Two Decades of Tom Brady: how has his movement kept him at the top?


Two Decades of Tom Brady: how has his movement kept him at the top?

At 43 the list of records held by Tom Brady puts him in the conversation of best athlete ever. He has played the most and won the most games by a quarterback . Furthermore he has the most combined touchdown passes. Brady is the oldest quarterback to lead the league in passing yards, as well as the oldest winner of the NFL MVP.

All this and not to mention he has the most Super Bowl appearances (9) and wins (6). Consequently, victory with the Buccaneers would mean that Brady will have won more Super Bowls than any team in NFL history. This for a franchise that has not made it to the post-season since 2007, or advanced beyond the Wild Card round since 2002. As a result, it would not be a surprise if the Patriots’ hierarchy are sat at home regretting their decision to let Brady walk away last year.

Brady Avoiding Injury

To amass these records Brady had to avoid frequent, recurring and serious injuries. As the focal point of his team’s attack, Brady has been targeted by opponents his whole career, as a quarterback that only runs between 4 and 5.5% of the time he is a standing target (Ellison, 2020). Significantly, Brady’s only major injury was when he missed the entire 2018 season due to cruciate ligament damage.

To stay that healthy for so long requires a multitude of combining factors. Lifestyle, diet, psychology and conditioning all play a big role. Significantly, so too does his body’s ability to move efficiently and effectively. What is it about Brady’s movement that has enabled him to maintain such a high level of performance over such a long period of time. Teams have found it most difficult to replace Quarterbacks who run least. If other pocket quarterbacks in the same style of Brady are the hardest to replace, how can teams make adjustments to improve the technique of their own quarterback to keep them as healthy as Brady too. Let’s take a look at what helped Tom Brady stay injury free.

Has Brady’s movement changed?

Firstly, as you can tell from looking at the pictures on the player cards from throughout Brady’s career, not a lot has noticeably changed in 21 years. However, one difference is that his throwing arm is slightly lower in his pre-load phase in his 2001 action, similar to Aaron Rodgers’ technique. As can be seen at the point of separation his hands are below the numbers in 2001 and above the numbers in 2020. Today his hands are closer to his head, which provides a smaller lever. Therefore less energy is required, making it easier to execute throws.

However, as a result longer throws will need greater torque from hips and put more emphasis on his pelvic strike, as well as increased strain on the shoulder as less movement comes from his arms. Subsequently, executing longer throws becomes harder, which explains some of criticism he received earlier this year in Tampa Bay (some of which can be seen in the Tampa Bay video embedded below). Consequently, Brady has adjusted to make a higher percentage of shorter throws as was noted during his final year in New England (Tanier, 2009). Brady can still make long throws but it takes more effort, impacting strain on body and accuracy, meaning he has adjusted to make more shorter throws.

Brady’s solid foundation

Brady making a throw in 2001 (from left to right)
Tom Brady making a throw in 2001 (from right to left)
Brady making a throw in 2020 (from right to left)

If those are the minor adjustments Brady has made over his career let’s take a look at the constant features that has enabled him to be successful for such an extended period of time. Starting with the solid foundation provided by his feet. Brady is up on toes with his weight transferring through each toe as both ankles rotate toward his throwing target. There is significant plantar flexion of his back foot as his weight shifts from back to front foot. In both actions he does not have too broad a base, which makes the weight shift easier through his stride. Although this appears shorter in the screenshots above, it could be due to the throw distance being shorter.

The role of the hips

It is also apparent throughout his career that Brady has an effective pelvic strike, which plays a significant role in his effective action. Clearly visible in all clips are the rotation of his hips. Significant, is the timing of this as his hips initiate his movement before his shoulders follow. This, can be seen nicely by looking at the blue line down the side of the 2001 Patriots jersey, which at the start of the release phase is diagonal; Brady’s hips are already rotated while the chest and shoulders are still open. This generates the torque required for his throws. Furthermore his strong pelvic strike is seen in the ability to throw from above his head, as well as through the integration of both hips and shoulders as his strike travels up his spine.

Brady hips rotating before his shoulders in 2001

Rotation through the spine and shoulders

Throughout his career Brady has demonstrated good rotation through his spine. In each throw Brady’s shoulders start closed to his opponents as he starts his load phase. Before then becoming open, crossing midline and finishing almost closed to opponents again. This movement follows the hips, where it is initiated and travels up the spine. The movement is so effective it puts less strain on the arm when making repeated high intensity throws. This makes his movement more efficient lowering the injury risk.

As well as showing the rotation of the spine, as we transition from staring at Brady’s name and number to seeing his lead shoulder, the picture below emphasises the importance of the fingers. The fingers extend following release, putting spin on the ball. Having more movement through the bones in the hand make this more effective.

Brady’s spine rotation from a throw in 2020, from right to left

Room for Improvement?

In each clip, Brady’s lead arm is bent and tucked below his chin. This lowers the moment of inertia, requiring less effort to move the lead arm as there is a smaller lever. However, one potential area that could become more efficient is the integration between the lead and throwing arm.  The lead arm’s role in the movement is minimal, particularly in leading the throwing arm through, which would reduce the strain placed on the throwing shoulder. Even with his longer throws it stays bent and close to his body.

As can be seen below, his left shoulder rotates, showing integration between the hips and shoulders, but the bent left arm does not participate. This increases reliance on the pelvis and increases strain on throwing arm. On some throws Brady’s lead hand almost touches his throwing shoulder on his follow through. Although most elite Quarterback are similar to Brady, both Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes display a lead arm that is an effective part of their action, particularly when Mahomes is on the run. Increasing the role that the lead arm plays would actually help further reduce Brady’s injury risk.

Tom Brady’s spine rotation in 2001
Brady’s rotation in 2020

Brady’s Vision

Finally, Brady’s eyes are worth noting. Great vision is key to the success he has achieved. From the moment Brady sets to receive the ball he is looking downfield, scanning until he gets target. His head is up displaying excellent head control and great balance. As soon as he sets his feet in the pocket, he does not lose his vision. Once again, his strong pelvic strike is apparent here, as it moves up the spine to keep his eyes and head focused on target.

In conclusion, throughout his career Tom Brady has maintained a very similar technique. It’s foundations are set in a clear pelvic strike. He is light on his feet with good rotation, displaying an efficient action that limits the strain placed on his shoulder, all thanks to integration of different body systems. Movement Lesson can help replicate this elite action in aspiring Quarterback’s too. For more information on how, please add your details here. You can also subscribe to our Movement Lesson Sports Academy YouTube page and follow our twitter @_ML_UK for regular updates.

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