Time to Shelve TB12?

Weekly Workouts examines the TB12 system. Let’s just say we’re skeptical.

Few athletes have consistently dominated the NFL like Tom Brady. The list is so small we need to cross sports to find peers for him. After winning a sixth Superbowl this season, he’s matched the seemingly peerless Michael Jordan for championships. Hate the Patriots all you want, but their quarterback might just be the most accomplished American athlete ever.

So this week in the workout blog, I’m looking at the methods behind the madness of Brady’s success. Although by the end of it, you might say this story is more about the madness of Brady’s methods.

Tom Brady follows a training philosophy developed by Alex Guerrero and dubbed TB12. The foundation of TB12 is the concept of “muscle pliability.” Here’s their description:

Muscle pliability work softens and lengthens your muscles by rhythmically contracting and relaxing your muscle while moving. This is not a passive massaging of your muscles — this is an active process that helps your muscles become resilient, react quickly, and move through full ranges of motion. This not only helps your body recover faster but also avoid injury so that you’re always able to perform at your best.

Based on a belief in pliability, TB12 advises its athletes to rely heavily on resistance bands and foam rollers to promote full range of motion and functional strength. That sounds all well in good, but are bands and rollers enough to be the foundation of a workout system?

TB12 maintains a YouTube Channel where it showcases some exercises that are presumably apart of the program. You’ll find minute long videos on how-to perform an air squat, glute bridge, side plank, and jump ropes. There are a bunch of resistance band and foam rolling videos as well, demonstrating the Pallof press, banded double arm row, and banded squats.

These are all basic exercises and I’m left with more questions than answers after watching. Surely, an athlete at any level will see limited gains from performing air squats or glute bridges. Foam rolling is a nice way to loosen up muscles, but it’s only intended to reduce soreness and knots. And resistance bands can be a great help in the weight room, but as auxiliary exercises, not the foundation of a training program.

My concerns are drawn from the basics of conventional strength and fitness programs. But the architect of TB12, Alex Guerrero, is anything but conventional. Guerrero found his way into the Patriot’s locker room primarily through Willie McGinest, who utilized Guerrero in his rehab after an injury late in his career. McGinest was singing Guerero’s praise, which soon attracted the interest of Brady. After Tom’s 2008 ACL injury, he enlisted Guerrero to remake his entire training and nutrition program. The New York Times described Guerrero as Brady’s “spiritual guide, counselor, pal, nutrition adviser, trainer, massage therapist and family member.” The relationship clearly stretched beyond a typical trainer-athlete friendship. So strong is their bond that Brady has given Guerrero consented to have his initials synonymous with Guerrero’s methods (TB12, of course).

Here’s the rub: Guerrero isn’t exactly the guy you should trust with anything. He was investigated twice by the Federal Trade Commission. First, he claimed his nutritional supplement Supreme Greens could cure cancer, diabetes, and heart disease (hell, why not throw in Hepatitis while you’re at it). In the second instance, his sports drink NeuroSafe claimed to prevent and speed the recovery from concussions. Guerrero has also been sued twice in Utah for fraud, related to a company called BioForce. The suits allege he mislead investors and used company money to pay for luxury cars and extravagant trips.

As for TB12 methodology, many experts believe “it’s balderdash.” The notion that a soft muscle is better than a dense one is flat-out wrong according to Stuart Phillips, a professor at McMaster University and an expert in muscle physiology. “When folks do little or nothing, as, for instance, during bed rest, then their muscles get very soft,” he noted.

And the term “pliability” doesn’t refer to anything specific in medical science. Unsurprisingly, there are no studies of it. Stack.com has a great piece that breaks down that Guerrero’s “pliability” is refers to a number of different qualities of muscle tissue: flexibility, mobility, neural tone, and the length-tension relationship. In other words, the notion of a “pliable muscle” is vague and not particularly useful.

Taken all together, it seems like the TB12 method is a case of Brady and Guerrero versus the world. There’s no doubt in my mind that Guerrero and TB12 have been a psychological support system for Brady as he ages. But there is little evidence it will help you or me and plenty of evidence it’s expensive (maybe Robert Kraft will subsidize the $260 starter kit).

But just in case you are wood by the idea of training like Tom Brady, consider this: what makes Brady great isn’t his athleticism. That should be obvious from his attempt to catch a pass in last season’s Super Bowl. And the argument that Guerrero has extended Brady’s career doesn’t hold up much either. He’s looked his age for most of the regular season and isn’t even unique for playing past forty. Brett Favre got the hell knocked out of him and played until he was 42.

Anyway, that’s all for this week. Congrats Pats fans. Now let’s all turn our attention to hockey.

Football was meant to be played in leather helmets and sweaters. Currently taking suggestions for which NHL team I should support.