Sports

Tom Brady’s TB12 Method is in schools. Experts have doubts.

In some Tampa Bay-area schools, students use foam rollers and vibrating spheres to massage their muscles as they work toward strength and flexibility goals. It’s All Part of Quarterback Tom Brady’s New Physical Education Curriculumwhose vision for healthy living fuels a fitness empire.

The agreement with schools in Florida’s Pinellas County marks a foray into education for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers superstar and his methods — including some that have been criticized as pseudoscience.

Physical education experts have raised questions about the appropriateness of the approach for school-age children. But the program — and its connection to the seven-time Super Bowl champion — has sparked student interest in fitness and nutrition, others say.

“My legs are much looser and they are not that heavy for me,” said Antoine James, an eighth-grader. “It really helps.”

A pilot project has embedded portions of the program into gym and health courses in 10 middle and high schools in the 96,000 student district. The TB12 Foundation, the charitable arm of Brady’s fitness company, takes it upon itself to train and equip district personnel.

The marketing boost for TB12 is, of course, free.

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Adults who embrace the “TB12 method,” as Brady described it in a 2017 book, can meet with a trainer for $200 an hour at one of his company’s training centers. Its line of products includes a plant-based protein powder, electrolytes, and vibrating rollers that sell for $160.

“I’m sure one of the benefits is helping students get better exercise habits and physical fitness habits,” says Karen Rommelfanger, an adjunct professor of neurology and psychiatry at Emory University. “But is it also starting to attract a new generation of consumers to their product?”

In Pinellas County, the plan is to expand to the rest of the middle and high schools next year. If all goes well, Brady’s foundation wants to use the program as a model for other districts.

“Today, we’re largely targeting a somewhat older customer,” said Grant Shriver, president and CEO at TB12, where the average customer is around 40. “This gives us a bit of a picture of how we could just start approaching more people.”

The TB12 Foundation’s first partnership in education began in 2020 with Brockton Public Schools in Massachusetts, where Brady played for the New England Patriots. TB12 took a dozen athletes from the district to the training center for free. That effort later expanded to Malden Public Schools, also in the Boston area.

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“I grew up where you lifted heavy weights and, you know, you measure strength by how much you can bench press and how much you can squat. And this is completely different,” said Kevin Karo, director of athletics at Brockton Public Schools. now to deploy some of the TB12 staff as strength and conditioning coaches for student athletes.

Most of Brady’s advice is fairly general, including an emphasis on a positive attitude, proper nutrition, and adequate sleep. But some of his guidance was met with skepticism. In his book, he famously attributed his tendency not to burn to his high water intake. His trainer, Alex Guerrero, was investigated before joining Brady by the Federal Trade Commission over unsubstantiated claims that a supplement he was promoting could cure concussions.

Brady, 45, describes his approach as a departure from heavy lift sports culture. He instead endorses exercise bands and something he calls “pliability,” which includes an emphasis on flexibility and massage.

“I feel like everything I’ve learned in football over 23 years has allowed me to continue to help people in different ways,” Brady said on Thursday. “I think starting young is really important, educating people about what works as opposed to how things have always been.”

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Sports trainers are moving towards a model that includes a mix of strength training, flexibility and balance exercises, said Mike Fantigrassi, the senior director of product development for the National Academy of Sports Medicine, which certifies trainers. But he said he was concerned about the word “pliability” being taught in schools as if it had been scientifically proven.

“It’s a term they made up,” he said. “Some of these things are not rooted in good science. And when you bring a curriculum to schools, I think it should be rooted in good science.”

Brady is one of the world’s greatest athletes but lacks expertise in teaching children, said Terri Drain, a past president of the Society of Health and Physical Educators.

“I’m just a little alarmed that a school district the size of this one would seize this celebrity program,” says Drain, who runs a nonprofit that provides professional development for health and physical education teachers.

In terms of nutrition, Brady doesn’t recommend nightshade foods such as peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants because of inflammatory issues. Experts like Eric Rimm say much of Brady’s dietary guidance is extreme and not backed by a “huge scientific basis.”

Still, Rimm, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, said there could be benefits.

“If you scrap the diet of the average eighth-grade American and switch to what he eats, yes, that’s a lot healthier,” he said. “That’s fantastic.”

One perk is that the name Brady helps students perk up in the classroom, said Allison Swank, an eighth grade wellness teacher and track coach in Pinellas County.

“They definitely know who he is and it’s exciting for them to be able to tell you what we’re going to do with his program,” she said.

In pilot classes, students take baseline assessments to evaluate areas such as their strength, conditioning, and flexibility. Then they set goals to strive for improvement, said Ashley Grimes, a health and physical education specialist before K-12.

She said districts across the province have reached out to ask what the program is about and if it’s something they can do as well.

The program does not use Brady’s book as a textbook, emphasizes Ben Wieder, a member of the Pinellas Education Foundation, who uses TB12 himself and approached the foundation to bring the program to the district.

“Tom Brady eats avocado ice cream. For example, we don’t learn to eat avocado ice cream,” Wieder said. Most of the science-based elements of the curriculum are in line with Florida education standards, he said. ‘I think if you were to leaf through the book. you are probably talking about 90.95% of the content is universally accepted.”

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Associated Press reporter Rob Maaddi contributed from Tampa, Florida.

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The Associated Press education team is supported by New York’s Carnegie Corporation. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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