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February 6, 2007
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This is an annotation of a very early version of my seminal piece, Death to the Inverted W. The idea is to let people see how my thinking about the Inverted W has developed over the years.

Except as I NOTE, the only changes I've made are to the formatting of the piece.

In case you wonder what I said, when, the links above are to pages on the Wayback Machine.

Inverted W: Annotated

As you may know, I have a huge problem with a pitching cue that is referred to as the "Inverted W" (or the "Upside-Down W", "M", or "Breaking the hands with the elbows"). I believe that pitchers who make the "Inverted W" are at a significantly higher risk of experiencing shoulder — and in some cases also elbow — problems.

In the interests of accuracy in journalism, I have been holding off on publishing this essay because I wasn't sure if pitchers were actually being taught to do this or if they were simply figuring this out on their own (and being praised for it).

However, just the other day I had a "conversation" with a pitching guru named Paul Nyman in one of the forums on Steven Ellis' Lets Talk Pitching web site and he indicated that the "Inverted W" is indeed something something that he advocates (and teaches).

I can point to literally hundreds of players who have benefited significantly using the exact same methods (inverted W, scapula loading, pelvic loading, etc.) that you THINK are a problem or what you THINK causes problems.

NOTE 2020.4.17

It's not that I think pitchers don't BENEFIT from the Inverted W. They often DO. That's why people teach the Inverted W. The problem is that the Inverted W very reliably comes at a COST. A cost that is usually ignored. If not denied. THAT'S the problem I have with the Inverted W; that it's sold as being "benign." As a free lunch;  something you can do, and gain from, without (negative) consequence.

The Problem

Let me explain all of the reasons why I don't like the "Inverted W".

It Is Not What Great Pitchers Do

If you look at the motions of great pitchers (and by great I mean pitchers who had long, successful, and relatively injury-free careers) like...

  • Roger Clemens
  • Bob Gibson
  • Tom Glavine
  • Randy Johnson
  • Sandy Koufax
  • Greg Maddux
  • Nolan Ryan
  • Tom Seaver
  • David Wells

...you will see that none of them make the Inverted W.
     Instead, while you could say that all of these pitchers employed Scapular Loading, I would argue that the critical difference is that they make the Horizontal W (and just to be completely clear, "horizontal" is the key word), with their elbows below the level of their shoulders, rather than the Inverted W, with their elbows above and behind the level of their shoulders.
     I believe that the Horizontal W is a safe way to scap load while the Inverted W is not.

NOTE 2020.4.17

I didn't get this completely right. As I discuss in my piece on Scap Loading, and learned from Dylan Bundy and a few other pitchers, the Horizonal W can be just as bad as the Inverted W. It's not quite as risky, but it's still quite risky. And it's not what Justin Verlander does.

It Is What Frequently-Injured Pitchers Do

If you look at the mechanics of pitchers who have had injury-plagued careers, then you will almost always see the "Inverted W". Their Pitching Arm Side (aka PAS) elbow is both above and behind their shoulders in what I call a state of Hyperabduction.

Mark Prior

Mark Prior

You will also see this pattern bear out if you go back into the history books and look at the careers of guys like Don Drysdale. He made the Inverted W and ended up retiring due to shoulder problems.
     If I am correct about this, then I believe a number of young pitchers will experience problems as a result of making the Inverted W (especially if they are moved into, or continue to pitch in, the starting rotation).

Jeremy Bonderman

Jeremy Bonderman

Anthony Reyes

Anthony Reyes

Similarly, pitchers like Roy Oswalt should not experience nearly as many problems because they do not make the Inverted W.

Roy Oswalt

Roy Oswalt

The Technical/Anatomical Reason
If you are interested in a technical, anatomically-based explanation of why I think this is a problem, then here goes. The Supraspinatus muscle, which is the muscle that is initially responsible for abducting the upper arm, is the one that is most frequently injured by pitchers. I don't think it's a coincidence that I have found that a state of Hyperabduction (which is achieved using the Supraspinatus) is very often related to rotator cuff problems. I am not sure what the exact mechanism is, but I believe that it could be related to impingement of the superior portion (top) of the Supraspinatus on the inferior portion (undersurface) of the Acromion.

Eliminating The Inverted W
In terms of improving the mechanics of a pitcher who makes the Inverted W, the problem is that pitchers who do this tend to break their hands with their elbows and try to take their PAS elbow as high as they can. They may also try to keep their PAS elbow above the level of their PAS hand (with their PAS forearm hanging down vertically) as long as possible. Some of this can also be due to trying to keep their fingers on top of the ball as long as possible (which I also think is a dangerous cue).
     What I have my pitchers do is, ala Greg Maddux, Nolan Ryan, and Roger Clemens, break their hands with their hands (not their elbows) and keep their PAS hand more level with, if not slightly above, the level of their PAS elbow. I also have them show the ball to 3B relatively soon after breaking their hands as this helps to keep the PAS hand above the level of the PAS elbow.

The Inverted W In Depth
The point I am trying to make about the Inverted W is so important that I want to make sure that you understand exactly what I am talking about.

Randy Johnson

Randy Johnson

Greg Maddux

Greg Maddux

If you look at the arm action of guys like Greg Maddux and Randy Johnson, you will see that their PAS elbow always stays below the level of their shoulders as Randy Johnson's and Greg Maddux's PAS elbows are doing in the photos above. Their PAS elbow never gets above the level of their shoulders after they break their hands.

The W

The "W"

Viewed from the side as above, the elbows are below the level of the shoulders and the hand, and this forms the shape of a "W" (the green lines in the diagram above).

Greg Maddux

As you can see in the frame above, you can see the same thing in video clips of Greg Maddux.

Greg Maddux

You can also see the same thing in still photos of Greg Maddux, as the photo above makes clear.

Mark Prior

Mark Prior

If you contrast this with the arm action of guys like Mark Prior and Anthony Reyes, you will see that after they break their hands their elbows go above and behind the level of their shoulders.

The M or Inverted W

The "M" or Inverted W

Viewed from the side as above, the elbows are above the level of the shoulders and the hand, and this forms the shape of a "M" or Inverted W (the red lines in the diagram above).
     Now, some people would argue that I am comparing apples and oranges because what I am describing are two different points in time when I compare the "W" to the "M" or Inverted W. While this is true, it doesn't matter for two reasons. First, pitchers who make the W never let their elbows get above the level of their shoulders. Second, the problem with making the M or Inverted W is that it increases the distance and force with which the PAS upper arm will externally rotate. This increases the stress on both the elbow and the shoulder.

Mark Prior And The Inverted W
I recently completed an analysis of Mark Prior's pitching mechanics, which discusses his Inverted W in detail.

Mark Prior Making The Inverted W

Mark Prior Making The Inverted W

Professional Acceptance
My belief that Hyperabduction, and the Inverted W, are bad has seen some acceptance by the professional medical community. For example, here is an e-mail I received in April of 2007...

Chris I am an orthopedic surgeon, and would like to offer you a theory on why the inverted W is bad to the long term health of the shoulder.
     In the position of hyper abduction, elevation and extension of the distal humerus above the shoulder (inverted W) the inferior glenohumeral ligament is placed on stretch. The humeral head must lever against it to advance the arm forward. This ligament is the primary anterior stabilizer of the glenohumeral joint with the arm elevated (i.e. pitching). In other words, this position places this ligament under tension, then it is levered against in order to throw. This eventually will either loosen the shoulder, or tear the anterior labrum. It should be recognized this ligament is under stress during the "normal" delivery. If you traumatically dislocate your shoulder, this ligament is a key part of the pathology. 
Shoulder instability in turn leads to impingement, and other problems. Conversely, when the elbow is below the shoulder, this ligament would not be as stressed.
Also, the specific use and timing of the muscles about the shoulder is critical. They have done muscle activity studies during throwing, and there are distinct differences between amateurs and professionals. There is also evidence for muscle use differences in the healthy shoulders, and the ones that aren't.

I'm not sure he's exactly right about why the Inverted W is bad, but what he says is interesting enough to make me think I'm on to something.

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