What's worse than having a bad cricket technique?
How about a dangerous technique?
Chances are you know someone who plays with niggles in the shoulder, hip or back. Chances are it is caused by improper technique. Injury rates are up massively in recent years but it's not because players have stopped trying to bat and bowl with proper technique, it's because their bodies are not letting them.
As most players have some kind of issue like this, it's worth knowing what to do about it whether you are a player yourself or you coach players who want to reduce preventable injuries.
Why is posture to blame?
Posture is linked directly to good technique. For example, a fast bowler with weak core muscles due to a life spent sitting (driving, working at a desk, etc.) may be stiff and unable to keep his hips and shoulders lined up. This twists the spine, causes the action to be mixed and increases the risk of injury.
The bowler may react to his 'core' weakness by doing crunches or other abdominal exercises. On the surface this makes sense. Train the abs and the core gets stronger. The problem is that you can't improve the stability of your spine by moving it (as most ab isolation exercises do).
Instead of getting better, our bowler is stuck in an endless loop of playing, soreness and recovery. In the long run it may lead to stress fractures. Poor technique caused by poor posture.
And batsmen don't get away with it either. As they bat and throw the same way round they can develop an imbalance in strength and flexibility between the left and right side. This also causes injury.
How to improve posture
What our example bowler and batsman really needs to do is teach his (or her) hips, lower back and abdominal muscles to work together to keep the spine happy while the arms and legs do the job of executing your skill.
This is not done by isolating core muscles. Just like the cover drive or the bowling action, you need to learn to move the whole body with balance and coordination. In other words: it's a nervous system reflex action that you need to teach yourself to do without thinking about.
How you do this will depend greatly on the individual, but there are some general guidelines to making sure your posture is sound both when standing still and playing cricket.
Firstly, stretch every day. Both active stretching through mobility exercises (see chapter three here) and static stretching. If you are less mobile on one side of the body, spend more time working on that side. It only takes a few minutes and can be done at home as well as before or after play.
Secondly, if you are doing strength training (which all cricketers should be), you need to make sure you focu on movements over muscles. Aim to balance out the pushing (such as press ups or bench pressing) with pulling (like chin ups), Knee dominant (like squats) with hip dominant (like deadlifts). Always include single arm and leg work, especially if one side is weaker than the other.
However, if you are a coach, you will find you have little control over these elements in your players. The good news there is something else you can do, which is probably more important.
Above and beyond stretching and strengthening is technical work, however, this is not the technical work of making adjustments to your bowling action, or learning how to perform a new shot.
This technical work is all about teaching your body to move as one coordinated unit whatever you are doing: running, throwing, bowling or hitting.
This can take a major rethink as to how you approach training. Traditional gym work has often been about isolating muscles or getting a sweat on. Traditional nets have been about working on specific cricket technical points. All these elements are important but useless if you have the postural imbalances we have discussed.
The solution is to spend time working on postural technique. Simple exercises can teach you how it feels to make your body work as one unit. Done without weight (or in the chop/lift case a very low weight) the focus is on having an upright spine and letting the hips work with the rest of the body rather than resist it:
- Deep squat. Toes pointing forward. Lower in 8 seconds, hold for 2 seconds rise in 8 seconds. 10-15 reps.
- Lunge. Feet in line. Lower in 8 seconds, hold for 2 seconds rise in 8 seconds. 10-15 reps.
- Chop/Lift. See here for more details.
If you are used to hard work it may feel odd to do these movements in slow controlled ways. Remember the key is to rewire your postural nervous system, not feel the burn. They can easily replace an existing workout or be used in a comprehensive warm up before doing cricket skill work.
The take home point is that we all have some kind of postural imbalance (cricket is a one sided game). Using stretching, strength work and CNS technical work you can help to bring posture back from the brink in you or the players you coach.
image credit: zoonabar