The TB12 Method – Secret sauce or snake oil?
Full disclosure: I am not a Patriots’ fan. I am not a fan of Bill Belichick or Tom Brady, the two pacers of Patriots’ excellence. Though I am not a fan, I respect them.
Belichick has won 7 Super Bowls, 5 as a head coach of the Patriots and 2 as a defensive coordinator of the Giants. All 5 head coach wins have been with Tom Brady as his quarterback. And as the two are set to play in their 9th Super Bowl together (and possibly win their sixth together), one can’t help but wonder how they do it?
The secret to Belichick’s genius is more obvious than Brady’s. Articles on Belichick’s genius are ubiquitous. Two of my favorites are “Bill Belichick is a genius and here’s why” and “Part of Bill Belichick’s coaching genius is overcoming some of his moves as GM.” Tom Brady is a little for enigmatic. Belichick is widely considered the best coach of his generation, but even given his shining stat sheet Brady’s talent is less obvious. Brady allegedly holds this opinion himself; as per ESPN senior writer Ian O’Connor, “Tom Brady once told an NFL coach, if Aaron Rodgers had Patriots’ offensive scheme & institutional knowledge on opposing defenses, ‘He’d throw for 7,000 yards every year. He’s so much more talented than me.’”1 If he’s not the most talented, what makes Tom Brady successful? To answer this question, I read his book The TB12 Method: How to Achieve a Lifetime of Sustained Peak Performance. What I found was an intelligent and dedicated athlete committed to excelling at his craft; at the same time, I also found a layperson confusing anecdotal evidence and good fortune for sports medicine and nutrition. There’s much to learn from The TB12 Method; from Brady’s good habits to illogical convictions; it’s a full of valuable lessons.
Conveniently, the T12 Method is organized into twelve principles:
Principle 1 – Muscle Pliability
Principle 2 – Holistic and Integrative Training
Principle 3 – Balance and Moderation in All Things
Principle 4 – Conditioning for Endurance and Vitality
Principle 5 – No-load Strength Training
Principle 6 – Promote Anit-Inflammatory Responses in the Body
Principle 7 – Promote Oxygen-rich Blood Flow
Principle 8 – Proper Hydration
Principle 9 – Health Nutrition
Principle 10 – Supplementation
Principle 11 – Brain Exercises
Principle 12 – Brain Rest, Recentering, and Recovery
The Brady school of athletic health is centered around its first principle and something Brady terms “muscle pliability.” This first principle emphasizes “Pliability is the missing leg of performance training — and the most underutilized and least understood.” He defines muscle pliability training as “targeted, deep-force muscle work that lengthens and softens muscles at the same time those muscles are contracted and relaxed.” To me this quacks like a massage. And in the pictures in back, it definitely looks like a massage. As I am writing this article, one can visit www.t12sports.com and see an animation that helps paint Brady’s vision. Brady contends “by rhythmically contracting and relaxing your muscles in a lengthened, softened state through pliability sessions, you make connections between the brain and the body… the body begins to associate muscle function and movement with long, soft, primed muscle contractions.”2 Brady emphasizes “creating the right neural priming, muscle memory, and conditioning that enable your muscles to work in ways that lower the risk of injury during physical activity.”2 He believes in this way he has taught his muscles to lengthen, soften, and disperse trauma efficiently, effectively preventing injury.
The second principles establishes his three pillars of training: muscle pliability, strength training, and conditioning. Here he stresses the importance of shifting attention more to muscle pliability as someone gets older. Brady’s wisdom shines through here. His longevity as an All-Pro QB may stem primarily from this wisdom and his understanding that his training needs change as he ages. The third principle needs no explanation. A quick tour of Brady’s Instagram account will showcase how he lives this principle. From a distance, you’ll find Brady to be a well-tuned athlete, spending time with his wife and kids, and enjoying his hobbies. We all could learn a lot from Brady’s example in this regard. Brady’s maturity is showcased under the fourth principle. He supplements the traditional criteria of good health like blood pressure, cholesterol, and BMI with his own definition: “the energy to do the things I want to do and love to do.”
The fifth is an interesting principle and showcases Brady’s pragmatism. He writes “muscles aren’t for strength or for show. Their function is to protect your bone structure and to support the acts of daily living. You should train to develop the optimal strength to do the job your body needs to do, while limiting the load—especially the overload—you put on your joints.” Nothing truer may be written with regards to functionality. Too often an inflexible, over-hypertrophied aesthetic governs our exercise regimen. In our physical inactive world, restricted to cubicles, too many forget muscles serve a function aside from the aesthetic.
Principles 6 through 12 seem more like space fillers than anything else. But some also double as springboards to for TB12 products including electrolytes and sleep ware. Hidden in these principles, you’ll Brady’s unorthodox diet and the electrolyte mix, boasting 72 trace minerals. I will not get into the details of Brady’s diet and supplementation here, but suffice it to say it is unorthodox and evidence in its favor is sparse.
Brady’s methodology, at first glance, seems practical and adoptable; but one soon realizes there’s a wizard behind the platform, aiming to sell unnecessary supplements and “technology.” Behind the twelve principles is Brady’s health guru Alex Guerrero. Guerrero’s credentials can easily be dismantled with a simple Google search.
In 2008, Brady tore his ACL and was out for the season. As per public reporting, during this period Guerrero went from another trainer to confidant.3-4 Brady has been seeing Guerrero since 2006, when fellow Patriot and Willie McGinest introduced Brady to Guerrero. Guerrero would go to become the QB’s “trainer, nutritionist, counselor, spiritual guide, massage therapist, and godfather to Brady’s youngest son.”6 This is as per Mike Chambers’, writer for Men’s Journal, interview and training sessions with Guerrero (more on this later). Nowhere in Chambers’ descriptors will you find the title “doctor.”
Full document can be found here.
This is because the Federal Trade Commission has prohibited Guerrero from claiming he’s a doctor.6 He actually holds a master’s degree in traditional Chinese medicine from Samra University in Los Angeles, California. The school closed in August 2010 for unclear reasons. Before October 2005, when the FTC acted, Alex Guerrero was “Dr. Alex Guerrero.” He was selling a product called Supreme Greens. He claimed to have conducted a study on 200 terminally ill patients, diagnosed with cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease. He claimed because of Supreme Greens after 8 years, 192 of the 200 survived. As per the FTC, he claimed the product could be used to treat, cure, or prevent cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis. In addition, he assured it could be used for significant weight loss, up to 4 pounds per week and up to 80 pounds in 8 months.6
In April 2012, the FTC made another ruling against Alex Guerrero. This time it was closer to his NFL athletes:
Full letter can be found here.
So what’s the harm? As the FTC letter clearly outlines, “We have serious concerns about your client’s advertising. Among other things, users relying on your client’s unsupported claims might forego appropriate medical treatment and return to competition before they have adequately recovered from their injuries.” This violates the number one rule on responsible physicians and clinicians: do no harm.
The misinformation disseminated by Guerrero is best personified by Wes Welker, a NFL wide receiver and self-proclaimed “poster child” for concussions in the NFL and advocate for Guerrero’s NeuroSafe.
Original image can be found here.
As ESPN’s Mike Reiss writes, “Welker sustained at least six media-documented concussion as an NFL player, which includes a stretch in which he had three concussion in nine months starting in the 2013 season.”8 I’m not sure when Welker started taking NeuroSafe and what he believes its neuroprotective effects are, but one can clearly see how a young athlete who looks up to the fearless, skilled Welker could start taking the supplement as a means to mitigate concussion symptoms and delay seeking help from an expert.
So with all this as public record, what is the draw to Guerrero? Well, perhaps the best public account of Guerrero’s magic can be found in Mike Chambers’ article for Men’s Journal. Chambers “shattered his heal in a bouldering fall” and went to see Guerrero. Five weeks after his surgery, he was convinced to forgo his surgeon’s advice of avoiding weight bearing activity and start training in the TB12 Sports Therapy Center.
He was convinced by Mr. Guerrero to ignore his surgeon’s advice by questioning the surgeon’s motives: “It’s completely understandable that your surgeon’s number one goal is to protect his surgery site… He doesn’t care if you ever run again. He doesn’t care if you want to climb Mount Everest. But here’s the thing about rest: It makes you feel better, but it doesn’t make you get better.”5
Soon he found himself training near supermodel Gisele Bundchen or “G” to Guerrero, who coincidentally scheduled her training at the same time as the Men’s Journal writer. He was started on a anti-gravity treadmill, at 10% of his body weight. In addition to graduated weight bearing through a sophisticated machine usually available to only elite athletes, Guerrero recommended Chambers triple his water intake, wear a bio-ceramic recovery sleeve while sleeping, and take high doses of calcium and vitamin D.5
At his 10-week check up, Chambers found himself in his doctor’s office feeling “as if I’d had an affair.” As Chambers describes it, “his reaction to my mobility was on of disbelief. ‘In my 25 years of practicing medicine, I have never seen someone recover from a calcaneus injury this quickly.’” The doctor asked about the adjunctive treatment, but Chambers kept his “answers vague, partly because I was still not entirely sure how Guerrero worked his magic and partly because I felt bad for breaking my doctor’s orders.”5
I wish he would have told his surgeon exactly what happened in Guerrero’s facility. Perhaps, the doctor would have received a fuller perspective. Though I cannot speak for Chambers’ doctor specifically, I will speak as a doctor myself. The physicians I work with always root for their patients. If one of my patients climbed Mount Everest, whether I had anything to do with it, I would be thrilled and so would all my colleagues. In addition, I would never accuse another person of not caring, without a preponderance of evidence. Perhaps, Mr. Guerrero is unaware of the how much sleep a doctor loses when misfortune finds his or her patient.
More importantly, I wish he would have told his doctor about the antigravity treadmill. This tool gives athletes the ability to gradually dial up the weight bearing from 10% to 100%. In contrast with the average person, who must choose between 0% (rest) and 100% (full weight bearing). I also wish he would he would have talked to the doctor about tripling his water intake and the high doses of calcium and vitamin D he had been taking. His doctor might have educated him about basic pharmacology, therapeutic indices, and unwanted side effects of overdosing almost anything including water.
Ten weeks after his injury, with his confidence returning, Chambers was making his way up the last pitch of New Hamshire’s Black Dike. My guess is that Chambers recovery is not the fastest his doctor has seen in 25 years of practice; just like your baby is not the cutest your co-worker has ever seen. In fact, I see physical therapists motivating with their patients with hyperbole all the time. And I bet, if it is the fastest recovery he’s seen, his doctor would research the evidence for Guerrero’s methods and augment his practice to provide better outcomes for his patients.
I started The TB12 Method: How to Achieve a Lifetime of Sustained Peak Performance looking for sage advice from the G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time) and to be honest, I did find some; but also found a phenomenal athlete confusing pseudoscience for sports medicine. To his credit, he lays the foundation for success by emphasizing function over form, a well-balanced life, and the vitality to pursue his passions.
On deeper exploration, I found Brady’s partner, Mr. Alex Guerrero, historically making dangerously false claims, as evidenced by FTC actions against him. This weekend I will watch Tom Brady lead his team into history. I applaud his on the field performances and exceptional off the field charity work, but cringe at the company he keeps.
1. Holleran, A (2018, September 10). This Tom Brady Quote About Aaron Rodgers Is Going Viral. Retrieved from https://thespun.com/news/this-tom-brady-quote-about-aaron-rodgers-is-going-viral
2. Brady, Tom. The TB12 Method: How to Achieve a Lifetime of Sustained Peak Performance. Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.
3. Newcomb, Tim. (2017, November 1). Tom Brady’s Science Is as Silly as It Sounds. Retrieved from https://www.popularmechanics.com/adventure/sports/news/a28870/tom-bradys-science-tb12-method/
4. Sweeney, Chris (2015, October 1). Tom Brady’s Personal Guru Is a Glorified Snake-Oil Salesman. Retrieved from https://www.bostonmagazine.com/news/2015/10/09/tom-brady-alex-guerrero-neurosafe/
5. Chambers, Mike. The Secrets of Tom Brady’s Personal Trainer. Retrieved from https://www.mensjournal.com/health-fitness/the-secrets-of-tom-bradys-personal-trainer-w479755/
6. Alex Guerrero Final Order Supreme Greens, retrieved from https://www.scribd.com/document/284209992/Alex-Guerrero-Final-Order-Supreme-Greens
7. FTC NeuroSafe Letter to Alejandro Guerrero, retrieved from https://www.scribd.com/document/284209504/FTC-NeuroSafe-Letter-to-Alejandro-Guerrero
8. Reiss, Mike (2017, July 19). Wes Welker: Can’t worry about potential long-term health ramifications from concussions. Retrieved from http://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/20106924/wes-welker-spend-worrying-long-term-health-ramifications