Over the last year, Pacelab Ltd has spent hours assessing and profiling fast bowlers and sprinters. Some of these athletes are based at our school (in particular the sprinters), whilst others are professional and international fast bowlers. As Director of Pacelab Ltd, I have developed a desire to take the guesswork out of coaching fast bowlers. In particular, I aim to develop the understanding of what separates those who can bowl with genuine pace to those who are no less effective, but lack the X-Factor… speed!
There are key attractors in fast bowling, which the quick guys have. I separate them into kinematic attractors and kinetic attractors. The kinematic attractors are a consequence of hitting the kinetic attractors. These can be trained. In essence, my application of the ‘dynamic systems theory’ and the use of the terminology may be different to the ‘true meaning’… however, I believe it serves the same purpose. THE ‘ATTRACTORS’ ARE WHAT NEED TO REMAIN CONSTANT AND PROVIDE STABILITY TO THE TECHNICAL FRAMWORK OF BOWLING QUICKLY. These are in fact the key performance indicators [KPI’s] for fast bowlers. To bowl quickly, these need to be hit:
1. a braced front leg on front foot contact
2. hip shoulder separation
3. torso contralateral extension
We are fortunate to have access to the best testing equipment available. We can test ground contact times on a contact grid; force production using isometric, bilateral, and unilateral force plate analysis; arm speed using Motus; ball velocity using the Stalker speed gun; and approach efficiency and effectiveness using 1080 Sprint. The 1080 sprint is a game changer in sports performance. So, how do we use 1080 in our quest to develop the fastest bowlers at Pacelab Ltd and the fastest sprinters at our school?
The only way to guarantee becoming a PhD in your sport is by performing the relevant sporting action with diligent practice. Practice doesn’t make perfect… practice makes permanent. Due to the repetitive nature of the skill, we have a concern that bowlers are ‘detraining’ the ability to bowl fast. With the lack of understanding of the attractors in fast bowling and the requirements to develop and maintain bowling velocity, the 90mph fast bowler is becoming the exception and not the norm. Bowling 90+mph is the equivalent to running a sub 10-second 100m. However, there are fewer 90mph bowlers than sub 10-second 100m sprinters.
In order to objectively assess—and ultimately develop—fast bowlers, a number of tests are used to track the progress of individuals. One of the key innovations we use to identify the KPI’s is the 1080 Sprint. Due to the very specific loads and the consistency of the resistance, it has allowed for it to be implemented with little interference into technical execution. So, we guarantee that technique is at the forefront of all performance enhancements.
When used, the session is always preceded by at least 1 rep performed at 1kg (feedback from athletes is that this doesn’t feel like anything). This is the lightest possible load that can be applied on the 1080 while still collecting data, and it sets a framework for the rest of the session. It could be that we reference a 1kg rep from the beginning of the training cycle; however, for autoregulatory reasons, we have found it better to reference the athlete as they are in the moment. Then compare these 1kg reps over the training cycle to see what change has occurred.
The 1080 has been a great asset when trying to implement technical change. Using the resistance as a pendulum, we can cue the athlete with a specific goal, and then ramp up the weight until the sporting skill is slowed down enough that they can execute said cue. An example of this in cricket would be the braced front leg on front foot contact. Slowing the skill down allows for the athlete to feel more comfortable bracing their front leg (while keeping the whole of the sporting skill sequence in the correct format); over time we gradually reduce the weight used until the athlete is then performing it at 1-2kg. From here, we can then have the athlete run under their m/s in their run up—this immediate feedback is vital when integrating a technical change to see how that change has affected the other components. Gradually, then, we have them work back towards the speed they hit on a normal ball. This is not a linear process of simply working down the numbers and up the speed and expecting the technique to remain. There are stages during which you must oscillate between loading parameters until the athlete is confident to move on.
Below is a ‘Kino-sequence,’ taken eight months apart. The sequence at the top is from one of our ‘hip dominant’ bowlers being tested using XSENS-3D motion capture technology. By reducing the force on the body (through manipulating the resistance), the bowler has grooved more of a blocked font leg on contact.
This concept has similar implementation in sprinting. Using the 1080 on acceleration work, with the device providing instantaneous and visual feedback, has been a huge asset in supporting the precision with which we can cue an athlete. During acceleration, we are looking for the athlete to go forward, in a rhythmically violent way. The 1080 gives us feedback on how individual athletes like to accomplish that task, whilst also presenting data on how effectively they are achieving this. We look for flight time to be inverse of ground contact time when accelerating. Ground contact times start slower and gradually reduce, while flight times start smaller and gradually increase. The 1080 allows us to provide loads that do not interrupt that rhythmical sequence, but similar to the cricket model, slow the skill down enough that we can heighten the athletes’ feel of pushing back into the ground a little more and splitting their limbs further apart. Again, our sessions always begin with a 1kg rep to give us a baseline for how the athlete likes to execute. From there, we can keep referring back each time the athlete executes a 1kg rep through the training cycle in order to evaluate how the training is affecting that athlete’s skill execution.
Data—Trends and observations
Due to its specificity and load manipulation, we use the 1080 sprint in two particular ways:
1. Developmental focus—change technique and groove a new motor engram
2. Performance focus—overload training: assist or resist to improve bowling velocity
With so little research on the 1080, when looking at the data it is always helpful to compare it to a technical execution image series (or kinogram, as popularised by ALTIS). At Pacelab Ltd we call it the Kino-sequence. This gives us information into what the differing data looks like in fruition with regards to position. However, trends are starting to reoccur in those that execute acceleration well: they have a cleanness to the graph (there are little malformed waves)—this basically works out as the athlete switches their limbs well and remains stiff during ground contact time. The frequency of each wave decreases over time, with the athlete pushing less and floating more. They produce each acceleration with a remarkable level of consistency from session to session.
With regards to fast bowling, all of the above remains similar—the only deviation from this is that the rhythm is slightly different, due to the nature of the sporting task (athletes walk into their acceleration and are not looking to increase speed rapidly). However, we also look at peak m/s and compare this to m/s at back foot contact [BFC]; invariably, we see this to be slower, showing the athlete is decelerating unnecessarily. We also look for how the gather interferes prior to BFC: if the athlete jumps too high, we generally see a high level of deceleration. Similarly, if an athlete runs in too slowly, they have to put higher levels of effort into the gather to generate momentum, which often results in inconsistency when executing delivery.
By utilizing the data, we are able to see trends that occur based on anthropometry and bowling dominance. Bowlers move differently, and there are underlying issues involved with that. Using the 1080 Sprint (along with other profiling methods), we can build an accurate picture of why, when, and how. Do their bio-motor and bio-energetic capacities limit their ability to achieve the kinematic and kinetic attractors? If so, how can we intervene to help them hit the KPI’s and improve the transferable data to bowling performance?
These are the key measurements for fast bowling:
1. Running / approach speed [M/S]
2. Running Speed at back foot contact [BFC]
3. Peak and average force [N] and power [W]
4. Differentiation in stride pattern, rhythm/ force application
After using the 1080 everyday with different sporting populations for over a year, we have begun to feel more comfortable utilizing its other dimensions—in particular, assistance work.
To begin with, when talking about assistance, it is important to make clear this does not mean towing an athlete faster than they can achieve on their own. This is something I’m not sure we will ever feel comfortable with, especially in fast bowling, as the forces may very well be intolerable. We are currently spending time simply assisting the athlete during a developmental phase of “drilling.” 1080 is used extensively in Pacelab Ltd’s Skill Stability Paradigm due to the system’s ability to manipulate eccentric forces on front foot contact and reactive forces off back foot contact. However, this does mean perhaps getting an athlete up to speed that they can achieve faster than perhaps they normally would execute. It also can involve pulling an athlete through drills, in order for them to execute the task faster.
Firstly, with regards to assisted sprinting, this is used in very small dosage (1-3 runs) and performed for a very short duration in the cycle, 1-3 weeks. Even if the athlete is still improving come week 3, we will take a rest from the assistance work for two reasons:
1. We find it creates the stimulation we were looking for in this period.
2. We don’t know the effect it is having on the athlete’s execution of the skill from a rhythmical standpoint.
Until we know the answer to the second question, we will not look to see if the first point can be heightened even further. The way in which we perform assisted runs, the athlete has a build-in area of 10-15m in which they can build up speed. Then, we look for them to hit top velocity mechanics over a 15-20m distance, pushing themselves to “chase the cord” before having a slow-down period, in which the cord will go slack. For the flying reps, where we pull at a higher percentage of top velocity, we ramp up speed over time (the level of tow is always between 1-3kg, depending on a number of factors: weight, experience, how the athlete feels, etc).
Before any rep of assisted sprinting is performed, however, the athlete will always perform some mechanical drills while being towed. This normally consists of a battery of drills such as skipping A switches, Boom Booms (double switch), and dribble bleeds. This allows the athlete to have an understanding of what it feels like to be towed, and also allows for the drills to be performed at speeds they normally wouldn’t, without the assistance. Take, for example, a Boom Boom with little hops between reps. Perform this normally, then have the athlete perform this assisted—the difference is remarkable, the speed at which the athlete will switch their limbs is almost unrecognizable.
Additionally, the athlete will still achieve a high level of horizontal thigh displacement due to the speed at which the limb is rebounding off the ground: the thigh will just pop up. This is due to the assistance pulling the athlete through to their next step faster, forcing the athlete to cycle that leg through and have it prepared for the ground faster than they would normally. It also forces the athlete to co-contract around the foot/ankle complex due to the speed at which the foot will come down to the ground, and then need to cycle back in such a limited time frame, making the athlete appear stiffer during the drill. This creates a new challenge, as the athlete knows if they do not perform quick enough, they will stumble. Therefore, volume should be incredibly low and the assistance provided should equally be low, until you are confident your athlete is comfortable performing drills at these speeds.
Assistance is not solely used for sprint drills; we also apply it with other sporting actions, such as front foot block in fast bowling or javelin. The reason assistance work has a place here is it allows for an increased level of difficulty when performing walk throughs. Pulling the athlete through onto front foot block will allow for more force to have to be absorbed. This can be done through a systematic approach, making sure the challenge is one that always suits the athlete’s ability. This allows for the void between running in and blocking and just a walk through to block (which often is not challenging enough for any reasonably competent fast bowler)—if it doesn’t challenge the athlete, it will not create change. However, too challenging and the athlete will divert back to what they were originally doing. An assisted walk through bridges a nice gap between the two: chaos, but floating between control and chaos.
For fast bowlers to truly reach their genetic potential and hit their pace ceiling, coaches, players, and the game as a whole need to start embracing sports science and understand how we can truly make a difference.
“Within your sport, no matter which sport and with very few exceptions, you must agree that the speed of motion of competition actions are a significant determinate regarding the competition outcome… In either case, the velocity of sport motion is central to competition preparation, yet the principles of increasing the velocity of sport motions are not central to coaching education. Training for speed must be conceptualized as part of practice for sport”
The above article was written by Pacelab Ltd Director Steffan Jones, who is currently the Fast Bowling Performance Coach with the Rajasthan Royals in the IPL and consultant to fast bowlers around the world in a partnership with Pacelab Ltd Head of Sports Science James Keay. Pacelab Ltd is built on the synergistic partnership between sports science and sports performance. “Assessing not guessing” is its mantra.