At some Tampa Bay area schools, students use foam rollers and vibration balls to massage their muscles as they work toward strength and flexibility goals. It’s all part of a new PE curriculum from quarterback Tom Bradywhose vision of healthy living fuels a fitness empire.
The arrangement with schools in Pinellas County, Florida, marks a foray into the education of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers star and his methods—including some that have been criticized as pseudoscience.
Physical education experts have raised questions about the appropriateness of this approach for school-age children. But the program — and its links to the seven-time Super Bowl — sparked students’ interest in fitness and nutrition, others say.
“My legs are looser, and they’re not heavy on me,” said Antoine James, an eighth-grade student. “It really helps.”
A pilot project contains portions of the program in gyms and health courses in 10 middle and high schools in a district of 96,000 students. TB12, the charitable arm of Brady’s fitness business, is selecting the tab to train and provide equipment for area staff.
The marketing promotion for TB12 is of course free.
Adults who adopt the “TB12 method,” as Brady described it in a 2017 book, can meet with a coach for $200 an hour at one of his company’s training centers. His line includes plant-based protein powder, electrolytes, and shake rollers that retail for $160.
“I’m sure one of the benefits is helping students improve their exercise and fitness habits,” said Karen Rommelfanger, MD, assistant professor of neurology and psychiatry at Emory University. “But is it also starting to engage another generation of consumers for 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, the Brady Foundation is looking to use the program as a model for other regions.
“Today we’re kind of focused on the customer who is a little bit older mostly,” said Grant Shriver, president and CEO of TB12, where the average customer age is 40. How can we approach more people.”
TB12’s first partnership in education began in 2020 with Brockton Public Schools in Massachusetts, where Brady played for the New England Patriots. TB12 took dozens of zone players to its training center for free. This effort later expanded to include Malden Public Schools, also in the Boston area.
“I grew up lifting heavy weights, you know, you measure strength by how much you bench press and how much you squat. And that’s completely different,” said Kevin Caro, director of athletics at Brockton Public Schools. His district is now contracting to use some TB12 employees. As strength and conditioning coaches for student athletes.
Most of Brady’s advice is fairly mainstream, including focusing on a positive attitude, good nutrition, and adequate sleep. But some of his directives encountered skepticism. In his book, he attributed his famous tendency not to get sunburned to drinking large amounts of water. His trainer, Alex Guerrero, prior to joining Brady, was investigated by the Federal Trade Commission over unsubstantiated claims that the supplement he promoted could treat concussions.
Brady, 45, describes his approach as a departure from gym-heavy culture. He instead advocates exercise bands and something he calls “flexibility,” which includes a focus on flexibility and massage.
“I feel like everything I’ve learned over my 23 years in football has helped me and will allow 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 rather than the way things have always been.”
Athletic trainers are moving toward a model that includes a mix of strength, flexibility and balance exercises, said Mike Vantegrasi, senior director of product development for the National Academy of Sports Medicine, which certifies coaches. But he said he had concerns about the word “flexibility” 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’re introducing a curriculum in schools, I think it should be rooted in good science.”
Terry Darin, former president of the Health and Physical Educators Association, said Brady is one of the world’s greatest athletes, but he has no experience teaching children.
“I’m a little concerned that a school district the size of this school is going to take over this celebrity program,” said Dren, who runs a nonprofit that provides professional development for health and physical education teachers.
In terms of diet, Brady advises against eating foods in the nightshade family such as peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant due to inflammation concerns. Experts like Eric Rimm say many of the Brady diet guidelines are extreme and not supported by a “huge scientific base”.
However, Reem, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, said there may be benefits.
“If you eliminate the normal eighth-grade Americans’ diet and switch to what they eat, so much the better,” he said. “that’s cool.”
One positive aspect is that the Brady name keeps students active in the class, said Alison 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 connect what we’re going to do to his show,” she said.
In the experimental classes, students take basic assessments to assess areas such as their strength, conditioning, and flexibility. Ashley Grimes, a health and physical education specialist for pre-kindergarten to 12th grade, said they then set goals to pursue improvement.
She said districts across the county have reached out, asking what the program is about and if they can do that as well.
The program does not use Brady’s book as a textbook, emphasized Pinellas Education Foundation member Ben Vader, who uses TB12 himself and has approached the foundation about bringing the program to the area.
“Tom Brady eats avocado ice cream. For example, we don’t know how to eat avocado ice cream. He said most elements of the science-backed curriculum are in line with Florida education standards.” I think if you were to review the book. You probably speak 90, 95% of the content is universally accepted.”
Associated Press reporter Rob Maadi contributed from Tampa, Florida.
The Associated Press education team receives support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. AP is solely responsible for all content.
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