What does a cricketer do when the season draws to a close?
If he or she is serious about improving, they probably hit the gym. Let's face it, there is not much else to do when the cricket finishes.
There is no practice for a while and you may not play a winter sport. The time is perfect for a few months of focusing on getting stronger, fitter and faster. The benefits are well documented.
The off season is a good time to do this because you can go back to the basics.
Keep it Simple
Fitness can be a complex area sometimes and there is something attractive about stripping things right back to basics for a while. It's a principle that has served coaches in the US system since the 1970's and one that still is still popular today:
"Select your fundamental exercises, get good at performing them and, get strong by adding five pounds [or 2.5kg] per week. So beautiful and so simple. Our new athletes (those that have never trained with us before) will use the most basic program we have ever implemented. The emphasis will be on developing a solid technical base from which to expand." Michael Boyle.
As is more often the case than not, Boyle is right.
When it comes to strength and power training, there is nothing simpler than a barbell, some weights and the principle of progressive overload.
Using a simple system like this when you are out of season enables you to:
- Improve strength
- Improve body composition (less fat, leaner muscle)
- Build a base of fitness on which to build more specific skills
The biggest benefit is that you can do it very quickly. This is important as when you restart your cricket training you want to have reached your aims for strength, body composition and health before you begin specialising again.
The secret is to focus on a handful of exercises that are most effective. Not all exercises are made the same. The core of a simple program is based on no more than 4 'big' exercises with a bit of support.
Combine this with a solid diet
and you have a great plan.
You will notice none of the benefits I mention include making you 'bulky'. We don't want that as cricketers so we build in ways to stop this happening. More on this later.
What does a simple off season plan look like?
There are many ways to improve your cricket fitness. This is a simple method but you will need certain its of equipment as a minimum requirement. If you can't get these, you will have to try something else for your off season training.
- An Olympic barbell
- A squat rack or power rack
- A bench
- A trap bar
- An adjustable dumbbell
- A chin up bar
- A dip bar
These are serious bits of kit. You could buy the lot yourself and set it up in your garage/shed. You could also join a proper gym. Once you have access to these you can move onto the plan itself.
There are quite a few plans around based on the original Bill Starr simple system in his 1976 book. The most comprehensive for beginners (those who can't squat 1.5x their body weight) is the StrongLifts 5x5.
I have recommended it before and have no problem doing so again. Mehdi's system is simple and effective for cricketers.
It's based on the squat: An exercise that works to get you strong very quickly. You could not squat three times a week in season (or even in pre season training) as it would end up fatiguing you for cricket. That's not a problem when no cricket is being played.
You might find the sore legs a problem initially, but it's perfectly natural while your body adapts!
It's also based on 5 reps per set for the big exercises. This builds strength more quickly than it builds size. By the time you finish the programme and start back at cricket training you will have developed impressive strength but will have not had the time to get bulky.
All that and the ebook for the programme is 100% free.
StrongLifts 5x5 is such a good program I am happy to recommend it without changes. That said if you are looking to be safer with some exercises I would make a couple of small changes:
While the original exercises are excellent and safe when done correctly, the replacements are less difficult to get wrong and therefore easier for beginners where technique is all important to prevent injury.
If you have access to someone who can coach you correctly, you should not fear the original exercises because they are safe when done with good form.
Limitations of barbell training for cricket
No one system of fitness is perfect for everyone because we are all different. Where are the limits to 5x5 barbell training?
- Strength focus. Strength built on dysfunction can cause injury. You need to be able to perform basic movements like full squats and lunges well before getting under the bar. As Gray Cook said recently, there was a time with old time strongmen where no one would learn any exercise until they had the stability and mobility to perform a Turkish get-up with 100lb.
- High technical demand. It's not easy to squat, deadlift and bench press. They take practice and if done wrong can cause injury. The older you are the harder it gets to learn these lifts. That certainly does not mean you should ignore barbell training. However, approach with caution if you have no qualified coach to teach you.
- No account for imbalances. We are not perfectly balanced from left to right sides but barbell training can't take this into account because we are locked in to using both arms or both legs. As you know, this may lead to injury so always train out imbalances before starting barbell training.
- Nothing lasts forever. Like any plan, there will be a time where you stop progressing and it will be time to change. Even if this does not happen, you don't want to focus on barbell strength alone for too long. It has many benefits but there are more cricket specific ways to train as you get closer to the start of the season.
All that aside, I love the simplicity of barbell strength training in the off season. It gives cricketers a chance to really push forward and improve strength, power and speed when there is no cricket to play. As with any plan, it must be entered into with caution and ideally with a proper screen but for me, in winter, the benefits far outweigh the costs.
Get Medhi's free ebook and give it a try.
Image credit: Cronfeld
If you want a more comprehensive guide to reducing injury risk and increasing cricket specific fitness, check out county strength coach Rob Ahmun's guide on PitchVision Academy.