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Anthropometrics Customize Mechanics, Part III: The Art of Individual Training Optimization

By Steffan Jones

Editor’s Note: In the conclusion of a 3 part series (Part I, Part II) that could just as easily be a top-selling book in the field, Steffan Jones puts the final touches on the ART of coaching implementation based off of individual factors.  This article addresses and answers a multitude of training questions, and is exactly the type of article that is needed to help push our industry forward, which is the combination of elements found in the physical preparation field with specific sport skills.  Although written with the cricket fast-bowler in mind, this article is applicable for any athletic population.

The difference between flaws and idiosyncrasies is a crucial understanding in the coaching of fast bowlers, and to be honest, any athlete. The understanding on what is unique to them and what actually has a negative effect on performance determines the intervention methods of coaching.

“If we are to teach correct movements, understanding the biomechanical principles underpinning what ‘correct’ looks like is critical. Think about technique versus style – correct technical practice in sport is governed by inarguable biomechanical principles whereas stylistic differences are often an adaptation of techniques, based upon individual variation, nuance, or faults. People often confuse the two”

– from: ‘Altis foundational course’

I am a firm believer in technique first. I could be regarded as ‘poacher turned game keeper’ as I was the most anti-technical bowler going around when I was at my peak. I felt as if I could outrun poor biomechanics with a high level of biomotor qualities. That is fine when it all is at optimum level but when ‘fatigue’ sets in, nervous energy takes over or any ‘variability’ occurs my performance levels dropped.

What I began to notice over the later part of my playing career and now during my second chapter in the game as a bowling consultant, is that efficient technique will allow a lesser athlete to bowl faster. However, an inefficient technique will require compensation via over-developed bio motor qualities that far exceeds what a fast bowler requires. Therefore, taking time and effort away from the crucial transferable aspects of specific strength, technique and tactical awareness, whilst also increasing the strength deficit and taking the bowler further away from their anthropometrics. So more and more fast bowlers are increasing their gym numbers and look athletic but bowling speeds and techniques are deteriorating.

However, the ‘technical model’ needs to match the anthropometry of each bowler. There is no one size fits all model but a model that is perfect for each individual. There are key nodes in the bowling action that I call the kinematic attractors that need to be achieved by every bowler, however, how they attain these 3 are individual and self-organizing based on the anthropometry of each bowler.

As I mentioned in part 1 and 2 of this series, the technical model currently being coached worldwide doesn’t match up to the physical intervention methods being adopted by strength and conditioning coaches. Both aspects are going further away from each other.

All coaches need to understand what forces are involved in fast bowling (KINETIC), the effect they have (KINEMATIC), the limitations and capabilities of the human body based on its size and proportions [ANTHROPOMETRY] and the mechanism that controls the sequence (NEUROMUSCULAR).

Each coach needs the knowledge on all aspects of performance. The balkanized and reductionist approach of having a multitude of coaches for physical, technical or tactical training isn’t effective. One coach needs to have the knowledge on all aspects. This is what James Smith, arguably one of the greatest mind in sports coaching refers to as the ‘governing dynamics of coaching’

Coaches don’t necessarily require a PhD in all aspects. It’s simply requires them to have access to the internet and a library card! The governing dynamics of coaching is not coached by coach education certification and requires coaches to educate themselves through study and practical applications.

Governing Dynamics of Coaching

Photo Credit James Smith

With this understanding, the ‘ONE’ coach can then make a decision on how to enhance performance. The ‘Three determining’ questions

  1. Do you change technique to match anthropometry?
  2. Do you change training to support anthropometry?

These 2 questions are dictated by individual traits and the bowlers’ type.

  1. Personality type
  2. Learning type
  3. Neuro-type

These 3 form the ‘bowling typing model’ which maps the direction of the coaching intervention.

Telling a bowler to change without knowing them or seeing them bowl is poor coaching. There are a lot of variables. How they learn, their personality profile, their neuro-type, the size of their achilles, their physiological profile, bowling drop offs (light or heavy ball discrepancy), their basic strength levels, how effective are they at using their stretch shortening cycle [SSC] and mobility or stability issues around the attractors and so many more factors.

“Every athlete possesses a unique disposition/temperament and stage of motor skill development. For this reason, all sports preparatory measures, no matter how specific or general, must be appropriated according to the neuro-psychological specifics of the athlete populations with whom one works”

-James Smith. ‘The Governing Dynamics of Coaching’

Fast bowling is less to do with muscles but more to do with the brain! Motor learning and skill acquisition is a careful process and the understanding and appreciation of the ability for each bowler to acquire these skills is essential. Bowlers learn in different ways and at differing rates.

The ‘bowling typing model’ I follow identifies key traits in each bowler and enhances the possibility that the coach intervention techniques are the correct one for their ‘type’.

1. Personality Type- MBTI [Myers Briggs Type Indicator]

“The purpose of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) personality inventory is to make the theory of psychological types described by C. G. Jung understandable and useful in people’s lives. The essence of the theory is that much seemingly random variation in the behavior is actually quite orderly and consistent, being due to basic differences in the ways individuals prefer to use their perception and judgment”

-Myersbriggs.org

This is based on a questionnaire and from the results each bowler will be placed in their relevant ‘preference’. There are 16 distinctive personality types that help us make sense of how a fast bowler will react to the intervention techniques designed.

  1. Favorite world: Do you prefer to focus on the outer world or on your own inner world? This is called Extraversion (E) or Introversion (I).
  2. Information: Do you prefer to focus on the basic information you take in or do you prefer to interpret and add meaning? This is called Sensing (S) or Intuition (N).
  3. Decisions: When making decisions, do you prefer to first look at logic and consistency or first look at the people and special circumstances? This is called Thinking (T) or Feeling (F).
  4. Structure: In dealing with the outside world, do you prefer to get things decided or do you prefer to stay open to new information and options? This is called Judging (J) or Perceiving (P).

Above taken from the website myersbriggs.org

From these categories, each bowler would fall into a particular ‘personality type’, which is expressed as a code with four letters. The goal of knowing about personality type is to understand and appreciate differences between people. As all types are equal, there is no best type. However, it provides a guide in planning the appropriate coach intervention model.

MBTI

2. Learning Type- ‘VARK’

All bowlers learn in different ways and require a specific coaching method to encourage progression and understanding. There are 4 main learning types. Approximately 80% of fast bowlers would be kinesthetic learner which is why my particular coaching system. It is effective as it utilizes strength, power, corrective strength, isometric and overweight implements to enhance the technical model. It creates feel, which is one of the ‘7 ways to manipulate movement’. When holding an isometric contraction in stage 1 of the skill-stability paradigm the fast bowler can feel, self-organize and process the new motor pattern being encouraged. The visual (V), auditory (A), reading/writing (R), kinesthetic (K)/(VARK) questionnaire for bowlers identifies their preferred mode (s) of presentation of information. This mode governs how bowlers interpret, process, and understand information

  1. Visual learners-prefer to see the ‘ideal model’. The ‘intention-action model’ sits favorably with visual leaners. A visual learner prefers to watch video clips or any other form of visual stimuli. They thrive on demonstrations.
  2. Auditory learners– prefer to hear information than trying or observing it. They rely on a clear introduction and a brief explanation of the session and also the end of session’s feedback and evaluation process. Hearing and speaking is key for them to learn
  3. Reading/Writing– A visual learner prefers reading/writing to fully understand the information being given. They prefer text-based stimulus to process the new information given to them.
  4. Kinesthetic learners [kinesthetic/tactile]– want to get on and try the exercise for themselves. They learn best by doing and respect the self-organizing way we acquire new skill. [Most bowlers]. They prefer using hands on experiences and practices rather than conceptual or abstract learning.

View VARK Questionnaire for Athletes

It is important to note from experience and studying that the majority of fast bowlers are dominant kinesthetic learners with differences occurring between genders. So, coaches should be mindful of the difference in coaching methods used on male and female. It’s also important to note that most athletes are multi-modal [MM] and are stimulated by different modes of information, however kinesthetic being the dominant learning style.

I am aware the VARK and MBTI have their critics and I’m currently in the process of researching other ways of identifying learning and personality types. However, as it stands I use both and they are proving accurate. Make your own mind up-don’t be sheep!

3. Neuro-typing

Christian Thibaudeau has developed a system that I believe is a game changer for sports preparation training. It takes individualization to another level.

Neurotyping is based on the ‘Cloninger Temperament and Character Inventory’ (TCI)

“The TCI is an inventory for personality traits based on a psychobiological model. In a nutshell, people have different personality types because they have different genetic levels of certain neurotransmitters: dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. When scientists measured neurotransmitter levels and compared them to the personality types, they indeed found them to match up. This dictates how we perceive a training stimulus and how we can benefit from our training and coaching sessions”

 -C Thibaudeau

There are three main profile types:

  • Type 1: This type has low dopamine levels, so he or she seeks out novelty or new things to stimulate their naturally low dopamine. In psychobiology, they call this the novelty seeking type.Neuro-typing
  • Type 2: These types have low norepinephrine levels. Since norepinephrine is associated with confidence and a sense of well-being, these people seek out rewards to boost their norepinephrine levels. It’s referred to as the reward dependent type in science.
  • Type 3: This type is associated with low serotonin. They don’t like change; they like to master a repetitive activity. “Technique geeks” fit this profile. In psychobiology, they call this the harm avoider type

So how does this impact on training and coaching methods for fast bowler?

Type 1

Type 1 are neurally driven. Type 1 can be split into type 1A or type 1B. The difference between the two is the tolerance to more volume. Type A’s respond to extreme low volume but very high intensity and loading [87-92%+]. Cluster training fits the bill perfectly for type 1A. Which incidentally is exactly how an over in cricket can be seen as. It’s a cluster of 6 reps with 30secs rest between deliveries/reps.

Type B thrive on more volume and slightly higher reps but slightly lower load. However, restoration workouts are critical due to the higher volume. Neural recharge circuits should be used 2x week to aid neural recovery. They also have a need for constant change. They are looking for that new training method to give them a new ‘rush’ and spurts of dopamine. Excitement and novelty is key to activate the RAS [Reticular activating system] and provide the stimulus to encourage intent and desire to learn.

The key to coaching a type 1 fast bowler is to progress quickly through the stages of learning, use a lot of variation in the training cycle but focus on very few exercises within the session and short sharp but frequent training sessions. They thrive on activation and potentiation drills as part of the RAMP warm up. This section is key to the success of the session. They really need to be AMPED up due to their low dopamine levels. Multiple day sessions work well with type bowler. The 1st session of the day serves as to potentiate the CNS for the key work that’s to come later in the day. Type 1 fast bowlers also thrive on match days PAP sessions 4-6 hrs. pre-game. In actual fact, it is a must! Type 1 thrive on potentiating clusters with different inter and intra set stimulation of fast twitch fibers.

Volume is also key as too much activation will cause a crash afterwards. Type 1 need to respect the laws of ‘intensity versus volume’-both cannot be high. The high-low loading is essential for programme design as their high days are normally max effort and CNS draining. The difficult part is trying to make their ‘low days’ and ‘tempo/oxidative bowling’ day’s low! Taping the mouth is a great technique on low days.

Most 90mph fast bowlers would be type 1. They love challenge and learning new skills and thrive on competition. T20 cricket is the ideal environment for a type 1 fast bowler.

The skill-stability paradigm sits favorably with type 1 bowlers’ due to the max effort required, ESPECIALLY DURING THE ISOMETRIC STAGE 1 and the novelty value it provides.

Type 1 bowlers would be regarded as a ‘FIRE type’ in Charles Poliquin’s’ ‘five elements’ paradigm. They are high frequency, high intensity, low volume and highly neural driven animal.

Not necessarily the biggest ‘gym bunnies’ as their natural athleticism often helps them get away with doing less. They are the ones who turn up pre-season camp with limited training over the winter and dominate the tests! The other types hate! They don’t necessarily have a ‘growth mindset’ but a ‘talent mindset’

Hip dominant fast bowlers would be type 1B while knee dominant fast bowlers are normally type 1A and should both should rarely stay on a programme for longer than 2 weeks.

Type 2

Type 2 also can be split into A and B. The difference between both is type A thrive on medium/ heavy work [not as high as Type 1] but still explosive. They tolerate high skilled exercises and ballistic work and make good athletes and team players. They have a very efficient nervous system but don’t tolerate too high % intensity [80-87%]. They are more speed than power and rely heavily on the stretch shortening cycle [SSC]. Without it they find movement harder.

Type 2A thrive on complex training and power circuit training. Explosive jumps, throws, sprints and specific strength work within the set provide the stimulation of fast twitch fibers.

Type 2B bowlers react less favorably to heavier work and prefer to stay in the 82-87% zone. They need to feel the muscle working and feel satisfied with their workout. They don’t do well with explosive work but prefer a faster paced dense workout.

Type 2 would fall in the ‘WOOD and EARTH type’ under Poliquin’s model. They are pleasers. They are the bowlers who will bowl in any conditions, at any time to any field placings the captain and the coach set them. They are the bowlers who will simply agree with you during the session as they need to feel rewarded, respected, liked, appreciated and perceived as a ‘good student’. Often, they will simply tell you what you want to hear.  They have the need to increase their norepinephrine levels through emotion and can actually be difficult to ‘manage’ as a coach. Careful intervention is needed with type 2 bowlers as they place a lot of pressure on themselves to please others [coach and players]. Corrective strength technical work is key to type 2 bowlers as it allows their subconscious to do the coaching for them.

Type 2 BowlerThey aren’t required to internalize anything which would cause them to choke under pressure! They are ‘feelers’- they like to feel each muscle working during strength training and technical work. Pre- exhaust and intra set corrective grooving drills are perfect for the type 2 bowler. Between every delivery the bowler would perform 10 or so reps of a segmented/targeted part of their action.

They tolerate frequency well but are less tolerant of change. So, a 2 on 1 off template sits favorably with type 2 bowlers. They will want to master an exercise before moving on to please the coach. However, if a reason and explanation is given they are more likely to embrace progression.

The skill-stability paradigm sits favorably with type 2 bowlers’ due to the exercise itself doing the coaching. The constrained positions are grooved without the bowler thinking.

Hip dominant bowlers are type 2A. They thrive on explosive exercise utilizing the SSC but struggle with volume and intensity. It is easy to differentiate between type 2A and 2B during a complex session. Type 2A bowlers would normally peak around set 3 whereas type 2B bowlers can keep going past 6 sets. It takes less volume to get a hip dominant type 2A bowler AMPED.

Knee dominant bowlers are normally type 2B. They love to get the feeling of working hard and when lifting weights search for the ‘pump’. They have a need to look good in front of others and tend to favor ‘bodybuilding’ training methods which isn’t necessarily what they require. Monitoring volume is key as they often perform ‘stealth sessions’ on their own that add stress and increase cortisol levels in the system. However careful manipulation of the programme and the occasional ‘beach weights window’ would normally satisfy their needs without a detriment to their bowling performance.

Type 3

It’s very rarely that type 3 would become fast bowlers. They would also fall in the ‘WATER/METAL type’ in Poliquin’s model. The stress and anxiety involved with bowling fast would discourage any type 3 athlete from performing this skill. They are harm avoiders and have low serotonin levels. They lack energy and desire to ‘push themselves’. Type 3 athletes would stay away from any activity that provides an opportunity for injuries and any harm. When stressed these are the ones who normally come down with a ‘cold’. They release large amount of cortisol due to the anxiety they suffer during activity. This in turn can lead to ‘fat storage’ which in turn makes it highly unlikely that they will follow the path of fast bowling. Their type will actually be the driving force in their sporting decisions. Type 3 cricketers may very well start out with the desire to bowl fast. Type 3 fast bowlers respond well to submaximal work and sets of 2-3 reps at 70-80%. They are technique driven and struggle with change. I am of the opinion that type 3 will never become fast bowlers. They may start their fast bowling journey when they are young however maturation will dictate the path for them. Drop out is inevitable in my opinion.

Age can have a positive or detrimental effect on the neuro type as hormones change with age. I genuinely believe fast bowlers begin their career as a type 1 but then move into type 3 as coaches. They become ‘technique geeks’, perfectionist and have to stick to a rigid plan. I have no research to prove it but I think this is the reason why most ex professional cricketers tend to play golf after they retire. Their competitive instincts are satisfied in a safe and rigid environment.

The ‘Three Determining’ Questions

After identifying their ‘bowling type’ a plan can now be designed. Key questions need to be asked.

Option 1. Do you just strengthen the pattern the bowler currently has? Hip dominant [HD] bowlers will need to reinforce the hip hinge pattern, hip extension work whilst knee dominant [KD] bowlers can ‘squat until they drop’ without negatively effecting technique. Hip bowlers need more caution and require a careful periodised plan. Stiff landing is a skill and trait that is ingrained. This highly beneficial habit needs careful managing and any exercise that confuses the natural pattern needs to be introduced with careful attention. However, knee dominant bowlers can pretty much do what they want in terms of preparation training.

Option 2. Do you change their technique to match the natural pattern they have? If you’re knee dominant you need to develop a greater range to increase time as the back foot remains on the floor longer as knee flexion occurs to access power in the large quad muscles as discussed previously. The kinematic attractor of the ‘upper body contralateral extension’ is essential for a knee dominant bowler. This creates a longer pull and more time in the upper body. So, for timing, synchronization and sequencing the upper body will need to ‘slow down’ and allow the lower half to ‘stack’ up and hips and shoulder to separate. They will need to become long arm-pull slingers. This isn’t a technique that is encouraged by coaches that are unaware of its benefits!

Option 3. Do you try and train the bowlers to become hip dominant which is the most effective way to bowl due to less time on back foot contact [BFC]? However, this needs to match the kinematics of the bowler. You don’t want a ‘slinger’ to be quick off the back foot as timing will be totally disrupted.

Receptive Phase

This is why I always advise coaches who adhere to the ‘governing dynamics of coaching’ to plan a training phase that focus on developing the other pattern and see how each bowler reacts. So, a hip dominant bowler will train more force dominant jumping drills like depth jump, single response and isometric hold vertical jumps, long jumps, hurdle jumps and lateral jumps. These jumps are max effort and really force driven without the ‘assistance’ of the ‘stretch shortening cycle. Hip dominant bowlers often looks effortless in their skill acquisition and their arm speed is extreme. This is due to the utilization of the SSC in their upper body. In actual fact during delivery the SSC doesn’t impact on the performance of the lower body sequencing [In terms of ground contact times]

The SSC takes 0.25sec (250milliseconds). 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.

The fastest bowlers in the world, think Mitch Starc and Brett Lee spend approximately 0.07-09 on BFC and this is evident with the heel not touching, take approximately 0.12-14sec to go from BFC to 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. The performance of fast bowling is highly dependent on eliminating ‘muscle slack’. This is why when all else is equal hip dominant bowlers currently are the fastest bowlers in the world. Think of the Australian quicks Mitchel Starc and Pat Cummins

Muscle slack- ‘The time lag between contraction and movement, what Frans Bosch calls slack should try to be minimized in actions where force must be produced in minimal time’ 

A knee dominant/spring bowler would alternatively spend a phase performing a myriad of reactive multiple jump training to encourage the utilization of the stretch shortening cycle. They are poor at using the stored energy in their muscles and don’t eliminate muscle slack quickly. Opposite to hip dominant bowlers who in general have small achilles tendons, knee dominant bowlers on the whole have longer achilles tendons which require a slower loading rate to access the stored energy in the muscle itself. They need to flex more at the knee to access the muscles of the thigh.

This phase only needs to last 2-3 weeks. From here ‘bowling typing’ questions can be answered and the direction of the programme can be planned. Hopefully in this time the bowler may very well develop some traits from the opposite dominance as the ideal fast bowler needs to sit in the middle of the static-spring continuum. It is key that testing and monitoring takes place within this phase.  A ‘jump mat’ would be ideal but a simple counter movement jump, depth jump and single response jump comparisons test is also sufficient. You can see if a knee dominant bowler has begun to take on some of the hip dominance traits that benefit their bowling technique.

‘Bowling Typing Model’

Based on their ‘type’ and how they reacted to the ‘receptive phase’ a coach can now target their limiting factor and the methods used to encourage adaptation, enhancement and progression

What direction should they now go? The information gained form the ‘bowling typing model’ will dictate what direction the bowler will take and the methods used to get them to their final end goal.

How do they learn best? Do they prefer to ‘feel’ the movement or observe demonstrations?

Are they always late or disorganized? Does their personality profile support their behavior?

Do they struggle following a plan? Do they constantly want to change training sessions and exercises? Does this marry up with their neuro-type?

Without this knowledge, a coach cannot confidently say they will be successful in their coaching plan. Combined with general and specific physical testing the ‘bowling typing model’ should be integral to all fast bowling coaches.

When a joint decision is made the process can begin

  • Do they embrace their dominance and make it stable?
  • Do they change technique to support their anthropometry?
  • Do they attempt to change their dominant pattern through training?

Option 1- Embrace the Dominance

The knee/static/force dominant bowlers will be less negatively affected by a poor strength programme. This is why the majority of fast bowlers in the world simply ‘exist’. Their preparation programme provides a ‘neutral transfer’ but no glaring issues as the majority don’t get worse! This is a sad state of affairs but no questions asked as most are knee dominant and tolerate most training methods but don’t benefit from an over-focus and high volume of strength work. Please also bear in mind that knee dominance isn’t the ideal pattern to bowl fast if you’re not a ‘slinger’. So, if you are not going to change the technique and embrace the dominance the bowler will need keep loading in this position but they will never reach their ‘speed ceiling’ (unless the technique is changed to utilize the anthropometrics) Why? Due to the fact that a knee dominant bowler spends too much time decelerating on BFC which isn’t conducive to transferring momentum into the braking force on front foot contact [FFC]

Training methods used:

Knee dominant:
  • Most knee dominant bowlers are neuro type 1A or type 2B
  • The squat is the same pattern as BFC. So, most knee dominant bowlers love to squat. They love increasing the numbers and thrive on the ‘reputation’ it builds them. Be wary of the volume. Compound strength lifts should be introduced for short periods to gain maximum benefits but the majority of their time spent in the strength zone. There is no need for variation in terms of exercise choices. Simply squat and bowl! However, de-load every 3rd week but follow the process all winter.
  • 20% jumps and throws etc. and 80% of their physical capacity training will be strength and hypertrophic training.
  • No amount of strengthening will make the back knee for flexing on contact. This is a habit. It simply needs to be stabilized from collapsing further into the contact. Embrace the movement.Knee Dominant Bowler
  • I would actually contrast every set of strength exercise with a weighted ball bowling repetition or a ‘Exogen suit’ delivery with overloaded formation ‘fusiforms’ to encourage a positive transfer. There is a danger with knee dominant/static bowlers to rely on the ‘gym’ too much. However, by adding a specific strength contrast rep between every set this will satisfy their ‘type’ but also encourage positive transfer. Russian contrast sets, cluster contrast or potentiation clusters sit favorably in this section. I would say 80% of modern day bowlers sit in this option but spend too long trying to get stronger which as no benefits on performance
  • Training system like Christian Thibaudeau’s Canadian Ascending Descending [CAD] could be used here. So, the whole force-velocity curve is trained. Simply vary the volume of the focus capacity. ‘Triphasic’ training is also a great programme for knee dominant athlete as it gets an athlete brutally strong in the 3 muscle contractions. I’ve often found that a knee bowler who continues to flex laterally at the knee on BFC lacks the eccentric strength and the bowler who sits back and finds it hard to get off the BFC lack isometric strength. ‘Triphasic’ training will guarantee that a knee dominant bowler doesn’t ‘collapse’ more than is naturally patterned on BFC. This will negatively affect performance. In actual effect, eccentric training is the NO 1 priority for knee dominant bowler. Eccentric contractions underpin all isometric training and forms the foundation of the skill-stability paradigm. It is essential that a phase of basic super slow eccentric training is planned before the start of the skill-stability paradigm.
  • Standard ‘complex’ methods like Bulgarian complex has the volume spread evenly which isn’t ideal when training a specific type of bowler. There is a need to focus on the limiting factor so this is why a Horizontal loading ‘complex’ method is used like CAD.
  • They still train elastic properties but spend more time using dead-start work or isometric work to eliminate muscle slack because they don’t use the stretch shortening cycle [SSC] when they bowl as the kinematic sequencing takes so long on a knee dominant bowler. Their body also needs the strength and structural integrity to cope with the large forces at each kinematic segment.
  • Skill stability isometric training sits favorably with knee dominant bowlers. It encourages stability around the main attractors and also eliminates muscle slack. It also increases the ground reaction force on front foot contact and engraining, via corrective strength the attractor of bracing the front leg on contact. By overloading this key node with a more ‘force/intent/effort’ method a force/knee dominant bowler is more likely to embrace the changes. Why?

An organism isn’t interested in a stimulus it considers mundane. For effective learning to occur all non-reflexive stimuli must clear the RAS [Reticular Activating System]. This is in simple terms is the ‘ON’ button for the brain and motor learning.

Doing the same mundane non-stimulating drills without progression or variability will never turn on the ‘ON’ button. This is why a lot of fast bowlers fall out of favor with technical work. The drill isn’t the issue, it’s the lack of INTENT from the bowler as ‘technical drills’ are by definition are mundane, too rigid and provide no variability. The skill-stability paradigm provides a more ‘strength and conditioning’ mindset to technical intervention. Knee dominant bowlers thrive on that.

movement must have degrees of freedom

“Movement must have degrees of freedom to promote learning and progression. In other words, there must be some level of chaos, or room for the CNS to self-organize movement, to reach a goal. When exercises offer no degrees of freedom (such as a heavy barbell lunge), the athlete’s CNS is in a ‘straightjacket,’ and no motor learning is possible”

-Frans Bosch 

  • The majority of jumps if the bowler and coach have decided to embrace their dominance based on their profiling should be more bilateral force orientated. Depth jumps, hurdle jumps and box jumps should be encouraged.
  • Bilateral large lifts like front squat, trap bar deadlift and deep back squats form the basis of the programme and no real variation is needed from these lifts. This is why a basic template like Triphasic training, Thib’s Canadian Ascending Descending programme [CAD] or Thib’s HP mass or Strength layering fits the bill for knee dominant bowlers. Just keep it simple-embrace the dominance, make the dominance stable and contrast with bowling as often as possible.
  • As strength is the dominant factor for knee dominant fast bowler’s strength gains are rapid but plateau quickly. This is one of the reason why most strength programmes are detraining most fast bowlers worldwide as they are increasing the strength deficit and also simply neutrally fatiguing bowlers for no performance gains. The fastest way to encourage adaptation and rise above the plateau is to train ‘dynamically’ for a deload phase of 1-week. Power circuits are great for this phase.
Hip dominant:

Hip dominant/Spring/speed bowlers however need careful periodised strength training. Too much knee dominant exercises will negatively affect hip dominant bowlers. Hip dominant bowlers should not spend all their time under a barbell.

  • Most Hip dominant bowlers are neuro type 1B or 2A. Neurally wired, have low dopamine levels and seeks out novelty or new things to stimulate their naturally low dopamine.Hip Dominant Bowler
  • In psychobiology, they call this the novelty seeking type. They need lots of variation in their training with a key focus on training on the nerve. Lots of low volume but high frequency ballistic training and CNS dominant lifting.
  • French contrast and potentiating cluster provide a great training method for hip dominant bowlers. It heightens the CNS without maximal weights and provides variability and novelty to the bowler

  • Hip dominant bowlers are effective single leg jumpers [which fast bowling is!]. They are highly reactive and need a lot of jumping to maintain/improve reactivity. Ankle conditioning work is essential due to the importance of ankle stability on repeated ground contacts. Bounding, speed hops, double jump speed skaters, multiple hops and all jumps with a ‘load up’ should make up the majority of the jumping programme. However, a percentage needs to be spent on strength training and force jumps to develop the stability and resilience around the joints. Hip dominant bowlers suffer with tendonitis due their heightened activity during exercises. Increasing the strength of the muscle without sacrificing reactivity is a key addition to a hip dominant bowler who sits at the ‘spring’ end of the continuum.
  • Most hip dominant bowlers should spend less time in the weight room and when they do they thrive on ‘pulling’ exercises as it reinforces the hip hinge pattern. A knee dominant bowler could find learning the highly technical dominant skill of Olympic lifting easier than a knee dominant bowler. I however question its value as learning a new skill like Olympic lifting may take a lot of repetition only to potentially gain a very small improvement in the pool of power to use. I am yet convinced on Olympic lifting for fast bowlers. A fast lift may take 1.30m/s but the trunk flexion speed at delivery for a fast bowler is approximately 12 x that speed. I appreciate Olympic lifts is triple extension but my focus is on barbell speed.

At delivery, a bowler has a trunk flexion of approximately 2000 d / s and a turning radius of approximately 50cm. Speed = radians x radius [Convert to radians (2000d / s = 31.91 r / s)]

Speed = 31.91 x 0.5 = 17.45m / s

Data taken from Realtrack ‘WIMU’. Study on fast bowlers in the 2018 champions trophy in England.

  • However, strength work should never be introduced to make the lower limbs ‘stiff’ on contact as that occurs naturally. Stiff leg transfers force more effectively which is why hip dominant bowlers bowl faster when all else is equal. Technique is always the limiting factor for a hip dominant bowler.
  • Unilateral lifting should be limited as it may interfere with the natural pattern of bowling/sprinting. They find it difficult to perform dynamic movement with bent legs. Jumping, running, sprinting, bowling and walking occurs with rigid legs. Don’t create other patterns/habits that supersede this key trait.
  • Hip dominant bowlers should never move too far away from their strengths. I.e. Their reactivity. Strength is introduced sporadically to SUPPORT their reactivity and elasticity
  • Calf size- Hip dominant bowlers will need additional calf raises as they receive little stimulation in everyday life and sporting actions. To activate the main power muscle in the lower leg, the soleus, the knee needs to be flexed.

Calf size differenceWith the stiffness of a hip dominant ground contact the soleus receives little ‘training effect’. Due to its importance in plantarflexion and power production [produces 50% of vertical support force during running] the soleus is a key link in the kinetic chain. Additional soleus specific work needs to be programmed in a hip dominant bowlers training week.

  • They are naturally relatively strong and robust for their bodyweight but score poorly on absolute strength gym numbers. Careful/periodised strength introduction to avoid increasing hypertrophy as increase mass hinders performance is essential.Training needs to be highly specific
  • 80% of time spent on competitive exercise [CE] and specific developmental exercises [SDE]. Heavy focus on shock training, speed training, sprint training, reactive specific jumps, ballistic training and OU weighted ball bowling. The programme needs to be overload skill specific dominant. Training needs to be highly specific. OU weighted implements or specific overloaded garments like ‘Exogen suit’ form the basis of the programme
  • Joel Smith’s Vertical Ignition programme, Kelly Baggett vertical jump programme, a Speed dominant CAD programme and all CNS focus training should be used here. Isometric contrast training like Iso-dynamic and oscillatory training techniques with a fast turnaround are effective.

“Exogen is one of the most innovative and ground-breaking products to come out in the industry in the past decade.” 

-Dr. John Cronin, Head, Auckland University of Technology – Sports Performance Research Institute NZ

‘The future of fast bowling training is ‘EXOGEN’. Hip dominant and speed driven bowlers will thrive with this new innovation. Stay tuned for more information.

Option 2- Change Technique

Unless a knee dominant bowler embraces the concept of technical adaptation they will never achieve their genetic potential. They may very well have strength but poor timing and ineffective utilization of kinetic energy will never lead to a high-level bowling performance [in terms of speed].

Trying to put hip dominant characteristics into a knee dominant bowler is very difficult.

Change of TechniqueA change of technique is highly recommended. There clearly have been static/knee dominant bowlers who have achieved success in their careers but what my argument is, ‘they have been successful despite of their dominance not because of it’. They will never have truly seen the potential power stored in their muscles because their action hasn’t supported their anthropometry.

Here is a clip of a knee dominant bowler [shown earlier] who utilizes his large strong athletic frame via a long arm pull to bowl quickly. He has recently begun to vary his training more. He was heavily into his weight training and become too reliant on strength and gym numbers. With a different stimulus and a definite focus on weighted ball bowling, skill-stability work, speed, sprinting and jumping it is visually evident he is now achieving the speeds that his bio-motor qualities can demonstrate.

Javelin sequenceKnee dominant bowlers should be encouraged to become ‘long arm slingers’ if they are to utilize the stored energy in their muscles. These technique needs to be understood and coached at a very young level. This model is very much the ‘javelin throw’ sequence and isn’t as dramatically different as some may think.

Knee dominant bowlers also have longer Achilles’ tendons which will need time to store energy in the lower body muscles. Imagine the tendon is a spring. To squeeze a longer spring needs more movement and subsequent flexion at the knee. So, this is why some spend longer time on BFC and clearly this will never be able to change.

Throwing sling motion

  1. Large contralateral upper limb extension [Sling] to optimise radius of the upper and lower limbs
  2. Greater angular momentum [moment of inertia-large bowler mass/angular velocity-sling/long lever]
  3. Knee dominant with heel contact on BFC to allow more time. Spend time to access stretch shortening cycle [SSC]
  4. Back knee travels past toe due to large flexion on back leg to access power in the lower limb
  5. Somatotype- Mesomorph. Strength + Rotational mass [Moment of Inertia] is a large determinant of pace

It is essential for a knee dominant bowler to change their technique. They need to find a way of holding onto the ball longer to create impulse that will then allow the base to set and full utilization of the kinetic energy to be transferred through to the delivery of the cricket ball. They need to find a way of hitting ‘the star position’- ‘the contralateral extension’

However, it is less urgent for a hip dominant bowler to make wholesale changes. That saying there is a key flaw in most bowlers and that is the lack of synchronization between upper and lower body. One moves in total disharmony with the other.

Hip Dominant back footA hip dominant bowler will subconsciously get off the back foot quickly. So clearly the upper limbs need to keep up. As we know one of the key kinematic attractors is the ‘contralateral limb extension’ [the star position].

Most hip dominant bowlers don’t achieve this position as their bowling circle is too big. They push out in front between back foot contact and delivery. This then creates a large circle that is out of time with the quickness of the lower body.

One external cue I provide hip dominant bowlers is to put the ball in their bowling side trouser pocket. This then encourages a smaller bowling circle and attainment of the ‘star position’.  Another technique I use is to manipulate [constrain] the environment by increasing the height of the floor.

The front foot makes contact with the floor in the correct timing [earlier] and through repetition the bowler will come begin to feel the correct kinematic and kinetic sequence that’s needed to create a stretch reflex in their chest area.

The floor will be lowered every 2-3 weeks and subconsciously the body will organize itself to create the same feeling but the floor is lowered. Changes will occur over time.

Technical efficiency is crucial

So, in summary it is more important that a knee dominant bowler embraces technical change than a hip dominant. Technical efficiency is more crucial for the success of a knee dominant bowler due to the fact that they cannot use their biomotor qualities to their advantage.

Option 3- Change the Dominance

There is no reason for a hip dominant bowler to change the way they train. I highly discourage any hip dominant bowler to spend too long training like a knee dominant bowler. This is the common flaw in the current practice of the majority of fast bowling coaching around the world. The over focus on the ‘white board’ and squat numbers. This is detraining every high reactive quality the hip dominant bowlers have. I would spend 2 weeks [max] squatting a hip dominant bowler and repeat that 4 times per yearly cycle. The remaining time is embracing their reactivity with jumps, sprints and special strength training.

However, this is a key option for a knee dominant bowler. Back foot stiffness can be trained and the key point to remember is that getting off the back foot as quickly as possible allowing the front leg to plant with a shallow plant angle is key to bowling fast. A knee dominant bowler will always have a large flexion on back foot contact but by training correctly through reactive jumps there is a potential for a knee dominant bowler to exhibit some of the characteristics of a hip dominant bowler. This will then allow them to utilize the cutaneous reflexes that are in the body. Namely the ‘crossed extensor reflex’ and the ‘stumble reflex’. In simple terms the crossed extensor reflex enhances the chances of everything in the front leg being a positive action to bowl effectively and quickly. From Heel contact, swing leg retraction, foot plant form above, braced front leg and large delivery stride. This occurs simply due to the ‘stiffness’ on BFC. However, if the contact is soft and unstable this will activate the ‘stumble reflex’ which isn’t a performance enhancing reflex. This causes the front leg to plant too early on the ball of the foot and subsequently collapse which isn’t conducive to bowling fast.

Utilizing your reflexes

So, by training this key node the kinematic sequence will subconsciously be enhanced

Training needs to be highly specific

Here is a great example on the methods that I would use to develop reactivity and increase tendon stiffness specific to fast bowlers. In particular the back-foot contact [BFC]

One other main aspect that can be changed is the focus on training explosively. In my own experience, both as a player and a coach the NO 1 training method for a knee dominant bowler is A HIGH VOLUME complex training programme. In my programmes all bowlers with a training age greater than 3 years will spend 70% of their winter training with various complex systems. Whether vertical loading, like a Bulgarian complex, French contrast or speed continuum circuits or in a horizontal loading pattern like Canadian Ascending Descending complex or a Tier system designed by Joe Kenn.

In simple terms after 3 weeks focus loading on their dominant trait bowlers should ‘deload’ to work on improving their non-dominant trait. So, a knee dominant bowler would jump, sprint and throw whilst a hip dominant bowler would lift for maximum strength gains [clusters would be the No 1 choice].

Hip dominant bowlers also do well on more of an overload focus in their weighted ball bowling programme. They have arm speed, they need to develop more power and the ability to sustain their top end speed. On the other hand, a knee dominant bowler would be better served bowling underload ‘lighter’ ball to increase arm speed and their flat out max effort speed.

‘The limiting factor would be worked out early in the monitoring process based on pace discrepancy during a weighted ball speed test between a heavy ball 250g and a light ball 100g’.

Ideally the lighter ball should be bowled quicker than a cricket ball however this is rarely the case with a knee dominant bowler. They often bowl the heavier ball quicker due mainly to intent which is a product of their neuro-type and DNA! It’s all about effort, strength, grunt and force which doesn’t necessarily help you bowl quicker.

Conclusion

Coach intervention is a fine art. The easy option would be to sit back and hide behind the tactical side of the game. That is fine but that’s managing it isn’t coaching. It takes confidence in your knowledge, respect from the player, courage and a deep understanding of the player to make a positive difference to their performance. It’s having the confidence to go ahead and intervene knowing that there is a small change it either won’t work or worst still may hinder performance. However, armed with a high skill set and confidence in the knowledge you have gained a coach should never fear technical intervention. It can change lives.

Not every bowler is destined to play professional cricket. Not every bowler is born to bowl 90mph. However, all bowlers need to attempt to eliminate weaknesses that are liabilities to their bowling performance. The ideal bowler should lie in the middle of the static-spring continuum and train the correct way to get them there. Bowling is about sprint speed and horizontal jumping ability. Hip dominant bowlers find the speed aspect easily achieved but with added ‘strength work’ to gain more strength in the knee extensors ‘getting off’ the ground maybe more efficient.

All I aim to do is educate bowlers/coaches in methods that they would not have covered in their normal ‘coach education programme’. There is a wide world out there. It just needs people to embrace all factors of enhancing performance and gain the knowledge in all aspects of fast bowling. Fast bowling needs to be ‘governed by the dynamics of coaching’. One coach with all the knowledge to make a difference. That is the future.

Notice the bowler in the clip. Physiological changes are clearly impossible in 4 days. However, with technical remapping utilising the ‘skill-stability paradigm’, hip dominant traits can be transferred into the bowling action. By changing back foot position, he is now able to hit front foot contact earlier with a more effective hip and shoulder separation.

Changes can be made in a very short time with the right intervention methods and appreciation of how we learn. They key to making changes is developing a programme that allows the subconscious mind to become the coach.

So, as you can see there are a number of finer detail physiological, sensorimotor and biomechanical developments required for fast bowling. These needs to be understood, respected and embraced. Respecting neurophysiology, stages of learning, bowling typing, neuro typing, learning styles, personality traits, correct cueing, anthropometry and the correct intervention techniques can guarantee that every fast bowler will reach their genetical potential.

“Resources are never a limiting factor, it is always knowledge”

  -James Smith. Governing dynamics of coaching

About Steffan Jones

Steffan JonesSteffan 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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One comment

  1. “…2. Learning Type- ‘VARK’
    All bowlers learn in different ways and require a specific coaching method to encourage progression and understanding. There are 4 main learning types. Approximately 80% of fast bowlers would be kinesthetic learner which is why my particular coaching system…”

    Is there a bit missing there?

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