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Building Better American Football Athletes: How Nebraska Huskers are Using Squad-Wide BFR

Mitch Cholewinski, Coordinator of Football Sports Science at the University of Nebraska Football, has recently introduced squad-wide BFR via the Hytro BFR wearables. We caught up with him to understand why recovery is so important in American football, and how periodising recovery can support players to hit the highest levels.

After completing a degree in Chemical Engineering, Mitch navigated his next academic work toward science and nutrition, undertaking a PhD working with the University of Baylor Football Team to build a new relationship between the athletic and exercise science departments. Within this time Mitch built his network within strength and conditioning connecting with Coach Matt Rhule and Coach Corey Campbell amongst others. While still pursuing his PhD, Mitch undertook a role at the University of Texas as the Associate Director of Applied Sports Science before joining the University of Nebraska Football Team.

 

Mitch’s role at the University of Nebraska focuses on monitoring the players’ training loads throughout the year ensuring the team is achieving the quality required. This laser-focused approach ensures the team is performing at the standard required and enables him to identify what will make every individual player a better athlete.

Mitch stated: “After practice, I know exactly what they have done using the Catapult software, and also what they have done in the weights room so I can then try to periodise their recovery strategies accordingly. In the off-season, it’s about finding ways to promote recovery as quickly as possible with the least amount of diminishing returns.”

 

Nebraska Husker's flag being waved at stadium before game begins

Photo source: Craig Chandler / University Communication via University of Nebraska Lincoln website

 

Hytro’s early expansion into the US has primarily focused on Soccer, Basketball, and American Football, team sports that naturally lend themselves to the brand’s versatile solution for squad-wide applications, but also sports that are continuously looking to find efficient and scalable ways of improving performance through data and science-backed research.

 

Learning the importance of recovery from colleagues at Baylor such as Chris Ruf, known champion of the impact of effective recovery, spiked Mitch’s interest in this area. The use of cold tubs was mandatory for all players at Baylor, but when some new research highlighted that it might be detrimental for some players to go cold, Mitch explained: “We started to look at the ability of hot water, exploring cold or hot with various players to see what worked for them individually. I took this further at the University of Texas, where we started to teach the players about the abilities of contrast baths. I started diving into more research, and recovery techniques such as Robin Thorpe’s strategies, and investigated how we periodise recovery as we do with training.”

 

Practice is the most vital element in any footballer’s schedule, and to ensure getting to practice is possible recovery must be a planned and well-executed factor. Coming out of a weekend game, Tuesday practice is the hardest session and is only attainable if the player has recovered well.

In the recent sit down with Hytro’s Head of Pro & Collegiate Sport, Tom Atkinson; Mitch explained: “The recovery piece for us is just something that enables the best availability of players. The only way we can get better at playing football is by playing football. If we’re missing time for tendinopathy, hamstring strains, high ankle sprains, or turf toe, we’re just wasting time and not getting better at football.”

 

Athlete strapping in to Hytro BFR Training Tee

 

Recovery is a priority for all the staff at Nebraska. When the players are coming out of practice or fall camp they are consistently being reminded of the importance of recovery and how it will enable them to get to the next practice or game. To encourage player buy-in, Mitch recognises that recovery is very individual: “We try to offer the athletes options to get their buy-in. Of course, when it comes to fall camp, I’ll explain that I am trying to bring them down as quickly as possible so we use a cold tub, but if they hate that, we offer contrast bathing or other modalities.  It’s all about finding something to make everyone happy, we’re all-encompassing and we try to help them find their one thing that helps.

With 120 athletes to work with, we need products that offer flexibility. When we introduced Hytro BFR, the players already had a thirst for it. I shared how they can use it, what it will give them and they jumped on it.”

 

Whilst Blood Flow Restriction has been used in the UK for rehabilitation, it is still being discovered for its myriad of benefits across preparation, training and recovery. In the US, BFR has been used more widely and for a wider range of applications. Mitch had previously used BFR when working at the University of Texas, as part of his exploration into newer recovery modalities.

 

Mitch shared: “I worked with various BFR companies looking at low-intensity strength training in season for the guys that are getting really beat up. This is where I began thinking about how we can use BFR. As I read more and more, I read about the hormonal response and how it can help promote recovery. I introduced it to the players at Nebraska but with only 5 or 6 Delphi machines and more players wanting to try it, it became really difficult to support. That’s when I looked for a more accessible product and came across Hytro on the Pacey Performance Podcast and thought this is the perfect fit.”

 

Photo source – Athlon Sports website, March 20, 2023

 

Integrating Hytro BFR wearables into an existing preparation, training, and recovery programme is simple. The products can be used individually or alongside other modalities to create a stacking effect whereby they add a boost to the existing programme. When introducing the wearables to the players, Hytro always advocates for running an education session first, to allow athletes and coaches to familiarise themselves with the feeling and logistics of BFR before going on to explain the benefits and what to expect when applying it.

 

Mitch shared a similar practice: “I explained that recovery primarily focuses on active modalities as well as sleep, hydration, and nutrition but that using passive BFR has a large effect due to the hormonal response that you get in the body. I let them know that they will probably go through a little bit of discomfort initially, but when they unstrap, they will start to feel the effects immediately. It was actually an easy sell because the guys tried it on the bike and loved it straight away.”

 

Due to Hytro’s patented design, unlike other BFR devices, they can be accessed by the players independent of Mitch’s coaching. This ease of integration into the athlete’s training schedule has led to the Return to Performance Coordinator, Matt Hobbs, also using the shorts with their return to play athletes.

 

As the team has gotten further into the season, some players have started to tighten down on their joints, experiencing some soreness and restriction in their range of motion. Mitch shared: “I’ve been getting them to wear the shorts and walk around, hang out, or do a little bit of a mobility routine to force some of the blood flow down to the lower body. They go from feeling rigid and stiff to feeling airy, easier, and looser.”

 

Athlete strapping in to Hytro BFR Performance Shorts

 

Hytro BFR offers this level of adaptability and flexibility, making it an effective tool for coaches with a wide range of applications and possibilities. Mitch is continuing to explore how he can maximise the benefits it can provide his players stating: “BFR is an untouched option that can provide a lot of bang for its buck, whether it be for recovery, training, or preparation – there are so many different areas that BFR helps hit. Hytro just makes it so much easier to implement.  Throw on a pair of shorts and get everything that we need, especially since its scientifically pressure validated. It checks all the boxes for me in terms of ease of use, integration, and scientific backing.”

 

Read more about how Pro Sport partners are using Hytro BFR. If you would like to utilise the benefits of Hytro BFR at your club get in touch with the team via the button below.

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