This is a guest article from Strength and Conditioning Coach John Cook
Here is a no brainer: speed is one of the most important factors in bowling. By reducing the decision making time of the batsman, you increase your chances of taking wickets and reduce the chances of conceding runs.
An old school of thought is that simply bowling more will increase both your bowling speed and ‘toughen up’ your body to prevent injury.
But over-bowling is one of the primary predictors for injury.
Page of references, all on ‘bowling overuse’ reveal numerous studies that prove this fact.
So if an increase in bowling workload doesn't provide the desired performance boost, how can an increase in pace be achieved?
Whilst technique is vital for optimal bowling velocities, optimal technique is not possible when you lack fitness.
Physical fitness is not just how far you can run, or how many biceps curls you can do. The idea encompasses a range of interrelated physiological parameters, including strength, power, speed, agility, endurance, flexibility, reaction time, body composition and many others.
Train to play
So you must first analyse and understand the physical demands of your sport.
A needs analysis means we can incorporate exercises into our training program that are beneficial to performance and remove those that are not.
So we are not only making our training specific, but also efficient by in essence ‘removing waste’ from the workout.
Just a short example: the widely used bicep curl.
The role of the bicep muscles is to flex the elbow, but since the laws of cricket require the ball to be delivered with a straight arm, do we really need this exercise in a bowling workout routine?
Conducting a thorough needs analysis is vital for success. We use a number of methods to determine the requirements of the sport; simply watching the movements and analysing the positions achieved can tell us a lot, but not everything. Some subtleties of a sports physical requirement are only discovered through laboratory or field research and fortunately for us, this is often documented in journal articles.
So what exactly would you include in your training program?
Let's start with an element of fitness that is overlooked by most young cricketers.
Mobility for Cricket
Your ability to reach a certain posture or position is vital for the fast bowler. The ability to achieve stability in these positions is referred to as mobility. Just look at this picture of Brett Lee for an example.
If Brett Lee had short, tight hamstrings and equally short pectoral muscles, he would not be able to achieve this strong, stable loading position and would not deliver the ball with the same force.
For some individuals who lack this mobility therefore, an aim of physical training sessions may mean lengthening short tissues or reducing tension in overly stiff tissues.
While for others, it may be about establishing stability in the range of motion that one already possesses.
An athlete should be mobile enough to achieve the proper positions in the sport, and be strong and explosive enough to move from those positions.
So given we can see that Brett Lee has a good hamstring range, does research in cricket also find hamstring range is important?
It turns out it does, but for improving performance in a different way; keeping you on the field by reducing injury. Bowlers who have poor hamstring flexibility are predisposed to lower back injury.
Another mobility issue linked to injury is the ankles. Research found that bowlers with a reduced range in the ankle were at a significantly increased risk of injury compared to those with a large range.
So how do we work this into our routine?
One common method is by performing a dynamic mobility warm up prior to your training session. An example of an exercise that I currently use with athletes is the ‘inchworm’ as these work your hamstrings and ankles and you need to maintain stability through a range of motion using your core.
Performing these and other mobility exercises before a training session acts as a good warm up, by raising body temperature, activating muscles you intend to train and improving mobility.
Have a go at these yourself, they are not as easy as they look!
In the next part we examine the role of strength in a fast bowling programme. Click here.
John Cook is a strength and conditioning coach who recently completed his Masters degree in the field, graduating with distinction. John has worked with athletes from a vast number of sports including cricketers ranging from junior right up to First Class level. A keen cricketer himself, John has competed at junior County level and is an ECB level 2 qualified coach.