One of the hottest books in the fitness market is “The TB12 Method: How to Achieve a Lifetime of Sustained Peak Performance.” The author is Tom Brady, quarterback for the New England Patriots, and upon release, it was #1 on Amazon and the New York Times bestseller lists. The book is a total wellness program that includes nutritional advice, but let’s focus on the workout designed to make your muscles more “pliable.”
Brady is one of the oldest players in the league and unquestionably one of the greatest football players in history. Such success has resulted in considerable interest in his strength and conditioning program, which he calls the TB12 Method.
The mastermind behind TB12 is Alex Guerrero. Guerrero holds a degree in Chinese medicine and is Brady’s personal trainer. Here is a description of the program from the TB12 website:
“The key is in complementing traditional strength and conditioning training with muscle pliability. Pliable muscles are softer, longer, and more resilient: they help insulate the body against injury and accelerate post-injury recovery.” Brady says that the solution is to perform workouts that will “increase your strength while limiting the density of the muscle. The denser the muscle means the less pliable it is,” said Brady in a CBS this morning interview that aired on January 1, 2018.
Rather than weights, the primary exercises Brady uses for strength training are performed with elastic bands, which create variable resistance such that the tension increases as the bands stretch. Brady believes that compared to free weights, bands can “help limit inflammation” and “mirror your body’s normal, everyday functional movements.”
It’s true that for exercises involving extension of the limbs, the resistance curve provided by bands more closely matches the strength curve of a muscle, making the exercise harder throughout it’s full range of motion. An example would be a military press, where you are stronger at the end range of the exercise. But there is a downside. For exercises that involve flexing a joint (such as biceps curl), the band tension is highest when the strength curve is weaker. Thus, for some exercises, bands would reduce the strength training effect.
Brady uses the following three types of bands in his program: 1) Sheathed, which have handles and have a strap that can be anchored against a solid object, 2) Looped, which can be placed around your waist, knees, and ankles, and 3) Shorter-Looped, which are smaller and thicker. The bands are available in different thicknesses to accommodate different levels of strength and conditioning.
The resistance training exercises in the TB12 Method are arranged in a circuit fashion with a 20-second work/rest ratio that helps improve cardio and strength at the same time. Exercises are performed quickly, as Guerrero believes “you can’t train slow and move fast.”
There are two workouts in the TB12 Method, one designed to improve core stability and one that focuses on the lower body. Both involve a circuit of 12 exercises that use bands and bodyweight-only exercises such as squat jumps. Brady says the goal is to create tolerable resistance and stress without overload, and as such “the exercises shouldn’t be hard, and they shouldn’t be easy.” Here is the sequence of the exercises used in the core stability exercises.
1. Pallof Squat
2. Pallof Core Shuffle
3. Core Angel
4. Overhead Core Shuffle
5. Overhead Arm Flutters
6. Plank with a Row
7. X Plank
8. Lateral Resisted Bird Dog
9. Single Leg Balance with Halo
10. High to Low/Low to High Rotation
11. Four-Way Overhead Resisted Foot Fire
12. Resisted Walking Plank
In addition to these workouts, part of the TB12 Method includes self-massages and movements involving foam rollers. The book provides detailed descriptions about how to do both, working the major muscle groups. Proper nutrition and hydration are also critical to achieving success with the TB12 Method, and the book discusses these matters extensively and even provides recipes for healthy meals. With that background, let’s look at some of the concerns about the TB12 Method.
From a scientific perspective, muscle pliability should be thought of as a marketing term, as is the idea of increasing the function of muscles by making them longer. Muscles produce movement by lengthening and shortening – if you make them longer at rest, they will become slack and unstable. Gretchen Reynolds, a writer for The New York Times, interviewed muscle physiology expert Stuart Phillips, a professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, for his thoughts about muscle pliability. “It’s balderdash,” said Phillips, who explained that soft muscles are sick muscles. “When folks do little or nothing, as, for instance, during bed rest, then their muscles get very soft.”
Brady promotes the TB12 Method as a total training system designed to reduce injuries. However, when addressing the issue of mobility and injury prevention, you should look at not just the function of the muscles, but the function of the tendons.
Consider, for example, that the first week of an NFL season is when players should be at their healthiest, and less likely to have injuries that could alter their biomechanics and increase their risk of injury. However, during the first week of the 2011 NFL season, 13 players suffered Achilles ruptures! Sports Scientist Bud Charniga says that one reason could be that taping the ankles or knees, or using knee braces, affects the ability of the tendons to stretch and recoil.
Charniga says a tendon may rupture when it is stretched to 8 percent of its length. He says that taping and not working muscles through their full range of motion (such as by performing half squats rather than full squats) may reduce the tendon’s elasticity. “In all probability the tendon ruptures because this loss of elasticity creates internal resistance to what should be normal coordination of muscles and elongation of tendons and ligaments from hip to foot,” says Charniga.
What also must be considered is that the athletic fitness requirements of a professional quarterback are much different than other positions. It would be unreasonable to think that an NFL football lineman could adequately increase his strength using resistance bands and bodyweight exercises, or that these workouts could increase the speed of a running back or cornerback (as one of the components of speed is being able to apply force into the ground).
Regarding the topic of sports specific training, the position of quarterback requires considerable skill, and those with high skill levels can compensate for less athletic ability. Brady was an exceptional quarterback when he entered the draft in 2000 but only ran 5.28 seconds in the 40-yard dash. In contrast, Cam Newton ran the 40 in 4.59 seconds and Michael Vick did it in 4.33; the fastest NFL combine result is 4.22 seconds by running back Chris Johnson.
The TB12 Method will certainly provide a training effect that can help some individuals achieve their goals of athletic and physical fitness. For others, especially athletes who need to significantly improve their strength and power, a more traditional approach to strength and conditioning is probably necessary.