At some schools in the Tampa Bay area, students use foam rollers and vibrating spheres to massage their muscles while working toward strength and flexibility goals. It’s all part of a new physical education program from quarterback Tom Brady, whose vision of healthy living is fueling a fitness empire.
The arrangement with schools in Pinellas County, Florida marks a foray into the education of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers superstar and his methods, some of which have been criticized as pseudoscience.
Physical education experts have raised questions about the suitability of the approach for school-aged 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 a lot looser and they don’t weigh me down too much,” said eighth grader Antoine James. “It really helps.”
A pilot project integrated parts of the program into gym and health classes in 10 middle and high schools in the district with 96,000 students. The TB12 Foundation, the charitable arm of Brady’s fitness business, supports the training of district staff and provides them with equipment.
The marketing boost for TB12, of course, is free.
Adults who take 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 product line includes plant-based protein powder, electrolytes, and vibrating rollers that sell for $160.
“I’m sure one of the benefits is helping students develop better exercise and fitness habits,” said Karen Rommelfanger, adjunct professor of neurology and psychiatry at Emory University. “But is he also starting to recruit another generation of consumers for their product? »
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In Pinellas County, the plan is to expand to the rest of its middle and high schools next year. If all goes well, Brady’s foundation is looking to use the program as a model for other districts.
“Today we’re sort of focusing on a slightly older customer for the most part,” said Grant Shriver, president and CEO of TB12, where the average customer is around 40 years old. “It just gives us a bit of a vision of how we could go and approach a few more people.”
The TB12 Foundation’s first education partnership began in 2020 with Brockton Public Schools in Massachusetts, where Brady played for the New England Patriots. TB12 brought a dozen athletes from the district to its training center free of charge. This effort later expanded to Malden Public Schools, also in the Boston area.
“I grew up where you lifted heavy weights and, you know, you gauge strength by your ability to bench press and your ability to squat. And that’s completely different,” Kevin said. Karo, Brockton Public Schools athletic director. His district is now contracting to use some of the TB12 staff as strength and conditioning coaches for student-athletes.
Most of Brady’s advice is fairly standard, including his emphasis on a positive attitude, good nutrition, and getting enough sleep. But some of his advice has faced skepticism. He attributed his propensity not to get sunburned to his high water intake in his book. His trainer, Alex Guerrero, was investigated before joining Brady by the Federal Trade Commission over unsubstantiated claims that a supplement he promoted could cure concussions.
Brady, 45, describes his approach as a break from heavyweight gym culture. He instead endorses exercise bands and what he calls “bendability,” which emphasizes flexibility and massage.
“I feel like everything I’ve learned in my 23 years of football has empowered me and will continue to help people in different ways,” Brady said on Thursday. “I think it’s really important to start young, to educate people on what works rather than how things have always been.”
Athletic trainers have moved toward a model that includes a mix of strength, flexibility and balance exercises, said Mike Fantigrassi, senior director of product development for the National Academy of Sports Medicine, which certifies trainers. But he said he was concerned the word ‘foldability’ was being taught in schools as if it was scientifically proven.
“It’s a term they made up,” he said. “Some of these things are not rooted in good science. And if you bring a program into schools, I think it should be rooted in good science.”
Brady is one of the world’s greatest athletes, but has no expertise in teaching children, said Terri Drain, former president of the Society of Health and Physical Educators.
“I’m just a little alarmed that a school district the size of this is taking over this celebrity program,” said Drain, who runs a nonprofit that provides professional development for health educators. and physical education.
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Diet-wise, Brady advises against nightshade family foods like peppers, tomatoes and eggplant due to inflammation issues. Experts like Eric Rimm say a lot of Brady’s diet advice is extreme and doesn’t have a “huge science base.”
Still, Rimm, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, said there could be benefits.
“If you get rid of the diet of the average eighth grade American and move on to what they eat, yeah, it’s a lot healthier,” he said. “It’s fantastic.”
One of the benefits is that the Brady name inspires students to wake up in class, said Allison Swank, an eighth-grade wellness teacher and track coach in Pinellas County.
“They really know who he is and it’s exciting for them to be able to connect what we’re going to do with his program,” she said.
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In pilot classes, students take baseline assessments to assess areas such as their strength, conditioning, and flexibility. They then set goals to pursue to improve, said pre-K-12 health and physical education specialist Ashley Grimes.
She said county districts have reached out, asking what the program is about and if it’s something they could do too.
The program does not use Brady’s book as a textbook, pointed out Pinellas Education Foundation fellow Ben Wieder, who uses TB12 himself and approached the foundation to bring the program to the district.
“Tom Brady eats avocado ice cream. Like, we don’t teach eating avocado ice cream,” Wieder said. Most of the science elements of the program meet Florida education standards, he said. “I think if you were to skim through the book, you’re probably talking about 90.95% of the content being universally accepted.”
Associated Press reporter Rob Maaddi contributed from Tampa, Florida.
The Associated Press education team receives support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The AP is solely responsible for all content.