If you need proof that cricket is changing, look no further than English fast bowler's Stuart Broad and Steven Finn.
The pacemen were the first to openly miss competitive cricket to improve their strength and conditioning, showing how important fitness has become, especially to young fast bowlers.
If you have lofty fast bowling ambitions, should you follow their lead?
But like everything in fitness, it depends. So let's look at the idea behind an in-season 'strengthening programme' and find out if it's for you.
What is a strengthening programme?
In the case of Broad and Finn, the plan was two-fold:
· Take the players out of competitive cricket to mentally recover (especially Broad who had been playing non-stop for several months with no off-season).
- Reduce the risk of injury with a well-planned few weeks of training.
- As the players are not playing cricket, they can focus on doing more intense training that the usual schedule would allow. In other words, the players have a mini off-season because they don't have a full off-season.
Let's take the example of squats.
Squatting with a heavy weight for low reps is an excellent way to improve cricket performance and reduce injury risk. Strong legs and hips are crucial elements in fast bowling. But heavy weight training also makes you sore and inflexible for a day or so after training. If you were playing a game the day after squatting you wouldn't expect to do well, especially if the match demands you bowl 15 overs in a day.
But it's not just about big heavy lifting.
Cricket is an imbalanced sport; we bowl and throw with one arm and so over time a natural imbalance between the left and right hand side occurs which has been shown to increase injury risk.
A strengthening period with no cricket played will iron out these imbalances.
Is such a plan applicable to club cricket?
For most cricketers playing 1-2 games a week in the summer, and taking the winter off there is no need to follow a plan like this.
Club and school players in most countries don't play cricket year round like international players do, and the demands are less with less cricket played.
You can do all your strengthening work in the off season and maintain your improvements during the summer easily.
However, there are a couple of exceptions.
Players who are very good tend to be in a lot of demand, and might play for a club twice at weekends, and a school and representative side in the week. With 4-5 games a week there is not much chance for fitness work.
A break in the season is no bad thing in this case. It recharges you mentally and allows you to focus on preventing injury with a well designed programme.
You won't make many in-roads into improving overall strength, but you can focus on correcting imbalances and improving core strength and make a big change in 2-3 weeks.
If you are in that position, consider cutting back to a single game a week for 2-3 weeks, especially if you are getting the low back troubles that bother many quickies.
The other exception is if you play in India, Pakistan or any country where the climate dictates a year round season.
It's important to rest and spend time getting fit (or strengthening as we now seem to be calling it). So make time to create your own off-season and take a few weeks of cricket to develop you body and allow you to get strong and stay injury free.
If you want your very own year round 'strengthening programme' designed by a county and ECB strength coach, get the online coaching course Strength and Conditioning for Cricket at all Levels by Rob Ahmun.
image credit: al_green