I have a butt problem.
Specifically, I sit on it too much and I don’t use the muscles packed into it as much as I should.
That’s one of the revelations I discovered during a visit to the TB12 Sports Therapy Center, the gym/treatment facility opened by Tom Brady and his body coach Alex Guerrero to give both future Hall of Famers and those who don’t play football for a living a chance to embrace what everyone around there calls “The Method.”
That would be the TB12 Method, which the Center’s site describes this way:
[It] incorporates exercise, nutrition, hydration, cognitive exercise, and unique approaches for maximizing muscle pliability in order to help active individuals achieve and sustain peak performance.
The key there is the P-word: Pliability. Everything revolves around that concept. On the Wednesday that I flew up to Patriot Place, Guerrero’s t-shirt spelled it out:
I fully expected the TB12 Center to be a giant-sized gym, maybe the size of a tennis bubble, with the most state-of-the-art equipment in some kind of unmarked area near Gillette Stadium. But it’s far from that: It’s nestled right next to a Pure Barre and a few steps away from a Dunkin’ Donuts as part of the outdoor mall that is Patriot Place. And yes, there’s a sign outside proclaiming it’s the TB12 Sports Therapy Center with a giant photo of Brady next to the front door. Gillette Stadium, symbolically, looms when you look out from the entrance.
The inside is shockingly austere: There’s a swath of fake turf with a few pieces of equipment in the middle of a space surrounded by treatment rooms that have names like “Finish,” “Focus” and “Grit.” There’s even a backboard and hoop.
And that’s it. This is all that Brady needs to be champion, to “sustain peak performance”? The controversial Guerrero — smiling and cheery as he walked in the same day that reports said the Patriots had banned him from the team plane and the sidelines — wasn’t hiding out in an office. He checked in with me a few times throughout the morning, but didn’t handle my actual workouts. If you didn’t know this place was Brady and Guerrero’s brainchild, you’d think it was just another boutique workout space.
I started the day filling out a questionnaire about sports I play (these days, it’s tennis, golf and occasionally basketball), my activity level (I lift once a week, do cardio twice and wish I could do both more) and past injuries/conditions (a left knee that swells up sometimes, scoliosis, general lower back pain and a broken right wrist I suffered in college on a bad intramural basketball foul).
Then I was led to a room (“Dedication”) with Matt, one of the TB12 trainers, who talked over my history and explained the routine: I’d start by walking and jogging on a treadmill with sensors to pick up any imbalances in my steps, followed by a few simple exercises on the turf that might help him pick up any muscles I was weak with.
The treadmill walk revealed I pronate with my feet, which probably put strain on my legs. A plank and a squat on the turf showed that, like many of my fellow office workers, I was too “quad-dependent” — I wasn’t engaging my glutes much, my hip flexors were locked and I wasn’t using my core enough. It made sense since my job doesn’t require me to do more than sit at a desk and type, even though I try my best to stretch and move throughout the day. I also favored my right side on the squat, probably because of my wonky left knee.
Matt led me back to “Dedication,” where I stretched out on the treatment table. He prepped me for the torture to come: He would give me a deep tissue massage in my legs, hip flexors and glutes in order to stretch out my muscles and make them … pliable!
Working on loosening up the muscles in my legs was tough, but when he dug his thumbs into my hips and pressed repeatedly, I couldn’t help but yelp unprintable things. But each time he nearly finished a muscle group, he instructed me to move my legs as he did one finale massage. That way, he explained, my mind would associate the pain as “positive trauma” and not negative.
That’s the story behind the “pliability”: The Method is all about connecting your body and mind together as one, working not as separate parts but as a whole. I gravitated to that concept as I stood up after the final glute was loosened up — I really did feel lighter on my feet and almost as if I was standing taller.
Weeks before my visit, I was mystified. The TB12 folks sent me a gym bag filled with branded items, and I had a moment like the merchandising scene from Spaceballs:TB12 the hat! TB12 the plant-based protein snacks! TB12 the whey protein powder! TB12 the stretching bands! TB12 the … vibrating sphere? That last one is supposed be used like a foam roller on the back and shoulders.
I could use those with the brand-new TB12 app, or I could tackle the 300-page TB12 Method book, which I paged through on my flight to Logan Airport. I attempted to put any bias aside for my day doing the Brady workout, but it was tough. Really, I can’t eat tomatoes because they’ll cause too much inflammation? You want me to make avocado ice cream? What are the specifics for the perfect night of sleep that I need?
I felt overwhelmed. Cramped in my airline seat, I wondered just how anyone could read this and feel like they could be like Tom Brady, let alone afford it.
We went out to the turf, where another trainer, Christian, had me slip on a resistance band over my thighs. When I did a squat, Christian tapped my stomach and the side of my now-stretched glutes and reminded me to use them. He also used his hands to slightly adjust my posture coming down so I was more conscious of staying balanced and not favoring my right side. Instantly, I could feel a difference. With my core and previously-unused glutes engaged, the pressure came off my quads and knees.
The same went for sports-specific exercises I’d use to improve my tennis swing — a resistance band tethered to a pole would help increase power. Throughout that workout, Christian kept tapping my backside and core, reminding my brain to use them. As strange as it was, it worked. I could see how more sessions might teach me to be more balanced, to use my entire body to generate power.
The feeling I had on the flight back — besides some soreness — was some confusion. I’d just experienced an eye-opening (and glute-opening) workout and training session, but so many questions remained.
There were the scientific questions about Guerrero’s techniques, because critics had called him a “quack” or a “glorified snake-oil salesman” and that pliability was “balderdash,” not to mention the constant swirl of controversy due to a past that included fraud lawsuits.
There were the lingering doubts about quotes I’d heard from Brady like this one (via ESPN.com)
“My brain is thinking only lengthen and soften and disperse before my body absorbs and disperses the impact evenly and I hit the ground.” Or, more simply, as he puts it in the interview, “I know my focus on pliability has helped me avoid so many injuries and bounce back so quickly from hits.”
But then there are the testimonials from fellow writers at MMQB, Men’s Journal and a random 54-year-old dude who tweeted this photo at me this week, calling himself “living proof” that it all worked for him.
My ultimate takeaway was to try to focus on a sort of middle ground: Of course loosening up your muscles and finding ways to use them all together in a balanced manner would help you be a peak performer. Eating better, sleeping better, drinking more water, and reducing inflammation would do the same. And there’s no reason to abandon other more traditional workouts like weight lifting and cardio, but incorporating The Method seems like a good way to improve both.
The problem is that’s all shrouded in mystery, funky recipes, expensive equipment and scientific question marks. It’ll take a while before what’s based in actual science and what’s just myth is edited by its users or even its guru. Maybe there will be parts that will end up in the mainstream world of exercise.
All I know is I have the chance to get rid of my butt problem, and that’s a good thing.
This was originally published in USA Today.