It seemed appropriate after this year’s Super Bowl (with apologies to Connie Shuman and Mike Carew who can’t stand TB) to discuss Tom Brady’s approach to keeping fit at the advanced football age of 43. There’s lots of information on line about the TB12 system, but I was curious about the basic philosophical principles behind the exercise program and how they might apply to swimming.
One of the people who helped Tom Brady is Tom House, a former major league baseball pitcher. He emphasizes that one aspect, almost above all, is Brady’s “commitment to excellence.” “His commitment to getting better, to excellence, is pathological.”
Of course, it helps that one has $50 million dollars–Brady’s contract with Tampa Bay, to support that commitment. Commitment, though, doesn’t have to cost any money. It doesn’t have to be “pathological.” It does have to be consistent.
House charts the level of Brady’s program into four parts. He says, “They’re called windows of trainability. Your first window is neurological. Your second window is muscle. Your third window is skill acquisition. And your fourth window is skill retention.”
Explained that way, swimmers can follow Brady’s method. Most Masters swimmers have spent many years training their neurological system to repeat the same motions correctly again and again. It’s called training with correct form. All of us could improve by having a friend or coach look at our stroke once in a while to see if we have fallen into some stroke faults.
We all lose some muscle tone as we age. The focus in TB12, however, is not in lifting heavy weights but in flexibility, pliability. TB12 uses rubber bands instead of weights while performing the standard lifts. There is also a focus on speed. Dave Radcliff’s COVID program, which he put on-line, is a similar approach.
Most Masters swimmers have achieved reasonable skill in swimming the four strokes. Here again, have someone look at your strokes and make suggestions for improvement. Now for the hard part: do the changes in practice. Back off a bit on yardage and focus on swimming smoothly and easily.
In this COVID season, it is easy to try to make the most of limited pool time, to swim as much yardage as possible when you can get into a pool. The important part is to get in the water and swim correctly. Make the body remember what good swimming still feels like. When more pools open up, the yardage will come. That is the fourth window of trainability.
Alex Guerrero, cofounder of TB12 and another of Brady’s trainers, said in Runner’s World, “Our belief is that you train the way you play, because ultimately you will play the way you train.” He followed up with the comment, “Pliability and the lengthening of muscles is the only way to peak performance, according to the TB12 method.” Both of these ideas fit right into swimming.
When you go to a TB12 gym, you talk first about goals and how and what you eat. (If you are a Masters swimmer, you know this stuff.) Next will be about 20 minutes of massage, followed by band work to supplement some of the areas the masseuse worked on directly. Keeping a strong core was emphasized throughout the workouts, and a coach will make adjustments to the athlete’s body when not in correct position for each exercise. Interesting enough, static stretching isn’t recommended by the TB12 method.
This, of course, is only one of many different land-based training programs offered by professional trainers. I will caution everyone that the TB12 program as shown on-line is intended to make money for its owners. You can ignore the diet supplements and other items on sale. The most important part, however, is that Masters swimmers can adopt and adapt the training attitude of Tom Brady to the pool.
(Eugene) Register-Guard (1-24-2021), pp. 1C and 12C, and ‘Runner’s World,’ Feb. 6, 2021.