When speaking to another QB coach or movement expert about throwing mechanics, I tend to tread lightly. Some QB coaches believe that every quarterback should throw the ball the same exact way and that there is only one way to throw most efficiently. This happens to be VERY WRONG because as human beings we are very complex in nature. We are complex in the way that we learn movement patterns over the course of our lives, we are complex in the way our systems are made up, and we are complex in the ways that our brains interpret information. As a coach may know a proper strategy to increase efficiency in the throwing motion, it is up to him to decide if that teaching: 1.) Can be learned and performed 2.) Is the proper teaching for this specific individual 3.) Is making a difference over time due to effective measurement of the skill trying to be attained. Today, I want to debunk some of the common quarterback teachings that are out there and give a different perspective for QB coaches out there that are trying to make their players better.
Sifting Through the Fads
There’s a couple very common teachings in the QB world right now that I would like to bring to the surface and talk about in depth questioning why they are being taught. I am not going to mention who came up with these teachings as I’m not trying to throw anyone under the bus. I would like to try and gain a better understanding of these to see if there is something I am missing so I can change my coaching philosophy if need be.
1.Dragging the Drive Leg Foot From Release Point to Follow Through
Let’s dive deep into this topic here for a bit. When looking at the QB throwing motion, there are a system of systems working at all times for this QB to perform at a high level. The two variables that coaches are trying to most times have an effect on are either VELOCITY ON THROWS or ACCURACY. A lot of times, these two go hand in hand. As the QB becomes more efficient in the motion, this will improve both of these simultaneously.
Teaching this type of strategy, from a physics and biomechanics standpoint, is actually decreasing both of these variables for the QB. Let me explain further. When trying to develop power from the ground up, the quarterback has to first have the ability to fully extend the hip and fully internally rotate the hip. This has to be done in order to access the adductors of the hip and the strong gluteus maximus to create power from the ground. The plantar flexors (calves) also play a small role at the end of the release point to also propel the body forward. This type of movement generates force in both the sagittal plane (front to back) and the transverse plane (rotational). This would be the ideal situation for any quarterback. This type of motion requires the drive foot to come off the ground for a very short period of time as it lands underneath the quarterback’s right hip at the follow through. The shoulders, hips, and feet are all stacked on top of each other where the human being is always most balanced.
Now let’s look at what happens when a quarterback drags the back foot. If a quarterback has the ability to extend the hip and internally rotate the hip during the acceleration phase, then this will happen like the above scenario. Since the quarterbacks want to try and keep the foot in the ground there will be much less force being used from the plantar flexors so that the foot can be dragged. The foot will stay in the ground throughout the motion while staying in a mid range of hip extension throughout the follow through.
These are two very distinct motions and teachings, but here are the problems when the QB drags the foot. First, our neuromuscular systems are feed forward systems. In this case, it means that since the QB knows that he has to drag the foot to control his body from propelling forward, that he is essentially going to drive through that leg a lot less in order to perform the act of dragging the foot. This means that there is going to be MUCH less power generation in throws. The brain is dictating how successful the player can be based on what he has to perform.
Second, if a QB drags the foot and keeps the drive leg hip in extension, then there will a distinct loss in the amount of rotation that the QB can perform through the trunk. Quarterbacks NEED TO ROTATE. Right hip extension almost always means a loss of left thoracic rotation. Do you want to know what the compensation strategy for that is? Over extension of the lumbar spine which is a quarterback’s nightmare. If the leg is dragged, there will be a false braking mechanism in place which is going to decrease energy translation to the upper body and also slow down the motion.
Lastly, by keeping the drive leg in an extended position, this is going to keep the feet in a staggered position in the sagittal plane which is an imbalanced position. Quarterbacks will present with a lot more problems with accuracy by learning this technique because they will always be in a compromised position.
The reasons that I have heard for quarterbacks performing this is that it keeps them connected to the ground so that they can translate force better and that it helps with stabilization throughout the motion. The first point that is being made is extremely false in relation to the quarterback throwing motion. We want the forces to be moving forward, not up. Ideally, we would want the quarterback to create the force through the drive leg, translate that force through the trunk and torso, exit through the arm, and then allow that energy to dissipate by decelerating under control on to the left leg. By dragging the foot, the QB is working from an extremely limited capacity, both from a neuromuscular standpoint and biomechanics standpoint. Do you ever see a pitcher drag his foot on the pitcher’s mound? No, you definitely don’t.
From a stabilization standpoint, this teaching MIGHT help some quarterbacks. The reason I say this is that many quarterbacks lack a lot of deceleration capabilities, especially through their hips or trunk. With this quarterbacks being both unilateral and rotational athletes, there are a lot of asymmetries that show up. By dragging the foot, it decreases the amount of force that the musculature has to try to and control. This is like putting a band aid on an open wound. The teaching is helping the quarterback take care of their issues, but it is greatly inhibiting their ceiling for performance.
2. Keeping Off Arm Across the Body on the Follow Through
Yes, I know. Tom Brady does this. Jimmy Garroppolo does this. We also supposedly know why they do it. The reason being that by forcing that arm across the body that it will not move the head as much during the throw which will increase accuracy. I can get on board with this somewhat for the reasoning that is given, but let’s look at the host of problems that are presented when quarterbacks perform this action during their throwing motion.
First, by crossing the arm across the body after the release of the ball this puts an immediate brake on the torso once the ball is released. What we have to realize is that the whole goal when throwing the football is to rotate through the hips, maintain stabilization in the lumbar spine to translate the force up to the torso where the upper spine continues to rotate (thoracic spine) until the body is properly decelerated. By crossing the arm we immediately stop this sequence of events after the ball is released. What results after the fact are a series of possible compensatory mechanisms based off of the quarterback’s capabilities.
Below, you can see Tom Brady performing this action. You can also see that Brady is presenting with a lot of lateral lean through his torso to the left. When the torso no longer rotates this is a common compensation that we are going to see. Guess what? A lateral lean to the left is an inefficient motion and it CAUSES THE HEAD TO MOVE POSITIONS MORE. This is what we were trying to stop correct?
Second, by performing this action it disables the ability to move a majority of the weight on to the plant leg during the follow through. This is also important because of what we talked about when we said that the nervous system is a feed forward system. If the torso has to suddenly stop because of this statue type position that quarterbacks are trying to hold, then the body will automatically decrease the amount of ground force reaction that quarterbacks try to produce from the drive leg when loading.
The last point I want to make about this type of teaching is that it will never allow the quarterback to through full internal rotation on his front leg during the follow through. A lack of full internal rotation on the plant leg and lack of thoracic rotation during the deceleration of the throwing motion means that we are relying more on the rotator cuff and back extensors to control the body eccentrically during the throwing motion which can inevitably lead to back pain, rotator cuff strain, impingement, and just basic overuse.
So Why do These Guys Have Success?
It is an important point to make that quarterbacks can have success throwing a million different ways. The thing that separates the guys that have the most success on the field from those that don’t is that they have a keen awareness of their bodies and how they perform. If there are issues within their throwing motions, you won’t see them affect these guys very much because they have compensated for so long that they know how to work around it. It might not be the most efficient motion, but it is to them because it’s what THEIR body knows.
These two guys below are also some of the best out there, but they have totally different motions. How is this? Well, everyone is a little different in how they learn, how their bodies have adapted over time to limitations that they have physically, and what their belief system is in what works.
Tom and Jimmy believe whole heartedly that this type of teaching is the right teaching. What do you think is going to happen? It’s going to be great for them because they believe deeply in it! Every QB out there has success in different ways because their belief system in what they do is so great! The brain is an amazing thing.
So What Now?
The reason for writing this post is not to bash others in the way that they teach, but to shed some light to the younger QB’s out there and to the QB coaches out there that these specific teachings don’t make sense from a biomechanics standpoint. It’s also written to say that player should not adapt their own throwing motion to mimic someone else’s because you think that it will make you like them. It most likely will not. Instead, you QB’s out there need to take a deep dive into what actually works for you and then find a coach that can help coach you in ways that you understand to learn and become better. This is an ever flowing relationship back and forth where player/coach need to communicate well to aid the common cause of becoming better. It’s not the coach force feeding a cookie cutter approach down a quarterback’s throat or the player mimicking a pro QB.
I hope this helps all kinds of players and coaches out there. Coaches need coaches, myself included. If there are any questions on this or any ideas that y’all have, please feel free to reach out. My number is 812-343-4226 and email is firstname.lastname@example.org.