The difference between being ‘good’ and ‘great’

Picture: Hede, Crystal, Kate Russell, and Ron Weatherby. Senior Physical Education For Queensland. South Melbourne, Vic.: Oxford University Press, 2010. Print.

It’s the question that we often ponder, particularly in regards to achieving greatness within athletic performance, what’s the difference between being good and great? Many people think that talent has a lot to do with it, others believe that hard work is enough to get you there.
The truth is that we need both. Gone are the days that you can have enough talent to get you through to reach the highest levels in sport, as you were once able to in Rugby League, Union, Cricket etc.
I recently read an interesting book that followed the academic achievement of children from different economic backgrounds. It compared how the kids progressed in their academic performance over the course of the year and then again once they got back from their summer vacation. The results of this study were quite staggering. What they found was that the lower class progressed the same if not better academically through the course of the year. However, the difference between lower and middle/upper class was what happened over the summer vacation. The middle/upper class were encouraged or put into programs to continue to progress their academic abilities, whereas the lower class were simply left to their own devices. In other words, the academic gap that occurred between lower and upper classes didn’t happen because of the school they went to or how smart they were, but occurred because of what they did over the two month break from school.
What can we learn from this? That practice is incredibly important. Physical fitness is different to academic ability obviously. You do need some talent when it comes to your sport. No matter how much I practice basketball I’m never going to get a start in the NBA at just 175cm tall. It’s a reality. However, where talent exists it’s about optimising that and making the most of it, through practice.
Unfortunately, the nature of physical performance is competitive. So in order to get better you generally have to spend more time practicing and training than your competitors. Like academics, one time of year that a kids athletic performance goes down is during the school holidays. That’s why staying on track during the school holidays is critical to ensure that things don’t plateau or even slip backwards.

~ Mark Blomeley
Equinox Performance and Fitness Coaching

The importance of year-round strength training in cricket

Research into the fitness requirements of cricketers has lagged behind similar research into most other sports. The football codes discovered much earlier that you could not become fit for team sport by just playing that sport. Perhaps part of the cricket world’s unwillingness to adapt was due to the fact that up until the 1970’s it was seen as a slow, low intensity sport. The birth of one-day cricket saw the requirements of fitness for the game change, players were forced to learn to turn 1s into 2s and chase much harder in the field. Then with the evolution of T20 cricket across the globe a new level of fitness has evolved. This format of the game moves rapidly and there are increased demands in intensity and explosive power with bat, ball and in the field.
It was in the 1990s that research really started to be undertaken and training programs where implemented based on scientific evidence. Fitness, we now know is a very important aspect of cricket performance with physically prepared cricketers proven to perform better, more consistently and with fewer injuries. The physical attributes of strength, speed and endurance enables a cricketer to bat with power over long periods of time, bowl faster and with greater accuracy, and to field more athletically. The shorter formats forced players to be fitter, stronger and faster. It is for these reasons that the Andre Burger academy has included strength, power and fitness components. In the modern game, it is not enough to just play and rely on your skill. Anyone who intends taking their game seriously must be committed to becoming and remaining as fit and healthy as possible.
Two interesting articles have recently appeared in the literature. A group of researchers in Manchester England measured the strength, power and speed performances of the local County team following their preseason strength and conditioning program. They then continued to monitor the players’ results throughout the season once the players had ceased this strength program and continued into the cricket season. They found that the players performance decreased in all the measures once the season got underway which showed that the physical demands of the English County Cricket season alone are not enough to maintain preseason strength, jump and sprint performance. Their recommendation was that coaches should implement a time effective resistance training strategy in season. From their research they suggested that one strength training session per week should be undertaken throughout the season to maintain the benefits of the preseason training load. I would recommend that even young cricketers should maintain strength training throughout the year.
Cricket today is a different game to what your grandfathers played and our knowledge of strength training and injury prevention has evolved significantly. Therefore, year round efforts should be made to maintaining strength training.

Written by Lindsay Trigar
Lindsay Trigar Physiotherapy

Benefits of Improved Flexibility

Stretching is something that’s commonly undertaken before and/or after exercise, as it’s perceived to loosen muscles, which prepares them for a workout and reduces the risk of injury.
With stretching and subsequent gains in muscle lengths there will be improved performance and a decrease in the likelihood of injury. Using fielding as an example, if you have long and flexible hamstrings, you will be able to bend over to field the ball more efficiently. A short hamstring will not only be mechanically inefficient but can increase the stress on your back and is also more likely to tear as you bend forward whilst running at high speed.

Flexibility Guidelines
The following recommendations should be considered when implementing a dynamic flexibility-training program:
• Each stretch is to be held for 30-60 seconds or more on both sides of the body. Studies show that anything less than this will have limited effect on gains in muscle length. Ideally this should be completed daily, even twice daily if time permits.
• Improving a joints range of motion through planned stretching will decrease your risk of injury, not simply using static stretches before playing/training.
• Do not force a stretch. If it hurts, don’t do it.
• Flexibility and strength training should be combined.
• Be joint specific in the development of flexibility.
• Orientate the body in the most functional position relative to the joint or muscle to be stretched and relative to the athlete’s activity.
• Use gravity, body weight and ground reaction forces as well as changes in planes and proprioceptive demand to enhance flexibility .
• Develop a flexibility routine specific to the demands of Cricket and your individual needs, that is, replicating bowling, batting and fielding movements.
• Unlike other physical qualities, flexibility can be improved from day to day and once range of motion is increased or developed to the desired level it is easy to maintain that range of motion. Less work is needed to maintain flexibility than is needed to develop it.
• Warm up prior to stretching.

Special Consideration
It must also be understood that muscles play a major role in the stability of most joints, preventing dislocation. It is possible to become too flexible. If you have had a history of any dislocations, please consult the team physio regarding stretches you should avoid. It is also important that any stretches or warm up procedures you need to perform for a previous injury are addressed routinely to prevent injury recurrence.

Types of Stretching
What may be less known is that there are multiple types of stretches that might have different effects on different muscles and therefore different outcomes. Static Stretching (SS) is the most common form and is where a muscle is held in a stretched position for 10-60 seconds. SS is perceived to improve the range of muscular motion and performance and reduce injury. Dynamic Stretching (DS) lengthens a muscle through motion, for example straight leg swinging to pull and lengthens hamstring muscles and tendons. Finally Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF), commonly used by sports scientists and physiotherapists, involves holding an SS, then contracting the muscle, then holding another SS. This type of stretching is thought to help release and lengthen muscles and allow a greater range of motion.
With various types of stretching available, it’s difficult to know which one works best for specific outcomes. A group of sports scientists in Western Australia reviewed the current literature on stretching and came to a few conclusions. They found that all types of stretching improved muscular performance. It was difficult to ascertain which type of stretching was best as each type had different effects on various muscles. A consistent benefit found with all stretching was improvement in the Range of Motion (ROM), which lasted during exercise and for at least half an hour after completion.
The researchers concluded that it is possibly beneficial to include warm up and warm down SS and DS in your exercise regime. Stretching may be the best way to improve range of motion in joints prior to working out. Start slowly and gradually build up the intensity and duration of each hold as you progress.

How effective are bodyweight exercises?

Body weight resistance training is a widely used aspect of resistance training. Additionally, the high intensity interval training movement has utilised body weight resistance training as key aspect to their training regime. However, where does it sit in terms of performance and strength and conditioning?

Bodyweight resistance training is the building block for strength training. Every key movement, i.e. squat, deadlift, lunge, push up and pull up needs to be first mastered at body weight prior to adding load.

So what does mastery look like? The Australian Strength and Conditioning Association has in place some guidelines around this, but I personally like to simplify it. Can the key movements be performed safely and can the lifter perform these with as close as possible to perfect technique? In other words, ensuring correct muscles are utilised and body parts are in safe position throughout the course of the movement.

If these key criteria are met then the progression to load should be a natural one. Again, when load is added the criteria should not change, i.e. safe movement and correct muscle utilisation throughout. If we are able to add load to the movement we are triggering our system to overload and therefore gaining additional benefits. Therefore, the goal from a strength training point of view is to get to a point to add load. The stronger you become the more you can tolerate the impact your sport requires.

Bodyweight training also has an additional use, to assist with stability. Bridges, planks, single leg deadlifts and lunges are all examples of prehab, core strength or balanced based exercises to assist with performance. These exercises should remain a consistent part of any strength and conditioning program as an injury prevention activity.

To summarise, start general bodyweight training to master form then progress to adding load to the exercise. Make stability exercises a consistent and ongoing part of a strength and conditioning program.

How many days should I be training in the offseason?

The offseason is typically the season that most athletes, particularly junior athletes let things slide. It’s often the case that athletes take the opportunity to rest too much rather than continue to work on their fitness or technical ability during the offseason. As part of the offseason, particularly for high technical based sports such as cricket, it is very important to consider each individual’s needs, particularly at a junior level.

To answer the question of how many days per week should I be training in the offseason is always difficult, due to the needs of each individual. In terms of the strength and conditioning point of view, or in other words the sessions that focus on the physical fitness of an athlete, normally 3-5 days per week training is adequate for a junior cricket player.

Within these 3-5 days there needs to be at least 2 strength sessions, where the player focuses on improving their strength, power, core strength or general ability to move. Then there needs to be 1-2 aerobic or anaerobic conditioning sessions which focuses on the cardiovascular fitness of the athlete. Finally there needs to be 1-2 speed sessions which focus on improving the player’s ability to move between two close points with speed and agility.

The offseason provides a fantastic opportunity for the cricket player to improve their physical ability so they reach the season in good physical conditioning to withstand the rigours of high volume cricket competition. As the season approaches, i.e. during the preseason or competition phases, it’s a lot more difficult to focus on the development of physical fitness.

While the development of physical fitness during this period is important, so to is recovery. So while we recommend that there are 3-5 physical fitness sessions in a week during the offseason it is equally important to have 1-2 days that are purely about rest and recovery. Cricketers’ have a very intense competition period with long bouts playing the game, so remembering to have this time off to prevent injuries is important.

The technical nature of cricket lends itself to continued development of the required skills to become a better cricket player, i.e. batting, bowling and fielding. Ultimately the more the junior can spend refining and training these skills the better they can become. Much of this training time needs to be self directed and is what often sets the best players apart from the rest. Obviously we don’t recommend fast bowlers bowl too much because of the impacts on their musculoskeletal system. However for all other players, and generic skills such as fielding, the more effort and focus the junior can have themselves the better. Stick to the 1-2 days of complete rest, but the more time spent being self directed in developing their technical abilities the better.