Meet PJ Nestler, XPT’s New Director of Performance
Meet Coach PJ Nestler, a human performance specialist with over a decade of experience preparing top athletes for competition. His life mission is to help athletes and coaches realize their true potential.
With a passion for sports and a commitment to excellence, PJ has become a leader in sports performance training. He has trained dozens of athletes from the NFL, NHL and MLB and has worked extensively with over 100 fighters, including multiple Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu World Champions and Top 10 ranked UFC fighters.
Through the application of his progressive training philosophy and unique approach to every situation, Coach PJ continues to raise the bar for fitness professionals. He has emerged as a sought-after expert in human performance and trainer education. We couldn’t be more thrilled to have him on the XPT team, as the new Director of Performance!
XPT: How did you get into this business?
PJ: I’ve been into fitness since I was in middle school. I played sports, started lifting weights and got really into body building work when I was younger. I became obsessed with fitness magazines and strength and conditioning books for sports, particularly football. Fitness was always a passion of mine and how I spent my free time after school.
Eventually, I went to college for business because I didn’t think I could make a career out of my fitness interests. I played college football and worked with the school’s strength and conditioning coach. That’s really when I was opened up to the path of working with athletes and where it all started to come together for me.
XPT: What’s your personal approach to fitness?
PJ: My current fitness approach is to be active in areas I’m not comfortable with, always switching up my routine and constantly pushing my body to re-adapt. This is why I align so well with XPT. The program is rooted in dynamic stressors and human adaptation. Being able to maintain a well-balanced body and mind allows me endless opportunity.
For example, if I want to go stand up paddle boarding and I have never done it before, I can quickly learn, adapt and jump right in. This idea fits in alignment with what Laird says, “don’t be a liability,” be flexible enough to be able to jump into any new activity presented to you and forget any limitations or negative construct holding you back. That being said, my personal regimen now is really a lot of XPT. Twice a week I do the XPT pool training, once or twice a week I do ice-heat therapy in the sauna and ice bath, and then I do gym training two to three times a week.
XPT: Tell us about new your role with XPT and the plans you’re developing.
PJ: My job with XPT is to take all of the great concepts and methods that we are exposing people to at the XPT Experiences and put them into an easy to understand system for coaches and trainers to apply on a local level. This system not only educates, but provides reasoning behind our methods so that they can effectively communicate and teach their clients.
We want to bring these theories and methodologies to a broader audience, so we can create a massive impact on not only the people who get to come to the Experiences, but others as well. By certifying and teaching trainers and coaches, they can then influence the hundreds or thousands of people they end up training or being in contact with. It’s exciting!
We receive messages from people at all fitness levels telling us how much this system has benefitted them. That inspires me every day. From athletes performing at the highest levels to the more general fitness types, these individuals send messages sharing that what we did with them changed their outlook on life and now they are able to be active and move in ways they never did. Over the course of 11 years, those personal messages really kept me going and that’s what led me to start my own education program and get involved with XPT, so we can make the same impact on coaches and trainers and change their lives.
XPT: What are the challenges with coaching other coaches? Is there a message you try to drive home when it comes to certifying XPT trainers?
PJ: One of the biggest challenges with certifying coaches is providing something that is unique enough and new to them, without challenging too much of what they already believe. At XPT, we don’t believe in only taking one stance or method with performance training. XPT is more of an evolving lifestyle system, which is one of the biggest benefits.
It’s also a unique and exciting challenge to structure a system out of something where the entire premise behind it is constantly evolving and changing. That makes XPT so unique and beneficial for trainers of so many different levels and specialties. If we were developing a system that was geared toward vertical jump training only, for example, the coaches who train athletes who are looking at improving their vertical jump are only going to care about our offering. However, XPT is based on a holistic lifestyle program that’s applicable for high performance athletes, all the way down through general weight loss or people who just want to have fun, be fit and healthy. It’s so applicable across the whole spectrum.
XPT: How do you prepare your athletes mentally for competing and how does ego come into play?
PJ: One of the most important components in being a successful athlete is mental training. I will incorporate mental training into my client’s regimen, which includes specific breathing techniques to help re-center and get their mind off of distractions. It’s not a separate practice, but it’s an understanding of where their focus is throughout different times.
Then, in training, I like to apply different elements of chaos or stress. Whether that’s physical stress or mental stress, I try to throw them off their game, which helps them to develop a resilience that enables them to control their emotions, control their thoughts and focus on the task at hand.
Because I work exclusively with fighters at this point in my career, the mindset side of the sport is arguably by far the most important component. Ego can be a great driver, especially for fighters to help with their confidence. You know you’re going to get in the cage and fight another trained fighter, so you need to have the ego and the confidence to think that you are the best fighter in the world.
When it comes to the training side it really comes down to having an athlete who can check their ego at the door and understand how to be humble so that they can be coachable. They need to be able to quiet down their ego and listen to their bodies to avoid getting hurt. It’s about them knowing and understanding when to turn that on and when to turn that off; being able to turn it on when you step into the cage and have to go fight another person, but being able to turn it off when you’re in the training room. They have to realize that we don’t need to win the fight today in the gym and get hurt in doing so, but rather, we need to win on fight night.
XPT pool training is another activity that helps develop a mindset of resilience. Even if you’re the best MMA fighter in the world, the pool is a new environment. You will need to be humbled as a beginner, accept it and not let it stress you out or drive you further down a path of anxiety. The same is true for all XPT participants.
XPT: How do you use performance breathing with your athletes? Share with us some success stories.
PJ: We use XPT Performance Breathing™ in pretty much everything we do in life; I teach it from day one with my athletes. Every client that I work with learns performance breathing from day one and then we incorporate it from there on.
The first thing they do when they arrive is breathing, so we use the breathing to oxygenate and warm up the respiratory muscles to get everything ready for the work we are about to do. Then we work to reset the breathing patterns, because a lot of times people come in and they are running late, they got stuck in traffic, they are stressed out and they are hyperventilating. So, we channel that anxiety and take two minutes to reset that breathing pattern, calm everything back down, bringing your focus back into the training session. This is something that they can take with them to combat stress.
We also use specific breathing protocols during our training, whether its breathing designed to challenge them in different ways during the training itself, or breathing designed to help them recover in between exercises. There’s breathing that’s specific to an actual exercise or circuit where I’ll give them specific instructions, for example, “we’re going to do this circuit: nose breathing only or I want you to breathe through your nose on this one but when we finish each round you can breathe in the nose and out the mouth to recover your heart rate.” I will give them specific points to bring awareness to in their breathing so that they understand where they are and the overall goal.
We’ve gotten to a point now where a lot of my athletes are conscious of their breathing. The next goal is to make it an unconscious action so they don’t have to be focused on it and are breathing optimally without controlling it. If they’re in a fight, I don’t want them thinking about their breathing. I want their breathing to be happening subconsciously at an optimum level, so they can focus on everything else that is going on. Then we’ll use a specific breathing pattern at the end of every session to bring them back down. By the time they walk out of the gym, they’re already recovering and no longer in a heightened state.
There is so much great research and data on performance breathing. There are a wide variety of benefits you can create by controlling your breath and using breathing practices. In the past 5 years, breathing has become a more popular topic in the world of strength and conditioning, due partly to the fact that we are searching for these other pieces. We are starting to get to a certain level of understanding of physiology, the human body, and biomechanics. The top coaches are looking for these other pieces. Breathing is something we do every day, it’s something that requires no equipment, requires nothing but a little bit of time and focus and can have such a massive benefit across such a large scale of people.
Before the science came out, it was really hard for people to buy into it from a performance coaching standpoint. We’re looking for the data, we want to see a performance increase and it’s hard to correlate performance increase when it comes to breathing without a laboratory or something to test out those variables. However, when an athlete at a high level who is very in-tune with their body can feel the difference in their energy, their performance, their focus and their recovery, that’s when it’s something that’s worth looking into.
In the next 5-10 years it’s going to be a common place in every high level performance team and athletic facility. Advanced performance athletes and facilities who are training at the highest level are now just starting to incorporate it or have been for the past couple years. I think it will continue to evolve.
That’s really our hope with XPT, to give some of these people a system so that they’re not just hearing people talk about how important breathing is, then trying to implement with their athletes on an uneducated level. Our goal is to provide them with a well-developed system supported with education on why it is so important, the various methods they can use, when to implement and why—just like we do with exercise. There’s not a one size fits all approach to breathing, just like there isn’t a one size fits all approach to any other physiology.
PJ isn’t afraid of being the guinea pig for science. In an Instagram post, he shared how he taped his mouth shut at night while he slept for an entire week (after learning from world-renowned breathing instructor Patrick McKeown about the benefits of nose breathing). He’d been recommending this to clients with dysfunctional breathing patterns during sleep and figured if he was telling others to do it, he should try it himself!
XPT: Why is the XPT approach so successful?
PJ: Anyone who makes successful changes in their life whether its lifestyle change, nutrition change and/or behavioral habit change, it comes from changing all of the underlying foundations of what you believe in. That’s one of the biggest things I think with XPT.
People will ask me what Laird Hamilton is like and how he’s been so successful. It’s his outlook on everything. People always look at high performers and athletes. They want to know their habits, their routines or what are the things that they do, but it’s not the habit itself that creates success for that person, it’s the reason that habit started in the first place. It’s the thought process behind it.
When I’m working with people who are working on losing weight, they will say, “Well it’s tough, I have this big vacation coming up in two weeks.” But it’s not because there’s no reason you should gain 10 pounds on a vacation or during the holidays. The only way you will have success long term in any type of diet or eating change is when it becomes a lifestyle. Going on vacation is not a challenge for someone who has that type of lifestyle, because they know they have flexibility. You can’t be on a strict diet plan where you can only eat X, Y and Z, so you have to have some flexibility to be able to choose different foods or different things you want, using that diet example.
The same thing goes for the holidays. There are people who have no trouble with holiday weight gain and there are people who are habitually overweight, where the holidays are a death wish for them. It’s because they’re going to a few holiday parties and that means twenty cocktails and a bunch of desserts and they haven’t fixed the underlying lifestyle issue. Then, come January 1st, they are just looking at these little methods and quick sudden fixes rather than focusing on making changes in the foundations of what they believe in, how they view food, workouts, opportunities and activities. When you decide to make a long-term change, it doesn’t matter what the obstacle becomes. Whatever the issue—whether it’s a holiday party, a vacation or a work meeting—success stories come from the people who overcome it because of a good foundation.
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