Tom Brady's Controversial Fitness Empire Is Doing One Thing Right
Despite a history of pseudoscience, TB12's training bands are a worthy addition to any workout regimen
Welcome to The Workout From Home Diaries. Throughout our national self-isolation period, we’ll be sharing single-exercise deep dives, offbeat belly-busters and general get-off-the-couch inspiration that doesn’t require a visit to your (now-shuttered) local gym.
TB12 has existed for a few years now as a celebrity wellness brand — much like goop — that sort of means well, but in its eagerness to anoint anecdotal success (albeit via a very handsome anecdoter, with multiple hands’ worth of Super Bowl rings) as authoritative, has decided exercise physiology is a matter of opinion rather than quantifiable fact.
Alex Guerrero, a 55-year-old Argentinian with a degree in Chinese medicine from a California school that no longer exists, is a big reason why. Guerrero is a co-founder of TB12 with Tom Brady, and has a history of making up things, to put it bluntly. He’s been investigated by the Federal Trade Commission twice, once for selling an additive called Supreme Greens that he claimed saved the lives of 192 terminally-ill people over eight years. Mild legal and journalistic digging later revealed that the study never happened and the silver bullet supplement was fake. Later on, Guerrero reappeared with another product, an “anti-concussion” nostrum called NeuroSafe.
Guerrero’s second act has been quieter. For 12 years, he’s been Brady’s “spiritual guide, counselor, pal, nutrition adviser, trainer, massage therapist and family member” (along with godfather to Brady’s son). Aside from disputes with Coach Bill Belichick over access to team facilities and increased attention from Boston and national media after another client, New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman, tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2018, he’s managed to keep a low profile.
The approach hasn’t exactly changed: Guerrero is Billy McFarland in activewear, a human personification of those “ionized” water bottles people have started buying for $7 at corner markets. But for reasons that probably won’t be uncovered until the post-Brady retirement books arrive, he’s maintained the ultimate ally in the greatest quarterback of all time, and each year that Brady’s 43-year-old frame plays 20 years younger, Guerrero’s methods earn a bit more clout with those willing to forgive his past.
Brady has also disseminated his share of fitness humdingers over the years, particularly in his lifestyle book The TB12 Method: he said he’s optimized his body to “disperse” the shock of sacks, he doesn’t eat any nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant) and he credits post-outdoor workout hydration with preventing sunburns. You don’t need to fire up PubMed.gov to know that’s a load of correlation-not-causation crap. These things work for Brady, but then, so do a lot of things within the earthly realm, fourth-quarter Eli Manning not withstanding.
Still, one tenet of the TB12 regimen is worthy of attention, even if it’s long been packaged by the brand in a puzzling way. That would be training with resistance bands, a regimen that can build full-body strength and flexibility while avoiding some of the more injurious elements of weight training. Brady and Guerrero swear by the practice, and partly credit Brady’s longevity on the football field to a year-over-year commitment with the bands. Still some of their quotes have suggested they don’t know exactly (scientifically) why they love it.
TB12 has touted a concept they call “muscle pliability,” referring to a mode of training that apparently converts muscles into veritable shock absorbers. Brady writes in The TB12 Method about the importance of achieving “soft” muscles, as opposed to “dense” muscles, in order to stay fresh during a long, difficult season. (It’s not real, as The New York Times already took pains to point out.) With pliability, Brady clarifies that he isn’t referring to elasticity, a common practice associated with yoga or mat Pilates, which hinges on posture-correcting movements and improving range of motion. That’s frustrating, because among several other real-life wellness terms, he should be.
All the pseudoscience nonsense notwithstanding, a regimen with resistance bands is a worthy addition to any everyday workout routine, whether you spend Sunday afternoons playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or gardening in the yard. And while such a practice might not result in “muscle pliability” (they sell T-shirts), it will involve time under tension, help you hone your form and build strength, range of motion and flexibility.
In this regard, TB12 is actually onto something; it makes an excellent (if slightly expensive) entry-level resistance resistance band set that we’ve had the chance to test out. As the brand attempts to expand from a couple of Boston-based performance centers (all the more important now, given Brady’s departure), magnify performance longevity and familiarize the rest of the country with its goop-for-guys mission, it will look to rely on a variety of products, including Theragun-esque recovery spheres, multivitamins (which are NSF-Certified this time, at least), electrolyte powers and shaker bottles. TB12’s straightforward resistance band set, though, is a perfect product to build around.
Resistance bands are a highly unheralded training tool because they’re rarely available in the “open gym” section of most fitness centers. They’re often associated with rehab appointments, one-on-one sessions with creative trainers or hardos at the office who keep them readily accessible in a desk drawer. But the extended lockdown has been a welcome reminder that a basic, working knowledge of resistance bands can prove handy, and a detailed understanding of how to mix them with moves you’re already familiar with will help shock the body and build muscle.
The TB12 set has two red “medium” bands, two grey “light” bands, one grey “light” band that’s shorter, a door anchor and two carabiners. In the realm of resistance bands, which includes therapy bands, figure-eight bands, ring bands, clip-tube bands, fit loop bands and compact bands with built-in handles, the simplicity here is appreciated. The red ones offer more resistance (7-32 lbs.) than the grey ones (4-19 lbs.), and all are closed loops — essentially giant rubber bands. You can set up the door system if you like, affixing the bands to it via a carabiner. The short grey band, meanwhile, can handle 7-32 lbs.
There’s a TB12 app, naturally, and it’ll offer beginner’s workouts on how to use the bands. But you don’t necessarily need it. Unlike free weights, where experimentation is a fast track to a back injury, resistance bands welcome a make-your-own-adventure workout, and with a set as condensed as the TB12 looped kit, we were able to home in on a few exercises immediately.
With the long grey band: stand on it with your feet, lock your elbows in, and perform bicep curls. Or stretch it behind your back and knock out tricep extensions. With the red band, loop up it around your back and around each thumb, then try to knock out some push-ups. The idea is to shift the usual strength training focus — reps, weight — to intensity and proper motion. Try to aim for time, and make an effort to align your posterior chain. Keep your chin up, your eyes straight and don’t strain with your back.
Studies have indicated that resistance bands perform at least as well as weights in helping trainees build muscle mass. Anything near equivalency makes them a must-have, in our opinion. Successful fitness routines benefit from body-jostling wrenches. Different is good for the body. And this form of different is good for the entire body. In addition to upper body exercises, we also worked the core with side rotations, and the glutes with a banded deadlift. The bands are multi-purpose, too. If you’ve got a bar handy, you can use the medium band for weight-assisted pull-ups. Not to mention they’re absurdly lightweight and affordable, compared to dumbbells or kettlebells.
Tom Brady reportedly gave up weights for good over seven years ago in order to train exclusively with resistance bands. It seems to work for him. Should you do the same? That really depends on what you want “work” to mean. If you have specific weight goals you’d like to attain on the bench or at the squat rack, resistance bands won’t get you there alone. But they make a fine companion to a lifting regimen that is tough on the joints (curl an E-Z bar for a week and you’ll know what we mean), and a less-intimidating-than-you-think entry into muscle building for those who spend most of their exercise hours focusing on endurance activities.
TB12’s set, we should point out, isn’t the only name in town. Rogue Fitness is the most trusted name in the industry; it supplies top-notch equipment for gyms across the country and offers a variety of different bands. You’ll just have to do a bit of legwork in assembling a set, and the total price could tally up. If you have a reinforced apparatus to attach them to, though (TRX’s Xmount works perfectly) via a couple of carabiners, Rogue’s handle-set tube bands will take your training to another level, opening up routes for various rows and extensions. Dick’s Sporting Goods also has some options that cost about 50% of the TB12 set.
We’ll readily endorse Brady’s bands though, which even come with their own drawstring bag, a nod to their portability. Products that are functional, effective and real — if TB12 is going to hang around for a while, which all indications seem to suggest, this is the direction the fitness world hopes the brand will go in.
Oh, just don’t be alarmed if your muscles won’t turn “soft” after weeks of hard work with these bands. We’re still waiting on ours.
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