Forearm Flyout or, as Dr. Mike Marshall (who coined the original term) refers to it, “pitching forearm flyout”, is when the forearm flies out from a 90 degree angle, forcing the brachialis and the long head of the biceps brachii to work overtime trying, with eccentric contractions, to prevent injury to the olecranon fossa, caused by the olecranon process slamming into it during or near the release of the throw (at elbow extension).
Image by MuscleUsed.com
As you can see, the insertion point of the long head of the bicep is at the proximal end of the Ulna, near the Ulnar Collateral Ligament.
Here’s something interesting that Randy Sullivan points out here:
A 2009 study in the American Journal of Sports Medicine identified 3 variables that contribute to increased valgus stress on the medial elbow. (Load on the Tommy John ligament).
1) a sidearm throwing motion
2) early torso rotation (before lead leg weight bearing foot plant) and
3) forearm fly out (when the angle between the forearm and the upper arm exceeds 90 degrees)
Note: When I first heard of forearm flyout, I actually thought that’s what it meant (“flying open”). I had a problem with flying open at several points in my career, and I noticed something happening during those points… my forearm was always sore after throwing a bullpen, or after/during a game. The strain I felt just last week was a good indicator, as I was trying to throw harder than I have in over 15 years. I could literally ‘feel’ the early elbow extension and release with each throw. I don’t do this (or feel this), normally.
This isn’t to say that if you feel soreness in your forearm that you are experiencing forearm flyout. It could be due to many reasons, as the flexor-pronator mass actually helps to stabilize the elbow while throwing. [Source: Park MC, Ahmad CS]
Since Forearm Flyout causes early release, it’s pretty clear that this could potentially cause stress (pain or injury) to two areas:
1) Anterior shoulder: forearm flyout can cause an earlier ball release, which forces humeral head to slide forward, causing pain and stress in and around the joint. Some may even experience posterior shoulder pain due to inefficient deceleration patterns (ie, using the shoulder, but not the lead hip).
2) Medial elbow: forearm flyout causes more valgus stress, and also forces the forearm and biceps to work harder, causing fatigue and strain, in and around the joint, which can increase risk of injury.
How do You Prevent Forearm Flyout?
This isn’t going to be an easy process, but I believe Lantz Wheeler has a great drill to help with a later release. It’s called the Towel Drill. Just kidding.
This video has some good drills that I feel could help. Around the 1:40 point he demonstrates what some refer to as the ‘Marshall drill’ or ‘Reverse pickoff’ drill. Well, many people have been doing this drill for decades, including myself, so I never referred to them as anything other than reverse throws, which is what we called them in the late 80’s/early 90’s. Yeah, I’m old, but I was a kid.
The reason I like these drills is that, as Lantz explains, you get a feel for how specific joints should be reacting during patterns of movement. I would definitely recommend parents, friends, coaches, or whomever to pay close attention and help make each throw a quality rep. Most of those drills will also help deceleration patterns at the hip, which is a good thing.
Another way to fix this issue would be with connection balls. In fact, I’ve had one of my pitchers do several of the above drills with a connection ball between their humerus and radius to help them get a good feel of where they need to be. Of course, you should mix it in rather than having them continuously throw with the connection ball.
As mentioned above, reverse throws (or the Marshall drill/Reverse Pickoff drill) are also a great drill as they will not allow the elbow to stray too far away for too long. If you do it correctly you should be able to hit the target directly in front of you (your throwing side). If not, you’ll end up arm side (at or behind the batter) every time. This drill, if done correctly, will also improve deceleration patterns for the trunk and shoulder.
Whether you want to believe it or not, forearm flyout causes more valgus stress, for a longer period of time, which puts you at greater risk for elbow or shoulder injury. By keeping the elbow flexed until heading into elbow extension, prior to ball release, you will be able to minimize your chances of shoulder and elbow injury. I’m not saying you’ll completely wipe out any chances of injury, but you will definitely minimize the risk.