At some Tampa Bay area schools, students use foam rollers and vibrating balls to massage their muscles as they work toward strength and flexibility goals. It’s all part of a new physical education curriculum from quarterback Tom Brady.whose vision of healthy living is fueling a fitness empire.
The deal with Pinellas County, Florida schools 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 show, and its connection to the seven-time Super Bowl champion, has piqued students’ interest in fitness and nutrition, others say.
“My legs are much looser and they don’t weigh me down as much,” said Antoine James, an eighth-grader. “It really helps.”
A pilot project has incorporated parts of the program into fitness and health courses at 10 middle and high schools in the district of 96,000 students. The TB12 Foundation, the charitable arm of Brady’s fitness business, is footing the bill to train district staff and provide them with equipment.
The marketing push for TB12 is, of course, free.
Adults who adopt the “TB12 Method,” as described by Brady in a 2017 book, can meet with a trainer for $200 an hour at one of his company’s training centers. His product line includes plant-based protein powders, electrolytes, and vibrating rollers that retail for $160.
“I’m sure one of the benefits is helping students develop better exercise and fitness habits,” said Karen Rommelfanger, associate professor of neurology and psychiatry at Emory University. “But are you also starting to sign up another generation of consumers for your product?”
In Pinellas County, the plan is to expand to the rest of its middle and high schools next year. If all goes well, the Brady foundation looks to use the program as a model for other districts.
“Today we’re targeting a slightly older customer for the most part,” said Grant Shriver, president and CEO of TB12, where the average customer is in their 40s. “This gives us a little insight into how we could reach 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 their training center for free. That effort later expanded to Malden Public Schools, also in the Boston area.
“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 Brockton Public Schools athletic director Kevin Karo. His district is now hiring to use some of the TB12 staff as strength and conditioning coaches for student-athletes.
Most of Brady’s advice is fairly standard, including an emphasis on a positive attitude, good nutrition, and adequate sleep. But some of her guidance has been met with skepticism. He attributed his propensity for not getting sunburned to his high water intake in his book. His trainer, Alex Guerrero, was investigated before joining Brady by the Federal Trade Commission for unsubstantiated claims that a supplement he promoted could cure concussions.
Brady, 45, describes his approach as a departure from heavy-lifting gym culture. Instead, he endorses exercise bands and something he calls “flex,” which includes an emphasis on flexibility and massage.
“I feel like everything I’ve learned over the course of 23 years in football has allowed me and will allow me to continue to help people in different ways,” Brady said Thursday. “I think starting young is really important, educating people about what works rather than how things have always been.”
Sports trainers have been moving toward a model that includes a mix of strength training, 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 that the word “flexibility” was being taught in schools as if it were 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 bringing a curriculum to schools, I think it should be based on good science.”
Brady is one of the best athletes in the world, but he has no experience teaching children, said Terri Drain, past president of the Society of Health and Physical Educators.
“I’m a little bit alarmed that a school district the size of this would cling to this celebrity program,” said Drain, who runs a nonprofit organization that provides professional development for health and physical education teachers.
On the diet front, Brady advises against nightshade family foods such as bell peppers, tomatoes and eggplants due to inflammation concerns. Experts such as Eric Rimm say much of Brady’s dietary guidance is extreme and not backed by “great science.”
Still, Rimm, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, said there could be benefits.
“If you’re ditching the diet of the average eighth-grade American and switching to what they eat, yeah, that’s much healthier,” he said. “That is fantastic.”
One plus is that the name Brady makes students perk up in class, said Allison Swank, an eighth-grade wellness teacher and track and field coach in Pinellas County.
“They definitely know who he is and it’s exciting for them to be able to tie what we’re going to do to their show,” he said.
In pilot classes, students take benchmark tests to assess areas such as their strength, conditioning, and flexibility. Then they set goals for improvement, said Ashley Grimes, a pre-K-12 health and physical education specialist.
She said districts across the county 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, emphasized Ben Wieder, a member of the Pinellas Educational Foundation, who uses TB12 and approached the foundation about bringing the program to the district.
“Tom Brady eats avocado ice cream. For example, we don’t teach how to eat avocado ice cream,” Wieder said. Most of the science-backed curriculum elements are in line with Florida educational standards, she said. “I think if you were to read the book. I’m probably talking about 90, 95% of content is universally accepted.”
Associated Press reporter Rob Maaddi contributed from Tampa, Florida.
The Associated Press educational team is supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The AP is solely responsible for all content.