This is the first in a series of autobiographical articles from former-professional cricketer Steffan Jones. Steffan took himself from a 120kph to 145kph (90mph) with blood, sweat and tears.
I signed my first contract in 1990 and was a professional cricketer for 20 years. The average career of a seam bowler these days is 5 years. In that time I increased my speed. How did I do it?
Here is my story.
We start in 1997. After years of being mainly a rugby player, I started playing for Somerset. I needed a county that was close to Bristol; where I was signed as a professional rugby player. Somerset fitted the bill perfectly. Even though I had a sports science degree and PGCE in Physical Education from Cambridge University I still abided by the old out dated belief that cricketers, especially bowlers;
"shouldn't lift weights, it will make you bulky and muscle bound."
It wasn't until Mike Ruddock at Swansea RFC told me that I needed to get stronger, and I was embarrassed in a bench press test that I decided to lift weights.
From that moment onwards strength training became a stable part of my preparation for the rugby and cricket seasons.
Initially it was basic: 3 sets of 10 reps on the big compound lifts: Squats, bench, military press, pull ups and so on. The initial gains I got from this program were massive. I was always big on my speed work and plyometric jumps as I was a fullback/winger in rugby, but the gains I made in my bowling speed were evident in the 1997 season.
I could bowl quite quickly but nowhere near what was needed for 1st class cricket. I could trouble a batter with a bouncer but my full deliveries were quite "floaty". Anyone can bowl a fast bouncer but a sign of a quick bowler are the ones who bowl quickly pitched up!
My first mistake
After a tough season for Bristol RFC and Exeter Chiefs I decided to retire from rugby and focus on cricket.
In the winter of 1998 I continued doing exactly the same as I did the year before, lifting weights running on treadmills and hill sprint work. The only difference was the introduction of supplements.
However, this was a mistake.
What happened that winter was I added weight without getting stronger. I added body kit to the car without increasing the size of the engine! The 1999 season was relatively successful where I played a key role in 1 day cricket with 32 Sunday league wickets and helped Somerset get to a cup final. I was left out of the final against Gloucestershire because the coach and captain believed I looked tired during our previous championship game against Essex. Stuart Law did think I was bowling throw downs to be honest!
Looking back I added to much body weight to my frame and my performances suffered when I got tired.
By adding "non-functional hypertrophy" but not getting stronger I simply made it harder to get to the wicket, and in turn I could not bowl long spells. I needed to evaluate my program. It's worth noting at this time Strength and Conditioning Coaches weren't employed in professional cricket. So I was on my own.
After the massive disappointment of being left out of the 1999 Lords final I decided to become the fittest cricketer in county cricket.
I was always pretty quick - I had an 11 second 100m sprint time - and well conditioned. What I was missing was upper body power.
In the year 2000 I was to make an astounding discovery that would solve my power problem: A discovery that I still coach with young bowlers today.