Training Elite Athletes- Be Brilliant at the Basics

Training Elite Athletes- Be Brilliant at the Basics

( Editors note- my good friend Dewey Nielsen wrote this as an MMA article. It was so good I edited it to apply to all sports)

What works best for an athlete? Linear or undulating periodization? Kettlebells or dumbbells? Olympic lifts from the floor or hang? What do you do for conditioning?

I get questions like these a lot and usually my answer comes down to “it doesn’t matter”. I am not saying that undulating periodization doesn’t work or kettlebells are worthless. What I am saying is these things only matter once you are “Brilliant at the Basics”. You must first understand a few things:

What is strength?
What is endurance?
What is power?
What is power endurance?
What is speed?
What is agility?
What is mobility?
What is anaerobic and aerobic conditioning?

What are all of these things and how should we train them? Where do these components fit into a program? What order should they be trained? And the most important question, “can your athletes lift correctly”? Everything goes out the window if your athletes are performing the program with sloppy technique. What is the point of flipping tires and swinging sledge hammers (neither of which I do) if an athlete can’t squat, lunge or do a pushup with good form?

To say that the strength and conditioning world often is archaic or that some strength coaches are in the dinosaur age is an understatement. Some of the things I see coaches do with world-class athletes are not just un-educated, they are thoughtless, dangerous and irresponsible.

The questions above are basic and that’s the point. The thing that separates a novice from an expert is the ability for the expert to perform the basics extremely well. This is the same thing we tell our students and coaches. Beginners always want to learn advanced skills before they master the basics. The difference between good and great is being “Brilliant at the Basics”. As I grow older and more educated I constantly become more intrigued by the basics. Does this make me an expert? I don’t know. What I do know is that every year I feel like I know more and less at the same time. And I like that. It is very apparent that the quest of knowledge is never ending. So I guess it is safe to say that my job will never get boring.

Dewey Nielsen is a Performance Enhancement Specialist and Certified Personal Trainer from the National Academy of Sports Medicine. He is the co- founder/co-owner of Impact Performance Training and the co-founder/owner/coach of Impact Jiu-jitsu. Dewey is primarily located in Newberg and Beaverton, Oregon and can be reached at or

12 Responses to “Training Elite Athletes- Be Brilliant at the Basics”

  1. […] re-wrote a previous article from Performance Enhancement Specialist Dewey Nielson called “Be Brilliant at the Basics.”  The piece is only 5 short paragraphs but dishes some very valuable information.  It […]

  2. It’s so true. But warrants repeating. The difference between an expert and an amateur is that the expert is great at the basics / fundamentals. Everything builds of the foundation. For example (IMO) you can’t snatch well until you can clean well, you can’t clean well until you can deadlift well, you can’t deadlift well until you can hip hinge well.

  3. […] Boyle recently had a blog post that also talked about returning to the basics.  If you’ve also ever listened to Grey Cook […]

  4. As Mark V says – simple things done savagely well

  5. […] re-wrote a previous article from Performance Enhancement Specialist Dewey Nielson called “Be Brilliant at the Basics.”  The piece is only 5 short paragraphs but dishes some very valuable information.  It […]

  6. Great article and to the point! Just like in the Martial Arts, all the “advanced” techniques mean nothing if you have no stance : )


  7. mboyle1959 Says:

    So true. Dewey did a great job with this.

  8. Hi Coach Boyle. This is a great post. I do a lot of reading, and sometimes I can get overwhelmed with all of the information that’s out there, that it becomes hard to stay focused. Recently, though, I have re-centered myself and began revisiting the basics and reaffirming my knowledge of them. This post was a good reminder of why I need to stay focused. Thanks!

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