Biomechanics Of Building A Champion: Linear vs. Rotational Athletes

Comparing Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady to tell the story of biomechanical models.


During sport specific athletic movements, an athlete needs to adopt a linear or rotational approach to produce that movement. Spoiler: most athletes adopt both patterns to produce the movement. However, based on your anthropometrics and biomechanics most athletes are likely to be successful at using one style more often than the other. In this post, we will discuss both approaches and showcase them in real world examples by comparing NFL quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady.




The Linear Athlete...

During throwing or swinging (baseball swing, golf swing, tennis service, QB throwing, etc) an athlete produces movement that results in the athlete moving towards (forward) to the target. The general principle is based around weight shift. For a baseball pitcher, this means you are trying to release the ball closer to home plate. For a batter, this means you are transferring your weight to your front foot during swinging. This convergence is a way for an athlete to accumulate force for the sport specific event (ball release or ball strike).


A simple example of this is hammering a nail. The linear direction and rigid nature of the hammer makes the production of force on the nail obvious. Increasing the force is done through speed or length of the hammer.




The Rotational Athlete...

During throwing or swinging (baseball swing, golf swing, tennis service, QB throwing) an athlete produces movement that results in minimal weight transfer and more significant rotation about the center of the body. The general principle is based around tangential (rotational) force produced from lag. For a baseball pitcher, this means you are trying to create a whip like motion. For a batter, this means you are not transferring your weight, but working on rotational sequencing. This convergence is a way for an athlete to accumulate force for the sport specific event (ball release or ball strike).


A simple example of this is a towel snap. The sequencing and compliant nature of the towel makes the production of force on an object obvious. Increasing the force is done through speed of sequencing or length of the towel.




Benefits and drawbacks of Linear mechanics:

- Linear mechanics usually result in a more consistent movement pattern.

- For sport specific movements, the procedure keeps athletes in more optimal windows, meaning the chance for an error or miss is lower.

- Often times, this mechanical adaptation is less powerful.

Goals for maximizing linear mechanics:

- To maximize linear mechanics the athlete needs longer levers (taller, longer wingspan).

- The tangential force production increases performance with an increase in lever arms.


Benefits and drawbacks of Rotational mechanics:

- Rotational mechanics usually result in a less consistent movement pattern.

- For sport specific movements, the procedure gives athletes a small window of success, meaning the chance for an error is higher.

- Often times, this mechanical adaptation is more powerful.


Goals for maximizing rotational mechanics:

- To maximize rotational mechanics, the athlete needs to focus on sequencing (timing).

- The "whip like" force production increases performance.


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Now -- Lets compare some of the greats for each mechanical option.

Tom Brady vs. Patrick Mahomes


Tom Brady - Linear Mechanics

- Tom Brady produces a variety of throws that involves multiple applications regarding linear and rotational mechanics, but at the core, Tom Brady provides a linear force transition (front to back) and utilizes his long arm to produce an accurate pass.

(63-68% pass completion). This is the key to his success. Tom has the overall size to use his longer arm with linear mechanics to produce an accurate pass.


These mechanics are why you can always count on Tom Brady's pass to be right on target, rarely missing.



Patrick Mahomes - Rotational Mechanics

- Patrick produces a variety of throws that involve multiple applications regarding linear and rotational mechanics, but at the core Patrick Mahomes provides a rotational force transition and uses his body's sequencing to produce a high velocity pass (62 mph at the combine). This is the key to his success. Patrick has the sequencing (timing) to use rotational mechanics to produce a high speed pass.


These mechanics are why Patrick Mahomes can throw a powerful pass from anywhere on the field. Never lacking in passing options.




Both quarterbacks are excellent at their position, but use very different biomechanical approaches to their sport specific movement. As an athlete or someone looking to identify an athlete, pay attention to these mechanics to maximize your sport specific performance.


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For sport specific movements....


Use linear mechanics when the athlete has longer levers (taller, longer legs and arms). These mechanics will produce accurate movements with good performance and also result in lower body stress.


Notable great linear mechanics athletes: Randy Johnson, Tony Gwinn, and Tom Brady


Use rotational mechanics when the athlete is smaller and has shorter limbs. These mechanics will produce an increase in movement performance, but can result in lower accuracy and higher body stress.


Notable great rotational mechanics athletes: Pedro Martinez, Barry Bonds, and Patrick Mahomes


In sports today, people often seek out rotational mechanics in athletes because of the highest potential for performance. For example, to maximize this situation you would seek out an athlete with long levers and rotational mechanics. But there are risks involved. As rotational mechanics are used (sequencing), the more error in accuracy increases. A prime example of this is JaMarcus Russell (tall and rotational). He had amazing performance but lacked accuracy which ultimately reduced his success. Rarely, do all the applications of power and accuracy come together.


Seek out the best mechanics for your body and sport specific movements, but do not forget about the mechanical pitfalls and how they may impact your ability to win. Find the balance, which may mean adopting mechanics that reduce your performance, but increase your chances of winning.



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