Cricket training secrets: How to prevent hamstring injuries
This is part three of a series of tips that are often overlooked by traditional cricket coaches. All are proven to give you the edge but because they don't originate in the cricket world have not been picked up by the mainstream of players yet. That's why we are calling the series "training secrets". This secret is about stopping hamstring problems.
A hamstring pull can have you out for weeks and it's annoying. Chances are you can still perform your skills but you can't run so you can't play. It might even mean another player gets a chance, steals your place and you languish.
It doesn't help that cricket seems designed to hurt your hammies.
There is a great deal of sitting and around followed by some vigorous running to bowl the ball or make a quick single. The final nail in the coffin (and the biggest problem) is the speed you have to slow to turn or catch a sharp caught and bowled.
If you are young and have hamstrings are like brand new elastic bands you might get away with it. But why risk it when you can do some simple things to reduce the chances of injury in the first place?
Know your functional anatomy (no, come back, it's not that bad)
All the ladies love a man who can talk about hamstring function.
Well, maybe not. But your hamstrings will be besotted with you for knowing what you are doing. You see, according to the textbooks your hamstring flexes your knee. Think the leg curl machine in the gym. Technically that's right.
The hamstrings don't flex the knee when you are running, stopping and changing direction. They extend the hip, like in this picture:
You see how the runner's leg is kicked out behind him? That's hip extension.
Trouble is most cricketers don't train this way. Some rely on cricket itself to get fit (and we already know how risky that can be). Those who do train might do some hamstring curls and jogging and leave it at that.
It's a lack of understanding of what the hamstrings do that are leading to injuries.
Those who do know what the hamstrings do on the pitch take a different approach to training:
- Staying away from machines in the gym: Both hamstring curls and cardio machines like steppers and treadmills.
- Gradual warm ups that include movements for hip extension such as hip lifts.
- All-out sprinting in practice and fielding drills.
Most importantly, cricketers who are concerned about healthy hamstrings use functional strength training to keep them strong.
Strengthening the hamstrings for cricket
Hamstrings that have had their hip extension function trained in the gym are stronger. In other words: you get less ouchies.
That means looking at your training plan and replacing poor exercise choices with exercises like:
Hyperextensions/Glute-Ham Raise - These exercises need a bit of kit that not all gyms have. However, if you have access it strengthens your lower back, hamstrings and glutes while improving flexibility. You can use your bodyweight for up to 12 reps then use a weight plate for extra resistance.
Straight Leg Deadlift - This exercise can be done with one or two legs using a barbell or dumbbells. It's an exercise with a bad reputation as when done badly it can cause back problems. However if done with good form is a great way to develop strength: Start light with weight, keep your back arched, sit back, move from the hips and stop when you feel the hamstrings stretch. You can also do a single leg version.
Deadlift - The deadlift is one of the daddy's of exercises. It trains the right patterns and there are so many variations, everyone can do it. You don't need 500lbs on a barbell to do it. You can use a trap bar, dumbbells, cables or bands. It can be done one or two legged. Technique is crucially important as always.
Don't forget the single leg options with all these exercises either. We run on one leg, so it makes sense to train that way too.
Once you know the secrets, protecting your hamstrings is simple and proven to work. What's stopping you from making the changes?
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How about lunges? they really can open up the hips as well as the hammies, and I would say that deadlift is much more lower back.
Lunges are superb and have lots of variations to make them a critical exercise: single leg, good for balance and can help with posture. If we are talking about pure posterior chain development, the deadlift variations win hands down because they train the hip hinging movement.