How can you get to your physical peak? It’s a questions that we so often ask ourselves, but seems incredibly difficult to answer. One of the basic places to start however, is with whether you should focus on strength training or cardio fitness, or is a balance important.
To try and get our heads around the complex issue of cardio vs. weights, we spoke to Hampshire Cricket Club’s Strength and Conditioning Coach, Nick Karamouzis whose job it is to prepare the team for the rigours of the cricket season.
Having played in every top-level domestic cricket competition in England since 1895, Hampshire Cricket Club has always had first-class status. Cricket requires strength, stamina and an incredible amount of concentration to last through the long matches. So, how do they train to stay on top of their game?
It’s time to find out from a pro how to strike the balance between cardio and strength, as well as take on a few more tips on remaining focused that he bowled our way.
Other than playing the game, what are the most important physical qualities a cricketer can train to improve their performance?
Using scientific rationale and my overall knowledge of the sport, I have listed just a few key physical qualities that I believe a cricketer needs to train consistently to optimally perform at the highest level.
Efficient Running Mechanics and Speed
Due to the exhausting season, if a player can become more technically efficient in this area, they can increase running speed, reduce fatigue and improve consistency in execution despite increasing workload.
Acceleration & High Speed Running Sessions work on different concepts: Triple extension, transition, trunk, cyclical actions etc.
This to me is the most important ingredient. If you think that throwing a medicine ball into a wall will make you bowl 90+mph or whack six’s – then you’re wrong. Strength plays a huge role increasing rate of force development, attenuating and dissipating force.
However, as many lower and upper extremity injuries can be reduced by sound functional movement patterns, movement competency must be acquired first before obtaining the desired physical adaptations. Because of this, we initially aren’t overly concerned about numbers and kilograms with our players especially on our athletic development pathways.
Our main aim is to get them moving better first, then with a view to lift heavy. Our ‘bang for buck’ exercises compromise of:
- Squat derivatives ‐ Safety Bar Box/Squat, Box Squat, Back Squat, Front Squat.
- Deadlift Derivatives – Hex Bar Deadlift, Rack Pulls, Romanian Deadlift, Hip Thrust.
- Lunge Patterns – Split Squat, Barbell Split Squat, Reverse Lunging w/ Plate/Barbell,
- Walking variations w/ bars, plates, dumbbells, kettlebells etc.
- Upper Body – Inverted rows & press ups.
Traditionally, if you asked any old‐time cricketer about fitness for bowling or batting, they would probably say they completed slow, continuous, monotonous distance running. Now I’m not saying this is wrong but continuous aerobic training, even if performed at high intensity has little transfer to the needs of a fast bowler and batsmen.
Additionally, due to poor hormonal responses, loss of mobility and the potential interferences high volume running can have on strength, speed and power ‐ we generally stay away from this method.
Instead, we spend more time on developing efficient running patterns followed by quality 15 to 20-minute impact or non‐impact maximal aerobic speed sessions, or tempo running sessions depending on what phase we are in to create enhanced physical adaptations to optimise performance.
This type of modality has been shown to be more time efficient and superior in creating aerobic adaptations. Those cricketers that have better aerobic capabilities can sustain performance for longer and recover quicker between bouts of play, innings and matches.
This is one key physical quality that we pay a lot of attention to. Core strength and stiffness characteristics are essential to maximise the players’ ability to transfer force from the lower body through the trunk effectively to the upper body.
If a player struggles to brace their trunk under a high force or load, the bowling action in particular can become both unsafe and ineffective. Exercises you might see: braced plank, side plank, RKC planks, pall of press variations and roll outs. More recently, we have implemented the use of high intensity trunk work on the glute ham raise as seen within this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VZ1HDZ0iJHw
How does training differ for different positions on the pitch?
Ultimately, training doesn’t necessary differ because of playing position. We like to adopt an individualised approach here at Hampshire Cricket which is derived from an extensive valid and reliable profiling battery.
Following profiling, physical qualities are analysed, alongside previous injuries and the player’s role. This analysis will then provide me and the Sports Science and Medicine Team an accurate interpretation of what the player needs to improve or maintain dependant on phase of season.
A fundamental question needs to be asked: is it more important to focus on weaknesses or continue to develop strengths, or try to do a combination of both? So, it may be concluded that the winter period will emphasise retaining strength and aerobic qualities. However, develop explosive power and mobility focus. Exercises you might see:
- Explosive Power: jump & land deviates, fast & slow plyometric work, drop jumps, ankle work, hurdle hopping, Olympic lifting, repeated CMJ’s, box jump, medicine ball work.
- Mobility: Lumbar & T‐Spine mobility exercises, hip mobility, ankle mobility.
How do you improve team morale and keep players focused for a lengthy match?
The cricket season is long and exhaustive with a congested fixture list. Focused and happy cricket players will ultimately be able to sustain performance for longer periods giving you greater chances of winning matches and subsequent tournaments. However, that is underpinned by good management.
Setting players short and long goals is a way of obtaining focus and engagement. In addition, taking players away from a formal, stressful environment will improve morale and allow psychological re‐cooperation. So, during a lengthy pre‐season we do ‘something different’. We’ve taken players into different environments that have set concepts – improving player/coach relationships, physical focus, improve communication and language skills.
Do the team take any supplements to improve their performance? If so, what do they take?
We take a range of batch-tested supplements to improve rate of recovery, adaptations and reduce the risk of injury and illness. A favourite amongst the players is the Slow-Release Casein Elite supplement post‐match.
We like it because it’s a nice nutritional blend to kick‐start their recovery following a day’s cricket to ensure they can perform the following day.
Take Home Message
As always, you can see that the trick is balance and a ton of hard work. If you’re looking to reach your physical peak, then combine some tough cardio workouts with weight training for ultimate strength and stamina. It’s interesting that these cricketers incorporate stepping off the pitch and out of the gym to boost morale. Perhaps if you’ve hit a plateau, or are struggling for motivation, it’s best to switch up your workout and take it elsewhere.
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