Dewey Nielsen

March 30, 2009

Here is a quick interview i did with Dewey from a while back.

Dewey Nielsen

Dewey is a reputable and respected strength coach based in Oregon. As well as being a Strength and Conditioning expert he is also a successful mma coach and holds a brown belt in Jiu Jitsu. Having this combination makes Dewey a man we had to talk too. Read on to discover his thoughts on performance enhancement for combat Sports.

  • Dewey you run a very successful bjj/mma school. Do you offer strength training classes at your facility and how to you deal with logistic problems like varying training levels and equipment usage

All training in our facility is done with me as one on one training or group training (no more than 4 per group). In these scenarios we really don’t run into any logistic problems. Equipment usage is not an issue and true beginners will never be paired with my advanced guys.

We will be starting some group fitness classes in the next month. The classes will have a heavy metabolic emphasis. Basically it will be structured group interval training using different tools like kettlebells, dumbbells, bodyweight, etc. In this situation we will probably limit class sizes to around 10 or 12.

  • How do you warm up for a Jits class and how does this differ from schools that don’t have a coach with a background in strength and conditioning.

This is a great question. Our warm ups definitely reflect some strength and conditioning. I think traditionally you will see BJJ gyms warm guys up with some stretching, jogging and a boat load of flexion abdominal work. As a side note, BJJ/MMA guys perform WAY too much spinal flexion. Some of the best advice I could give to keep them healthy is to cut that junk out.

As far as our warm-ups go, we start with some soft-tissue work using the foam rollers (this has become a habit in our gym. Guys immediately grab a roller). From there we will spend a few minutes stretching and move right into some movement prep. Our movement prep will start with some basic lunging variations, a lot of crawling movements and then move into more specific drilling like shooting, arm bars, triangles, etc. After movement prep, our class lesson will begin.

  • Your recent article “Common Mistakes of a Mixed Martial Artist” raised some interesting points. Your opinion of long distance running goes against the opinion of many combat sport coaches. Why do you feel that low intensity cardio isn’t optimal for combat athletes.

In the article I put this as the number one mistake. The bottom line is, if a coach is giving a combat athlete LSD (long slow distance), they generally do not understand the physiological demands of combat sports. That may piss some guys off but it’s the truth. There may be some valid reasons for recovery to use LSD but other than that there is NO place for it in a program. Your body will adapt to the training stress that is place upon it. Train slow, perform slow. PERIOD! Simply ask yourself, are you going to fight at slow pace for 45 minutes? No. So why would you train that way? LSD is the kiss of death for combat athletes.

  • In your article you mentioned you used Gray cooks Functional movement screen. What does this screen assess and how does it help you enhance your athlete performance?

We screen all of our athletes using the FMS. What it shows us is mobility problems, stability problems and asymmetries in the athlete. The screen consists of 7 tests which we score between a 0 and a 3. Basically we are looking to see if they can function at a fundamental level. If they are scoring low on these tests, we know they are compensating at a more dynamic level on the mat. The FMS really helps us see common limiting factors in our sport. If we can recognize these and clean up our athlete’s movement patterns, then we are more likely to prevent non-contact and overuse injuries. Realize we can’t prevent an arm from popping in an arm bar. That’s not what we are talking about. Non-contact and overuse injuries are a big problem. BJJ/MMA guys just don’t take care of their bodies like they should. If they can avoid more injuries, that means they can train more consistently. That in itself is going to increase an athletes’ performance.

  • How do you deal with the hyperkyphotic posture you have encountered in many mma athletes?

This is like a plague among MMA athletes. It’s ironic because bad, hunch back posture is actually “good” posture in fighting. The first thing is to get the athlete aware of what good posture is. They need to understand that walking around with Neanderthal like posture is going to lead to pain and eventually injuries. Beyond that, we address soft-tissue work around the pecs, lats, t-spine and posterior shoulder. We will work a lot on t-spine mobility along with general upper body flexibility. And then we will compliment the mobility we have gained with some good scap activation exercises and rowing variations. In our strength training, we make sure that are equal in their pulling to pushing exercises. Too many guys are pushing dominant from so much bench pressing and suck at pull-ups and rows.

  • How often do you recommend that your athlete’s strength train and what is the breakdown of typical session?

Our guys will generally be on two or three day programs depending on they often they are training MMA/BJJ, how close they are to competition, etc. A typical session will look like this:

Soft-tissue work (foam roll, tennis ball, etc)


Activation (glutes, scap, etc.)

Movement prep

Power/Speed (med ball, plyos, Sled, etc)

Olympic Lift

Strength (generally total body)

Conditioning (no LSD)

Depending on what phase we are in and how close they are to competition this can look a little bit different but we will still address all of these components.

  • In what ways do you train your athletes for the isometric portions of a mma/Jits fight?

In our sport, guys must address isometrics. And it’s not that hard to fit into the program. We just put an iso emphasis in during the third or forth week of a phase. We will generally use iso holds on things like split squats, pull-ups and bench press. Iso holds don’t work well on all exercises. Some lend themselves better than others.

  • Your DVD combative conditioning was one of the first DVDs aimed at the combat athlete. What did you hope to achieve with this DVD?

At the time of making the DVD, the goal was to give combat athletes tools that they could implement in their current programming. Collectively we had decided with the production group to make it very user friendly so that folks could do the program at home rather than joining a gym. Making a DVD was not the most positive experience. I hate the camera. But I’m not ruling out doing another one. It was a learning experience.

  • Has any of your training philosophy changed since the video was made? What would add or remove if you had to redo it?

The DVD is fairly old now and the thought process is even older (by the time a product comes out, there are already things you would change). Some of my views have definitely changed. There are a lot of things I would do different in remaking a video but also a lot of things that I wouldn’t. The two big ones that come to mind are that there would have been a greater emphasis on basics and simply getting people stronger. Also, we had a ton of lumbar rotation stuff that I cringe at now. But I can’t apologize for education.

  • What are the most common injuries you have come up against training combat athletes? What would you recommend to help avoid these?

Low back, knees, neck and shoulders tend to be the main injuries I see. Obviously we can’t do much for contact injuries. If a guy is doing a can-opener on your neck and it is sore the next day, there isn’t a whole lot we can do to prevent that.

With the low back, we will look at overall core stability, hip mobility and t-spine mobility. With knees we will address hip strength/stability and mobility and ankle mobility. With shoulders and necks we will look at t-spine mobility. Guys are really locked up in the t-spine. We will see that athletes generally have poor shoulder mobility due to poor t-spine mobility. I tell them the rotator cuff is a slave of the scapulae and the scap is a slave of the t-spine. A lot of things always come back to the t-spine.

  • You emphasised the importance of power endurance for mixed martial arts. How do you train this component of strength?

This is an interesting one. Athletes first need to become proficient at the basics. They need to really be dialled in on their form, because as we get into training power endurance (which is actually an oxy-moron) form can deplete quickly. Once we have a solid strength and conditioning base, we will have athletes doing power endurance circuits which will be one exercise after another with almost no rest period. The circuits will be specifically put together to mimic the fight time, rest periods and rounds (ex: 5 minute circuit with 1 minute rest). Will we combine power and strength exercises along with specific drills like shooting. There must be a logical progression to get athletes to train like this. It’s something that guys should not just jump into. If form gets too ugly, you increase the risk of injury and decrease the effects of training.

  • Static stretching has been a topic of hot debate in the strength and conditioning community. Do you recommend that your athletes stretch and what do you hope it will achieve?

Static stretching gets a bad rap and it shouldn’t. The popular statement that static stretching reduces force output has made individuals completely over-react to static stretching. Some trainers and coaches now avoid static stretching like the plague, especially the use of it before resistance training. Many world class coaches use static stretching and use it before resistance training with great results. Mike Boyle, Alwyn Cosgrove, Joe DeFranco, Martin Rooney and many others all incorporate static stretching in their program design.

You must understand that it is NEVER the modality that is the problem…….It is the misunderstanding of how to USE the modality and the misinterpretation of research.

We use static stretching all the time and you know what? We use it BEFORE resistance training. I can hear the shrieking screams now!! Look at this logically. We know that static stretching has some inhibiting qualities to it. Basically if you static stretch a muscle, that muscle will be a little more relaxed for a short duration following the stretch. This is not really a bad thing. If someone has tight pecs, I could stretch their pecs and before doing a set of Rows in order to get more scapular retraction. I could also stretch someone’s hip flexors before they do a vertical jump in order to get the hip extensors to do their job without interference of the antagonist. So, the inhibition of the muscle was exactly what I was looking for. As you can see, it is not the modality that is the problem but rather not knowing how to use the modality.

A chainsaw is a great tool in a logger’s hands but may be extremely dangerous in a 4 year olds hands.

The most popular time to do static stretching is post workout. This is fine but it only restores tissue length back to what it was before the workout. If you are looking to improve tissue length, stretch cold…….YES COLD. In fact, most soft tissue experts will tell you that if you want a structural change in the tissue you should stretch cold. And even better is to stretch directly after soft tissue work. This is exactly what we do. Foam roll first followed by static stretching. By the time we are strength training, it has been nearly 30 minutes since we have stretched. Do you seriously think that we are going to have negative benefits on our force output 30 minutes later?

Really we could make any research support a belief. If I tested your 3RM in the bench press and then immediately tested your 5RM, you would be significantly weaker. SHAZAAM!! We just provided research that says “Strength training makes you weaker”!! I think I heard Alwyn Cosgrove say that. Kind of funny.

Dewey Nielsen

Impact Jiu-jitsu & Performance Training



One Response to “Dewey Nielsen”

  1. Adam said

    Hi!. Thanks for the blog. I’ve been digging around for info, but i think i’m getting lost!. Google lead me here – good for you i guess! Keep up the great information. I will be coming back over here in a few days to see if there is any more info.

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