Tom Brady’s TB12 Method popularized the term “muscle pliability” but what does pliability mean and why should I care about it as an athlete?
Muscle pliability is the ability of your muscles to absorb the forces experienced during sports and life.
A pliable muscle is long and soft and ready to absorb the forces thrown at it. A great metaphor for understanding the difference between muscles that are pliable and muscles that are not is imagining your muscles as either steak or beef jerky.
When your muscles aren’t pliable they are tight and stiff like beef jerky, they cannot absorb any force without tearing apart. On the other hand, if your muscles are pliable they resemble more of a steak. Like an uncooked steak, they are soft and ready to absorb the forces thrown their way.
When your body experiences a force like a hard change in direction while running, the force travels through your legs and either dissipates into your muscles or overloads your connective tissue causing long-term injuries such as an ACL or MCL tear.
The question of whether you can absorb that force into your muscle is answered by whether your muscles are adequately pliable and prepped to absorb that force.
An athlete’s greatest ability is their availability, and serious injuries are the greatest setback for athletic performance. You can’t show off your speed or strength if you can’t even set a foot on the field or court because you’re injured.
Muscle pliability is the difference between playing injury-free and being plagued with injuries throughout your career. For Tom Brady, his focus on muscle pliability is the reason why he is still playing at a high level in his forties and has won more Super Bowls than anyone in the history of the NFL.
One question that arises for many people is the difference between muscle pliability and flexibility.
Muscle pliability is about lengthening and softening the muscle while stretching is simply about lengthening the muscle without any focus on softening.
According to the TB12 Method flexibility results in muscles that are certainly able to absorb more force than a short and tight muscle but are missing out on the true power of long and soft pliable muscles (3). Stretching is certainly not a bad thing to do as an athlete but should be supplemented with pliability exercises.
Traditional strength and conditioning training results in short and tight muscles (3). When you continually damage your muscles you are teaching your body to become tight, resulting in unpliable muscles.
I’m still a fan of traditional strength and conditioning training but there are exercises that you can substitute with certain movements or supplement your typical program with to increase your muscle pliability.
In addition, adding self-myofascial sessions or rolling to the beginning/end of your workouts allow you to reap the benefits of traditional strength and conditioning while keeping your muscles pliable.
TB12’s approach to training is centred around using resistance bands to build strength and speed instead of traditional weights.
There are differing outcomes from studies about the effectiveness of using resistance bands to replace traditional weights for exercises. Some studies determined that resistance bands are just as good as weights in all movements (1) while others found that resistance bands should not be used for “prime movements” like squatting (2).
If used properly I believe resistance bands can be just as effective as traditional weights.
Other benefits of using bands instead of weights according to TB12 are that they:
But there isn’t much research to back these claims so evaluate them on your own judgement.
Here are some resistance band substitutions you can use for the major compound exercises to improve your muscle pliability:
There is also an alternative approach if you have access to a bar:
Tom Brady has a very important principle of pliability that I haven’t touched on too much throughout this article. His adapted approach to myofascial release (rolling or massage) which focuses on repeatedly contracting and relaxing your muscles at the same speed as your sport (for football players he recommends 2 times per second).
I’ve chosen not to go too in-depth on it because I don’t want to steal the work that he and the TB12 people have worked on and crafted over the last 10 years.
The basics of it are repeatedly flexing and unflexing your muscles while rolling or getting bodywork to train your mind to assume a relaxed pliable muscle state under stress so when it gets to game time your muscles are ready to absorb any forces thrown their way.
For a more in-depth description and breakdown check out The TB12 Method.
If you want a simple rolling routine check out this post.
Hydration is a crucial factor in muscle pliability. In that beef jerky vs. steak comparison earlier, the major difference is hydration. When your muscles aren’t hydrated they begin to look and feel like beef jerky and can’t absorb the forces thrown their way.
At TB12 they recommend as a minimum of drinking half your body weight in ounces of water per day, and we second that recommendation.
Use this calculator to find out how much you should drink on a daily basis.
Weight in lbs:
Weight in kgs:
Also, use electrolytes in your water to increase the absorption of water into your cells keeping you more hydrated.
Nutrition is also a crucial factor after hydration in ensuring muscle pliability. What we put inside of our bodies has a direct impact on our muscles and in particular, our bodies’ inflammatory responses to certain foods.
As a professional quarterback, Tom Brady deals with an insane amount of inflammation as he gets beaten up each week by two to three hundred pound men looking to put him in the dirt.
As a result, he has placed an immense amount of focus on reducing the amount of inflammation in his body from other controllable sources like nutrition. Even if you don’t play in a contact sport like football everybody has necessary inflammation from training and daily life and should seek to reduce their dietary inflammation.
Certain foods either encourage or reduce inflammation in the body.
Brady has found that a general guideline to follow is “eating fresh, seasonal, organic foods from high quality, and ideally, local sources” (3). More specifically, he eats “80 percent plant-based and 20-percent animal-based food” (3).
This focus on vegetables is due to their alkalizing properties which reduce inflammation in the body as compared to animal products which are often acidic and inflammatory.
|Some Foods to Buy||Foods to Avoid|
I gave some general recommendations from The TB12 Method but I would highly recommend getting the book itself, as it has a much more comprehensive and specific list of foods to buy as well as accompanying recipes.
Sleep is the ultimate recovery tool, and as a result it plays a massive role in increasing your muscle pliability.
TB12’s recommendations for improving your sleep echo a lot of the same recommendations from Coach Ozzy’s article “5 Tips For A Better Sleep”.
Some highlights for improving your sleep include
One unique recommendation that Tom Brady has for improving your muscle pliability is his line of Functional Apparel and Sleepwear
Tom Brady’s functional sleepwear is built with “bioceramics'' which reflect far infrared rays into your body supposedly stimulating your muscles and tendons increasing pliability. In addition to increased muscle pliability, TB12 claims that the sleepwear will improve oxygenation in your body and accelerate ATP (energy) production.
These are some bold claims, so I did some research.
A study from 2015 did find that far-infrared rays can improve recovery in athletes (4), as well, a study in 2019 confirmed that far-infrared rays from bioceramics can improve oxygenation within your body (5). These studies provide some validity to the claims made by TB12 and I am inclined to believe them, however, further research is still necessary as the area is relatively understudied.
I have a set of TB12 sleepwear myself and I’ll be honest I don’t feel any immediate effects after sleeping in them but even if it is a 1% gain I’ll take it.
Pliable muscles are long and soft and ready to absorb the forces thrown at them. They are critical for athletes as pliable muscles will help keep them on the field and injury-free.
Overall, Tom Brady preaches a very similar message as us here at Sled Dog Development. Athletic Performance is more than just strength training, a holistic approach to Mindset, Recovery, Nutrition, and Sleep must be taken to maximize what you are capable of as an athlete.
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