Every offseason the Las Vegas Raiders and the 31 other teams in the NFL look for ways to get better. From free agency to the NFL Draft and the training program, new ideas and innovation always play a big factor in how teams operate from March to August. Different teams will deploy different strategies, but it’s all with the same idea in mind, accomplish the goals they failed to do the year before.
For the Raiders, that meant getting over the hump and making the playoffs for the first time since 2016 and just the second time since 2002. As we know, they accomplished that feat and while there were plenty of factors at play, one that played a significant role was a new innovative training system called BlazePod.
“They actually originally got it from [Marcus] Mariota when he was there and his trainer was using them,” said Brian Farber, Director of Business Development for BlazePod, when I asked him how the Raiders got introduced to the new product. “And I think it became more of like an understanding that this is something a lot of people are using. We just got back from the Combine we have half the NFL using our products right now”
“I did go to Vegas and present while I was there…with my wife on one of her work trips. I had pods in my bag, and I basically sent a text message and just popped over to the facility…so I came in, I presented for about an hour. [Mariota’s trainer] loved the product and showed me what they were doing. And then I kind of showed them some tricks.”
What exactly are those tricks that Farber is talking about? Well, let’s take a step back and explain what BlazePod is.
Yaniv Shneiderman, the company’s Founder and CEO, got the idea for BlazePod while tasked with creating an interactive product for kids that encouraged them to be more active.
“It’s very much like Simon Says on steroids,” Shneiderman told ISRAEL21c when discussing the inspiration for BlazePod. “The idea was to create a new physical activity experience, combining physical and cognitive abilities. It’s fun and amusing but also super hard and intense. It moves something in your brain as well, that helps you improve your performance.
“We took it to the park and the kids loved it. That’s when we realized we had something unique.”
The idea combined new-aged technology with traditional training exercises.
BlazePod users are given six pods that have LED lights in them that can change from one of eight colors. After downloading the app on their smartphones, users set up a profile and are prompted to choose their ‘Main Profession/Interest’ and ‘Additional Interests’. The categories start broad – Sports, Fitness and Therapy – and then get more specific to where a user can select their sport of choice or preferred type of training.
The app suggests different exercises from there, all of which are customized based on the selections made above. The exercises are tied to the LED pods and when the user picks their drill, they are shown a diagram of how to set up the pods and a video with instructions on how the drill is supposed to be executed.
All of BlazePod’s drills are built around the same basic premise. One or several of the pods change colors and that prompts the user to perform some action, whether that be as simple as running from “cone to cone” – or pod to pod – or more complex where the user has to think and then act. That’s where the cognitive training comes in.
Users not only get the physical exercise but also the neuro training to help athletes, or just fitness enthusiasts, tie their brains to their feet with their movement skills. When I asked Farber about how the Raiders used BlazePod in their offseason training, the cognitive aspect of the product was something that stood out.
“I don’t know what other exercises [the Raiders have] done other than just my suggestions on decision making/neuro priming…different football exercises like getting off the line quickly or whatever that might be,” said Farber. “And then it was more just showing, like the features in the light logics within the app, and then giving them a taste of it. So, then they could let their brains kind of go wild on: “Oh, I mean I can do this, or I can do that,” and then they would just kind of run with it.”
I followed up by asking what position on the football field he thinks benefits the most from the product and his answer was just the most important position in the sport.
“We just did a photoshoot at EXOS [a well-known fitness and athletic training company] and we were doing some football-related exercises. We would do a snap where you touch the pod and like a three-step drop, and a quick release to a target that was lining up for a quarterback, and the quarterbacks that were there doing it were like they didn’t want to stop.
“So, I think decision-making for a quarterback is probably the most crucial for maintaining possession of the ball and not giving up interceptions and turnovers. So that piece, also consistency in that release time. Like if you get a quarterback that can outperform the rest, you really have something in the NFL, and I think that probably most important would be a quarterback.
“But I think if you ask Jamal, who’s kind of like our football guru, he may say that it’s the wide receiver because of the hands. He may say it’s the defensive line because of the hands and they are quickly trying to get to the quarterback. So, it’s such a tough call. But I think probably when it comes to purely translating what BlazePod can do for neural and decision making, I think the quarterback.”
In our conversation, I also brought up the benefits for a running back and defensive back.
Running backs, especially in a zone-heavy scheme like the Raiders used last year, are asked to find a hole and either cut or bounce to it. So, the pods can be set up where one color flashes and tells the back to cut it up the middle, and different color tells them to bounce it to the outside. That way the athlete is put into a game-like situation where they are forced to make a split-second decision and move accordingly, touching the cognitive and physical training into one exercise.
As for defensive backs, that’s a completely reactionary position. Defenders don’t know what play the offense has called so cornerbacks are forced to read a wide receivers’ route and act accordingly, making the link between cognitive and physical training extremely important.
Farber nodded in agreement and replied:
“You know, that’s interesting. Yeah, there’s a lot of technology out there that are there to essentially help with the cognitive piece. The ability to emulate a game scenario, and what you should do in A versus B, it’s pretty amazing.
“I think what our product does, that’s so fun and cool is even the most high-level athletes, they make millions and millions of dollars and become kids again when they use it. And I think that is because they want to outperform their friends. And they want to be the best because that’s who they are deep down.”
Two things about Farber’s quote above stood out to me as important aspects of BlazePod, professional athletes becoming kids again and the competition element.
As a reminder, the product was inspired and tested by children with the idea of creating something that’s fun and encourages them to be active. Being able to compete with others is how Shneiderman and Co. accomplished that goal.
BlazePod’s app allows the primary user to create other “players” or profiles if they have a workout partner, or if the primary is a coach or trainer who works with multiple athletes at a time. The drills can be set up so that up to four people can run them at one time and compete in different games with each other. Their scores or times are tracked through the app and the competition – and subsequent arguments about who cheated – can commence.
Being able to compete was a driving force behind the development of BlazePod.
“I wasn’t part of the early conversations in the development so I can’t say for sure. But I do know the people that were behind it, and I know their personalities, and I know that they were looking to create competition,” said Farber.
“When it comes to cognitive training, you’re competing with yourself when you repeat the exercise…I can walk into our office, set up an exercise and compete with my previous score that’s written on the leaderboard...You can use this to evaluate yourself, and you can use it to evaluate your team or your clients or whoever might be. So, the competition factor is totally there because of the metrics that we collect in the app where you can see it.”
As of right now, users can’t compete with people outside of their “group,” but that’s something the BlazePod crew is working on as they continue to develop the product.
“It’s getting a little bit ahead of ourselves here, but at the same time, it’s coming...We’re definitely working towards you being able to do it at your house and compete with me here in my office or at my house and have actual consistent data where we can say I beat you, or you beat me.
“And it’s going to be that’s going to be a really big piece for us because it’s been so heavily requested. Our customers drive a lot of the decisions that we make because when there’s smoke, there’s fire, right?
“We want to continue to do what we’re doing and take over the world of sports fitness, neural training. It’s been only a couple of years, and we’ve already made a massive splash in the sporting goods and sporting world. I think the more things that we’re creating and where our product pipeline is taking us, it’s just going to make us that much more impactful.”
To learn more about BlazePod, like how it can be used for other sports beyond football and for pricing information, visit blazepod.com.