What kind of fitness advice can we glean from Tom Brady's new book 'The TB12 Method'? The Get-Fit Guy dives into Brady's emphasis on Muscle Pliability, Variable Resistance, and more.
Replacing Weights with Resistance Bands
“Some people want denser muscles. As an athlete, as a quarterback, I don’t want them,” Brady said on the CBS TV show "This Morning." “I want to keep my muscles strong and active, but also pliable.” Which aligns well with the section of the book titled “Train At The Speed of Your Sport,” which can be summed up in this one sentence: "for long term peak performance, you can’t train slow and move fast." When a freight train of a man is barreling toward you, intent on flattening you before you throw the ball, it is certainly in your best interest to practice moving quickly. A lot more quickly than you would with a massive barbell perched on your shoulders.
Brady told the NY Times: "If there's so much pressure, just constant tugging on your tendons and ligaments, you're going to get hurt. Like with a kid, when they fall, they don't get hurt. Their muscles are soft. When you get older, you lose that." This aligns well with the section of the book called “Form First,” which highlights the importance of form over reps. As we get older, our bodies become less and less forgiving of us moving out of proper alignment. Which is why we thought it was so hilarious when our fathers would throw their backs out by opening a car door when we were miserable teenagers. We just didn't get it. Aging gracefully is hard work.
TB12 focuses on having a workout protocol that primarily involves using elastic resistance bands (usually referred to as Variable Resistance), followed by massage (often using a vibrating foam roller). This is certainly a process that can lengthen and mobilize muscles—unlike barbells which can shorten and tighten them—but will this combo work for someone who doesn’t have great genes, talent, focus, discipline, and 18+ years at a job that involves working out with highly trained professionals using the best gear that money can buy?
The Science of Variable Resistance
In some cases Variable Resistance seems to be even more effective than dumbbells, bars, and plates.
There is some great evidence that Variable Resistance (resistance bands) can be extremely effective. In some cases they seem to be even more effective than dumbbells, bars, and plates.
A study on Cornell Student-Athletes, which included volunteers from the men's basketball and wrestling teams and the women's basketball and hockey teams at Cornell University, said, “Compared with C (control), improvement for E (elastic) was nearly three times greater for back squat, two times greater for bench press, and nearly three times greater for average power.” So, when compared with some regular weight training shmoes, the guys doing the variable resistance training experienced double the gains in one-rep max, and triple the gains in average power, after seven weeks.
In another study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning researchers tested Variable Resistance on a middle-aged, sedentary population of women. The study showed that even low-intensity elastic band training was found to be at least as effective as regular weight training.
Another study that was likely of great interest to Brady (and the rest of us middle-aged athletes) found that Variable Resistance training showed greater anabolic hormone responses over conventional weight lifting, meaning that it provided a greater increase in serum Testosterone and Growth Hormone than regular weight lifting. These two hormones often become a problem for us as we age.
As I flipped through pages and pages of photos of fitness folks demonstrating the resistance band workouts, and explosive plyometrics, I couldn’t help but be intrigued and itching to give it a try. The use of multi-joint, full-body, full range of motion moves aligns nicely with my own philosophies about fitness. Not to mention the fact that you could easily do these workouts outside of a gym. These are workouts you could do at home, in a park, or really anywhere you can spread out a yoga mat and not punch the ceiling (without jumping). Plus, we are not talking about your YMCA's resistance bands here. These are serious bands with serious resistance. For instance, the ones they sell at a company called X3 can apply up to 500 lbs (yes, 500 pounds) of force.
Brady said in a recent GQ article: "It's about having all of my muscles function at 100 percent. Getting them all to expand and contract, always getting great muscle function to create that system in your body that can do it for a long period of time."
Well, it's hard to argue that he is not functioning at 100 percent. He is playing at an elite level well beyond the usual longevity of a quarterback, and aside from an ACL tear back in 2008, he hasn't been sidelined for long. Again, is it genetics, epigenetics, biology, just plain luck, or his unusual workouts? I can’t say for sure but the fact that he is willing to go completely against the grain makes his training protocol worth a good, long look.
Criticism of TB12
Since the book arrived on the shelves, I have seen a few nasty articles being circulated. Some of them pointing out the cost of the equipment required to do the TB12 workouts ($150 and up), or skepticism around how elastic bands could provide enough of a workout for a grown football player. I have also seen much poo-poo-ing of the apparently made-up term Muscle Pliability, but as I hopefully have described here these are sightly unfounded arguments. Sure Muscle Pliability isn’t a thing (yet) and while the workouts are not groundbreaking or earth-shattering, I see nothing particularly wrong with the approach this book takes, especially if you are maintaining the fitness of an aging athlete that has found an interesting way to keep his strength and mobility intact at a time of life when most football players have hit the shower for good.
Will this approach work for everyone? No. Will doing these workouts make you into a star NFL-er? Certainly not. Will I incorporate some of the workouts in TB12 into my own regimen along with many other mainstays such as lifting heavy weights, sprinting occasionally, and moving frequently at a moderate pace over varied terrain? Yes, at least until I find something else shiny and new to try out.