Strength Training for Cricket

Throwing and Cricket – Part 1

Throwing – it might not seem like a big deal, however it is, and it is also a great action to cover in terms of looking at some of the key anatomy within cricket.

 

Even though throwing occurs only when fielding, and as a result may not seem important, the high impact nature of the action make this an important place to start. By doing this, you will have a better understanding – or a more practical understanding – of why certain exercises are better than others in regards to cricket, and why certain areas need to be targeted more than others too.

 

The most common upper body injuries in cricket occur at the shoulder and the fingers, with shoulders accounting for the majority of overuse injury in the upper body. This high prevalence of shoulder injury should come as little surprise, when considering the potentially large volume of throwing taking place combined with the high velocity of many of these throws, combined with the weight of the cricket ball. Sure, with correct technique, there is a large component of the throwing movement coming from the legs, hips and torso, however that final part of the movement, which also happens to be the most high velocity and high impact portion of it, is being carried out by a proportionately small group of muscles, and being carried out over and over, day after day, week after week (when considering training).

To understand the shoulder issues associated with throwing, and truly appreciate the work of the key muscles involved, we need to look at a little anatomy. We want to keep the information here relevant and useable and so promise this won’t be an in-depth discussion with lots of technical terms, but just a quick overview of the key parts.

 

When we talk about the shoulders role in throwing, we aren’t so much talking about the big deltoid muscle that is shaped like an upside-down tear drop at the top of the arm, but rather a deeper layer of muscles that are located in front of as well as behind your scapula (or shoulder blade.) These are 4 muscles that together make up what are commonly called your shoulder rotators or rotator cuff.

In the picture above you can see on the left hand side the muscles around the shoulder and upper back that you would recognise as these are the most superficial layer of muscle and seen just under the skin. These are the muscles that bodybuilders are interested in developing, as it is this layer of muscles that judges can see. However if you peel this layer off, as has been done on the right hand side, you will see the rotators that we are talking about. The image below shows them a little closer, on both the front of the shoulder blade and the back of the shoulder blade.

 

Both of the images are of the right arm/shoulder, with the one on the left being from the front and the one on the right being from the back (just as the picture above was.) So there are 3 on the back and 1 on the front, and they all attach to both the shoulder blade and the humerus (the upper arm bone.)

 

You don’t need to remember their various names, nor do you need to know detail about which ones are primarily responsible for the various rotation-based actions of the shoulder in throwing movements (as each plays different roles in the various actions.) All that is really relevant to your own training is understanding that this relatively small group of muscles is largely responsible for the action of throwing, at least the final phase of it. Additionally, it is this group of 4 muscles that provide the main stabilising forces in the shoulder (where the head of the humerus or upper arm bone meets the glenoid fossa or shoulder socket to create the gleno-humeral joint) – a joint that by its very structure, leaves it susceptible to injury. It is also these muscles that are most commonly injured via overuse as well as acute injury such as dislocation, and most commonly the source of issues when a player complains about shoulder pain or discomfort.

 

When considering the shoulder and arms role in the action of throwing, it is important to realise that these rotators are not only important in providing the acceleration and rotation into the throwing action, but also very important in then decelerating (eccentrically) the action after the ball is released. Failure to do this would leave you in danger of your shoulder dislocating with every explosive throw. This is something that we take for granted with the throwing action, as we don’t really consider the deceleration of the arm after the throw, however it is important to acknowledge this, as this is a tremendous force that these muscles are absorbing. Additionally, it is in the deceleration portion of fast and explosive movements that most injuries occur rather than the acceleration phases (running being the other most common example), meaning that this point has even greater significance.

 

“Imbalances and specific deficits in strength and function of particular rotator cuff muscles are characteristically found in overhead throwing and striking sports. Repeatedly performing ballistic throwing or striking movements during practice and competition can cause progressive weakness of the muscles that work to decelerate the humerus and stabilise the gleno-humeral joint.”

Paul Gamble
Strength & Conditioning
for Team Sports

 

So what do we do about the shoulder?

The 2 specific areas that we need to look to target regarding the shoulder are

 

  1. External rotators of the shoulder, and
  2. the stabilisers of the scapula.

 

The external rotators are targeted because athletes in all throwing sports and many racket-based sports (particularly tennis) are notorious for developing an imbalance between the internal rotators and the external rotators of the shoulder. If your internal rotators (the ones that accelerate the rotation of the upper arm in a throw) are proportionately stronger than the external rotators (the ones that decelerate the rotation of the upper arm in a throw) the likelihood of strains, or at the very least pain developing in the shoulder over time, considering the high number of throws, is quite high.

 

The scapula stabilisers are targeted as these provide the platform from which movement is launched (in this case, the powerful and explosive throwing motion). So just as the inner unit core functions as the platform from which the outer unit muscles fire movement from, the stabilisers around the scapula can be best thought of as performing the equivalent function in the shoulder. We do this by performing a combination of both open-chain exercises and closed-chain exercises. Closed-chain exercises can best be thought of as those where the extremities (in this case the arms) cannot overcome the resistance they are up against (like for example with hands in contact with the ground – a resistance the arms can’t overcome and move). These exercises are the ideal place to start and to also warm up with when targeting the stabilisers. However, as the shoulder functions in an open-chain environment, where the extremities are free to move, the goal should be to train the shoulder stability in an open-chain – which we achieve through open chain stability exercises and open-chain compound shoulder strength exercises.

4-Point Alternating Supermans are a very good closed-chain shoulder stability exercise, and the Prone Crawler (in this case demonstrated on the Swiss Ball) makes for a very challenging open-chain shoulder stability trainer.

 

4 point exercises are not only effective for rehabilitating the shoulder complex, but also for reintegrating the shoulder into the torso and the lower body.”

Paul Chek

 

Posture is also something that is very important to the integrity and functionality of the shoulder joint.

 

“Functional problems with the shoulder complex are not always a result of activity; poor posture can also place the scapulae in a protracted position (pulled forward), creating a ‘rounded shoulder’ posture. Errors in physical preparation can have a similar effect on scapula position: unbalanced development of anterior (particularly chest) can result in a protracted resting posture.”

Paul Gamble
Strength & Conditioning
For Team Sports

 

In other words, performing too many pushing exercises and not a proportionate number of pulling exercises will also over time lead to postural issues, and in turn shoulder issues. In fact, world-renowned strength coach Christian Thibaudeau says ‘the best ratio for pulling to pushing is 2 to 1. That is you should pull twice as much volume as you press. Any pulling counts and some pulling exercises can be included in every session.’ However, this does not necessarily mean having to do a large number or weighted pulling exercises daily, merely getting some form of pulling motion in on a daily basis, which can be something as simple as shoulder retractions with a band.

 

“I often have people train with a 1:2 ratio in volume for push and pull because so many people have ignored pulling for so long.”

Dan John

 

There is more to throwing then just the shoulders, however this article has focused purely on this area, to highlight how important this often overlooked little area is in most training programs. This is another indication of why normal bodybuilding training programs are not optimal for preparation in cricket, and why in the programs laid out in Strength & Power Training for Cricket such a consistent emphasis is placed on these external rotators and scapular stabilisers.

 

 

In the screenshots above taken from the program section in Strength & Power for Cricket, there is a clear and consistent use of shoulder stability exercises (indicated by the ‘S’ in the margins).

Naturally, there is more to throwing that just the shoulder, also involving stepping/powerful le drive, initiating the transfer of power from the ground up the leg and torso, through the shoulder and then along the arm being released through the ball. Torso rotation is also a key component. We will look a little more at these in part 2.


Cricket Athlete