Preparation is the key. When you undertake any task and you’re not prepared for it, the risk of injury goes up. Muscle, tendon and ligament tissues change as we get older, hence preparation time and the amount of time for the tissue to adapt to new loads takes longer. The body responds very differently when you’re under 30 as opposed to when you’re 40. Injuries occur when you subject a tissue to forces that it doesn’t have time to adapt to. When we’re younger individuals, those adaptation times are much shorter.
It’s about giving your body enough time to adapt to the new load. Bowling involves running, accelerating, decelerating; so bowlers need to be doing some sort of running program that involves those components. They need to be very strong in their core muscles - the abdominals, gluteal buttock muscles as well as their quads and hamstrings. You have to remember that bowling is a pretty unusual action; it’s not a natural movement pattern so the muscles need to be strong enough to stabilize the joints which are under a lot of pressure. If the muscles that support the joints aren’t prepared enough, the joint will get sore.
Since we play cricket all year round, it’s difficult to have a set pre-season to prepare. So we try and maintain work loads of some sorts throughout the year. The worse thing one can do is stop and then start again; you’re better off keeping some activity going throughout. Most injuries occur when we return to a sport after a break and attempt to return to form quickly. The key to preventing injuries when bowling is ensuring that all the muscles required to stabilize the joints – the lower back, shoulder, knee, hip and ankle - are strong and have had enough time to adapt to the loads that you’re about to put them under. Muscle fatigue is the biggest precursor to injury.
Endurance is the ability of the muscle to work for long periods of time. When it gets tired, it starts to slow down to a drop and when it does so, the joint that it is supporting, runs the risk of being injured. Working on the endurance of the muscle is just as important as working on the strength of the muscle, so you need to factor that into your preparation as well. One also needs to factor in variables like hydration and diet; if you’re not adequately hydrated, you will be prone to muscle cramps. This is especially important in a country like India where the conditions are quite severe, especially if you plan on being out on the field all day.
When the foot hits the ground, a bowler’s front foot absorbs up to eight times his body weight. Essentially, the muscles here act as shock absorbents. I normally try and stay away from training my players on hard concrete surfaces, as there is a higher chance of shin splints and knee injuries on such a surface. I encourage children not to bowl indoors because the risk of injury is much, much higher. For this same reason, a very good pair of cricket shoes is really, really important as they provide adequate stability and protection against ankle, shin, knee and back problems.
To sum it up, everything comes down to preparation, adaptation, endurance, hydration, diet and proper gear. These are the key areas to pay attention to. Then, of course, there’s technique. Technical faults in a bowling action could lead to injuries in the lower back. I recommend that all young aspiring fast bowlers to get technically assessed early on, in order to gauge their physical abilities and the areas in which they need help / strengthening.
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