I have experimented with a number of training methods over the years, as a player and now as a specialist fast bowling prep coach. Some of the methods I discarded pretty quickly. Such as unstable surface ‘circus’ training, i.e. standing on a ‘fitball’ and performing squats and also full body banded resisted bowling.
No, you haven’t, I can hear some shouting, but as a training concept and full implementation you will never see a bowler standing on ‘agility disc’ or other unstable surfaces and performing compound lifts, you may see it in another capacity but never during a basic strength training phase.
You may see me performing a number of band exercises, and yes, it’s actually a fundamental method in my skill stability paradigm but never in a complete, full kinematic sequence of fast bowling. The motor engram is too close and will confuse the system and cause poor timing and firing patterns.
One method that I foolishly discarded was oscillatory training. Despite being a ‘neurotype 1’ who struggles with authority, I sometimes listen [very rarely] to other opinions and this was one I wish I had ignored. I used to prepare before every bowling spell with a banded overhead bowl in the changing rooms.
It consisted of small explosive movements with a rubber band at the point of delivery. 2 sets of 10 reps. That was it, job done. It worked. It made me feel more explosive and activated the CNS. I performed it 6-8 times per week. Now I know this to be a form of push pull oscillatory training and it has returned into my programs.
I also used the ‘bodyblade’ in the early nineties, which is an oscillatory training method. Oscillatory training can be performed in various positions in the program, depending on its purpose.
I always adhere to my training system which is based around the ‘Bondarchuck classification’ system. Every session will include all 4 tiers, but the volume and focus during each block varies. Yes, a fast bowler will always bowl during a strength and conditioning session because that’s what their job is, isn’t it? Whether the skill is performed in part or as a whole, with resistance or assistance, is based on their bowling profile and phase of training
- General preparation exercises
- Specific preparation exercises
- Specific developmental exercises
- Competitive exercises
Each tier will also adhere to the process of adaptation where each is built on the success of the previous one. This forms the basis of my ‘skill stability paradigm’
- Stage 1- Skill stability 1: technical enhancement and motor learning focus.
‘You cannot outrun a poor technique’
- Stage 2- Skill stability 2: adding variability to encourage progression and performance in an unstable environment.
- Stage 3- Skill stability 3: can the bowler exert maximum force form a strong base in various constraints
- Stage 4- Skill stability 4: can they maintain technique, exert maximum force and replicate performance in a competitive environment that’s variable and specific
Depending on the stage of the preparation phase and the stages of motor learning, each bowler will follow the above staged model in each exercise classification.
Oscillatory training can sit in all 4 classifications and in all 4 stages of the skill stability paradigm.
Push-pull oscillatory training
So, what is it and why does it work?
Two bowlers can bowl with seemingly similar technique, have similar strength and power levels, but display very different results. Why? What you see from the outside isn’t the whole story. How efficient you are at a movement is a matter of how well your body coordinates the motor units in a muscle involved in the skill, making them work together so that the muscle can produce at its highest level (intramuscular coordination).
It’s also dependent on how well the muscles involved in that particular skill work together. Synergists need to unite their efforts to overcome the resistance and antagonists must relax at the right time to facilitate the action of the prime movers (intermuscular coordination). During the delivery, the front muscles contract while the back muscles relax.
A normal bowler would be able to use 30-40% of their muscles potential. A trained individual might reach 70% and highly trained and skilled bowlers might reach 90-95%.
Why is it so low for most bowlers? The answer lies in the protective mechanisms we possess that prevent our muscles from tearing themselves. The body has its own braking mechanism called the Golgi Tendon Organ. When the body senses that you’re producing too much force for your own good, it’ll put the brakes on.
It’s like putting a speed limit on your car. This mechanism is super conservative, though. The higher CNS loading you do, asking your muscles to produce a high level of force in a specific pattern, the more permissive your protective mechanisms become. This is one of the main benefits of oscillatory training. OT desensitizes the GTOs. Having a higher protection threshold will thus allow you to demonstrate a higher level of speed and power.
So, if someone wants to reach their fast bowling potential, they must not only make their muscles stronger, they must train efficiently with a focus on desensitizing the breaks. The GTO will activate at the weakest point of a movement or skill. So, if there is a hardware [motor learning] or software [physical dysfunction] flaw at a certain point the potential to exert maximum force is severely limited- the brakes come on quickly!
Key is identifying the limiting factor and either working on muscular weaknesses or technical flaws at key parts of the action. However, it is essential to note the difference between ‘attractors’ and ‘fluctuators’. Make sure that what is being improved makes a difference to the performance of fast bowling.
OT methods enhance motor learning of a skill through the development of tissue tolerance. Every movement ever executed by any person is the result of a highly specific skill learning process. All skill learning is a result of the nervous system sending a signal to the utilized motor units in any movement which starts the process of myelination.
As an athlete completes a movement continuously, the signals sent in that pattern summate and the body “learns” to complete these skills in a highly efficient manner. The more this pattern is overloaded the more the pattern becomes engrained. Through the use of OC methods, the total number of signals sent in a position are maximized in the “push-pull” execution of a movement as high-forces are applied leading to increased motor unit recruitment.
By completing exercises in a condensed range of motion, tissue tolerance to high-forces is further enhanced and can lead to a reduction in injury likelihood at that tissue length. It is important that all performance coaches understand the positions in which athletes have an increased likelihood of sustaining an injury and utilize training within these ranges of motion effectively.
When using OT movements, athletes not only learn skills more quickly and efficiently, but they also improve their tissue tolerance to stress in specific ranges of motion.
Basic strength training
A true one rep max for any exercise simply represents the strength available at the weakest point of that movement. Every coach understands the sticking point in a bench press or getting pinned at the bottom of a heavy squat. When using 80% of a one rep max, the athlete may experience the load as the true 80% through that sticking (weakest) point but may then only experience that same load as 60% in the upper range.
This can be seen in the bar speed change based on the range of motion being trained. It is for this reason that exercises such as rack bench, accommodating resistance, with chains or bands have been implemented. Simply because an athlete is much stronger in those higher positions of the bench press. If the sticking point strength is trained and improved in a movement the strength levels will be increased dramatically.
‘OC methods can be completed in training to create high forces, intensities, and volume in the weaker positions of every exercise to improve strength. By placing athletes around their sticking point of any exercise and then forcing the creation of movement against high loads of force requires strength in these specific “weak” points, while also reducing the energy expended in the already strong points.
For example, if the bench press is trained at 80% of correct one rep max an athlete will be able to complete, on average, 3 sets of 4-5 reps. However, when training with the OC method, an athlete is able to complete 3 sets of 8-10 repetitions in the weaker position.
This allows less energy to be wasted in the upper ranges of movement, where the athlete is already strong and only experiences the load as only 60% of a one rep max and then forces emphasis upon the weaker position, where they must endure the true 80% strength improving load’
– M Van Dyke
The intensity of an exercise is drastically increased if an athlete is required to spend a duration of time in a range of motion that is commonly considered to be weaker. Referring to the bench press example above, if the entire range of motion is utilized, the percentage of the athlete’s one rep max at each degree of movement varies to a great extent.
Near extension the athlete will be considerably stronger than at the bottom position. If, instead of a full rep, an OC movement is implemented in just the weakest point the intensity is increased dramatically as the entirety of the set is spent in a difficult position. This training approach not only increases the intensity of a movement, but also leads to an adaptation of the golgi tendon organs (GTO’s).
GTO’s act as neuromuscular inhibitors and are sensitive to the forces developed within the muscle. If muscle tension increases sharply, which is common in the realm of athletics, the GTO reflex responds. This response leads to an inhibition of muscle action, ultimately decreasing tension to prevent the muscle and/or tendon from incurring damage due to the rapid, high levels of force.
Every GTO is set to a specific, trainable, activation threshold. Think of this activation threshold as a governor on a truck. It is in place to ensure the safety of the structure and reduce the likelihood of injury. In general, the majority of GTO’s are pre-set to inhibit a muscle up to 40% below what that structure can actually handle.
For example, if a muscle structure is capable of handling 100 lbs of exerted force, the GTO system would reach its activation threshold at 60 lbs of force. This leaves 40 lbs of untapped performance potential. Through appropriate training of the weaker points within range of motion the activation level of GTO’s can be elevated, as the body adapts and is taught to handle higher loads in specific ranges of motion.
Ultimately, the ability to reduce the activation of GTO’s at high force levels will lead to increased force output from the muscle and improve strength.
Rotational Oscillatory Training [ROT]
There is another form of OT that I have recently been introduced to. I have called it Rotational Oscillatory Training [ROT], with the permission of the inventor of the Shoulder Sphere. http://www.shouldersphere.com
The science behind the ‘shoulder sphere’
The rotating ball inside the ShoulderSphere can be graphically depicted as a Sine Wave Curve with positive 1/2 cycle in the northern hemisphere that is equivalent to the concentric phase of rotator cuff muscle contraction, while in the southern hemisphere equates to the negative half cycle of eccentric contraction, ie. while one muscle is concentric, the opposing muscle is eccentric.
This rapidly “alternating current” like phase change occurs at over 6 times per second when one is spinning with high power with the power tracker light lit in red. At under 4 revolutions per second low power workout, the power tracker is lit in green. At this rapidly alternating phase changes of each muscle 3-8 times per second, one can say that this is instantaneous workout of ALL the rotator cuff muscles simultaneously in order to keep the ball spinning.
Training rapid alternating responsiveness of muscle between concentric and eccentric phases, similar to flywheel training, yields a high rate of muscle hypertrophy.
More importantly, ShoulderSphere trains split second responsiveness of the entire rotator cuff complex to work synergistically to maintain shoulder stability during rapid arm directional changes in high level overhead performance athletes.
First is a visual understanding as depicted by the graph of what is happening to a hypothetical “single” rotator cuff muscle ( I call “A” , located let us suppose at the 12 0’clock position) — the path of the rotating ball inside the sphere can be construed as a representation of that muscle fiber activity—
The circular path of the moving ball can be diagrammed as a Sine Curve — muscle starts at time zero at rest — as it contracts concentrically pulling the ball from 12 to 3 o’clock, muscular force reaches maximal amplitude. As the ball is moving from 3 to 6 0’clock, amplitude in muscle fiber A starts to drop until reaching 6 O’clock at which time force becomes negative in eccentric mode going from 6 to 9 o’clock position.
Then turning toward positive from 9 back to 12 o’clock…. All the while , let’s call another muscle fiber “B”, located directly opposite to muscle A at 6 o’clock position does the opposite- eccentric followed by concentric depending on position of the rotating ball. You can then imagine ALL the muscles located around the face of the clock all having their own sine wave … Fourier transformation of adding up all the sine waves result in the smooth rotational movement of the spinning ball.
THIS is proprioception training of the synergistic activation of all the surrounding muscles — otherwise the ball bounces due to muscle asymmetric firing pattern.
The power tracker is an x-y-z axis accelerometer that counts the number of rotations per second up to 10 times per second— so sensitive that’s why you may see red – green light shifts with just mild motion. When the velocity of rotation is sustained above 6 times (usually 8) per second, the light is red. When velocity is under 4 or 5 Hz , it is green (lower power workout).
SO, imagine this sine wave of concentric alternating to eccentric at least 6 times per second when your quick can spin fast enough to keep in red! HERE is the value of much more efficient and effective muscular build up for power — this rapid alternating “current”-like muscle activity shifting from concentric to eccentric 6 times per second.
( I have done needle EMG studies compared to “BodyBlade “ oscillatory maximal workout vs A7 ShoulderSphere— I can actually fire my RC more than twice as fast when using B.B. — yes, 🤔paradoxical- faster with B.B. than with ShoulderSphere… why ? BECAUSE, with B.B., it is NOT a pure RC workout. ie a lot of the work in making the blade oscillate actually comes from the BIG muscles, so there is LESS work and stress done by the RC. With less stress, the RC can fire faster. ShoulderSphere is virtually complete isolation workout on the RC, the RC has to do ALL the work , had to work that much harder (more than twice as hard), therefore cannot contract as fast, because RC has to do all the work unassisted by the big muscles. Corollary to this equates to more than twice an EFFICIENT workout than B.B. ( efficiency defined as results gained over time).
Newton’s 2nd and 3rd laws apply — F=ma . Equal and opposite force.
We know the mass of A7 ball ~ 0.2 kg
Acceleration is “angular acceleration “ for a circular moving object.
Angular acceleration is = to velocity squared over radius of travel.
The diameter of A7 sphere is ~ 0.2 m
In red , at 8 Hz. – the quick is generating a 25 time g force converting this 0.2 kg ball (2 Newton force) to a 50 Newton force!
When throwing a ball at velocity of 145 km/hr, we know there is a shoulder anteriorly directed subluxation force of about 50% body weight. Suppose a quick weighs 70 kg mass (~ 700 Newtons), that translates to an anterior moving shear force of about 350 Newtons that the posterior RC muscles must resist.
When spinning in red, the RC is generating a 50 Newton force. So , loosely speaking, by doing 7 reps, the quick has put in (7 times 50) 350 Newtons — this will ensure enough reserve RC force protection for one 145 km/ hr pitch. If a quick plans to pitch 10x at 145, then should train for total volume of about 70 simulation throws, eg 4 reps of 20 will cover it.
You see, we can plan a quick’s RC training mathematically based on how fast and how much they pitch. For 130 km, then proportionate 130/145 ~ 0.9 Times 7 ~ 6 reps etc etc. No more random guessing how much weight to train or lift. We actually have a guide now and make training that more scientific… not perfect, but better than pulling rubber bands or blindly just lift as much weight as possible without basis.
Like most methods, it is another tool for the training box and adds another stimulus in the quest to develop robust, healthy, athletic and functional fast bowlers capable of bowling 90+mph
Thanks to Matt Van Dyke and Win Chang for sharing their knowledge that helps me learn every day.
Steffan Jones is the last dual professional sportsman in the United Kingdom having played 3 years professional rugby and 20 years professional cricket. Currently, he is Director of Sport Performance at a private school in England and a global fast bowling consultant. He travels the world advising coaches and players on the governing dynamics of fast bowling. Steffan is in a unique position having played the sport, is a qualified sports scientist, a UKSCA qualified strength and conditioning coach and also as a level 3 qualified technical coach. His methods are cutting edge and heavily based on sports science. He is the sole global cricket advisor for 1080 sprint and Realtrack WIMU. Steffan is also the only cricket coach to be qualified in teaching the Lila movement Exogen suit which he regards as the number 1 specific strength tool in the buisness. Recently, he became the first qualified Neurotyping specialist in cricket. Steffan has developed a reputation as an ‘outside the box’ thinker in cricket and is the go to man when an increase in bowling velocity is required. His foucs on specific strength including weighted ball bowling, the application of the Bondarchuk classification and the utilisation of Isometric training as part of his skill STABILITY paradigm coaching model has brought him plaudits from all around the world.