PT Corner: Dr. Trent Nessler

Man performing a kneeling exercise with Kayezen VECTOR guided by Dr. Trent Nessler

It’s 1979 and a 10-year-old Trent Nessler and his family are on vacation on a beach in Trinidad. Trent and his brother are swimming to the shore when they look back and see their father face down in the water. They swim out to rescue their immobilized father, carefully returning him to the beach and strapping him to a surfboard with duct tape. They load him into a station wagon and drive to a hospital where he’s treated for a severe spinal cord injury.

Fast forward to today and Trent—now Dr. Nessler—a physical therapist, author of How To Build a Badass Firefighter, founder of The Athlete Lab, and Kayezen VECTOR partner recalls the event as if it was yesterday: “It exposed me at a very young age to the power of physical therapy and more importantly, what it does for someone's family,” he says.

Twenty-five years after that incident on the beach, Dr. Nessler put his father on a comprehensive exercise and diet program that enabled him to first stand, then walk —and eventually dance  with his wife again. “What motivated me to be a PT was seeing the impact this profession had on my father and I really wanted to give back to people,” says Dr. Nessler.

From there, he worked in a clinic in Phoenix, Arizona, where he primarily treated ACL reconstructed athletes. This experience and the volume of ACL athletes he was seeing motivated him to get his doctorate with focus in biomechanics and motor learning and to become the premier ACL specialist he is today. Since then, he’s worked for major corporations, developed an ACL technology that’s collected movement data on 90,000 athletes across five countries, and earned his black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ), a sport he’s come to evangelize.

Most recently, Dr. Nessler worked closely with Seth Forman, Kayezen’s Head of Education and Performance Training,  to develop the VECTOR Warrior Resilience program for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. You can find this program on the VECTOR Limitless Training Platform, but keep reading to find out more about all of the program’s advantages, whether you’re a BJJ athlete or not, as well as Dr. Nessler’s top longevity and healthspan tips. 

How Martial Arts Can Change Your Life

“In my opinion, BJJ is the toughest martial art there is,” he says. “It is the one that's the roughest on your body and the hardest to master. That's why it takes 11 years to get a black belt and there are so many life lessons you takeaway when you commit and go through that process.”

It is exceptionally tough to earn a black belt, and only 1% of people who start the sport will actually achieve this goal. “I’ve seen that most people stop about two years into it once they get their blue belt because they've had an injury,” says Dr. Nessler, who says he sees neck, back, knee, ankle, and wrist injuries among many other types since BJJ requires the athlete to use every single joint in the human body to its near full range of motion.

But the reward for those who persevere is worthwhile: “The sport has given me so much personally and professionally,” says Dr. Nessler. “It has made me grow in my understanding of the human body and of how to put your ego aside and allow yourself to struggle,” he says, adding that the lives of those who pursue a black belt will be changed in so many different ways beyond just mastering a martial art. And injuries do not have to be inevitable.

When BJJ Meets PT

Dr. Nessler is combining his passion for BJJ with his physical therapy background to help athletes to stay resilient, enhance their performance and combat-readiness, and mitigate injuries. And the number one tool he’s using to do just that is the Kayezen VECTOR.

“The thing that turned me on the most about the VECTOR was the Torso Strap,” he says, adding that rotational strength—which you can train with the Torso Strap—is really important in most sports, especially BJJ, for injury mitigation. “It’s a really powerful tool,” Dr. Nessler says. He also loves the fact that the VECTOR is portable:  “I can transport it anywhere, I can use it anywhere, and stay consistent,” he says.

That’s why Dr. Nessler worked closely with the Kayezen team to develop the VECTOR Warrior Resilience program for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu


One major advantage of the VECTOR is that it can be used to help athletes replicate a wide range of resilience building PT exercises at home, per Dr. Nessler. “It's essentially taking some of the techniques that I do in PT that have been found to be super effective, and then applying them in a way that the person can do on their own and they don't need a therapist there,” he says. 

For example, Dr. Nessler says the contract-relax method, where an athlete pushes against the therapist, then relaxes, and is then pushed into a deeper range of motion, can be done with the VECTOR. An example of this is the Quadruped Hip Rock done with Cinch Strap. 


Dr. Nessler also advocates using the VECTOR to shore up hip mobility, and says the VECTOR can be used to allow patients to replicate hip opening exercises formerly only possible with assistance from a physical therapist.

BJJ also requires having good mobility in the thoracic, lumbar, and cervical spine, as well as the hamstrings. And you can work on all these joints with the VECTOR in the Warrior Resilience program.

While Dr. Nessler encourages every athlete to work mobility into their routine, it’s especially critical for BJJ athletes who may end up having their shoulders pushed in one direction and trunk going in the other, for example. If the athlete has good mobility, they’re more likely to overcome the maneuver in the moment, it’s going to hurt less, and set them up for better recovery.

The Keys To Healthy Aging & Longevity

Working on mobility may become even more crucial as we age, per Dr. Nessler. “As you mature, you tend to dehydrate, not just your skin but also your muscular tissue, including in the spine. “The discs are composed of 80% water, so what ends up happening is that those discs start to dehydrate and compress down. By improving mobility and hydration, what you do is you significantly mitigate your risk for back injuries.” Dehydration also impacts the flexibility of the hamstring, quads, and core.

At 55 years old himself, Dr. Nessler’s other speciality is working with “experienced” athletes which he considers to be over the age of 45. “I want to help other “ experienced athletes remain healthy, active, and doing the things that they want to do in such a way that they're not placing themselves in a position for a hip or knee replacement or low back pain,” he says. “We know when those things occur, health goes down, diabetes goes up, and heart disease goes up.”

Beyond working on your mobility with the VECTOR, Dr. Nessler emphasizes the importance of sleep and nutrition for healthspan and longevity. “Lack of sleep impacts cortisol levels, which means that it suppresses testosterone, which has a direct impact on mental health in addition to physical recovery,” he says. 

And when it comes to proper fueling, what you put in your mouth has a direct effect on the speed of your recovery, he says. “People don't make the correlation between the chemistry they're putting in their body to how their body actually heals and recovers,” he says. In particular, he likes to have athletes use IV vitamin drips and ensure they’re supporting their gut microbiome. 

The Bottom Line

Dr. Nessler’s overall goal is to double the number of athletes who get their black belt and to get the next generation started in the sport early. “Kids who are starting at seven and eight years old today, by the time they are 30, they will be so much more advanced than any black belt today, and that advances the sport itself.” With the VECTOR, athletes of all ages can improve their mobility, increase their performance, and mitigate their risk for injury—which collectively can help them stay in the game long enough to achieve that black belt. 

“I’m a firm believer that what we have created with the VECTOR Warrior Resilience Program will truly impact the sport of BJJ,” he says, adding that the beauty of this program is that it can be done before practice. In addition to being able to access the program on Kayezen’s Limitless Training Platform, Dr. Nessler is also offering it as a class at his gym. 

If you’re interested in learning more about Dr. Nessler and his approach, check out his podcast with Ray Casias, his BJJ professor, 4th degree blackbelt, and a level four combatives instructor. Dr. Nessler also uses a device called Iron Neck to help athletes work on cervical spine and shoulder stability and a blood flow restriction (BFR) device called Rock Cuff.


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