Exercises for the busy cricketer

Dynamic and asymmetrical exercises are especially suited to the demands of cricket. Here are ten that cricketers do as part of functional training

Click here for a gallery of photos of these exercises

Functional exercise: Split squat and press finish
Split squat and press: for a full body power movement © Andrew Leipus
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Whether you play international or domestic cricket, it seems that seasonal schedules are becoming more packed than ever. So finding time to fit in any traditional physical base-training is challenging because there isn't enough time in the week to train and to recover. But you can have training sessions that will help maintain other aspects of physical fitness yet not require lengthy recovery periods - these are called functional training sessions.

Last week I discussed core training - the development of balance and stability for the body to function as a coordinated unit. Another is functional strength training, which goes one step further and provides greater loads, challenges or resistance to whole-body movement patterns that can more or less mimic some of the physical or kinematic demands seen in cricket. These exercises work the body from the core out to the periphery and are usually dynamically controlled rather than static holding; they generally involve rotation, are often asymmetrical in their loading, usually involve the full body, and always require good balance and core stability.

My argument for this type of training can be supported by the following concept - cricketers are unlikely to ever perform a double leg squat movement on a cricket field (apart from the keeper). So exercises such as Olympic lifts, squats, deadlifting, bench-pressing etc can be reserved for base or strength training when you have the time, usually in the pre-season. Sure, barbell squats are proven to keep the legs strong but does this movement really help a bowler landing on his back leg and then transferring load onto his front leg? Or does it help a batsman lunging forward to slog-sweep? Running, bowling, batting, throwing, diving are all dynamic, asymmetrical movements and thus "traditional" gym exercises are probably not that relevant during the competitive part of the season.

The trainer should establish a "needs analysis" of the physical and movement demands of cricket so he can design an appropriate functional training programme that produces improvements to support athletic movement.

Like the core programme, functional strength training utilises a variety of useful tools such as the Swiss ball, medicine balls, kettle bells, balance mats, Bosu balls, Therabands, plyometric boxes, TRX suspension and so on. Each can be used to help make an exercise more or less difficult or challenging. There are also a variety of training systems that can be used, depending on the desired outcomes. For example, short bouts of cardio (two to five minutes) in between exercises or groups of exercises can also increase the metabolic cost, if required.

There has been a recent trend towards P90X type systems, where exercises are performed for time rather than the more traditional sets/reps, and it is showing great fat-loss results.

Chapters can be written on the variety of exercises for different parts of the body as well as for the body as a whole. But if there were some "standard" movements/exercises to show for cricketers then the following would be appropriate.

Step up and press Single leg stance with elevated arms fully engages trunk stabilizers.

Hold a 5-10kg weight or medicine ball to the chest and step up on to a gym bench. Drive the opposite knee as high as possible. Progress this by pressing the weight above the head as you step, or challenging the core and shoulders further by holding the weight above the head throughout the entire movement.

Another variation to challenge the stabilising systems of the hips, trunk and shoulders is to use dumbbells to perform a single arm press. You can see how a simple movement can be modified in many ways.

Functional exercise: Up, up, down, downs start
Up, up, down, downs: for building the core © Andrew Leipus

Side plank with abducted kick Excellent for lateral hip and trunk control with rotation.

In the side plank position, perform repetitions of raising/abduct the top leg 30 degrees without any rotation of the pelvis. Progress by lightly touching the foot in front and behind the body in addition to the abduction. Again, maintain pelvic control.

Lunge and twist Combines controlled trunk rotation with stability.

Hold a medicine ball, lunge forward and "sweep" the ball toward the side of the front knee, twisting the entire spine to follow the arms. Modify this by lunging forward at an angle or pull a Theraband across the body. Keep the trunk upright and spine in neutral at all times.

Single leg (side) squats off a bench A powerful body-weight leg strength exercise.

Perform a single leg squat with the opposite leg extended. Ensure the bending knee follows in the direction of the second toe but doesn't pass in front of the plane of the toes. Lower with control as deep as possible. Help lighten the load by using a bar or TRX suspension ropes to get as low as possible with good form - good for getting past sticking points. Alternatively, hold a med ball or dumbbell to add resistance to the movement.

Split squat and press A full body power movement.

Start position is with a barbell (or med ball) held in front of the chest. Perform a small squat then jump up, pressing the weight up above the head and landing in lunge/stride position with soft knees. Hold the end position briefly before returning to the start. Next rep: swap the legs. Do not hyper-extend the lower back.

Walk lunge with overhead med ball rotation A great combined movement.

A different take on the lunge/twist: instead of finishing with the medicine ball in the horizontal plane, the ball finishes up above the shoulder, thus adding thoracic spine extension and rotation with shoulder elevation.

Single leg deadlift Develops outer range hamstring strength.

Standing on one leg with a "soft knee", keep a neutral lumbar spine and bend forward at the hip. Lower a med ball or dumbbell toward the floor in front of the ankle. Progressions of this include holding the weight in the opposite hand to the lifting leg, keeping the knee extended, performing a bent knee deadlift, keeping the back foot on a bench, or even turning it into a single-leg "good morning" exercise.

Functional exercise: Swiss ball dumbbell rows
Swiss ball dumbbell rows: for greater control on the hip region during upper body strengthening © Andrew Leipus

Dumbbell single leg overhead rock back and follow through with press Progression of core exercise.

This was described last week as a core exercise but can be progressed. So rock back as described, flex forward at the hip, maintaining the neutral lumbar spine and press the weight forward. Challenge the player by making him stand on a foam mat or wobble board, or use a dumbbell in the bowling hand to increase asymmetrical loading.

Up, up, down, downs Upper body strength and core builder.

Maintain the plank core position, but challenge trunk rotation and scapula control by pressing up and lowering down into the push-up position, one arm at a time. Aim to avoid any large postural sway at the trunk/pelvis during the movement.

Swiss ball dumbbell rows Great for proximal hip control during upper body strengthening.

Basically a single arm dumbbell row but performed with the rear leg extended and the Swiss ball used for support. Stand on one leg, with the same side arm supporting the trunk on the Swiss ball. Extend the opposite leg horizontally. Try to keep the pelvis horizontal, maintain this position and perform a dumbbell row movement.

Send in your questions using our feedback form or leave them in the comments below. Andrew Leipus will answer the best ones every month


Comments: 6 
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Posted by Subash on (May 14, 2012, 16:04 GMT)

@Elmo: Well said. Fitness is key whether one is an athlete or not. It instills a sense of discipline in life in whatever one does. I exercise regularly and run half marathons and I realize how important exercise is to stay fit and build stamina. Just as brushing our teeth or eating food on a daily basis exercise should be part of our daily routine. Keeps one fresh, energetic and most importantly keeps your mind fresh. I suggest along with the physical exercises mental exercise is also equally important like meditation and Yoga.

Posted by Naeem on (May 14, 2012, 11:23 GMT)

why not include all the demo pix for each training

Posted by eddo on (May 14, 2012, 5:44 GMT)

These exercises and your in depth explanation as to why they are useful, are golden. KingFowl why dont you just skip the article if it bores you so much? Trust me the other 99% of us will keep reading

Posted by Elmo on (May 14, 2012, 5:12 GMT)

@KingOwl It may be boring to you but this could priceless and career-saving information for a growing cricketer. Take it easy, Owl.

Posted by Chatty on (May 14, 2012, 0:36 GMT)

Oh, come on. This is not cricket! We don't want to know about the exercises that cricketers do. We want to see them on the cricket field, performing. I know this training is crucial for performance. But this backroom stuff is kind of boring. Sorry.

Posted by Dummy4 on (May 14, 2012, 0:03 GMT)

very interesting, I recently started playing serious cricket after a 2 year lay off and even though I had been jogging and lifting weights during that gap, my body is still sore after a day. Will try these exercises to work the particular muscles needed for cricket

About Gillette Fitness Zone

Gillette Fitness Zone video series presented by Adrian Le Roux will explore fitness exercises to enhance the performance of the modern day cricket player. The 25-episode series will focus on the functional exercises that can be done anyplace anywhere; and then move on to functional and core stability exercises that involve lot of movement and power.

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