"Batsmen need to bat under match conditions and bowlers need to bowl under them, something that seems forgotten in the gym-bunny culture. Instead, fitness as measured by pulse-rates and bleep tests, is being confused with being match-fit - being ready to compete with an opponent rather than a dumbbell."
Former England bowler Derek Pringle snarled at England's lack of match preparation in the Telegraph newspaper.
He is right to look for reasons as England failed with both bat and ball. The question I have is this: what's difference between competing with an opponent and competing with a dumbbell?
More importantly, how can we as cricketers use this information to our benefit?
Gym culture: The case for the prosecution
One of the fundamental principles of training is called Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand (SAID). That means if you want to get fit for cricket you need to play cricket. The only thing you get better at doing press ups is doing press ups.
Playing under pressure also teaches you to play under pressure. We have all seen those batsmen who look incredible in the nets only to go into their shell in the middle. The difference is purely psychological and the only way to deal with this is to play in matches.
Gym work also gives players the wrong focus. Rather than training to improve their cricket performance the focus becomes on training to become better at the tests. Lifting more weight or getting a better beep test score becomes an end in itself rather than a means to an end.
That's not to say players should do no training in the gym. It's just that when fitness work becomes the focus rather than playing cricket it leads to poor form on the pitch.
Gym culture: The case for the defence
I'm sure even Derek Pringle would not argue against strength training totally. We know the benefits of regular exercise for health and performance: Fewer injuries, more power, more speed, better concentration, better recovery times and better body composition.
It's all too easy to make this an either/or situation: That cricketers should either play or matches or visit the gym. The fact is that both are important if you are serious about success.
Playing lots of cricket is important to success. The more you bat or bowl under serious competitive elements the better you get at it. But cricket also causes imbalances in our muscles that without fitness training can lead to increased chance of injury. The right fitness work can correct those errors before they become injuries, particularly with bowlers.
Additionally, training itself is a mental challenge. It's tough to keep going to the gym for an extended period and keep improving. You are in competition against yourself and that is just as important when you get on the field. Also, fitness training is something you can control and measure accurately. You can't measure how ready you are to compete as accurately.
Of course, you need to do the right sort of fitness work. With all training that is not specific there will be a certain amount that doesn't cross over to the pitch.
However, some things are universal to almost any sport: sprinting, jumping, changing direction quickly and striking are far more similar than different. After all, if you can run fast you can run fast playing cricket, hockey, football or chasing the bus.
In short, the difference between the gym and matches is the former gets you fit to play, the latter makes you play to get fit.
Which side of the fence do you lie on? Do you think Derek Pringle is right and it's more important to play than train? Or do you support a bit of both? Leave a comment in the comments box and let us know.
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