Biomechanical Q & A

Hi guys, on Tuesday, SteveS asked an excellent question, one to which I’ve given a lot of thought over the years. So I wanted to give his answer the time and space it deserves. SteveS asked, “To what degree do you think [biomechanical] physical characteristics versus mental processing speed figure into overall success as an NFL QB in today’s NFL?”

First, I just want to state the obvious– there are quite a few elements of mental processing speed that are impossible to measure in biomechanical terms– raw intelligence, mental discipline, mental preparation etc. It should go without saying that there are many aspects of the mental game that biomechanical efficiency cannot possibly measure. But those type of attributes aside, I think there’s actually a fair amount one can use biomechanical fascial indicators to predict someones mental processing speed– particularly in the case of QBs. There are two main areas where efficiency can be very relevant.

The first is in the case of full thoracic efficiency vs less than full thoracic efficiency. A fully efficient thoracic mechanic is by definition fully reliable and consistent– it is biomechanically stable and therefore “set and forget”, once the specific motions are learned (versus an area at less than full efficiency which will always be in some relative state of flux). Having one’s mechanics be consistent and reliable frees up a tremendous amount of mental processing for other tasks, rather than being utilized to concentrate on mechanical accuracy. For example, if you’ve ever studied a musical instrument, you know that when you first learn the instrument/ music, a tremendous amount of concentration goes just into playing the right notes/ rhythms. But that as you improve in skill (ie become more biomechanically efficient), the same music that required all your thought/ concentration earlier becomes easy and natural. And at this point, your mind, which used to focus on just getting out the notes, is freed for other things, or to improve other aspects of your playing (more expression, or to communicate with others, or to sing while playing etc). From the outside, it looks like your mental processing speed has improved (because it has), but the underlying reason is that the biomechanical underpinnings of your playing have become so efficient that they require little/ no mental overhead to proceed reliably.

The second aspect in which biomechanical efficiency can somewhat predict mental processing speed is in terms of visual-related efficiency. We generally don’t think of our eyes in biomechanical terms, but cervical efficiency is, in fact, very relevant to visual processing. Greater efficiency equals greater bloodflow, and more bloodflow to visual areas equals better/ faster visual processing. Specifically, more anterior cervical bloodflow is generally associated with a wider viewing focus. And the muscles that control the eyes’ ability to focus at specific depths are generally associated with posterior cervical efficiency. In other words, anterior cervical efficiency is correlated with horizontal focusing ability, and posterior cervical efficiency is correlated with vertical focusing ability. As you can imagine, this has an enormous impact on QB accuracy/ processing speed, as better visual focusing ability will considerably speed up what we generally consider to be mental processing.

This last part is why I’ve predicted long-term accuracy issues in one of two dimensions (horizontal for anterior, and vertical for posterior) when noting cervical inefficiencies. I predicted that Josh Allen/ Dwayne Haskins/ Trey Lance would struggle throwing to specific depths of fields (vertical viewing focus) based on posterior cervical inefficiencies and lack of synchronicity with thoracic (throwing) mechanics. Josh Allen was eventually able to overcome this limitation, and time will tell re: Haskins/ Lance.

Unfortuntaly, visual related inefficiency is also relevant to Denver’s current QB. While Drew Lock shows good synchronicity between his posterior cervical/ thoracic areas (when otherwise throwing with good mechanics), he does show inefficient anterior cervical areas (relating to horizontal visual field of focus). This is yet another reason why I’ve long held that Lock is best served in a Shanahan-tree offense– in most branches of this tree, horizontal throwing range is schematically minimized in favor of stacked vertical routes (favoring vertical accuracy, to which Lock shows good aptitude). In an offense such as Shurmur’s, where horizontal throwing range is paramount, Lock’s anterior cervical inefficiencies likely substantially slow his visual processing (and thereby his mental processing). Hopefully he (like Josh Allen) can overcome this limitation with time and effort. But in my opinion, this is another scheme-related headwind currently facing Drew Lock in Denver.

Regardless, the larger point is that what we generally consider to be mental processing speed can, in practice, often be gated by specific biomechanical issues. If one’s throwing mechanic is in a constant state of flux, some amount of mental overhead/ concentration will go just towards ensuring a reliable/ accurate throw. Likewise, if one’s field of vision is small, or if the muscles controlling one’s ability to focus at depth are inefficient, then extra mental overhead will be needed to change targets, or to throw to a specific depth. So if a QB shows full thoracic efficiency with excellent cervical independence/ synchronicity, his mental processing is going to be relatively unencumbered (versus a QB who needs to constantly focus on throwing accurate passes, and takes extra time to scan the field). And the results on the field will likely start from a much higher baseline. This doesn’t mean that he is going to be the next Peyton Manning, but it does mean that he is much less likely to be the next Akili Smith.

SteveS, unfortunately I can’t answer your exact question (about how mental processing vs biomechanical efficiency affect success), since I have no way of measuring mental processing speed.  But I hope this (long) answer, about how biomechanical efficiency can *affect* mental processing speed, will suffice.  Thanks for asking such a great question!