The core principles used for training cricketers are the same as those used for training athletes in other sports. The goals are to improve lean muscle mass, fitness levels, strength, and explosiveness. Many people believe that cricketers and in particular bowlers shouldn’t lift weights, but this is not the case. The bowler, batsman or fielder needs to improve their overall athletic ability by getting stronger, more mobile, more explosive and most importantly creating muscular balance in the body.
A well-developed fitness/work capacity base is essential to every cricketer. Cricket is a long game and many injuries happen when fatigue sets in. It is important that as cricketer you are fit enough to bowl a long spell or bat for six hours, and then back up your primary discipline on the field by being a fast, agile and well balanced fielder.
Fitness training should be high on the priority list in the off-season. This will allow the athlete to withstand the rigors of the off-season program, and build fatigue resistance. The cardiovascular demands of batting, bowling and fielding are similar. Most “movements on the field are short, sharp and intense. You may not be moving a long distance, but maximal effort is required.
Bowling can be extremely taxing on the body. Leg, glute and core strength, mobility, pulling power, and a high level of fitness play an important role in helping to cope with these stressors. The same goes for batsmen who need to be able to play a long innings, run well between wickets and then back that up by fielding well. As a cricketer, concentrating on conditioning early in the pre-season is important. This can be achieved by doing things like work capacity circuits and interval training. Attention also needs to be placed on proper sleep, nutrition, and in-season programming.
The cricket season is often long, stretching from mid-September through to the end of March of the following year (in Australia). The season is even longer for an international player, who not only has their season state and club commitments, but invariably has to travel to play overseas after the summer of cricket has finished. In the off-season, some players also play county or club cricket overseas, so end up playing almost all year round. As a bowler, doing this for an extended period of time can put you at risk of accumulated fatigue, which can result in injury.
After a long season, several weeks of rest is extremely important. It allows the player to recover physically, relax mentally and get ready for a productive off-season. However, some light exercise, and maintaining proper nutrition will allow the body to recover quicker. Excessive alcohol intake or poor eating will have the opposite effect.
Also very important – the athlete MUST give themselves a prolonged period of time of NO BOWLING OR THROWING. The batsmen need a break from hitting as well. This is essential to allow tissue repair of the arms, shoulders, legs and hips and ankles.
Generally, eight weeks off is a good place to start. This will vary depending on how much work is done in the season, whether there have been injuries or ongoing soreness and fatigue. REST is absolutely necessary after a long season and important in preparing for a graded off-season training program.
Nutrition is not only important leading up to a game, but it promotes recovery. The goal is to maximize energy levels so when training, or on game day the player is able to put in 100%. Getting your diet right will enhance skills, cognition, endurance, power and speed. Professional organizations have staff to monitor and educate players on dietary requirements and recovery strategies. Most high-level strength and conditioning coaches have a dietitian working with them, developing individualized nutritional programs for their players. While it is important to take into consideration each individual’s dietary preferences, getting the basics right is very vital.
You need to be hydrated at all times. You can’t expect to perform at your best if you start to hydrate just before a game or training session. This should be ongoing. Always carry a water bottle around with you. Once you have exerted yourself at training or during the game, you need to make sure you replace vital nutrients lost as a result of sweating. Energy drinks like Gatorade and PowerAde contain carbohydrates which the body needs, but do not provide adequate quantities of salt. Sodium helps the body retain the fluid (water) it needs. Using a good electrolyte drink is an ideal way to replace these lost fluids. In terms of food, every meal should contain quality protein and carbohydrates.
There is no substitute for practice so before starting off-season training, it is important to establish goals in terms of how you want to improve. This is where a good coach and honest team mates play a huge role. Communication is the key. No matter how good you are or how well your last season went, there will always be parts of your game that you can improve on.
In the pre-season you need to have a well-structured strength and conditioning program to improve your lean muscle mass, speed, strength, explosiveness and stamina. Injury is common and in many cases preventable by preparing well in the pre-season. Research has shown that there is a strong link between bowling and the development of injury. Bowlers are at high risk of injury because of the force exerted on the body when landing, and pulling over the front leg at the crease. Similar to throwing, it is not a natural action as the upper body and lower body work against each other. Fast bowlers can often exceed the “safe” workload threshold during the long competitive season. Nevertheless, it is also possible to be injured while batting or fielding. Injury types can be split into:
• Fast bowling 26.1%
• Running, diving, throwing and catching the ball while fielding 21.9%
• Overuse 18.5%
• Batting 16.9%
To prevent against injury it is important for all players to a) have a good pre-season and b) better manage their workload and recovery in-season.
Assuming the pre-season training has gone according to plan, in terms of skill and physical development, the goals of in-season training are to maintain strength, speed and fitness levels, without burn-out. The in-season training program is slightly different for each player depending on their physical condition. This needs careful planning and often tweaking throughout the season. For the club cricketer, in the season there will be less time available for strength and conditioning, as most weekends are taken up with games. The state cricketers are even busier, as they often play 4-day and 1-day games in between club matches, and may only have a day or two off. Traveling to games also takes up a lot of time, so careful planning of where to include strength and conditioning sessions. It is also important to recover well to prevent over-use injuries and maintain the strength, power and core stability developed over the pre-season.