Inside the mind of the man who keeps Tom Brady in the game

Latter-day Saint Alex Guerrero explains his unconventional methods and why his work is compatible with his faith

Editor’s note: Tom Brady announced his retirement on Feb. 1. This article, originally published Oct. 27, 2019, in Brady’s final season with the New England Patriots, features Brady’s longtime personal trainer, Alex Guerrero.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Alex Guerrero bounds in, extending his hand, and it’s hard to take it without thinking, guiltily, that these are the hands that massage Tom Brady.

These hands.

Ringless, odd for a man married more than three decades. Otherwise unremarkable, but for what they are said to accomplish.

“Here come the hands of Jesus,” some athletes say when Guerrero walks in the room.

The analogy makes Guerrero uncomfortable. “I work really hard at trying to live the tenets of our faith,” he says earnestly, setting those celebrated hands on his desk.

We are sitting in an office at TB12, the business Guerrero founded with his most famous client, the longtime quarterback of the New England Patriots who wears No. 12 and calls Guerrero “one of my dearest friends.”

Brady, most football analysts agree, is the greatest quarterback in NFL history, not only because of his stats, but because of his longevity. At 42, Brady is the oldest quarterback to win a Super Bowl, and he’s talked about playing until age 45, crediting Guerrero for his continued success.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) is shown with his trainer Alex Guerrero on the sideline before the 2017 Super Bowl against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, Feb. 5, 2017, in Houston, Texas. | Damian Strohmeyer, Associated Press

“I couldn’t do it without you,” Brady wrote to Guerrero on Instagram in February 2019, the day after winning his sixth Super Bowl. “Love my Mormons,” the quarterback has also tweeted.

Guerrero, 54, is a lifelong member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His faith is no secret, but often ignored by sportswriters who are quick to report on any perceived friction between Guerrero and the Patriots’ coaching staff, or what it means when his million-dollar house in the suburbs of Boston goes on the market, but uninterested in what Guerrero believes about life’s biggest questions.

“The New England sports media hate Alex; they see him as a liability. But they all love Tom, and Alex is 70% of the reason Tom is able to play today,” said Mike Chambers, a professional athlete who credits Guerrero with saving his career after a devastating injury.

Chambers, like Brady, is a believer in the system that Guerrero developed that combines nutrition, hydration, brain training and a special form of massage in order to create a state of “pliability,” marked by soft, elongated muscles that are able to withstand injury. Pliability is central to TB12, which recently opened a second location in Boston, and is the focus of a book Brady published last year.

Another thing that is central to Guerrero’s work, but largely goes unnoticed, is his faith.

“I’ve always believed that nothing happens by coincidence. I really believe that God has an ability to micromanage your life without taking away your free agency. So, for one reason or another, I believe I was brought through this path,” he said.

The path has lately been lucrative and glamorous, as well as personally fulfilling: Guerrero and his wife, Alicia, have been married for more than 30 years and have four grown children and two grandchildren. However, it hasn’t been all cheers and confetti. “It hasn’t been the easiest route. I’ve been on the frontline of a lot of things. And people on the frontlines always get the bloodiest,” he said.

As the 8-0 Patriots push toward a perfect season, Guerrero looks to keep his star client healthy for another Super Bowl, while making plans to expand TB12 into cities that include Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. It was a bit tricky to work in time for a reporter, but he found time between the Giants and the Jets.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) celebrates with his trainer Alex Guerrero after NFL Super Bowl 53 against the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019 in Atlanta. The Patriots defeated the Rams, 13-3. | Ryan Kang, Associated Press

Humble beginning

Anyone can walk into TB12 at the Patriots Place shopping center in Foxborough, but not everyone can get past its lobby, where TB12 products, including hats, shirts, supplements and, of course, Brady’s books, are neatly arranged for the curious shoppers and celebrity seekers who come in.

Those with an appointment are invited through the doors that lead to 7,000-plus square feet that looks deceptively like a sparsely furnished gym, with gait-analyzing machines, resistance bands and exercise balls scattered throughout a central workout space, framed by private rooms for individual sessions.

I am met at the front desk by Amy Fuller, a 29-year-old certified athletic trainer and one of TB12’s 30 “body coaches.” Fuller, who has a master’s degree in health studies, was working as a trainer at a private school near Boston when her mother, then a client at TB12, told her the business was hiring. She immediately applied. The sports media in Boston may not like Guerrero, but he, like Brady, is legendary in these parts. “Alex Guerrero should have a statue outside Gillette Stadium,” one Patriots fan recently said on Twitter. People ask to take selfies with him at public events.

“He is the smartest man I have ever met,” Fuller confides after she analyzes my gait and announces that the $130 running shoes I’m wearing “aren’t doing you any favors.”

As Fuller leads me to a private room, where she will demonstrate TB12’s signature manual therapy, she explains that she and the other body coaches were personally trained by Guerrero, not only in evaluating a client’s physical condition, but also in the forceful manipulation of soft tissue that is the cornerstone of Guerrero’s sometimes twice-daily work with Brady.

In the first episode of the Facebook documentary “Tom Versus Time,” Guerrero is shown working with Brady, using massage strokes that at times seem as violent as professional football. One Boston sportscaster who had a session with Guerrero said his previous hip pain soon vanished, but the next day he had a bruise.

Critics scoff at the technique, saying that “pliability” isn’t medicine or science, and that there is no peer-reviewed research that says what happens here works.

“Tom says, ‘Alex, you’re 10 years ahead of everybody else. And that’s the problem. Their minds just aren’t where you are currently,’” Guerrero said.

He has popped into my room, a nimble, smiling reservoir of energy clad in black athletic pants, sneakers and a black TB12 T-shirt. In photographs, he looks small next to Brady, who is a broad-shouldered 6-foot-4 and has a tendency to affectionately pat people on the head, as if they were puppies. In fact, Guerrero is 5-foot-8 — “the runt of the family” he once said, although he’s just an inch shy of the average American man. Still, he wasn’t big enough for football so he played tennis in high school.

Brady, who has worked with Guerrero since 2004, says that he is proof that the TB12 method works. But he could say the same of his partner.

Guerrero, dark haired and constantly smiling, exudes good health. His energy is palpable; a fundamental kindness apparent. I’m tempted to say, “I’ll have what he’s having,” only it’s lunchtime, and Guerrero doesn’t eat lunch.

There’s a water bottle on his desk, however, from which he continually sips as he recounts the early years of his marriage, when he first realized he could make a good living using his hands.

Alejandro Guerrero was the fourth of six children born to Argentine parents who immigrated to the U.S. after their third child was born. His parents had converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Argentina; a church missionary sponsored them when they moved to California, where they still live.

He grew up in a Spanish-speaking household, and after high school, he was assigned a mission to serve a Hispanic area in Washington, D.C. When he returned from the mission, he went to visit a children’s class that he once used to teach at his church, and there encountered his future wife, Alicia, who had replaced him as the teacher. The two had known each other since grade school, and their families were friendly but they’d not stayed in touch. 

But that day, “For some reason, I felt as though my best friend had come home,” Alicia Guerrero, now 52, told me.

Later that week, she helped him make Rice Krispie treats for a youth class, and they talked for hours on the phone. For their first date, the two went to a movie, “Lady and the Tramp.” They dated a year and a half before they were married at the church’s Los Angeles Temple; the bride was 19; the groom, 21.

Alicia Guerrero was supportive of her husband when he told her he wanted to study traditional Chinese medicine, even though the couple had already started their family. Alex had become interested in holistic approaches to sickness and health when Alicia’s father became seriously ill with squamous cell carcinoma, a form of skin cancer that consumed his right arm, his clavicle, scapula and a couple of ribs. “It really was a horrific experience for our family,” Guerrero said.

He enrolled at a Los Angeles school called Samra University, and Alicia, a legal secretary, began working evenings so she could be home with their toddler during the day, and her husband could be there at night. To help contribute to the household while he was in school, Guerrero took a course in massage therapy. “I figured I could do one massage a day, and make 50 or 60 bucks.”

For his first solo business, he rented two rooms at the back of an all-women’s gym, which didn’t have a back entrance. To get to his massage table, clients either had to work their way through the gym or hop up on a loading dock. Inside, Guerrero worked on clients with a cordless phone in his pocket and would have to interrupt sessions to take calls. He worked by donation; people paid what they could. Once, he was shocked when someone gave him $100. Sometimes he only got $10.

Today, a session with a trainer at TB12 in Foxborough is $200; the 90-minute initial consultation, $240.

Guerrero’s critics like to point out that Samra University no longer exists. The school closed in 2010, and its website redirects to a Los Angeles business, Samra Clinic of Oriental Medicine.

But Guerrero’s framed diploma, for a master’s degree in traditional Chinese medicine, hangs behind his desk, and he traces his now famous techniques, outlined in Brady’s 2017 book “The TB12 Method,” to that early intersection of massage and traditional Chinese medicine, also known as TCM.

According to the website of the National Institutes of Health, TCM includes practices such as acupuncture and tai chi, which “may help improve quality of life and certain pain conditions,” although it warns that some TCM herbal products have been found to be contaminated and could be harmful.

Ahead of his time?

For Guerrero, the foundation of traditional Chinese medicine, the idea that the mind, body and soul are all connected, “just felt right.”

“The idea of the body being connected spiritually, emotionally, physically, made sense to me, for obvious reasons. In our faith, you’re taught to nourish all three. Chinese medicine is all about that. It’s about finding harmony and balance in life,” he said.

Guerrero was surprised, then, by his earliest critics. “When I first started, most of the criticism came from people within my faith. Because they thought that’s not real medicine, or it’s voodoo medicine, or it’s witchcraft. Which is a little interesting to me because we believe in faith healing. We do laying on hands; we believe in prayer. And I was always a little shocked that people in my faith would make fun of me for that.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints considers “faith to be healed” and “faith to heal” as gifts of the Holy Spirit, and using a laying on of hands to convey God’s healing is a widespread practice in Christianity.

Apart from his faith, Guerrero said he quickly realized how therapeutic massage could help people feel dramatically better, and he developed his techniques by merging TCM philosophy with his new skill. Since he had so few clients, he had plenty of time in which to work on them, he said, laughing.

“It wasn’t like I was packed with clients at the time, so when someone came in — let’s say they had neck pain — I wouldn’t let them leave until they were feeling significantly better, even if it took me an hour, an hour and a half. It was on-the-job learning for me.”

Along the way, Guerrero was developing a philosophy of nutrition that was, at the time, a radical departure from the way most Americans viewed food. In 2005, nine years after he opened his clinic, he published a book, “In Balance for Life,” which promotes a diet based on principles that are now mainstream — eating organic, ethically sourced foods, drinking lots of water, and shunning sugar and low-nutrient carbohydrates like white rice and white bread.

The book also promotes “green drinks” made with green vegetables and instructs readers on “how to make your own sprouts” — green smoothies and sprouted grains are widely celebrated today. Less mainstream was his advocacy of diet designed to maintain a proper acid-alkaline balance, advice that reappears in Brady’s book.

Brady writes that his diet is composed of roughly 80% alkaline foods and 20% acidic foods, in order to keep his body in optimal pH range. “When we maintain good pH levels, the body is properly oxygenated, which accelerates recovery and healing,” he wrote. While many foods on the “good” alkalizing list are clearly healthy choices by anyone’s standards — they include broccoli, green beans, sweet potatoes and spinach — some of the ones Brady eats sparingly or not at all are also considered healthy foods, such as pumpkin seeds, walnuts, yogurt and strawberries.

But consuming too many acidic foods leads to a condition called acidosis, both Brady and Guerrero wrote, which can lead to a wide range of unhealthy conditions, including suppressed immune function, osteoporosis, inflammation, fatigue and accelerated aging.

Dr. Paul Offit, a Philadelphia pediatrician and the author of “Do You Believe in Magic? The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine,” among other books, says that pH that is out-of-whack is often indicative of serious illness. But he says that a healthy body adjusts its levels automatically, and that a special diet is not necessary for healthy people. “The notion that you need to eat foods that are pH-balanced, to make sure that the pH in your blood stream is balanced, is fanciful. That’s why we have things like kidneys,” he said.

Offit is a critic of many alternative-medicine practices, including acupuncture, a component of traditional Chinese medicine that is practiced at TB12 Sports, and of nutritional supplements, which Guerrero advocates and sells, leading in the past to trouble with the Federal Trade Commission.

In 2004, the year he started working with Brady, he was among six people sued by the FTC for deceptive marketing of a product called Supreme Greens. Guerrero paid a $65,000 fine in settlement of the case and was ordered to refrain from using the term “doctor” to describe himself, and from saying that any supplement can prevent, treat or cure any disease. Guerrero has declined to discuss legal action against him, saying that there is more to the story than has been reported. A spokesman for the FTC said the agency could not comment on whether it has looked into the products that TB12 now sells.

In addition to workout equipment, clothing, snacks and plant-based protein powder, TB12 sells supplements that include multivitamins, vitamin D, probiotics, electrolytes and a product called TB12 Focus, a combination of nutrients that the website says will support “a clear mind and healthy brain.”

Offit is not a fan of vitamins in a bottle. “It’s really hard to be vitamin deficient in this country. You really have to work at it. You generally get what you need in food,” he says.

But when I asked him about Guerrero, his assessment was surprisingly benign.

“I know that Tom Brady has a nutritionist that he trusts. I know that’s something the Patriots’ support staff isn’t crazy about it because he goes out on his own and he trusts his nutritionist more than he trusts them. But I also know that he’s an all-star quarterback, and there’s a lot to be said for belief,” Offit said, adding, “The placebo effect is real.”

The brain game

A placebo, however, wouldn’t have helped Mike Chambers when he first hobbled into TB12 with a fractured heel. A 33-year-old mountain athlete who now lives in Boulder, Colorado, Chambers had just returned from a weeklong race across the Swiss Alps when he fell in an indoor gym, crushing his foot, he later wrote, like a soda can. A doctor inserted three screws to hold the heel together and told him not to put weight on it for at least three months.

In danger of losing the endorsements that pay his bills, Chambers went to Guerrero, who had him walking in five weeks, prescribing a regimen of nutrition, massage and exercise. When he later went back to the doctor, feeling somewhat guilty, as if he’d been unfaithful, “His reaction to my mobility was one of disbelief,” Chambers wrote in Men’s Journal. “‘In my 25 years of practicing medicine, I have never seen someone recover from a calcaneus injury this quickly,’ he said.”

Since then, Chambers has suffered two other injuries, which he has returned to Guerrero for help healing.

Guerrero’s success hasn’t just been with athletes. Among the clients at TB12 are the parents of a 3-year-old girl who had suffered an in-utero stroke and had been told she would always wear a brace, and two men in their late 80s who decided they wanted to cycle the Tour de France route. The men made the grueling bike ride; the girl, now 5, plays soccer and doesn’t wear a brace, Guerrero said.

Guerrero believes that traditional Western medicine too often ignores the mind-body connection that is central to Eastern practice. When an athlete is injured, it’s important to keep the injured part of the body in motion, lest the brain decide immobility is the new normal, he said.

“For example, let’s say you sprain your ankle. If you sprain your ankle, (doctors) typically put you in a walking boot to immobilize it. Now you’re not doing anything. And the brain is developing neuropathways that support the behavior of not doing anything. And when you come out of the boot, you’re stiff, you’re sore, your muscles haven’t been doing anything and your brain is wired to not have to move. It’s saying, no, we don’t work like that. The new normal is not to have to move.

“My belief is, when you get an injury, if I can get the athlete to do the movement as soon as I possibly can, I can wire that movement and get rid of the neuromuscular pattern that’s there. And have them get better faster. And our clients do that.”

Guerrero also believes that doctors do their patients a disservice when they say that an injury will be healed within a certain period of time.

“If you hurt your ankle and go to the doctor, and the doctor says it’s going to take six weeks to get better, your brain has now programmed six weeks. But what if I told you that you could have it done in two weeks? Would you have been better in two weeks instead of six? So we always say we’re not going to put a time limit on you; we’re going to get you moving and we’re going to get you functional as fast as we possibly can.”

But Guerrero’s goal is not just to help people recover from injury, but to prevent it from happening. Pliable muscles, he said, are resistant to injury; tight, dense muscles are prone to it, he said.

Brady’s last significant injury was in 2008, when he tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the season opener. Since recovering from that, he has started in every game, and on Oct. 10, he passed Peyton Manning to become No. 2 on the NFL’s list of players with the most career passing yards. (No. 1 is 40-year-old Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints.)

Healing hands

I note that some of his clients have suggested that Guerrero works miracles. In his 2005 book, he refers to himself as a healer. But Guerrero winces slightly at the M-word.

“Miraculous is a big word,” he said.

That said, the discussion brought to mind a professional athlete that he had treated who had a significant disc herniation in his back. The doctor said he would have to have surgery. Instead, he went to Guerrero.

“He’s also religious and has a very strong faith in Christ and the atonement. We would talk about that. And we did our treatment. And when he went back (to the doctor) the disc bulge was gone. The doctor said, ‘I guess you could call it a miracle.’ Doctors sometimes talk like that when they don’t know what to say. But (the athlete) said to me, ‘Alex you know who did this’.”

Doctors had also recommended that Brady have surgery to alleviate groin pain in 2007. But he instead followed a workout routine devised by Guerrero and said the pain disappeared and never returned.

This is not to say that Guerrero is dismissive of all Western medicine. “Western medicine is the best acute care medicine there is. Holistic medicine is the best chronic care medicine there is,” he says. “And that’s what I think is wrong with our system. The medical system is so specialized now that they’ve lost the ability to tune into anything else.”

He recalls a client he worked with, making recommendations for supplements and dietary changes. When the client went back to his doctor, the doctor at first said, “keep doing what you’re doing.” But when he explained what he was doing, the doctor said he was wasting his money.

“That doctor totally crushed an emotional component of this patient’s recovery. Insurance doesn’t cover what we’re doing. They’re paying out of pocket. So what I heard was that doctor insulting the patient, saying ‘you’re making a dumb decision, you need to listen to me and you’re going to be fine.’ But they weren’t fine, which is why they came to me in the first place.”

Guerrero would not discuss the negative articles that have been written about him, including reporting about two lawsuits alleging fraud that were filed and settled in Utah, saying that they were written by people who don’t know him. He doesn’t believe that anything he does is controversial; in fact, he says, his methods are, in many ways, derivatives of the principles of the faith in which he grew up. 

“If you look at the first book I wrote, and you look at the Word of Wisdom in our faith, they’re very synergistic,” he said.

The Word of Wisdom, as described by the church, “is a law of health revealed by the Lord for the physical and spiritual benefit of His children.”

Guerrero said, “The Word of Wisdom has always been a lot more to me than ‘don’t drink tea and coffee and don’t smoke cigarettes.’ Those are the don’ts. (Latter-day Saints) don’t always practice the do’s really well, so we try to do that here and we try to get our clients to do that here.”

Guerrero says that he’s not a “Sunday Christian” and takes his faith seriously every day. He’s up at 6 each day to pray and meditate and often has conversations about faith with his clients, he says. When his children were younger and he had to travel, he would use FaceTime to join in family prayer every night.

“I work really hard at trying to live the tenets of our faith. I’m not perfect at it. Just like I don’t think anyone else is either,” he said.

But people close to him know his faith matters. “Tom introduces me to his friends, ‘This is my Mormon friend Alex.’”

I point out that the church recently asked people to not use the word “Mormon” but to refer to the proper name of the church, and Guerrero laughs. “I need to re-educate him,” he said.

As for the future, sportswriters have been speculating about what it meant when both Brady and Guerrero put their Boston-area homes on the market in the same month. Brady will be a free agent after this year, making some Patriots fans worry that he and Guerrero will pack their bags for another NFL city, or that Brady might decide to retire.

There’s been no word on that, but the Guerreros have plenty of plans unrelated to what Tom Brady does or doesn’t do.

Guerrero is looking forward to the continued expansion of TB12. (So far, there’s no Utah facility planned, although the BYU athletes that come to Boston for treatment would probably appreciate one. And Guerrero has a brother in American Fork and daughter at BYU, among other relatives there.)

Meanwhile, Alicia Guerrero is back in school, she told me. She’s pursuing a master’s degree in marriage and family studies, planning to do couples counseling when she graduates.

“I have been so blessed to have an amazing marriage, a really healthy marriage and a strong relationship,” she said.

“Even though we’re not perfect, it’s not a fairy-tale story, we have been blessed to have a really great marriage, and I want to help others have that, too,” she said.

Coming soon: the TB12 marriage? Brady and Gisele Bündchen appear to be going strong, too, although it will be a while until they catch up with the Guerreros, who have been married for more than three decades.

But Alex Guerrero isn’t looking for a career change.

“Every day, since I graduated from college, I have always prayed that the healing power of the atonement will come through my hands,” he said. “And it’s interesting, because over the course of the years, people have always said that to me. ‘Your hands are magical’. Or ‘There’s something powerful in your hands.’

“When I graduated from school, I thought, I’m always going to incorporate my hands into what I do.”

Alex Guerrero on set during Opening Night for the 2019 Super Bowl on Monday, Jan. 28, 2019 in Atlanta. | Aaron M. Sprecher, Associated Press