Have any high profile quarterbacks significantly and noticeably improved their arm strength?

I listened to the Solid Verbal podcast this morning, and Ty and Dan discussed the plethora of “popgun armed quarterbacks” currently plaguing college football. Relatedly, a reader asked about why quarterbacks can’t seem to improve their arm strength once they reach a certain age. I can think of really only one example of a guy whose arm now seems significantly stronger than it did earlier in his career as a college player and rookie, and that’s Tom Brady. And, well, Tom Brady is Tom Brady. But it does seem like this is generally true, at least at the higher levels once a quarterback is physically mature: There are almost no examples of guys whose arms went from “popgun” to bazooka through discipline and training, not matter how tall they are or how many weights they lift.

This is not entirely surprising, given the unique nature of a throwing motion, but even golfers manage to add some power to their drives. (Maybe someone with more of a baseball background can tell me if any pitchers have added MPH to their fastballs after hitting college or the majors. Quarterbacks are not pitchers but there are similarities.) But I really can’t think of quarterbacks who have really improved the amount of power behind their throws. Of course, Dub Maddox and Darin Slack might have a thing to say about this, but I’m curious what the general reader thinks. Feel free to chime in.

  • Beckett929

    The only guy who comes to my mind is Drew Brees before and after his shoulder surgery as he left the Chargers and began with the Saints. Now, he wasn’t “popgun” by any stretch at Purdue or during his early NFL career, but what he gained after the surgery is counter-intuitive to what we see shoulder operations do to 95% of quarterbacks.

  • http://twitter.com/gsmoore Gary Moore

    “There are almost no examples of guys whose arms went from “popgun” to bazooka through discipline and training, not matter how tall they are or how many weights they lift.”

    Likewise with MLB pitchers and their fastballs. Once a pitcher is out of high school, his fastball velocity is his fastball velocity. Most strength conditioning thereafter is focused around preserving the arm.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_H2EW32JG7NSQDFLMRTGU6CBVB4 Evan Johnson

    FSU’s EJ Manuel has increased his arm strength from his freshmen year. I believe it’s through mechanics but it could be because he’s perpetually injured (this was the first spring he was healthy) so a good baseline could not be found.

  • James

    I’m not a baseball aficionado, but MLB pitchers do vary in their fastball speeds. In general it slowly declines over the course of the season and season-to-season as pitchers age. However, you’re asking about improvement which does happen as well – usually it’s associated with a pitching mechanic change. Overall I don’t think it’s very common, mainly they focus on control (placement) over pure speed, and there’s hesitation to change a pitcher’s motion just like a quarterback’s throwing motion. You should ask the guys at Fangraphs.com if you want a more detailed explanation than that.

  • Brandmooreart

    ive read from Slack (Huey boards) that when he was working with Tim Couch after his injury he eventually had Couch “throwing like i was in college again”. relating to strength

  • Guest

    Is there any evidence that Brady’s arm is much stronger than it was 10 years ago?  Having personally attended almost every game of his career at Michigan (home and road), I can confidently say he had a pretty darn strong arm in college and made throws all over the field.  In fact, people like to badmouth him coming out of college and he was this lowly 6th round pick and whatnot, but his senior season still ranks as one of the best at QB in the history of Michigan.  He was dynamite and lead multiple 4th quarter comeback victories including memorable ones at Penn State and in the Orange Bowl against Alabama.

    While not a cannon for an arm, he had a strong arm in college that appears roughly similar to what he has now.

  • Charlie Gray

    Drew Brees? I’m sure I’ve read somewhere that he’d gained arm strength.

  • phillip gilbert

    I’ve followed Peyton Manning since his first game at Tennessee and his arm got significantly stronger in the NFL.  He got significantly bigger as well.

  • Chill

    It isn’t even remotely close to true that people keep the same arm strength once in the nfl. Tom Brady,  and Drew Brees are the most obvious cases, of course, but virtually every QB that is going to be decent takes a major step up in arm strength their first few years in the nfl. Even someone like Peyton Manning, who was a first overall pick, and possibly the greatest QB ever, had a marked step up in arm strength about midway through his NFL career.

  • Wbe

    Another example to me is Philip Rivers.  His arm strength was consistenly mentioned as a major weakness throughout his collge career.  Now he is known as one of the best downfield passers in the game.

  • Atemple714

    If you recall Rivers had an almost side armed delivery while at NC State. He has greatly improved his mechanics in the NFL as have several of the other QBs mentioned above who have shown an apparent arm strength boost later in their careers. Brady, Manning and Brees have all no doubt made both mechanics improvement and strength gains once in the NFL.

  • Joe83843

    I could be wrong, but I’d assume that adding muscle to any body part contributes to that body part’s ability to accelerate. The more muscle, the faster the top speed of that accelerating muscle and the greater the force exerted on that object (whether it be a baseball or football) as it leaves the body and flies through the air.

    Having said that, I’m sure there’s a lot of mechanics and flexibility (the legs of college and NFL level punters come to mind) variables that go into the making sure you maximize the ability of those muscle groups to accelerate. I also know that flexibility generally goes down as muscle mass goes up, but this can be negated somewhat by making sure you stretch before and after you work out.

    How much adding muscle mass actually helps though (or at what point it actually starts hurting due to it hurting mechanics and/or flexibility) I can’t really say for sure…

  • http://keepingthechainsmoving.blogspot.com/ Chris

    “He got significantly bigger as well”

    That’s the critical point. For proper strength training to work, there has to be muscle gain. Muslce gain generally requires an increase in calorie consumption. That means a quarterback is only going to make big leaps in muscle gain if he eats sufficiently to support the lifting.

    But even then, there’s only so far you can go with a muscle before you start hitting the point of diminishing returns. By the time they hit the NFL, players would be classified as advanced lifters. It then depends on what training they did (exercises, rep levels etc) in College.

    A lot of college strength programs I’ve seen (on paper) are designed more for maximum hypertrophy as opposed to maximum strength acquisition.

  • http://twitter.com/WillHewlett William Hewlett

    How do Quarterbacks get more Velocity?

     

    To throw a football with more velocity a Quarterback must
    have a foundation of mechanics as well as explosive strength and speed
    strength. It’s a common misconception that maximal strength training
    will increase velocity on its own. If this were true, biggest athletes and
    strongest athletes would throw the hardest all the time. The only way arm
    strength will increase after the QB has reached their growth potential is to
    work to improve 4 specific areas. 

    Mechanics – This allows the athlete to transfer the energy
    into the throw. Practice throwing the football makes you better at it!

    Speed Strength – How fast can you do
    the movement – basically plyometric training will develop this area.

    Explosive Strength – How quickly can you move to full
    speed from Prepass to release. Developed from performance training.    

    Maximal Strength – weight room with heavy weights

     

    So to get a stronger arm

    Applying explosive force to the football within the 8 key
    positions

    Training Speed strength, explosive strength and practice the
    actual throw

     

    QB’s that do this will increase arm
    strength late or early in their career. 

  • http://twitter.com/WillHewlett William Hewlett

    How do Quarterbacks get more Velocity?

     

    To throw a football with more velocity a Quarterback must
    have a foundation of mechanics as well as explosive strength and speed
    strength. It’s a common misconception that maximal strength training
    will increase velocity on its own. If this were true, biggest athletes and
    strongest athletes would throw the hardest all the time. The only way arm
    strength will increase after the QB has reached their growth potential is to
    work to improve 4 specific areas. 

    Mechanics – This allows the athlete to transfer the energy
    into the throw. Practice throwing the football makes you better at it!

    Speed Strength – How fast can you do
    the movement – basically plyometric training will develop this area.

    Explosive Strength – How quickly can you move to full
    speed from Prepass to release. Developed from performance training.    

    Maximal Strength – weight room with heavy weights

     

    So to get a stronger arm

    Applying explosive force to the football within the 8 key
    positions

    Training Speed strength, explosive strength and practice the
    actual throw

     

    QB’s that do this will increase arm
    strength late or early in their career. 

  • Stan Brown

    Talked with a MLB pitcher ten years ago who played in the 80s.  He told me that he added 3 mph to his fastball one offseason with a dedicated strength program which focused on his legs.  If I recall, he went from 89 to 92.  That was a huge difference.  Went from MLB average to well above average.

  • Qresti

    The key is to marry a supermodel. Fixes a lot of things

  • Cromulent

    Joel Zumaya had an 85 mph fastball when drafted by the Tigers. 6 weeks into his stint at West Michigan he was throwing 95 mph. By the time he hit the show he was regularly throwing triple digits.

    Of course, it turns out his arm wasn’t meant to throw that fast, and now his career is on life support.

    John Smoltz threw far harder after his Tommy John surgery.

  • http://twitter.com/cewers2 Curtis Ewers

    I think you are born with the ability to throw hard, but accuracy seems to be the more learnable trait.  Funny how most quarterbacks are identified at an early age (with some exceptions), are thrust into the position and remain there throughout highschool, get recruited…and they have the same arm strength attributes which do not improve greatly.  It’s the footwork, thinking skills, and accuracy/throwing decisions that begin to set them apart at the higher levels.  Curtis E

  • T_Rico

    If I remember reading a story correctly, Stephen Strasburg’s velocity jumped while attending SDSU…. Not sure if its genetic or new workout but I think it’s interesting that his triple digit fastball didn’t exist in high school

  • Rafael

    With Mariano Rivera just breaking the Saves record, Buster Olney of espn did a video piece that said that Mariano after have a major arm injury and surgery went from early 90s velocity to mid 90s.  He said that then GM Gene Michael questioned the radar guns in the minors and actually asked the visitors what they registered on their guns before he believed it. Then is the movie the rookie based on the true story of a pitcher increasing his velocity in his 30s to 99 mph! So it obviously can be done it’s just not common.

  • Lorance02

    Great call on Brady. It’s so funny to think back to 2001-2004 and remember how people would often, somewhat backhandedly, compliment him on his “intangibles” as a way of pointing out that one doesn’t need great physical qualities like arm strength or even accuracy. These days I’d say Brady has possibly the best combination of arm strength and accuracy in the NFL. The guy throws frozen ropes across the field and they are spot on too. People justifiably credit Moss for his improved deep game, but I’ve seen Brady lauch passes (on target) that the majority of QBs couldn’t come close to making – like 70 yards in the air.

    That skinny kid in the combine photo looks nothing like the Brady of today. He worked hard in the weight room and filled out big time.

  • Njdilonardo

    Brady is the only one that came to my mind too. Brady increased his arm strength and overall strength when he got to the Patriots – if you remember Brady’s combine photo it’s clear he had a lot of room to improve – and that went a long way. But arm strength has a lot more to do with form than it does actual strength. In particular, the way Brady uses his left arm to generate torque is not entirely unique but it stands out when watching Brady, as does his follow through: his comes across his body, with his wrist snapped at belt level of his left hip. I know other coaches teach quarterbacks a more over-the-top approach (including Matt Leinart’s throwing coach) taught to finish with their throwing hand “in their pocket,” meaning the overturned thumb of the throwing hand comes to rest on the inside of their right thigh. In this way, varying styles of mechanics can affect short to mid range arm strength- but for the deep ball? Also, coaches teaching shorter wind-ups that favor a quicker release tend to innately reduce the amount of power one can get into the throw with their upper body: look at Favre’s release – they don’t teach that anymore, not that they taught a lot of what Favre did to begin with.

  • 4.0 Point Stance

    I believe you’re thinking of “Rookie of the Year,” which I do believe won an Oscar for Best Documentary as well as a special Oscar for “Best Use of the term Funky Butt Lovin”

  • http://ucampus.net Kram

    Henry Rowengartner added significant velocity to his fastball. He’s probably an outlier though.

  • Cbunh

    ” For proper strength training to work, there has to be muscle gain. ”

    This is absolutely untrue.  “Strength” is a result of neuro-muscular efficiency, it is completely possible to increase one’s sbility to move weight without increasing their own mass. 
     
     

  • Mr.Murder

    How many other people shared Barry Bonds’ trainer?  This isn’t rocket science.

  • http://keepingthechainsmoving.blogspot.com/ Chris

    “This is absolutely untrue.  “Strength” is a result of neuro-muscular efficiency”

    I find this hilarious because every weight lifter in the history of weight lifiting has gained muscle mass as strength improved
     
    Maybe at a very, very, very, basic, noivce level, you can gain a small increase in strength without a muscle adaptation. You should also be careful about confusing a development in technique with a development in strength.
     
    But anything more than a few pounds in strength gain will require muscle mass gains. I gained mass as I gained strength. Everyone I’ve ever been around who made strength gains had made muscle mass gains.

    This is how the muscle gets stronger, with an increase in contractile proteins. This is one of the few things we know about for certain about the development of muscles in response to heavy weight training.

    Now it is possible to increase muscle mass without overall body mass increasing, but that is very difficult to achieve and not exactly desirable for an NFL athlete. 

  • Chocolate City

    In Brady’s case, it could be that his arm was not, nor was it ever going to be Drew Henson’s, and that was the comparison he always had to deal with.  Of course, that example proves that arm strength isn’t exactly everything, now is it?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Stu-Jones/846110312 Stu Jones

    I look at this from another perspective. A high profile QB is going to be protected from the extreme rigours of S&C due to the value the QB has to the Organisation.
    From what I have learned is that many programms will not push for major development, due to the risk of injury. Injuries to the Rotator Cuff and other soft tissue in the shoulder can lead to devastating performance for that QB and thus the Staff.

    Jobs are on the line as well as performance issues.

  • Wilwhite521

    I was in professional baseball for 17 years as a player and coach. In baseball you can increase arm strength by a routine of “long tossing” where you throw for 10-15 minutes at distances up to 150 to 200 ft. Normally, this would be done in the off season say 3-times a week but can also be done “in-season” to maintain arm strength. At times, mature professional and college pitchers will throw harder after surgeries probably due to the fact that the rehab conditioned their body as never before. Maybe they relied on their natural gifts and never pushed themselves as they had to to overcome their injury and surgery. This could be the case for Drew Brees. However, most big league pitchers will not throw harder as they get older because they realize that movement and accuracy (control and command) are more important than velocity for the most part. I feel this may be the case with college and NFL QB’s who begin to realize that decision making and accuracy is the road to greatness. However, not being a football coach I would not know if QB’s actually practice throwing long throws in practice on a routine basis. I wonder if they did “long toss” could it actually increase their arm strength. In some cases in baseball a mechanical flaw in a pitcher’s delivery can be detected which will allow for increased velocity. This could be something as simple as using your lower half in a more aggressive fashion or keeping your front shoulder “closed” longer. I have read about Tom Brady speaking about keeping his front elbow tight and closed in his delivery.

  • Adrian

    Some baseball pitchers do increase speed after getting into the majors. The example I’m thinking of is Joel Hanrahan who regularly hits the upper 90s now and apparently used to pitch in the 80s.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joel_Hanrahan#Scouting_Report

  • Michael Schuttke

    What we have yet to directly define here, which is perhaps implied and I am simply missing that, is how we are “measuring” any increases in arm strength. With baseball pitchers, we are measuring MPH on pitches but even that varies to the pitch. A similar effect occurs in football (i.e. a fade route inside the red zone may go 25 yards but so may a post pattern to a wide receiver from midfield). I would imagine we are also then wanting to “keep all things equal”, meaning we would want to measure MPH’s for quarterbacks based on the type of throw. The only truly sciemtific way to do this would be to compare Combine numbers, where it is my understanding that “ball velocity” is measured, to the exact same throwing conditions (whatever that may be) X number of years into a player’s career. Otherwise, we are all basing this off of what the (very fallable) human eye sees. I remember Michael Jordan once saying “hang time is a perception…you only see what you want to see. It’s like an oasis in the desert.” Similarly, we need to define how we are truly measuring this for this discussion to really go anywhere.

  • duckinfantry

    Sorry Chris, but your certainty is not correct here (being certain about ANYTHING is not a great position to be in, generally). There are a few ways muscles get stronger (movement specific); increasing the firing rate of involved muscles, increasing the total number of motor units involved in the action (which can be by either recruiting a higher percent of motor units, or by creating more), or limiting co-contraction of antagonist muscles. Assuming the athlete is tapped out in terms of neurological strength gain, then the athlete would need to gain muscle mass. However, few (if any) football players are at that point in muscle recruitment; there are just too many competing demands on the athlete to reach that level of adaptation. Add to this the skill aspect required for expressing strength in any given lift, and it is very easy for almost any athlete to get stronger in specific lifts without weight gain (see: non-heavyweight Olympic weightlifters and powerlifters). That so many athletes, including you, get bigger while also getting stronger is not proof that getting stronger REQUIRES getting bigger, just that it is the most resource economical method for most athletes. And football is not a weight classed sport.

  • duckinfantry

    Maybe this lack of known progression has more to do with methods most use, than it does to the ability to increase throwing distance. This discussion is like saying ‘you can’t teach speed’. Both are blatantly false. If they weren’t, why would track and field athletes keep improving past puberty? 

    Any sports skill can be improved with appropriate training, for quite some time (well beyond 18 years old). The problem is many methods for improvement carry significant risks of injury, which might not be needed for a quarterback who already has sufficient arm strength.Conversely, much of the ‘improved arm strength’ seen in some might have to do with improvement in feed forward processes, so the QB is better able to be in a good throwing position, instead of off balance, on time. Knowing what (admitted little) I know about the state of knowledge in physical training for sport, I would guess most of what we see in improvement is from the latter. This does not mean the former is not available. It is just that physical improvements might not be happening because the coaches lack the skill and knowledge to actual improve the arm strength of the athletes.

  • Ron Burgundy and Gold

    I have to believe it has much more to do with form/technique than muscle mass; I’m a skinny dude that has barely lifted a weight in my life, but I can throw a football literally 2 to 4 times farther than anyone I know, even guys much bigger and stronger than I am.  I attribute it to my tennis background; when I was a teenager I often spent several hours a day practicing my serve and developed a pretty big/fast serve– I think the throwing motion is similar and it’s all about getting maximum power generated into the point of |ball contact (tennis)/release (football)| through the coordination of all those little rotations/contractions from the legs up through the arm.

  • Batsandgats

    I noticed significant gains in how far I could throw when I focused on my core. Brees talks about this in his book as well, he also talked about how even with the Chargers he didn’t realize that he is only as strong as his weakest link, there isn’t just one muscle involved in throwing, its a bunch, and if a few of the muscles involved can only throw a certain length thats how far your going to throw, no matter how many strength improvements youve made in other muscles. He said many other qbs are unaware of this, not sure how much truth there is to that, but he definetly didn’t know until he hurt his shoulder. Of course he perfected mechanics as well but I think it was a combo.

    Peyton Manning was making ridiculous throws in high school from what I remember

  • http://www.facebook.com/reichy24 Alex Reichenbach

    I think it’s hard to add strength to your throws because for one thing, most of the strength for throwing comes from your legs (not your arms), which are usually already highly developed muscles.  Thus, the only way to really add strength is by improving mechanics, which are nominal improvements.

  • http://keepingthechainsmoving.blogspot.com/ Chris

    Forgot about this discussion.

    Duck Infantry – your assertion doesn’t tally with the experience of basically every weight lifter on the planet. Non-heavyweight weight lifters achieve their lifts by growing muscle, getting stronger, and then cutting down excess fat in order to stay within a specific weight class. More commonly however these lifters will simply allow themselves to jump up a weight class as they gain more strength and mass at the same time.

    There has – to my knowledge – never been a documented case of someone getting stronger (over a period of time in excess of say a month) without an increase in muscle mass.

    Like I said, we know full well how Myofibrillar hypertrophy occurs. We know it is by far the primary driver of strength gains. To suggest that this paradigm is wrong is to basically push against all of known medical science on the subject.

    You will also struggle to find any involved in weight lifting who agrees with your position, short of those BS peddlars who have some magic “strength drug” that they claim enhances peoples neural reactions to weight lifting.

  • duckinfantry

    Do you mean recreational weight lifters, or Olympic weightlifters? Do you have experience with the later? Have you reviewed results? My guess is no. 

    Strength is a skill. Strength training is skill practice which causes adaptations in both the neural systems and physical structures. Some training protocols result in more hypertrophy than others. Every high load skill, when practiced often, causes physical adaptations. These adaptations are not always sought (do pitchers really want to have their throwing arm cock-eyed?). In the case of football, weight gain is sought often. For weightlifters, sometimes it might be, sometimes not. 
    Medical science has little concern for improving sports performance, and certainly not weight controlled strength sports. Thus, what medical science ‘knows’ about it is extremely limited. If our medical knowledge is actually the state of sports science knowledge in the US, the question of why we don’t win in weightlifting has been answered. And please don’t suggest it is because foreigners are dirty and the US is clean. Oh, and studies don’t generally last more than 4-8 weeks, they use only a few low skill exercises, a few volume matched or controlled protocols, and “average” college students.

    Size is ONE OF THE prime determinants of strength, I never said otherwise. However, it is but one of the determinants.  Compare weightlifters to throwers to football players? Weight matched, the order of strength is likely to be weightlifter, thrower then football player (and the first two are likely to be much stronger than football player). The order of endurance will be football player-with close to a tie between the thrower and lifter (and it won’t be close).  The SAID principle is real. 

    Why would a coach getting better results publish? Same reason hedge funds don’t publish their methodology, if you have knowledge which lets you win more, why share (which is my the academic finance community is convinced making abnormal returns is impossible)? 

  • http://keepingthechainsmoving.blogspot.com/ Chris

    I have a strong suspicion the word “Crossfit” appears in your favourites list.

    Medical Science may not be concerned overly with sports performance, but it is incredibly concerned with the human body, and in particular with relation to this topic, is incredibly concerned with how to rebuild muscles and muscluar strength most effectively in patients who have been inactive for long durations, and in fighting back against those with degenerative illnesses affecting the muscles.

    For the record your categorisation of scientific studies on muscle development and weight lifting is incredibly misguided. Most studies last in excess of 12 weeks for a start.

    Your raising of the US olympic weight lifting team is rather fortuitous for this argument, because they provide the perfect example of your opinion against mine, in that it is well known in the weight lifting community that the US coaches are more concerned with learning the perfect technique, the skill of lifting as you might put it, over raw strength gains.

    Their international opponents are much more concerned with the strength aspect over technique, and subsequently they routinely kick the American teams butt. This is something that has been bemoaned to death in the weight lifting world for years now (at least among American lifters).

    I’m sorry but your argument is pointless and nonsensical. All the scientific evidence is against you. All the real world data and experience is against you. Your point has no actual standing outside of your opinon expressed here and cannot be taken seriously.