We’ve written a ton of different Selection preparation articles and, being creatures of habit, stuck with the tried and true methods that got us from point A to point B. And truth be told, there is no substitute for learning to navigate and carrying a rucksack. Because when a candidate is in his Selection course, regardless of service or specialty, he/she is going to have to know how to navigate and tote the big pain pill.
However, we’re always looking for better ways to prepare ourselves. And for several years, I’ve been intrigued by the work of Alex Guerrero. If you don’t know who that is, we’ll get to that in just a second, but the people who work closely with Alex absolutely swear by his methods and his entire performance and recovery program.
Guerrero had worked with several NFL players and his methods got them better prepared for the rigor of playing a very physical game. He has also helped them minimize injuries and has enabled them to recover faster. After working with a couple of members of the New England Patriots, one of the players (Willie McGinest) introduced Guerrero to Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady in the early 2000s.
In 2004 Brady had elbow tendonitis so severe that it was affecting his play and threatening his career. He had been getting massages, cold treatments, hot treatments, ultrasound, electrostimulation treatments, ART, chiropractic work, stretching, and everything else in between. But Guerrero talked to him about a different method — muscle pliability. Brady’s elbow responded positively to the work Guerrero performed. “I could feel a difference in my elbow,” Brady said. “Forty-eight hours later, after two more treatments, the improvement was even more noticeable.” In time, the pain would completely subside.
Brady dedicated himself to Guerrero’s approach and is still playing at the highest level at age 42, while most players his age have long since retired. As Brady continued to stay healthy and perform at his peak on the field, he and Alex found themselves wondering why nobody else was incorporating pliability into their training the way that they had. A few years after Brady rapidly recovered from a season-ending ACL injury, the pair decided to bring their methods to the public by opening the first TB12 facility at Patriot Place in Foxboro, MA. They have since added a TB12 Performance & Recovery Center on Boylston Street in Boston’s Back Bay.
Recently, we learned that in November 2019, the Green Beret Foundation partnered with TB12 to provide pliability treatments for a variety of veterans.
So, the question was, would the lifestyle program that is espoused by an NFL MVP work for the tactical athlete? We know it works incredibly well for high school, college, and professional athletes, but is the program a fit for military members, or in our case, Special Operations Forces members? Furthermore, is it a program that the operators can then keep up with on their own?
With that in mind, SOFREP.com reached out to TB12 and pitched the question to them, asking if the folks there would be willing to talk with us and discuss the program at length. They agreed to the interview with the stipulation that it be done at the TB12 Performance & Recovery Center and that the author (me) actually come in to: “experience it …we would like you to come in for a session. We would talk about pliability, and perform a one-on-one pliability treatment. It would give you a better understanding of what we do and how it could benefit the soldiers.” With an offer like that, how could I refuse?
So, you’re asking… what is the TB12 Method? It mixes muscle pliability work and functional strength and conditioning with advice regarding proper nutrition and hydration and cognitive fitness — we will get back to that later.
I met with one of their TB12 Body Coaches, Charles “Chuck” Gilman, who I had worked with several times in the past and already had built-in trust for. Chuck is outstanding at what he does. We talked about how the TB12 approach works, and Gilman explained pliability to me in more detail: “it is an overall state where the muscles are elastic and resilient, able to fully contract and relax, restoring vitality and 100 percent muscle pump back to the muscles. They’re able to do the things we expect them to do, time after time,” Chuck said.
When muscles get tight, he explained, they tighten around the joints — and when that happens over time, it increases load forces and increases the frequency of strains, sprains, and joint pain.
“As a soldier, you want your muscles to fire at 100 percent but then be able to relax so that they can recover and re-educate [themselves] to be able to absorb forces. So, it isn’t just what we do here at TB12, but what you do at home,” Gilman explained to me.
So when allowing the muscles to recover effectively, you should also lengthen and keep them soft. That is the opposite of what we as SOF have preached for generations. Didn’t we want hard-muscled, barrel-chested freedom fighters in SOF? Not according to the TB12 method.
TB12 believes that adequate hydration requires drinking roughly half your body weight in ounces of water a day. So, if you weigh 220 pounds, you should be drinking 110 oz of water per day. I thought I drank a lot of water per day, but according to their program, I’m running a little low. As Chuck put it, if a muscle is a bit dehydrated it is like beef jerky. It gets stiff and inflexible.
Another key part of the TB12 prehab/recovery/performance program is proper nutrition. As Gilman told me, “as we train to a standard, we need to properly fuel our bodies to the same standard. And it isn’t just the muscle pliability work we do, it isn’t just the workout, it is the entire package of what we do. It is the entire mindset of how we prepare.”
Moderation is the key to this. The TB12 Body Coaches preach small changes at first — like increasing the number of anti-inflammatory vegetables in our diet.
TB12’s message is to become the best version of yourself that you can. In terms of TB12 workouts, the Body Coaches first perform a movement analysis to determine how you move and how your joints are working. You walk barefoot on a treadmill that has cameras located around it to film your stride. Computers are connected to the treadmill to measure your gait. Then the Body Coaches repeat the process with your workout shoes on.
TB12 focuses on symmetry, and obviously the goal is to have zero percent difference between your left and right side (though under five percent is okay). Having been injured on the left side, the results of my scan were predictable. While walking barefoot, my right side, compensating for the left, was working 5.4 percent more. With shoes on this difference rose to 8.8 percent.
The key to rectifying this is to perform muscle pliability work focused on the muscles around your joints to help lengthen and soften the muscles. This isn’t your run of the mill massage — if you’ve ever seen the video of Guerrero working on Brady before a game, it will give you an idea of how intense this is. Having suffered for 20+ years of chronic pain, everything on my body was tight. Chuck commented that I had the tightest calves of anyone he’s ever seen, and every one of those muscles has to be loosened up for the program to work. The 30-40 minute muscle pliability session can be excruciatingly painful at times, but by the time it was done, my entire body was loose and more relaxed.
You don’t have to visit a TB12 Body Coach to develop pliable muscles, though. TB12 advocates for “self-pliability” movements both before and after each workout using a proprietary pliability roller that has a built-in vibration unit that helps to stimulate the nerves in each muscle group and increases overall pliability. The pliability roller worked much better than the standard foam roller I normally use.
Many have said that the TB12 workout is anti-weights, but that’s not the case. TB12 isn’t anti-weight at all but is very pro-resistance bands. It uses the bands for everything, as they come in a variety of widths and lengths that provide peak contraction throughout the entire range of motion for nearly any exercise imaginable.
Exercise movements at TB12 are designed to be done quickly to mimic the movements one would make on a sports field or when conducting a mission. Their philosophy is, you won’t be doing a slow, controlled movement on a football field (or in this case a battlefield), so you should prepare your body by training fast. Those old soldiers will remember the old axiom, “we train as we fight.”
We’ve all used bands before, but the TB12 system incorporates bands much more effectively and makes it easy to work out just about anywhere. They make their wide assortment of bands available with a door anchor and snap links that make the system very portable. Once the workout ends, it’s back to the roller to finish up with some pliability work.
This combination of muscle pliability work, adequate hydration, balanced nutrition, and functional strength and conditioning is the core of the performance lifestyle that TB12 uses to train their clients. Not only does it work extremely well, but it can also be maintained by operators both at home and in deployment. It will cut down on injuries while improving the recovery time.
I wish this system was around back in the day, and we could have had Body Coaches on staff. Perhaps a lot of retired members of the community would be walking a lot better now.