By Steffan Jones
Editor’s Note: This masterpiece of an article series started with PART I, which served as an introduction to differences in both the innate function, and training and lifestyle environment of an athlete that brought them to their current technique, focusing on the hip dominant athlete. Steffan now digs into the knee dominant paradigm this time with training implications. I love this type of writing, as Steffan embraces the differences between each athlete, and subsequent trainability rather than stick to a bias that would have all athletes fit one box. It is this integration that will hopefully start to trickle down into the interactions between strength and sport skill staff in all athletic pursuits.
Sorry I digress. Back to the bowling types.
The main benefits of being a hip dominant athlete is the stiffness in ground contact and the elimination of muscle slack in the majority of jumping or lower body dynamic activity. Managing muscle slack is one of the most performance enhancing factors in fast bowling. The inaccurate focus on training the SSC [stretch shortening cycle] has led to a culture of using training concepts that may actually be counterproductive for fast bowling. It is assumed and I was one of them that if an explosive concentric contraction was preceded by an eccentric contraction then the subsequent dynamic action will be a more powerful movement.
However, here it falls short.
The SSC takes 0.25sec (250millisecond). Any longer it’s seen as a longer contraction and any shorter will be seen as a short one. Most artificial (gym/strength/compound/jumps etc.) explosive movements will be around the 0.25sec mark and these are seen as ‘fast twitch animals’ in the gym. As you know I’m a huge fan on spending a short amount of time on BFC (back foot contact) with a stiff landing in bowling as it allows the whole kinematic sequencing to occur effectively and efficiently. This in fact is one of the main benefits of being a hip dominant athlete.
Even the fastest training method doesn’t come anywhere near replicating the velocities in the bowling action. This is why I question the value of velocity-based training [VBT] for fast bowlers. I understand its value to make sure the training type is in the correct zone as a guide but not to train max sports specific velocity as such. My current mindset is to build general strength in the gym and then get specific with the skill outside of the gym. I’m actually experimenting with a heavily general strength based training phase but every set is contrasted with a form of bowling to encourage a positive transfer of training.
So, THE STRENGTH WORK SUPPORTS THE SKILL as opposed to inhibit it. Whether with under-loaded or over-loaded implements and whether as a whole or split in parts. Currently I’m using ‘Lila Exogen Suit’ and genuinely believe it’s the future of sports specific transferable strength training.
I currently don’t see the value of the ‘middle range’ of training for fast bowling i.e. speed squat and Olympic lifting. However, this is only a recent opinion and it may change.
The fastest bowlers in the world, think Mitch Starc and Brett Lee spend approx. 0.07-09 on BFC and this is evident with the heel not touching, take approx. 0.12-14sec to go from BFC and FFC and finally 0.10-12sec to release the ball from FFC to delivery. As you can see the highly coordinative bowling action doesn’t rely on the SSC if done optimally. This is why some of the fastest bowlers in the world have been very slight and non-muscle bound. You often think ‘how on earth can they bowl that fast. They can’t even squat one times their bodyweight!’ We have all seen them. These bowlers are spring (tendon focus), speed and hip dominant and can eliminate muscle slack quickly.
Crossed Extensor Reflex
Stiff contact = short contact = crossed extensor reflex = long delivery stride. Hip Shoulder separation. Feet plant from above, swing leg retraction and lower body deceleration and upper-body acceleration.
A hip dominant bowler looks more like a 400m runner and in actual fact tend to stay away from any weight training. Heavy strength training can be harmful to hip dominant bowler as added bulk onto a highly tuned springy frame may hinder performance as a reactive/elastic athlete has less time to produce force. Energy comes from the connective tissue, the tendons. This is why identifying a speed/spring/hip dominant bowler is important as most of their training will be plyometric, reactive and isometric based. Anything else may be detrimental. However, a small appropriate spattering of strength work is key to maintain performance levels. 70-30% split is ideal I believe.
The majority of hip dominant bowlers activate the ‘crossed extensor’ cutaneous reflex on back foot contact. This leads to many consequential positive kinetic and kinematic actions up the chain.
Knee Dominant / Static/ Force bowlers
At the opposite end of the continuum to hip dominant bowlers we have the knee dominant bowlers.
One of my favourite bowlers of all time and someone who I worked closely with for a few weeks was Shaun Tait. Firstly, notice the buzz around the ground when pace is heavily involved in sport but also his bowling action. He is naturally very strong and a large presence at the crease and demonstrate traits that put him at the static end of the continuum and a knee dominant bowler. His body has self-organised and can be seen as the ‘perfect’ example of a ‘long arm pull [slinger]’ bowler.
Knee dominant bowlers tend to be stockier in stature and look more like rugby players than cricketers.
I was one of these. However, with training I turned myself into a hip dominant bowler and subsequently bowled good pace. However, after an overreliance on weight training in the latter part of my career I reverted to my ‘natural state’ and became knee dominant as you can see in the photo with the knee passing my toe on BFC and subsequent ‘stumble reflex’, poor contralateral extension and collapsed front leg [not shown but happened].
My gym scores on the back squat as I matured and increased my training age went through the roof but I lost the ability to be elastic. Hip dominant bowler make fast bowling look fluid and effortless. Yet with the introduction of strength and conditioning coaches with no knowledge on the kinematic and kinetic requirements of fast bowling and poor programming with an over reliance on strength training and gym numbers we have neglected our primary sport movement in favor of other fixed movements. Fast bowlers have now made bowling their ‘supplementary’ and ‘accessory’ exercise and not their ‘main focus exercise’. What happens now is when bowlers bowl it looks mechanical, uncoordinated and clunky. Bowlers “muscle it” or “force it”. Because they have neglected it, it is less natural. They no longer use the SPECIFIC muscular and neural firing patterns for that activity and have now substituted it with other firing patterns.
The cricket world has built a generation of static/knee dominant bowlers. I’m not saying this is all bad as knee dominant bowlers can still bowl quickly and actually 5 of the bowlers are the fastest of all time. However, it takes a deep understanding of what they need and not try to pigeon hole them into a particular fast bowling framework that they simply cannot achieve. Knee dominant bowlers have ‘blockages’ up the chain that need compensation on another part of the sequence.
The excessive knee bend due in large to mobility issue around the glute and tensor fasciae late [TFL] area leads to issues further up or down the kinetic chain in term of timing, stress, sequencing and separation. If there is a dysfunction in one area the body will compensate above or below the area which can lead to problems in later stages of their career. Groin, knee and elbow issues are prevalent in bowlers who were knee dominant in their career.
Most knee dominant bowlers fail to separate their hips and shoulders due to the amount of time spent on back foot due to a larger knee flexion. There is no time for the hip to internally rotate pre FFC. More often than not a knee dominant bowler would land on their heel on BFC to increase the time spent on the ground. However, the body is a self-organising system and having limitations in technique will ultimately be seen as a variable and the body will find a way to deliver the ball. Most ‘slingers’ are knee dominant bowlers and they have found a way to delay the ball release by increasing the impulse [force /time] and a large contralateral upper limb extension [star position]. The increase in angular momentum which is a key determinant in bowling velocity is the product of the moment of inertia [rotational mass-somatotype] and angular velocity [resultant biomotor qualities and radius of limbs]. This is the bonus of being knee dominant if technique supports the physiological profile of the bowler. Otherwise knee dominance isn’t a positive trait for fast bowling.
As coaches, we just need to understand what they can and what they cannot physically do. Let’s not work against the physiological profile of our players.
If you’re knee dominant this is the best way to bowl. With so many knee dominant bowlers now due to over squatting and a reliance on strength training why is the ‘long arm pull’ and ‘slingy’ technique not coached? Why haven’t we more bowlers aiming to bowl like Thomson, Edwards, Malinga or Tait?
Their anthropometrics dictate this is the best way for them. Is it because it’s seen as ‘different’, not ‘traditional’ and not in the coaching manual? If so then training methods need to change and more of a focus on plyometric, isometric training to eliminate muscle slack, OU weighted ball bowling, medicine ball throwing and over speed work need to be encouraged. Currently the cricket world is training bowlers to be knee dominant like back row players in rugby or NFL running backs while wanting light whippet like arm speed dominant leaner bowlers like Mohammed Amir, Dale Steyn and Jimmy Anderson.
There needs to be a discussion between preparation coaches and technique coaches if we are to continue separating roles which James Smith refers to balkanized approach to sports coaching. Currently both are working against each other and are making bowlers slower. I’m sure unintentionally, but we now have a generation of fit looking, yoyo dominating, body fat caliper conscious and muscular bowlers who bowl as fast as the 3rd seamer did 20 years ago! The technical guru wants you looking like Dale Steyn at the crease but the strength coach is training you to be like Shoaib Akhtar. There needs to be a synergistic partnership and conversations occurring between technical coaches and strength trainers. It doesn’t need to be that way as training methods are advancing and sport science is freely available to everyone. Coaches need to gain the knowledge and become competent in all aspects of sports performance. From sports psychology, sensorimotor tactical –technical awareness, to bio-motor, Bio-dynamic and bio-energetics understanding. Only then can we truly say fast bowling has reached a celling in human performance. This is what James Smith refers to as ‘The governing dynamics of coaching’.
‘When one note is off, it eventually destroys the whole symphony’ –Alien Covenant
Knee dominant bowlers have large quads and large calf muscles. They walk with a forward shin angle and in turn bounce along using the SSC in their calf muscles. This is the reason for their large calf muscle development. Every time they walk they are doing calf raises. I missed out on this bonus though!
Ask a knee dominant athlete to perform a vertical jump they would squat down deep to access more energy in the muscle.
Ask a hip dominant athlete to perform the same test the countermovement will be small as energy is stored in the connective tissue. Their tendons are like springs. Due to a constant movement and reliance on the knee joint chronic injuries like patella tendonitis occurs frequently in knee dominant fast bowlers. I sure did!
Knee dominant bowlers normally make good games players as their have a lower COM and their hips are lower thus enhancing the ability to change direction [COD]. This is why you’ll rarely see a knee dominant bowler off a long run. The efficiency in their running mechanics doesn’t allow it. They can actually bowl similar pace of a shorter run [1-2 steps] as a longer one. Static/force bowlers don’t rely on momentum as they get kinetic energy form large moving parts added together. This is why ‘technique is key’ for knee dominant bowlers. There’s no hiding behind momentum! However, they need to find an extra 30% of energy from somewhere as it is gained from the momentum in the run up. Long arm pull, strong base positions, including pre-turn, braced front leg and a successful hip shoulder separation are essential attractors for knee dominant bowlers to achieve. Doing that proves difficult for most.
Monitoring excess bodyweight is key to the performance of hip dominant bowlers’ due to the fact they have little time to produce force. So, added weight isn’t a benefit to them. You’ll never see a large framed hip dominant bowler. They may have started out as one but due to maturation, decrease in testosterone and a decrease in metabolic rate excess body fat is a common occurrence as a fast bowler passes 32 yrs. of age. They then become knee dominant bowler and excess weight becomes less of an issue. The size of their run up is a normal give away to the change that’s happened. You can call it the ‘bowling menopause!’ How many quicks end their career with a long run up? Not many.
To bowl quickly I honestly believe a mix of both is best. It’s all about using the full potential in your body. If you are hip dominant your quads are not being used to their full potential and the same for knee dominant with regards their posterior chain. Parts of the bowling action are optimized by being knee dominant but on the whole, I would say more bowlers should aim to become, through training if they are no genetically predisposed more hip dominant.
How should the training differ?
Here are great examples of a hip dominant bowler and a knee dominant bowler. Both bowl similar pace 83-85mph but organize themselves in different ways based on their anthropometry. One gets the power from his tendons and the other from his considerable lower body natural strength. In terms of training, in simple terms you maintain the dominant capacity but improve the limiting factor.
All my methods in my SJ system is built within Anatoliy Bondarchuk classification system. Every bowler will climb the pyramid but variation exists within. Variation such as whether the bowler needs a focus on lighter ball for over speed or heavier ball for resisted work is determined at the initial testing stage.
The next installment will discuss how your training prorgamme looks and what methods should be used. However key decisions have to be made early in the process
- Do you change your technique?
- Do you change your training?
These two questions determine the future but should be individual to each bowler based on;
- Personality type
- Learning type
Stay tuned for part 3.
About Steffan Jones
Steffan Jones is the former Somerset, Northamptonshire, Kent and Derbyshire fast bowler who forged a career out of getting the best out of himself physically. He is an ex-pro cricketer of 20yrs, and is the last dual pro between rugby & cricket. Steffan is recognized as a global Fast-bowling performance expert.
Steffan is currently one of the small number of people in the world who hold an ECB level 3 qualification as well as a UKSCA accreditation in strength & conditioning. He is the leading coach in England on teaching and using heavy ball contrast training for fast bowler development.
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