Researchers unlock the conditioning secret of England’s fast bowlers
In the first study of its type in the UK, sports scientists have worked with 12 professional fast bowlers at Yorkshire County Cricket Club (YCCC) to unlock just what makes them special – and you can see how you measure up.
Bowling at speeds of 90mph - literally over and over again - puts an immense strain on the human body. It’s clear that elite fast bowlers are a special breed, but it wasn’t until sports scientists Matthew Lees and Karen Hind at the Leeds Beckett University Institute for Sport, Physical Activity and Leisure teamed up with Kunwar Bansil at Yorkshire CCC, that researchers were able to understand just what makes them so special."
In the first study of its type in the UK, the team used a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) scanner to measure and record a comprehensive range of body composition information including fat mass, lean mass and bone mineral content.
The low-radiation DXA scanner passes X-rays through the body which are either absorbed by the bone and soft tissue, or pass directly through. Special detectors in the scanner measure how much radiation passes through bones which, when analysed, can be used to create a detailed picture of the composition of the human body. In addition to this information the team also measured height, weight and body mass index (BMI) to complete the picture.
During the course of the research, the team were able to scan 12 of Yorkshire’s elite fast bowlers, including a number of household names. The results were then compared to those of an age-matched control group of students who underwent the same tests and measurements.
Perhaps understandably, elite level fast bowlers are on average taller, leaner and stronger than the control group, and the UK population average. The legs and arms of fast bowlers were much stronger, with a much wider trunk area.
While not an invitation for the England team to tuck in to a big lunch at the Oval, the findings corroborate research from the US and Europe that throwing velocity positively correlates with both lean mass and overall body mass.
Those with slightly higher BMI readings can take heart in the fact that the elite class bowlers all had BMIs of almost 25.
The most interesting finding highlighted a much greater total and relative bone mineral content in the legs, trunk and arms. The increase in bone mass is likely to be the result of the physical conditioning of fast bowlers and the remarkable ability of their bodies to adapt to the continued stress of fast bowling.
Demonstrating Frost’s Mechanostat theory, it appears that the continual high-impact action of bowling serves as a negative feedback system, causing the body to beneficially adapt both bone and lean mass.
It seems that, in both the art and the action of bowling, practice makes perfect.
The research reinforces much of what we could already have assumed – that fast bowlers are different from the normal population. Where it will have benefit is in creating more targeted and efficient training and conditioning programmes for fast bowlers. It may also help identify potential risks for injury in this population.
Sports scientists are always searching for the next ‘marginal gain’ that can provide an advantage to their team; in this research, they may have found it.
Just don’t tell the Aussies.
To view the research paper in our repository click here