Core stability for cricket: A dummies guide | Cricket coaching, fitness and tips

Core stability for cricket: A dummies guide

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This guest post is by Liz Ward

If I were to ask you what the essential determinants of success for all sports people are, not just cricketers, would you include core strength and stability?

All cricketers need to be able to generate powerful movements in their arms and legs (try batting, bowling or fielding without powerful movements!). The only safe way to achieve this is to create a solid base of support by stabilising the spine, pelvis and shoulders through 'core' muscle contraction.

Take fast bowling: The spine acts as a whip for the arm, putting stress on the pars interarticularis of the spine where stress fractures develop. So lack of stability around the lumbar spine during bowling cause problems and even long term injury. Recovery will come with rest but as soon as you put yourself out there to bowl again without increased strength and stability around this area the problem will surely reoccur, reducing performance and even prevent you from playing.

A strong core also improves single leg stability, single leg plyometric/dynamic ability, reaction speed, ability to change direction and also lower the centre of gravity for bowling.

Are there any cricketers out there who do not see one, if not all, of the above as important to their game?

Core Stability Training

Core Stability Training is all about working the smaller and deeper lumbar spine and trunk muscles. Although all the movement in our bodies originate at the core, these muscles are not actually involved in movement but are stabilisers. They work constantly throughout the day, which means they need extremely good endurance of low-level forces. Core stability provides central body control, and allows the generation of power by maximising the efficiency of your muscular effort. It is the foundation for explosive movements and control: The ABCs of cricket - agility, balance, co-ordination and speed, allowing your body to function more effectively with less risk.

It is generally accepted that the most effective way to train this area is through 'bracing' the entire core whilst moving through your fitness and resistance programmes. Core muscles are part of whole body movements while you play and so should not be isolated. Train them to work in an efficient and co-ordinated way to maintain correct alignment of the spine and pelvis whilst the limbs are moving; producing good stability during movement.

With this in mind, exercises that require the core muscles to maintain correct posture and alignment with movement in the extremities must be the preferred choice, appreciating that poor posture is at the root of many preventable sports injuries and weak performances. It is vitally important to understand the correct position to maintain and which muscles to be aware of during the movements.

Understanding Bracing

The key to the lumbar support mechanism is the co-contraction of the transverse abdominus (“TA”) and multifidus .

Stand, feet hip width apart and parallel with soft knees. Facing forwards; shoulders retracted (back) and depressed (down), inhale deeply. Whilst leaving the spine in neutral (neither arched nor flat) pull the tummy button right in to the spine, lifting the pelvic floor at the same time. Exhale slowly, keeping the TA engaged. You should now be braced, as if ready to receive a blow to the stomach. Your shoulders, hips, knees and ankles should be in alignment. Slowly inhale and exhale in this position whilst making a mental note to assume this posture every second of every day. As most sport is performed in the upright position, the core should also be worked in the upright position; being far more functional than performing the same exercise lying down on a mat.

A perfect example of a dynamic stability exercise and a great one to start with due to its fundamental motor pattern is The Lunge. It requires a huge amount of coordination of the core muscles to perform with perfection and I am constantly astounded at the number of top grade sportspeople unable to perform this exercise with perfect posture and alignment with just bodyweight, let alone with weights.

Whenever you place one foot in front of the other, at varying range of motion, you are in a lunge position of some kind; it is fundamental in most sports. As such and also due to its relevance to everyday life, it is one of the standard exercises included in the Alexander Technique.

To progress, increase the challenge by adding upper body movements.

Hold a medicine ball out in front of you during the exercise, when this is comfortable, raise the medicine ball above your head as you lower; being sure not to arch the lumbar spine.

Prioritising your core work maximises your achievements. For instance, cricketers need a great deal of rotation work, so:

Hold a 10lb body bar on the back of your shoulders, as you lower, rotate towards your front leg, keeping your hips stable, facing forwards.

Using a cable machine or exercise band at head height and to the side, hold the end with both hands then move into the lunge, forward foot away from the fixed point. Keep your arms straight, elbows soft and pull the band down and across your body. Your hands will now be by your opposite hip. Slowly return to the start position.

To further reduce stress on the lumbar spine, improve thoracic spine extension over a stability ball and hamstring flexibility with developmental hamstring stretches.

About the author
Liz Ward is a Strength and Conditioning Practitioner operating in and around Essex, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and Suffolk with a mission to change the way cricketers train for the sport; introducing biomechanics, fitness, psychology and nutrition.

If you would like a consultation you can email Liz at e.k.ward@btinternet.com. Liz is also a consultant coach on the Simplycricket Fitness and Nutrition forum.

© Copyright miSport Holdings Ltd 2008

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Comments

I agree about the Alexander Technique and the lunge. A good site to learn more about the AT is their main website at http://alexandertechnique.com

I never thought much of the Alexanfder Technique until I read Roy Palmer's book based around it called "Zone Body, Zone Mind". I highly recopmmend it for all cricketers.

[...] Train your core (both rotational and stability) more than your extremities [...]

[...] He may do some light weights but is worried about bulking up if does more. He has heard of core training and might do sit ups or planks to cover his bases. He knows the importance of warming up. He [...]

[...] sure you do core stability, flexibility and mobility work every week no matter what your main goal [...]

This sounds like a rehab program

Core training is part rehab, part injury prevention (prehab) and part power production. The core is the centre of the body and critical to all three elements.

“Core stability training” is not done on a swiss ball or a stability board. It’s done by pulling heavy deadlifts, standing overhead presses, full squats, heavy barbell rows, heavy farmer’s walks, Atlas stones, tire flipping, reverse hypers, heavy back extensions, glute ham raises, and heavy abdominal work.

Newbie, methods come and go. Principles are universal.

All those exercises are excellent. However you must understand that the core is not just the muscles we use to lift heavy things. There is a whole layer that we cannot overload through traditional training. These deep muscles fire not when we try to fire them, but when they need to fire. It's involuntary.

However, through carefully movement pattern training we can teach these muscles to fire at the right moment giving us better transfer of power and reduced injury risk. That means doing some exercises that are closer to rehabilitation than strength.

Of course, prime mover strength is critical to success and all those exercises are good if used in the right context. However thinking that training prime movers will automatically train the patterns of the deep musculature is incorrect.

I have to say, I am astounded by this revelation! As a certified personal trainer, I would never recommend anybody under the age of 17/18 performing the exercises Newbie is suggesting. Does that mean our young athletes should not train their core?

I am afraid electromyography disagrees with Newbie; the core is trained quite effectively by both Swiss balls and stability boards, along with pilates, yoga, floor conditioning etc.

As always Liz, it depends on the individual in question. There are some 12 year olds who would be quite able to lift for technique under supervision and some 22 year olds I would turf out of the gym for behinving like idiots!

Also, Have you seen the latest electromyography research that shows core activation is greater when heavy lifting compared to training on a balance board?

Not that I am saying you are wrong, but as always context is king. As I see it there is a place for most methods, balance boards and swiss balls included. You just have to find that place.

As a Level 3 gym instructor I totally agree with the benefits of resistance work; not just for the core but also bone density and fat burning.

However, as you say, context is King and in no context can it be said that "Core stability training is not done on a swiss ball or a stability board." It can, though, be said that there are other methods to train the core.

Having said this, although I have suggested using a stability ball for thoracic flexibility, I have not mentioned its use for core stability!

However, there are many reasons why somebody cannot pump; injury being the main one I work with. In these situations, core stability training is incredibly important and training the core in this way can make a huge difference to rehabilitation and return to performance.

I agree, it is not sufficient to say that heavy lifting is all the core work you need. Especially in a rehab environment. I would argue that in a injury prevention environment that is also the case.

Heavy lifting is great core work for body builders. Its functional for them. They need their core to be strong and to stabilise their spine for heavy lifting. They need no other core work.

Sportspeople, however, need their core to be strong and to be able to stabilise their spine within movement. In some sport, the movement is quite complex.

Core muscles that have been strengthened in a static position or single plane are neither strong enough nor able to support the spine during pace bowling for instance. A spine that needs to hyperextend at the same time as rotate and laterally flex, needs its core muscles to be up to the task, especially if they are to cope with counter ration as well. Smiling

Great point, well made.

Gray Cook says that good core stability is about keeping the core stable when there are lots of movement options.

Liz, Sorry certifications mean little and prepare to be astounded. And no need to state your qualifications, content is king. You should talk to experienced strength coaches, I have a boys under the ages of 16/17 and one even 13 very strong from training the big lifts. These are some of the oldest principles for training. There are many ways to skin a cat, but training with weights has always been the safer and better way to train. Heavy lifting is great for body builders cores only? Show me a power lifter who lacks core stability. Your exercises are rehab related. David has made sense in his post. Lift weights correctly as a general strength and conditioning tool, its the most effective and play your sport. The core will be stable enough ! Btw , I have read "Athletic Body in Balance' by Gray Cook also a PT. Great rehab exercises.

newbie, I think you should re-read Gray Cook's book, his meme is not rehab in that book.

As for experience, I am quite content with my 28 years!

Of course you can train a 13 year old to lift heavy weights, you could train a cat to do that and some have done! However, no certified PT who understands the physiology of the diaphysis, epiphyses and epiphyseal plates would consider it. Apart from the moral issues, in this litigious age, they would be setting themselves up for huge claims 15 years hence!

Heavy lifting is great for the core; working with Olympic lifters I know how strong their cores are. However, it is not the only way to train the core and not the best way for everybody.

Context is everything. There is no one answer. To focus on the 'big 3' or OL or balance boards or ANYTHING is simply restricting your options.

[...] player is ready can cause injury. Learning how to run fast, change direction quickly, control the core at speed and do movements like squatting, lunging or Olympic lifting with a broom handle can be [...]

i need 16 week cricket traaining program to improve core stabilty components and athletic abilty of cricketers

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