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Surrey lead strength and conditioning coach DARREN VENESS knows a thing or two about getting players fit and ready for the new campaign and he’s here to give our readers advice on the dos and don’ts of pre-season training
This article first appeared in The Cricketer's Club Cricket Guide - you can read the guide in full HERE!
You need to build your repeat sprint ability. You’re going to do it a lot during the season and the more you do it, the better you’ll do it… and the less chance you’ll have of blowing a calf. If you’re going to do running sessions, it’s a smart move to keep them in relevant distances – 20-yard shuttle runs. Start them steady and build them up.
This is one of the biggest areas you can get exposed on. I’ve shaved up to four-tenths of a second off a couple of the boys’ run-to times. At the speed they’re moving, that equates to almost three yards. Ours is a game that talks in millimetres. It’s applicable across the board.When you hit the turn, your head needs to be facing the direction it’s going, not the direction it’s been. Unless your straight out of The Exorcist, your shoulders and hips will tend to follow. That will keep you lower in the crease and make the turn quicker. The more you practise it, the more it will stick.
Wicketkeepers and fielders… keep your back flat, your spine flat and your hips deep. If you can do a nice squat, it will keep the pressure off your lower back. If your hips stay high, it takes you longer to get back up. Make sure you don’t spend a few weeks missing work and cricket with a dodgy spine and a bulging disc.
I don’t care if you’re not starting to play until April, you have to work on this now. It doesn’t have to be a lot but start doing it. Make sure you follow through fully. This can be with a tennis ball against a wall at home. When you release, as your right hand lets go of the ball, your left shoulder should be following through. That way, most of the energy get dissipated through the body. There’s a group of muscles at the back of your shoulder which decelerate your arm. They’re not very big. If you don’t pull your left arm through they have to slow your arm down and that’s how you start picking up those rotator cuff injuries.
Acclimatising your hands will make them more used to taking hard catches. It’ll be freezing in April, you’ll have a beanie on and when you come to take your first catch it’s going to be a screamer. Technically, you’ll be tidier with your catching if you practise, plus the bones in your hands will have increased in their density so you’ve got less chance of popping your finger.
If you’re regularly in the gym, make sure you train your hamstrings. More often than not, they’ll be the first things that let you down. It’s a common injury across the sport. Lower-level exercises like hamstring bridges and higher-level options like Romanian deadlifts will do the trick. Hamstrings attack over your knee and it’s good to focus on that region as well. Try Nordics and modify those exercises accordingly - hold for as long as you can and drop into a press-up position or, if you’re strong enough, pull yourself back up.
Failing that, if you go to a gym use a leg curl machine. Sprint work will accustom your hamstrings to sprinting, too, of course. Focus on what you’re going to be doing in the game. If you know you’re never going to be running more than 20 metres, maybe go for 30. And allow plenty of recovery time - two or three minutes between each one if you’re going full out. There’s no need to do more than 200m of high-intensity sprints in a session.
Dynamic stretches before a game are crucial. Start with jogging and gentle shuttles, then lower level skips. Then half-squats. Then deeper squats and lunges. Build up slowly and start from the ankles and work your way up.
When everything is nice and warm, do lots of stretching around the hips. Hip-flexor stretches are important - single-leg lunges are a great option. If you put your back foot on the bottom step or elevate your front foot and go down in the lunge position, getting your knee to the floor, that will give you a deep stretch in the hip.
Lie side-on on a fit ball, putting your arm over your head. Relax your arm so your bicep is by your ear. Wiggle around and find a position that feels right. That will stretch all your obliques and your trunk muscles, but it was also stretch your upper back muscles.
"Easy on the cakes. Cricket is a game dictated by ground reaction forces"
For the seamers, if those muscles get tight you’ll start bowling with a lower arm, you’ll lose your accuracy or you’ll bend over more and stress your lower back.
Get used to bouncy, rhythmical running. It will carry over and you’ll find you are doing it more in your bowling run-up. All of your energy can then move into the delivery stride.
Focus on three big strides, steadily building up in size, then four, five and six will take care of themselves. Michael Flatley looks fast but you don’t see him accelerating too well. Very busy feet don’t give you too much momentum.
Are you going to get stiff after your first few nets? Of course you are. There is very little you can do to mitigate that. You have to allow time to acclimatise. If you do a brand new session – gymwork, running, skillwork, whatever – after the first one you’re going to be dusty. By the third one you’ll be adapting. Plan for that and expect the stiffness but if you’re starting a new regime before your first game there are going to be repercussions. Whatever you’ve been doing through the winter, stick with it through the summer – although tone it down a little.
It has to be proper hydration, before the beers. There is no way that lager, bitter or stout qualifies as hydration. The easiest indicator of your hydration is the colour of your urine. If it looks like Orangeade, you have left it too late and need to pull your finger out. A light straw colour is fine but be aware that if you are taking regular multi-vitamin or hydration tablets, the colour could change.
Use isotonic drinks sparingly. If you are playing in hot weather you need to be replacing your minerals but if it is mild weather do not neglect water.
Easy on the cakes. Cricket is a game dictated by ground reaction forces. We have lots of bony stress because of all the running and impact. If you are putting on a little bit of timber because your willpower is crumbling at the sight of carrot cake and scones, that is all going to stack up. By the time we come to August and September the repercussions will be right there in front of you. You do not want to be increasing your injury risk as you go through the summer, simply because you cannot shake your head at a biscuit
Cricket will not be enough. If you’re regularly using the gym, stick with it. Modify the amount, do a bit less but don’t stop. The sport will not take care of it and you’ll increase your injury risk at the back end of the season. That’s when trophies are won and the stronger, fitter, more physical lads or lasses will come through. If you can still go through the gears, you’re going to set yourself up for matchwinning opportunities.
It is not rocket science.
Remember to consult your doctor or physician, too.