"I have a question I want to start off with," Chuck Gilman asked me. "What's your goal?"
Chuck, a TB12 Body Coach, was looking at me intently, calmly waiting for an answer. He posed his question while I was sitting on a treatment table at the TB12 Center in Foxboro. I wasn't expecting this question.
I had anticipated answering questions strictly about my injuries. But Chuck first wanted to understand what motivated me. I hesitated, thinking about how to frame my answer. Deep-down I knew what I wanted to say. I wanted to declare that my goal was not just to run again -- but race again.
I had spent my 20s and 30s doing everything from 800-meter sprints to Ironman triathlons. But because of lingering knee and ankle injuries, I had been unable to run pain-free for seven years. For seven years, each time I tried to run, I would be limping back to my starting point after a hundred yards. I was paying the price for years of pounding the pavement and rarely addressing my nutrition, mobility, strength or balance. Whenever I got injured, I would apply ice here and there but mostly just tried to run through it.
About a decade ago, well into my 40s, running through injuries became harder. Eventually, it became impossible. I had pictured myself as a runner for life, and I could no longer consider myself a runner. Certainly not a racer. In fact, my worries shifted to the needs of everyday life. I began to have trouble going down a flight of stairs. I would favor the left side of my body and refrain from putting weight on my right foot. The image of me walking downstairs sideways was alarming enough to my wife that she began commenting on it daily.
So when TB12 Body Coach Chuck Gilman asked what my goal was — what I truly wanted to do — I was reluctant (at first) to answer. I couldn't help but think about the last seven years of trying but failing to overcome injuries.
Getting on the Path to Pliability
So back to the question Chuck had for me. "What's your goal?" If I had been anywhere besides a TB12 Performance & Recovery Center, I think I would have been cagey with my answer. At most saying I'd like to be able to jog again. But knowing that the center existed at least in part because of the approach Alex used to help fix Tom Brady's elbow in 2004 — an approach that continues to power Tom’s performance 15 years later — I didn't hold back.
"You know what Chuck?" I said. "I'd love to be able to race in some Masters track meets in a year or two. Races like the 400 and 800 meters."Chuck smiled and laughed. "Are you kidding me? Two years? We'll have you back racing a lot faster than that." He let that sink in for a moment. Then restated his message to make sure I was getting it. "You're going to compete."
In a one-hour session, Chuck started me on the path toward pliability and peak performance. Things happened fast. He ran me through a mobility screening test and performed deep-force muscle pliability work to get an initial assessment.
Unsurprisingly, Chuck determined that I had reduced range of motion in my right knee. He measured it at 85 degrees. With his fingers, thumbs, and elbows, Chuck worked to release soft tissue restrictions around my knee.
Chronic Running Injury, Muscle Memory & Pliability
Chuck talked to me about how muscle memory can work both for us and against us. "Our bodies learn from traumatic experiences in life," Chuck said. "Both positive and negative."
When I was 17, I had knee surgery for a football injury. This was an example, Chuck said, of a negative trauma. My body learned to compensate for the injury by reducing the load on the right side of my body, leading to overload on the left side. The resulting imbalances impacted my ability to fire muscles like my glutes, negatively affecting my running mechanics and ultimately leading to a series of ankle injuries.
An example of a positive trauma, Chuck said, was a child learning to ride a bicycle. "The kid is trying to ride the bike. She falls off. The brain registers the experience: 'That didn't go so well!' It responds to the pattern of forces and begins to learn the correct way to balance.
Deep-Force Muscle Pliability
As Chuck moved into "positive-intentional" aspects of the session, he had me flex and contract my leg quickly as he conducted more deep-force muscle pliability work. This included time spent around my knee, hamstrings, lower legs, feet, and hips. Again, he measured the range of motion in my knee. "Now you're at 105 degrees."
Walking around the treatment room, I could feel a difference in my knee. It was as though my knee was a hinge and it had just been oiled. Chuck could see I was starting to get it — that, with the correct treatment, change is possible when it comes to chronic injury and pain.I wondered if this was the first time the range of motion in my right knee had improved since the surgery, more than 30 years ago.
Rebuilding Neurological Connections
Chuck then had me get on an impact-reducing treadmill. The goal was to use the equipment to continue what he started in the treatment room: rewire an optimal brain-body connection.
"You can't propel yourself off the ground because the neurological connection isn't there." The hibernating neurons were why my right quads had been in a state of atrophy for years, unable to stabilize my knee or allow me to push off. Zipped into the high-tech treadmill, Chuck adjusted the settings so that I could simulate running at 60% of my body weight. He set the speed at 10 minutes per mile. I started running. With the reduced impact, I didn’t experience the slightest bit of pain.
From there, Chuck began coaching me to run with better mechanics, issuing verbal cues to help me improve my footstrike and stride length. Once I was running with correct form, Chuck changed the settings so that I was experiencing a load closer to my real body weight. He explained what was happening."We're progressively increasing the ground force production on your right leg, helping to rebuild neurological connections."
From my perspective, I could feel myself starting to fire long-dormant muscles that were stabilizing my knee and allowing for the propulsion I'd been missing for years. Chuck then had me move to another treadmill that was set up with an advanced gait analysis system.
I spent about five minutes running at my actual body weight while Chuck continued to coach me toward better mechanics. A biofeedback mechanism allowed me to see real-time changes in my stride length and contact time. Again, Chuck said, this was about reinforcing the newly reestablished neurological connections.
I was running again. Pain-free, without a limp.
Chuck then had me step onto the turf, where I mixed in with a few other clients going through functional movements with other Body Coaches. Chuck led me through a series of short runs. "Remember what power feels like. The feelings you’ve gotten used to -- the lag, the ‘foot in the sand’ -- that's what we want to get rid of."
After the runs, Chuck worked to perfect my form through a series of functional strength & conditioning exercises designed to help me better activate my glute muscles. Chuck explained that improved glute activation would help me generate more power when I run and also take more load off of my knee.
The final phase of the session was a return to the treatment room.
"Now we want to de-load the area. We want to eliminate any tightness and reinforce the new neurological connections." Chuck performed more deep-force muscle pliability work and also explained how I could continue my pliability work at home by using devices like the TB12 Vibrating Pliability Roller.
Because of lingering knee and ankle injuries, I had been unable to run pain-free for seven years. For seven years, each time I tried to run, I would be limping back to my starting point after a hundred yards.
How Tom Brady Overcame a Career-Threatening Injury — Through Pliability — And Why I Could Relate
It's not always easy to relate to a star in the NFL. However, I imagine many older athletes and fitness enthusiasts who have read The TB12 Method can relate to what Tom Brady was experiencing in 2004. That was when chronic pain had become so fierce that it was threatening Tom’s ability to do what he loved most: playing quarterback in the NFL.
In his book, Tom recounts his struggles with chronic elbow tendonitis early in his professional career: "I'd gotten more conditioned than ever to the fact that no matter what I did, my arm and shoulder were going to be hurting. Twenty-seven may sound young, but by their late 20s, most athletes who've played contact sports their whole lives come up against injuries and imbalances in their bodies among strength, conditioning, and pliability."
Tom was beginning to question his longevity in a league notorious for short careers. "A sore throwing arm didn't necessarily mean the end of my career, but I was beginning to wonder whether I could continue to play in pain until the day my body just gave out." That day seemed to be closing in.
In 2004 the pain had become so bad that Tom’s teammate, linebacker Willie McGinest, said, "Dude, you can't practice; you can't even move your elbow." McGinest had been urging Brady to see his body coach, Alex Guerrero, and Tom finally said yes. "To be honest, I didn't expect much of anything. What could any trainer or coach do that was different from what I'd been doing since high school, which is to say use ice and rest, then play and do everything I could to avoid injury and rehab, all while keeping up my strength and conditioning, while getting the same unsatisfactory results every time?" "I had been getting massage, cold treatments, hot treatments, ultrasound, electrostimulation treatments, ART, chiropractic work, stretching, and everything else in between for more than fifteen years from various athletic training staff. The first treatment with Alex began my understanding of what pliability was."
While I exist in a world light-years away from being a professional quarterback, this passage resonated with me because I felt as though I'd tried everything to fix my injury problem. I had tried many of the therapies Tom mentioned without fixing a chronic injury I had been struggling with for years.
"We're progressively increasing the ground force production on your right leg, helping to rebuild neurological connections," Chuck told me as he coached me on the treadmill.
After a Body Coach has helped you solve a problem that has been vexing you for seven years, it's easy to have the belief that new levels of health and performance are possible — and energy and confidence to take them on.
Putting It To The Test
The next day, per Chuck's suggestion, I went to a track. I brought my roller with me and warmed up with squats (using a short resistance band looped around my knees to better activate my glutes), bird dogs, and pliability movements using the roller. I then proceeded to run one mile, doing my best to repeat the cues Chuck had given me about my mechanics.
Chuck told me that Body Coaches work to build a close relationship with their clients, and he asked me to keep in touch with him by text messages and update him on my progress. I told him how the run went. It was pain-free and I didn't limp a single step.
I was in disbelief that a single session would enable such an immediate and noticeable change. In my case, my thinking had been transformed, from believing I was finished as a runner to believing what Chuck had said: That I would definitely be able to race again.
There was still plenty of work to do. If I wanted to run a race that required speed — like an 800-meter track race — I was just getting started. But I now I was confident I could do it.
The story of TB12 began the day Alex Guerrero first treated Tom Brady's elbow. As Tom tells it, "Twenty-four hours later, I could feel a difference in my elbow. Forty-eight hours later, after two more treatments, the improvement in my elbow was even more noticeable." Tom would work with Alex over the next 15 years to integrate pliability throughout his training program. "Alex told me I'd gotten to a point where I might never have any elbow or shoulder problems again. And I haven't to this day."
During the journey, they continued to integrate innovative thinking into what became the TB12 lifestyle: hydration, nutrition, protein, supplements, and cognitive health.
I'm new to this path and like most people, I have plenty to keep me busy. I have a job, a commute, and a family with two kids, ages five and two. I'm continuing to work with Chuck to find ways to integrate more of the TB12 approach into my life. We’re talking about improving my diet to lower inflammation, to continue to get deep-force muscle pliability work to regain range of motion in the right knee, and working on restoring my symmetry and balance.
After a Body Coach has helped you solve a problem that has been vexing you for seven years, it's easy to have the belief that new levels of health and performance are possible — and to have the energy and confidence to take them on.