Strength Training for Fast Bowlers: Resistance to Resistance Training
Australian Team Strength & Conditioning Coach, Cricket Australia, Melbourne
The fast bowling action is explosive in nature; whereby a large amount of force must be generated
over a very short period of time. A fast bowler must also overcome large ground reaction forces
generated at delivery, added to the equation is that this maximal effort must be repeated over long
periods of time. In extreme circumstances this action may need to be repeated as frequently as
150 occasions over the course of a dayâs play.
Not surprisingly, fast bowlers have consistently been identified as the category of cricket players at
the greatest risk of injury (Orchard et al., 2008). Recently modern training techniques, and in
particularly strength training, has been perceived to be a major contributing factor to the recent
injuries sustained at a national level. It could be argued that most of these allegations lack
fundamental understanding of the current approach taken to strength training for fast bowlers.
However the scarce amount of scientific evidence, in the form of research into strength training and
its effects upon the fast bowling population, make it hard for right of reply. Perhaps a further
contributing factor to strength trainings recent negative image has been the application of nonspecific
strength programs. These were typically hypertrophy focused and required the athlete to
perform a high volume of repetitions at moderate intensity, more often than not for prolonged
periods. This approach of generating high force at low velocity was indicative of the training
approach from previous eras, and is vastly different to the approaches taken today.
From a technical view point the bowling action is a highly skilled activity, which is acquired over
years of fine tuning. Equally from a neuro-muscular perspective the bowling action is a complex
activity; optimal performance is a result of highly tuned intramuscular and intramuscular
coordination, which is governed by the central nervous system. The application of appropriate
resistance training programs can induce adaptive alterations in nervous system function, along
with changes in the structure and architecture of the trained muscles (Zatsiorski et al., 2006), which
ultimately help to improve performance.
In particular, neural adaptation mechanisms play important roles for the training induced increase
in maximal eccentric strength and contractile rate of force development (RFD); importantly both
properties are evident in the specific demands of the fast bowling action. This adaptation response
in some circles is often misunderstood, where by increasing mass is thought to be the sole means
in which strength and power is improved. Whilst there is enough research to suggest that this is
applicable for many sports, greater investigation in to the specific demands of fast bowling highlight
the fact that this previous approach is not necessarily appropriate. It is possible to design
resistance training programs aimed at maximizing neural components that will induce gains in
muscle strength with no or only minor increases in muscle and body mass, an important
consideration for all strength & conditioning professionals , physiotherapists and coaches alike.
Development of appropriate strength programs require understanding of the what type of forces
the athlete must overcome, how is force developed & used and how much time is available to
apply it. For the fast bowler there are two distinctly different forces to deal with, overcoming their
own body mass in different states of performance and how they impart maximal velocity on a
cricket ball weighing between 142-156gm. During the run-up phase, where some bowlers can reach up to 95% of maximum running velocity
(Phillips et al., 2010), vertical forces are typically three times body weight. Research indicates that
87 a fast bowler potentially has to deal with impacts upon delivery between 5-7 timesâ body weight, in
the form of both vertical and braking forces (Phillips et al., 2010).
Investigation of fast bowling biomechanics highlights the proposed significance of the lower bodyâs
contribution to ball release; recent research (Phillips et al., 2010) showed significant contributions
by the lower extremities in the way in which bowling speeds were generated. A study in 2006
(Pyne et al., 2006) highlighted the fact that the higher velocity bowlers had greater lower body
strength levels. A review with other sports involving overhead throwing actions and the relevant
contributions of the lower body also highlights some important implications.
When compared to other sporting activities involving projectile implements, fast bowling displays
similar proximal-to-distal firing patterns (Grimshaw et al., 2006) exhibited in Javelin and Baseball
pitching, where by the largest body parts actively accelerate and decelerate smaller body parts.
Both anecdotal and research evidence (Bartlett et al., 1998; Bartonietz, 2000; MacWilliams et al.,
1998; Matsuo et al., 2001) suggests that a proximal-to-distal firing pattern is the most effective
method of increasing the velocity at release. In such a sequencing pattern, the stronger more
heavily muscled proximal joints should become active before the weaker but faster distal joints
The performance for this movement is of very short duration, with the action completed from back
foot contact to ball release generally range from 0.20 to 0.40 (Phillips et al., 2010) of a second.
While the external resistance that the lower body must cope with at the point of impact is quite
high, the relative resistance that the upper body must overcome is very low.
The combination of low external resistance at high velocity requires thought to be given to the
training modality for the upper extremities, as its mechanics is very specific in how force is
It takes time to develop maximum force for a given motion, time to peak force varies for individual
and type of action , but on average, time to peak force is 0.40 of a second (Phillips et al., 2010).
The relative contributions during the fast bowling action of the upper extremities allow about 0.15 -
0.18 of a second for force to be generated, as a result training maximum strength development in
the upper extremities may be pointless as the fast bowler may not have sufficient time to reach
maximum force capability.
Adding to the factors associated with force development of the upper extremities involve the
biomechanics of the action itâs self, that of a long pull ,with the arm extended as a long lever
beyond the horizontal. Whist the implement is relatively light the inertia that results from a long
lever moving at high velocities is in excess of 2000 degrees per second (Wixted et al., 2010), this
is important when considering exercise prescription. Ballistic and explosive type training aimed at
removing the deceleration phase of traditional resistance training exercises can increase maximum
rate of force development, whereas slow, heavy resistance training may even decrease maximum
rate of force development (Zatsiorski et al., 2006).
Ideally strength training programs for fast bowlers should adopt a long term athlete development
approach (LTAD), where in the formative years there is a general training approach with a focus on
technique and achieving physical competency. As the athlete progresses training should begin to
be more specific in nature, and progress from injury prevention to performance improvement.
Outlined during this presentation will be an example of how the following strength systems are
applied to the international level fast bowler, and how the process of technical, tactical and physical
development is integrated by the Strength & Conditioning coach, Fast Bowling coach and the
Training systems for strength:
1. Eccentric loading.
2. High load speed strength.
3. Low load speed strength.
4. Ballistic training.
5. Plyometrics training.
Conclusion: Whilst there has been recent negativity surrounding strength training for fast bowlers
this perception has been because of a lack of understanding of what current methods are being
used. A common misconception is that strength training means making athletes bigger. When a
sport-specific demands analysis is completed correctly, strength training programs can greatly
assist fast bowling performance. In fact, with the modern international schedule, its absolutely
necessary to maintain sustained high performance.
Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Dr Mike McGuigan from the New Zealand Academy of Sport,
Dr Marc Portus for his assistance with this paper, as well as the numerous members of the fast
bowling technical panel for their collective thoughts and ideas over the past 4 years.
Pyne,D.B., Duthie,G.M., Saunders,P.U., Petersen,C.A., & Portus,M.R. Anthropometric and
strength correlates of fast bowling speed in junior and senior cricketers. Strength Cond Res.
Bartlett, L.R., Storey, M.D., & Simmons, B.B. Measurement of Upper Extremity Torque Production
and its relationship to Throwing Speed in the Competitive Athlete. American Journal of Sport
Medicine.17: 89-96, 1998.
Bartonietz, K., Javelin Throwing: An approach to performance development. In Zatsiorsky, V. (Ed),
Biomechanics in Sport. London: Blackwell science LTD. Pp.401-434, 2000.
Gambetta, V. Athletic Development; The Art & Science of Functional sports conditioning. Human
Kinetics. Lower Mitcham. South Australia. 2007.
Grimshaw, P., Lees, A., Fowler, N. & Burden, A. Sport & Exercise Biomechanics. Taylor & Fransis
group. New York. US. 2006.
Mac Williams, B, Choi, T., Perezous, M., Chao, E., & McFarland, E. Characteristic Ground
Reaction Forces in Baseball Pitching. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 26(1): 66-71,
Matsuo, T., Escamila, R.F., Fleisig, G.S., Barrentine, S.W., & Andrews, J.R. Comparison of
kinematic and temporal parameters between different pitch velocity groups. Journal of Applied
Biomechanics, 17(1): 1-13, 2001.
Orchard, J., James, T., Kountouris, A., Portus, M. Injury Report 2008. Cricket Australia Centre of
Phillips, E., Portus, M., Davids, K., Brown, N., Renshaw, I. (2010). How do our âquicksâ generate
pace? A cross sectional analysis of the Cricket Australia pace pathway. In M. Portus (Ed.)
Conference proceedings from Conference of Science, Medicine & Coaching in Cricket, Cricket
Wixted, A., Spratford, W., Davis, M., Portus, M., James, D. (2010) Wearable sensors for on field
near real time detection of illegal bowling actions, In M. Portus (Ed.) Conference proceedings from
Conference of Science, Medicine & Coaching in Cricket, Cricket Australia, Brisbane.
Zatsiorsky, V. Kraemer, W. Science and Practice of Strength Training.2nd Ed. Human Kinetics.
Lower Mitcham. South Australia. 2006.