Five Questions With PJ Nestler, Sports Performance Director At STACK Velocity Sports Performance
The following is a guest contribution from Zack Moore. Zack is going to be certified as an NFL agent this summer. He’s one of the head writers for OverTheCap.com and is currently writing an e-book with the working title of “Caponomics” where he analyzes the salary caps of Super Bowl champions, creates theories and applies them to teams on a yearly basis to test them and analyze current rosters. This book is due to come out sometime in the middle of June. Follow him on Twitter @ZackMooreNFL.
PJ Nestler is the Sports Performance Director out of STACK Velocity Sports Performance in Irvine, California. He is a graduate of University of Rhode Island, a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist and has been training elite athletes for more than 7 years. He works with dozens of NFL hopefuls every winter to prepare them for the NFL Combine, Pro Days and careers in the NFL.
(1) When your combine athletes first arrive, what are the biggest physical issues that you’ve seen that need to be corrected from their college days? Are there any issues that you see across the board and what can players do during college to improve themselves and maybe compensate for some of the damage being done during college?
The biggest issue we face when players arrive is always dealing with post season injuries. Many of the players show up with previous injuries or banged up from the season. Since we have such little time to prepare before the combine (typically only 5-6 weeks), it can be a huge challenge to get them ready for the combine while also rehabbing injuries.
Because the combine is such a different type of test, it is hard to prepare for it during their time in college. The best thing players can do is come in strong. We can use their strength and help them to generate power and be more efficient with their technique, but 5-6 weeks is not enough time to get somebody strong enough if they come in weak. We have O lineman coming in only benching 11 reps on the 225 bench and we have to try and get them to a respectable 25-30. That is a nearly impossible task in that short time span.
(2) Bryce Hager had a huge day at the combine this year with a 4.60 40-yard dash (tied for 6th among LBs) and 26 bench press reps (5th), was there anything that you did specifically that helped him excel at the combine?
Bryce is the kind of athlete you hope to get when it comes to combine prep. He was already extremely strong, didn’t have any major injuries, and was no stranger to hard work. This allowed us to really hone in on his sprinting mechanics and make him a more efficient sprinter. We also used a lot of contrast training and advanced programming strategies to stimulate neurological adaptations which lead to him being able to produce massive amounts of force in a short time. On the bench press we focused on keeping his maximum strength high while also improving his muscular endurance to help him push through those higher reps.
(3) Do you split up training in a position specific manner with your athletes?
The training program is individualized for each athlete based on feedback from NFL Coaches and Scouts, and our own performance testing results. The training is all focused on the specific drills of the combine and then tweaked for each player as their position or their own individual needs differ. They also get individualized training with positon coaches to prepare for the position drills they will see in Indianapolis.
(4) What did it feel like to know that you helped someone push themselves up draft boards?
Seeing a player go out and perform well in Indy is a great feeling. We know exactly where they should be in terms of their physical performance, but you never know how each guy will react to the stress of the combine experience. The endless meetings and hospital testing, late nights and pressure of performance add so much stress to the situation that some guys just don’t perform how they should. Bryce was a guy who went out relaxed just did what he knew he could do, and his numbers and position drills showed it. Helping these guys realize their potential and demonstrate it to achieve their dreams of playing in the NFL is a wonderful feeling and a great payoff for all the hard work that goes into their preparation.
(5) This year, the NFL really did their best to make athletes as uncomfortable as possible, making players wait in hospitals for physicals for hours without food and keeping them out of the loop regarding when things were going to be done being two examples. How do you mentally prepare your clients for that and what adjustments do you think trainers can make in the future?
This being my first year at the combine it was really my first experience seeing firsthand what they go through. You assume that this is the ideal testing environment, the guys are rested, warmed up, no distractions, and able to perform at the highest level. Then after seeing a guy like Bryce spending hours in the hospital waiting on testing, not eating anything all day, and going to bed after midnight to wake up and test the next day, you realize the combine is anything but ideal. We try our best to prepare these guys mentally to expect the unexpected. We take all of the thinking out of the tests, the warm-ups, the order, etc so that they will feel prepared for everything they can be. But you have to help them to stay relaxed and not lose their focus when something does not go as planned. We also bring in Sports Psychologists and experts to help with that aspect and teach them to handle adversity and maintain an internal focus on what they can control.