J. Aggabao is the NFL’s go-to guy for players who are serious about taking their performance to the next level.
Aggabao is the Senior Manager of Football Performance at Sports Academy (Thousand Oaks, CA), a 360-degree training facility. His training roster includes NFL stars like Todd Gurley, Aaron Donald, James Conner, and Leonard Williams, to name a few. Aggabao develops rigorous, customized training programs for athletes based on their individual needs and goals.
However, Aggabao says his path to becoming a strength and conditioning coach in professional sports hasn’t been the most conventional. “I was actually a high school dropout. And, in hindsight, I am proud because somehow I went on to get my GED and serve as a Military police officer in the U.S. Navy for five years.”
From there, Aggabao interned at Washington State, and received his Masters in Exercise Physiology from Illinois State University. He was able to land an internship with the (then) St. Louis Rams and quickly climbed the ladder after they created a position for him and was then promoted to top assistant strength coach.
His fast-track to success can be credited to his work ethic and genuine interest in seeing those around him succeed, and in turn, a vast network of contacts in the league.
“I tell young coaches all the time that literally every day is your interview. It’s the work I’d put in over the years that coaches observed that led me to every opportunity.”
But, even at the top of his game, Aggabao had significant struggles. Mental health being one of them.
“I’ve dealt with depression. And I've been to the point where I figured life wasn't worth living anymore. I tell my athletes about that dark time so they know that I've been there. It's about being vulnerable, whether it's life, marriage, the ups and downs, I’ve been there.”
Aggabao’s commitment to his players goes far beyond athletics. “At the end of the day, football is football. It's a fleeting portion of your life, even if you have a 10-year career,” he says.
“I hope what the players get out of me, is that I genuinely care about them as individuals. For me, it's about building lifelong connections and to do all that I can to help enhance their life.”
What’s your training blueprint for success?
When a guy comes to me, there is a general blueprint of what it takes to be successful but sports performance and position skilled training only encompasses about three hours of the day. So you still have 21 hours in their day to account for. We believe the most important thing out of any given day is sleep. So I actually start there and work backwards. Ideally, athletes get 6-8 hours of sleep. Then, we look at nutrition, what they're eating, and whether they need supplementation like Ladder.
Best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Dave Lang told me this a while back, but basically, if you love what you do, you'll never actually work a day in your life. I think the biggest piece of advice and what I try to convey to the players is to enjoy and love the process. If they love it, then it's not a grind.
What was your biggest disappointment and how did you bounce back?
You could say being let go by the Rams was the biggest disappointment, but at the same time, it wasn't. Every strength coach says, “you’ve either been fired or you're waiting to get fired”. One way or another, nobody's going to have a perfect career without being let go. My situation was completely out of my control but instead of sitting around, brooding over the fact that I'd been let go, I tried to look at the positives. I got to learn from coach Moffitt. I got to learn from coach Cochran, coach Dillman, I had a vast network of guys who in turn introduced me to other people that helped show me different things over the years.
What’s your go-to, no-equipment 20-minute workout?
I’d stick to more lower body exercises. Start with jumping jacks to get warmed up. Then, stretching and dynamic warm-up. Bodyweight squats, walking lunges, lateral lunges, RDLs (Romanian deadlift). Then pushups with feet on an elevated surface like a couch, and then switch it with hands on the couch. Then mixing that in with running in place or something simple to get the heart rate up. Add in some sprints and create a circuit based on reps or time.
If you could train with anyone, who would it be?
Tiger Woods. He’s really pushed the boundaries of lifting weights and changed strength and conditioning for golfers. I'd love the chance to work with someone like that. Not that I want to just train them for the sake of training them, I just want to absorb some of that energy and understand what makes them tick.
If you could have a different career, what would it be?
Freelance photographer. I like to preserve memories. There's a couple of players I work with that shoot, so we started this little crew of camera guys and now we're all shooting and editing together.
What’s your pre- and post-workout routine?
Adaptability is always a good thing, and as I've gotten older, I’m spending more time on prehab because now I have more injuries to deal with which is just a fact of life. So, typically, I wake up at 3:30am, do my prehab and a dynamic warmup as needed, depending on how I feel. If I have time for extra conditioning, I’ll get that done. The end of the day is when I take time to stretch and recover using percussion therapy.
Favorite Ladder supplement?
Every morning, I take two packets of Ladder Pre-Workout Strawberry Lemonade—I'm a two packet kind of guy.
What’s your cheat meal?
I typically eat clean, but I don't profess to be the cleanest. At some point in my life, I was counting macros and watching everything I ate, but now, I train so I can enjoy my food. My go-to for something sweet is Schwan’s Man for ice cream and my favorite pancake spot is CC’s in Westlake village.
What’s a song on your workout playlist you can’t get enough of?
Funny enough, I don't like listening to music when I train. I like silence. I like hearing the weights, the heavy breathing, because when the guys come in to train, I'm listening to music all day long and it's loud and it's obnoxious. So silence is wonderful.