"We've just arrived back in the US. The boys wanted to tell you how much they enjoyed cricket camp this year. Thomas says that he'd much rather grow up in England so that he could play on a cricket team."

Sonia Kingshott

Cricket Fitness and Conditioning for Young Cricketers

Some ideas for young cricketers during the winter

There is an increasing amount of evidence indicating that developing better fitness levels improves cricketing performance. Many young cricketers involved with county or state sides now undergo regular fitness programmes and testing to see if they're as fit as they should be.

At the elite level, sides like Australia and England are now extremely fit utilising various fitness techniques to enhance the athletic abilities of their squads. From my own personal experience, working at my fitness has helped me play at a high level as I have got older and helped me cope with playing in the oppressively hot conditions you might sometimes experience in South Africa and Australia.

An interesting question to ask is does your fitness hold you back? Do you run out of steam when nearing a century because you haven't got the stamina or do your last few overs always go for the most runs because you've nothing left in the tank? All cricketers have experienced those feeling at times. The bottom line is this. What advantage do you gain from being unfit? You know the answer already.

Keeping things as simple as possible is important since hi-tech, complicated fitness programmes only end up confusing young cricketers. With that in mind, and with the focus on what your individual fitness needs are, here's some basic ideas. (Very important note – before undertaking any fitness programme, it's a good idea to have a check-up your doctor, particularly if you have a history of certain ailments).

Your Fitness programme should include:

  1. Endurance
  2. Sprint Fitness & SAQ
  3. Muscular Strength
  4. Flexibility
  5. Cricket specific training

Endurance

Without setting specific days that you should be doing certain exercises, here are some activities that you should start to integrate into your training routine to improve your base level of fitness:

  • Jogging/Running
  • Cycling
  • Swimming
  • Rowing
  • Step/Elliptical machine workouts

If you make time to do any of these at least 3 times a week for a minimum of 20 minutes, it will raise your cardio-vascular fitness level whilst burning off calories. There will be some of the above exercises that you prefer to others and whilst advising you to have a balanced approach that doesn't rely on just one thing, it's important that you enjoy the training enough to want to do it.

Doing regular aerobic exercise (where the body is working at an increased but sustainable rate allowing the activity to be done for an extended period) will make you less likely to get out of breath and also increase your endurance. One important thing – Fitness professionals generally agree that running should feature prominently in your training because running is load bearing and gets your legs used to standing up for sustained periods much the same as cricket. Swimming, rowing etc. will not do this so make sure you do run.

Sprint/Interval/SAQ Training

Sprint/interval training is essential for building up your anaerobic fitness level. Put simply, anaerobic training can only be sustained for a limited period – 10 x 50m sprints for example – and will enable you to recover from exerting yourself more quickly. Rugby player Jonny Wilkinson would be a great example of someone who has fantastic anaerobic fitness, running and tackling on one side of the pitch before doing exactly the same 40m away. Shuttle sprinting, running or cycling uphill, sprint swimming, interval rowing etc. are all good examples of anaerobic training.

SAQ (Speed-Agility-Quickness) will help you develop more athletic movement patterns allowing you to run better and move in a more balanced way in the field. It's also a very good workout so try and do as much of it as you can whether it be hurdles, ladders, cones, evasion drills etc. There's also strong support for the idea that energetic running training builds up your leg muscles giving you a stronger base to work with and preventing injury.

Muscular Strength

The next step is to undertake regular strength training in the form of resistance workouts or weights.

If you haven't weight-trained before, please ask for advice from a qualified source either at school or your gym should you use one. You don't have to do excessively heavy weights and can even start using only your body weight alone if you'd like to get used to resistance work. Bodyweight exercises include:

  • Press ups
  • Tricep dips
  • Lunges
  • Back raises
  • Squats
  • Calf raises
  • Bar pull ups
  • Abdominal work

When doing these, concentrate on the correct technique since doing them in a rushed manner with poor form reduces the effectiveness and can cause injury.

If you are ready to start using machines or free weights, look to do a balanced routine covering 6-7 different exercises in a session lasting no more than 50 minutes. The areas of the body you should work on will include both your upper and lower body meaning you'll train the following body and muscle groups:

  • Chest
  • Back
  • Shoulders
  • Arms
  • Core (Abdominal, lower back and obliques)
  • Quadriceps (thigh muscles)
  • Hamstrings
  • Groin
  • Calves
  • Abductors
  • Glutes

A simple way of approaching resistance training is to do 3 'sets' of each exercise (eg: bench press) and to do 8 – 12 repetitions during each set. If you train with a partner it's useful for assistance when lifting and also for motivation. I would advocate you doing resistance work at least once a week and preferably twice, with a gap of at least 3 days to allow your body to recover. Another good idea is the push/pull split where you do push weights one session (bench press, shoulder press etc.) and pull weights the next (lat pulldowns, seated row).

Most personal trainers will tell you that good core strength and stability is the most vital area of strength training and I'm inclined to agree, especially for fast bowlers who place great strain on their core region when playing. You can do regular core exercises after any training session whether it be weights, aerobic or even a stretch and it's a really good idea to do abdominal and lower back exercises as a matter of course throughout the week.

Flexibility

Flexibility will also be crucial to your improvement as a cricketer and you should pay a lot of attention to stretching the whole of your body as regularly as you can. Before you engage in physical activity, look to do a dynamic stretch involving movement whereas at the end of sessions, it's an ideal time to do your longer flexibility work on key parts of your body holding each stretch for 15 seconds at least. Don't underestimate the importance of flexibility in allowing you to stay injury free.

Cricket Specific Training

All cricket training has some fitness benefits and the best option is to try and make your cricket training as functional as possible. Bat for a long period in a net (helping your concentration skills), bowl to one side of the wicket (improving your discipline) and do some running between the wickets practice.

Tips for making the most of your fitness training:

  • Seek advice – trying new fitness ideas can seem a little daunting. If you have access to a gym instructor, teacher, personal trainer or even an ex-professional player, ask them for advice and tips on how to get the most out of your training.
  • Eat well – junk food does your body no good whatsoever. Eat plenty of fruit, lean meats, vegetables and you'll have more energy and recover far more quickly from exercising.
  • Separate resistance days from cardio days to allow your body time to recover.
  • Drink plenty of fluid – especially water – when you're exercising.
  • Do another sport in the winter – not just cricket. Even if you've chosen cricket as your number 1 sport, it's essential to try other sports to gain a wider range of skills and face different athletic challenges. Contact sports such as rugby will toughen you up and help your anaerobic fitness whilst racquet sports such as badminton or squash will improve your hand eye co-ordination and balance immeasurably.
  • Don't bowl for a couple of months after the season's finished. Bowling is hard work on the body, particularly if you're a young, developing fast bowler. Indoor surfaces are very unforgiving so take time out to let your body recover. If you must bowl in October/November, go steady rather than all out.
  • If your body feels genuinely tired then rest. If you're set on doing some training, swimming is by far the best option to get a good workout whilst regenerating a tired body.
  • Tailor your programme around your individual requirements. If you’re very strong but lack flexibility resulting in tight hamstrings, work at your flexibility. If you run out of puff running a 3, focus on interval training.

Good luck and get fit.

Peter Wellings
Coaching Cricket Excellence
October 2008

Coaching Cricket Excellence
 

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