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Episode 1: Navigating Complexity: Simplifying Strategies in American Football with Aaron Borgmann

In the first-ever Hytro Performance podcast Tom Atkinson, Head of Sport, and Richard Frost, Chief Marketing Officer, sat down with Aaron Borgmann, Physical Therapist, Athletic Trainer, and Founder of Borgmann Rehab Solutions, to talk about America’s most popular sports league, the NFL, as we countdown to the Superbowl LVIII and incoming Scouting Combine.

Hytro Performance Podcast title screen with overlaid cut out image of Aaron Borgmann with folded arms on left of image

With over 12 years immersed in the NFL, Aaron possesses invaluable insights into the Kansas City Chiefs’ and San Francisco 49ers’ strategies leading up to the highly anticipated Super Bowl. However, Aaron’s journey in sports didn’t originate with football; initially drawn to baseball, he embarked on an internship with the St. Louis Cardinals. Yet, the extensive baseball season of 162 games plus 40 in spring training prompted him to pivot towards football, perceiving it as less demanding: “I convinced myself that football was less work. It turns out that after a couple of internships in football, I found out that it’s quite a bit more intense work because everything is so compacted, so tight and so important.”

 

The heightened intensity, particularly evident in the lead-up to the Super Bowl, presents a formidable challenge for both athletes and coaches, especially in rehabilitating injured players. Aaron explained, “Because of the short time frames everything is so, so compressed that you, I think, have to be on your game a little bit more as a practitioner to work in football just because it is that much more intense of a day-to-day grind.”

 

“The key to preparation success is to put aside any long-term goals, work stage to stage to stage.”

 

This grind “ramps up a notch” in the run-up to the Super Bowl with every day being potentially critical to the team’s success. The focus is to enable every player to be available and to be at their best despite the expected fatigue, aches, and pains of wear and tear from the season. Aaron shared that the key to preparation success is to “put aside any long-term goals, work stage to stage to stage. So, if X, Y, Z players are important for the coaching staff to have in the game plan, and they say we need them for 20 plays. What am I going to do to help that player maximise a very small window?” Alongside focussing on the very short term, it’s imperative to individualise treatment and training “Every single player will need something different. It’s important to understand that when you get into those do-or-die situations, you have to really address the specifics of the player and the position.”

 

Aaron Borgmann profile shot wearing headphones on Hytro illustrated background

 

Whilst time is tight, the importance of allowing time for recovery and maximising the use of tools to support efficient training and recovery. Aaron states that he would “Use some BFR there, or in an anti-gravity treadmill, where you’re getting a lot of good work, but at the same time, you’re not taking the pounding. You’re stressing the system, but you’re doing it with a little bit more intelligence. The athletes need quality training, and they need to be able to recover quickly.”

 

“As modern players you need to train for overall athleticism not just positional specificity.”

 

Quality training is also a hot topic in the world of the Combine right now, with players eligible for drafting undertaking training to excel at the specific events during the Combine to present themselves in the best light for onlooking teams. Aaron reflected “When we would get the rookies after we drafted them, all they had done for many, many months was prep for the Combine, they hadn’t done any football. So, the very first week of what we would call off-season team activities we’d see hamstring, calf, and quad pulls because they weren’t used to playing football.”

“I think we’re starting to see a movement a little bit away from that very slowly, into more overall athletic prep. Thankfully, I believe we are seeing less and less injuries in the spring because people are training better overall as athletes now for the Combine.”

 

Similarly to the Combine, the International Player Pathway holds the objective of opening the NFL doors to new talent, and in recent news, we have seen Louis Rees-Zammit depart from Welsh Rugby to pursue his dream of being an American football player in the NFL beginning his journey by attending a bespoke training camp. Such camps are seeing an upward trend with position-specific camps proving to be in demand. Aaron commented “They’re doing very specific functional position work, not only leading up to the Combine, but now in every off-season. And I think that’s a positive thing. I think we can gain elite players at each one of those specific positions from that. I think the good ones blend very specific position, elite skills, but also overall athletic training and conditioning.”

Whilst a variety of camps offer training for current players, and those looking to crossover into the sport, for those new to American football navigating the intricacies of the game requires a deep understanding of its nuances and players’ roles. Aaron has seen crossover athletes come from rugby and Aussie Rules but believes “The transition there is different because it’s a very specific sport with very defined roles, whereas all those other sports have a more holistic athlete.”

 

“The basics are the most important part. Simple things done well will lead to better results.”

 

Tom Atkinson and Richard Frost sitting on a sofa wearing Hytro branded tshirt and hoody respectively

 

The conversation with Aaron reveals the complexity of American football and the evolving strategies employed by practitioners to enhance player performance. Staying abreast of the latest developments in sports medicine and science, as well as the latest technology and products is also on the to-do list of any coach or practitioner.

Sharing best practices with others is the key, Aaron adds “I’m happy to tell people what I do all the time, because not only do they hopefully learn from it, but I learn something from them that I might not have seen or that I might not have thought of. So, in my experience, the best clinicians are those who talk back and forth to others. The most important part of becoming an experienced clinician is being able to exchange ideas and learn from others.”

He added: “I think if you’re good at what you do, you can rely on the basics more than anything before you get too fancy with anything. I think any expert in the field will tell you that the basics are the most important part. Simple things done well will lead to better results.”

 

Aaron advocates for a balanced approach, emphasizing the importance of fundamental principles over the allure of new technologies. He shared that what excites him is seeing his fellow professionals being creative: “I’m impressed by the creativity of the clinicians that is being sparked by some of the simple things, taking an exercise or taking a modality and doing it in a new way. For instance, you mentioned doing a BFR technique in a sauna or aqua or different environments.”

When new products or modalities are to be introduced into an athlete’s training programme, we have heard from many coaches of the importance of being able to share their experience of it when getting buy-in from their athletes. Aaron concurs stating “I’m the guinea pig. I try everything that I do on people. Just so I at least understand what it feels like. That way you can at least experience what the athlete is going through. I think using the off-season or spring practices in our case, to try some of those new things out, even on the high-performance guys … you gain a little bit of rapport and trust with said athlete.”

 

“What makes a great practitioner? Attention to detail.”

 

Blood Flow Restriction has been used within rehab settings for several decades, Aaron recalls first using it in his days in the NFL: “My big-time rehab experience in the NFL was winding down as BFR was hitting the mainstream. We used it a lot and now it’s used ubiquitously. I look back on our knowledge of BFR and what little we knew of how to apply it in the early days. At the Kansas City Chiefs, if I knew how to use it better and I had more experience with it, I would have liked to have used it more intelligently.”

Looking to BFR today Aaron shared “I think that the field has expanded so much, and we’ve learned so much about how to maximise people’s potential with BFR.”

 

The use of BFR is increasing within the collegiate and pro rookie levels where athletes are being exposed to more demanding levels of training than they have been used to previously. BFR therefore enables these players to adapt better and recover better during these intense periods thanks to medical, strength & conditioning, and performance staffs giving athletes more tools such as BFR to maximise their time.”

He adds: “We’re getting better at prepping everybody for the next day. It used to be run athletes into the ground, train hard, train hard, train hard, train hard. I think it’s important that we all learn how to do better by the athletes.”

 

With extensive experience within the league, and now through his practice, Aaron offers a wealth of insight into this career pathway. Aaron gave his insight on what makes a good practitioner in his opinion: “Attention to detail, not only attention to the detail but not so much finding out what you need as the practitioner out of the athlete but what the athlete needs out of you.”

 

Listen to the full podcast on Spotify and watch on YouTube.

 

Check out how the Nebraska Huskers are using squad-wide BFR here. Read more about Aaron Borgmann and his journey from NFL to Borgmann Rehab Solutions by clicking below.

 

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