A fitness regimen developed by the NFL’s top quarterback, Tom Brady of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is being offered on a pilot basis to about 10 schools in Pinellas County, Florida, the Washington Post reports.
Anecdotes from students and physical education teachers suggest the program is a hit. But it’s unclear how much of the appeal is a function of Brady’s star status and how much of it comes from the program’s actual benefits. Of course, Brady’s success with the method and his seven—yes, seven—Super Bowl victories, from a scientific perspective, isn’t much more than an anecdote itself.
“The roller is my favorite because it helps a lot,” one eighth grader on a middle school volleyball team who plays football outside of school was quoted as saying, referring to a vibrating foam roller used in the program to loosen up.
“We’re introducing kids to concepts they haven’t thought of before and tools they haven’t used before,” the Post quoted Stacy Baier, chief executive officer of the TB12’s education foundation, as saying. In Pinellas County alone, she said, “there are a lot more schools waiting in the wings to get it.”
The TB12 method’s central thesis involves movement, muscle work, hydration, nutrition, and mental fitness. Adherents talk about pliability, or flexibility, as if it were a magic bullet for a lifetime of muscle and body fitness. It is certainly one of the key components of any physical fitness program. The Mayo Clinic lists these elements as key in any fitness program:
- Aerobic (cardiovascular) fitness
- Strength training
- Core (lower back, abdomen, pelvis) exercises
- Balance training
- Flexibility and stretching
As far as the science goes behind this or any physical education regimen, data are sparse. The New York Times reviewed Brady’s book and said it was “short on science”: Dietary choices weren’t supported with research, and understanding why Brady made the choices, the review said, would require people to buy a separate nutrition guide—for $200. That’s only a fraction of the investment in equipment schools would have to make if they were to adopt this program for PE.
But maybe the science behind a physical fitness regimen isn’t as important as getting kids excited about physical fitness and eating habits. Maybe the particulars of the program work for the strong athletic type like Brady but not for a non-athletic student, who will have to evaluate the program’s effectiveness and adapt it for their own body and mind. It won’t take kids long to figure that out, though.
Importantly, students set goals and evaluate their progress in the program. “This is exciting because we’re moving physical education to where it needs to go, to more student ownership and student direction,” the Post quoted Ashley Grimes, the Pinellas County educator who led the revision of the PE curriculum to incorporate the TB12 methods, as saying.
Although some critics argue that teaching kids about regimens that aren’t firmly rooted in science could lead them astray, others point out that engaging kids in physical activity, health, and wellness is more important than science.
Malachy McHugh, director of research at the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, told the Post that debating the science behind TB12 is much less critical. “If it’s more attractive to prospective participants and doesn’t do any harm, that’s a great starting point. … I suspect kids will be more inclined to do the training program created by Tom Brady than to attend a calisthenics class with Mr or Mrs Smith.”