength, they think that in order to be strong, you have to be squatting a lot, deadlifting a lot, bench pressing a lot. But really, that’s not the case. Those are great exercises and I utilize all of that stuff in my strength programs but at the end of the day, most of my athletes I really don’t care how much weight they can back squat. There’s a lot of other stuff and the term “functional strength” has gone around a lot as well. But when I use the term functional strength that I’m talking about being strong in a wide variety of positions through all different planes of motion, the way that you’re going to use your body in sport,. But ultimately, power is a function of strength, and only produces as much force as the engine allows.

So everybody uses the car analogy, but I think it’s such a great analogy. If you come in and —plyomteric for example is a great way to [inaudible] power and elastic power. But some people get lost on plyometrics and I bring in and we start off with plyometric training I can get you to be able to produce as much power as possible in a short amount of time but then you’re going to plateau right there because there’s no progression from that. The only way that gets you to be able to produce more power is to increase the size of the engine, so you got to put on some more strength and then we got to teach you how to use that strength rapidly so that you could produce more power. So that’s something that’s really lost and a lot of people in terms of speed training, it’s really lost a lot of people in terms of fighting ability, everybody starts to think that everything’s got to be fast, everything has to be mimicking the sport and everything has to be so rapid, but there’s a lot of ways to improve strength and power at the same time. And if you’re programming properly, you can improve those two things because there’s a huge correlation behind how much strength and force you exert and how much power you can put out.


COREY:         Right on. I think you’ve made a good point of having strength and power in a variety of positions and situations. I think outside of typical squat deadlift bench press and dumbbell lifts and stuff like that and then you also talked about plyometrics which is obviously just a lot of time to stand on your feet. What are some other tools or other drills that you’re using to develop strength and power with your guys?

PJ:    When it comes to my combat athletes I use a lot of some advanced methods just in my program. I’ll do a lot of different contrast type of strength training where I’ll do heavy loaded lifts with fast explosive plyometric lifts, where we’re really working on building strength and then transitioning that to explosive power. But I like to use a lot of different unilateral single leg movements, single arm movements, we use a lot of dumbbells, a lot of bands to get people moving in different planes of motion. We’re blessed enough to have tons of space. We use the prowlers I think probably one of my favorite tools because it’s so versatile and you can do so much different stuff and you can load up movements through different planes of motion. So that’s one of my favorite tools we could use.

We do a lot of explosive upper body pulls on the prowler with the GRX, single, double arm and just different ways to really get your whole body in involved generating powering, get outside of tween bench and squat which is kind of the conventional standpoint which is what a lot of people still do. And I was guilty of it when I was a college strength coach that was the basis of our program. But luckily, I’ve learned a lot of new things and a lot of different ways to generate strength and power that really can help a lot of our athletes and fighters feel strong and powerful in every condition.


COREY:         Right on. PJ, so a lot of the educational books and programs and stuff like that, [inaudible] talk about linear programming and linear progressions, meaning you’ll do like stability work and strength blocks and power blocks and some people might block different aspects of the strength and conditioning program together. And there’s also a nonlinear thought process where you might be doing lower intensity days, higher intensity days and a mix of those throughout the week. What are your thoughts on progressing, like using different workouts at different periods of time during the camp?

PJ:    I really like the nonlinear undulating types of blocks. That’s what I use with most of my athletes. I usually will use kind of a concurrent periodization model where I have a primary focus block of that training period. Now let’s say it’s strength or hypertrophy where I’m going to be training that quality and then I’m always going to be training at dynamic effort day so I’m always training speed and power. So using that type of system you get away from the people having the negative connotations of heavy loaded strength stuff and then movements are slow and it slows you down. But we’re always training that dynamic effort where we’re training very lightweight and very, very high movement velocity. So we’re [distortion/inaudible] constantly as you build up that strength, how to translate that strength into explosive power. So that’s been one of the most effective systems that I’ve used. And I also like it for my fighters because it allows me, like you said, some higher intensity days, some lower intensity days. And especially in a camp, you never know, they might plan Monday as a high intensity day, Wednesday as a lighter intensity and then all of a sudden, they end up sparring and going all out on Wednesday and it throws your whole training week off.

COREY:         Yeah exactly.

NESTLER:    But when I have that undulated model, I can just mix and match. I might take our lower intensity day for Friday and move it to Wednesday to allow us to still get some work in without having a whole day just be a waste.


COREY:         Right, absolutely. As far as coordinating so you’ve got your higher intensity days, you’ve got your lower intensity days. As far as coordinating with skill training, how are you coordinating your workouts with the skill training that they’re doing outside your gym?

NESTLER:    I’m really blessed in my situation because I think that’s one of the biggest mistakes that fighters are making is they don’t have anybody coordinating and planning those things and you have a bunch of coaches that are not communicating. But I’m really lucky, the two of the fighters that I work with, their manager Ryan Parsons, he does all the coordination schedules, coordinates with all the skills coaches. He sends out [inaudible] getting ready for a fight August 1, and we’ve got a chain email between Brian, myself, a whole bunch of other coaches, where we can communicate every day on different things that are going on. So he plans out the whole map of what it’s going to look like. So it makes it really easy for me to — he sends me the training schedule and I just fill in my blocks of what days are your higher intensity, what days are lower intensity, and then we just can all discuss that stuff. So it makes it really easy to communicate. I don’t think a lot of fighters are lucky enough to have somebody do that for them. And I think a lot of times, that becomes the strength and conditioning coach’s job to map that out but I’m really fortunate in my situation to have Ryan does all that stuff.

COREY:         That’s cool. Yeah, that makes it way easy, han?

NESTLER:    That’s [inaudible]


COREY:         That’s very cool. Very cool. As you guys are going through the camp, you have the coordination with Ryan, you’ve got the skill coaches, you’ll work out. How are you guys monitoring progress and recovery of that athlete during the camp?

NESTLER:    So I use monitoring something that I’ve been playing around with a lot really find the best system, read a lot of good stuff that other people are using but I haven’t been able to implement those things in our setting just based on equipment or lack of resources or lack of staff to do all the testing. But what I found to help me a lot is, we have a jump mat that just jumps system and we’ve been using 4 jump test, so that establishes a baseline on that 4 jump test, then it gives us a reactive strength index if you’re familiar with the 4 jump test on there. So I have a baseline for where pad is at. And every day he comes in, he does his dynamic warm up and we jump on the jump mat and I give him one or two trials and I see how his number relates to his average. So I can watch and that allows me to monitor neurological fatigue. So if he comes in one day and his numbers have dropped way low, because a lot of times I’ll ask them well, I always use subjective feedback but I might see that he doesn’t have a lot of power, he’s really fatigue. Maybe I ask [inaudible] your sleep last night, ended up scoring an extra couple rounds. So I had planned a speed and power session that day. And I really wouldn’t get much out of that session and I’d probably end up overtraining him. So I can change whatever our workout was to maybe a little more strength that day or maybe we just do a recovery workout. So that’s one of the systems that I’m using for monitoring along with the subjective feedback. I don’t think you can ever really beat the subjective feedback and asking people — I really have a conversation. I got to get away from how do you feel because every fighter is going to say, I feel great. And then when you really [inaudible] you find out that he hadn’t slept for three days, he broke up with his girlfriend, he got [inaudible] whining earlier and all kinds of stuff. So you really got to dig deep and ask a couple of pointed questions where you can find out some more information. Obviously, the information is power when it comes to us.


COREY:         Yeah absolutely. That’s killer, that’s awesome stuff, man. It sounds like you got the system pretty dialed over there, you got a good team of people that are working with you and it sounds like you’re in a great spot PJ, you’re doing good.

NESTLER:    Yeah I’m really blessed, we’re in a good situation there. And this is what I love to do working with these fighters. And I appreciate people like you who are going out there and sharing information because that’s awesome. And that’s really how I think the entire sport of MMA is going to evolve by coaches and trainers who are out there trying to get better and share best practices.

COREY:         Absolutely. Well, cool man. Well PJ, if people want to touch base with you and maybe get in touch or learn more from you, what’s the best way for them to reach out?

NESTLER:    So they could reach out — I’m actually in the process of putting the final stages on my website where I’ll be putting up the information. There’ll be a contact page there for me, that’s just coachpjnestler.com and then you can also find me on Instagram at coachpjnes24. And if they want to email me directly, you can shoot me an email at my work email, which is [email protected].

COREY:         Right on. And guys, I’ll put that all down below the podcast here and you guys will be able to touch base with him. But PJ, thanks so much for your time, man. I really appreciate it. I’ll let you get back to your day and we’ll hear again from you soon.

NESTLER:    All right Corey, thanks for having me.