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.
The key to the lumbar support mechanism is the co-contraction of the transverse abdominus (â€œTAâ€) 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Liz is also a consultant coach on the Simplycricket Fitness and Nutrition forum.© Copyright miSport Holdings Ltd 2008