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How to Bowl Better and Avoid Stress Fractures

With 10 weeks left to the start of the cricket season it is time to make sure that you are ready to bowl. Without a planned and progressive build up in bowling intensity and volume and a good foundation of strength and flexibility before the season starts, players will break down as the intensity of games and net sessions increases. Most winter training is indoors and so the length of sessions is relatively short compared to the length of time a 40 or 50 over game lasts. In a few weeks’ time you will need to be able to stand in the field for anything up to 3 hours at a time, keep wicket for much of that time or bowl anything up to 18 overs a day.

Up to 50% of cricketers complain of low back pain and some consider it is normal for bowlers to have pain whilst or after bowling. Excessive, repetitive and sudden loading of bones can cause bone bruising which often causes pain and the potential to develop a stress fracture.

Athletes who are accustomed to high training loads tend to have fewer injuries providing that they have time to adapt. Injuries occur because of:

  • Poor training methods

  • Excessive and rapid increases in training loads

  • Too little rest and recovery

There is now clear evidence about how to prepare yourself for the season and following some of these strategies will ensure you enjoy a full season and get better results.

1. Avoid spikes in activity The body has the most amazing capacity to adapt to any stress or load placed on it providing that it has time to do so. The problems start when we have a sudden spike in activity or intensity resulting in tissue overload and pain. Many experts have used graphs such as Fig 1 to help us understand what is too much or too little and it varies from athlete to athlete. As you can see there is a “sweet spot” (Gabbett 2016) where performance increases but injury risk is balanced. If you have not done the appropriate training, then the body is not used to the load expected of it and a stress reaction in tendon and bones occurs. This means that you need to start bowling now. Each week you need to plan how many balls you will bowl in order that with a 10% increase in load each week you will be ready for the season. Spikes can occur at the start of the season and during so plan your week in advance and communicate with coaches and teachers to ensure you have not exceeded your safe limit.

2. Calculate chronic:acute workload The recipe for injury prevention is based around a chronic:acute workload ratio. The chronic load is the average of the number of balls you have bowled in the last 4 weeks x the intensity of each session. This can be measured by a simple scale of 0/10 where 10 is extreme effort and 0 is none. The acute workload is what you have or can do this week. The chronic:acute ratio should be no more than around 1:1 with around a 10% increase on the average of the previous 4 weeks. Research has shown that as little as a 15% increase is enough to increase your injury risk substantially.

Week 1 12 balls

Week 2 15 balls

Week 3 18 balls

Week 4 15 balls

Week 5 ?????

The load of the last 4 weeks is 12 + 15 + 18 + 15 = 60 balls divided by 4 = 15. Therefore, this week you can bowl 15 + 10% = 16.5 balls. Don’t forget that your workload for the week might also include other gym sessions and sports so make sure you don’t exclude the impact that will have on your body.

3. Keep a session diary

A training diary is an effective way of monitoring load and effort. Record the number of balls you bowl in every situation. Make sure you identify potential bottlenecks in the season when you have several games in a week which might create a “spike” in load and overload the body

There are good guidelines issued by the ECB to restrict the number of balls children can bowl both during a game and whilst they are practicing but this does not take account of whether they have done the necessary bowling over the previous weeks and months to prepare for that load. Each week try to add another 10% to the load you did the previous week unless you develop any pain.

Directives for Fast Bowlers in Matches:


Up to 13 5 overs per spell 10 overs per day

U14, U15 6 overs per spell 12 overs per day

U16, U17 7 overs per spell 18 overs per day

U18, U19 7 overs per spell 18 overs per day

Directives for Practice Sessions:


Up to 13 30 balls per session 2 sessions per week

U14, U15 36 balls per session 2 sessions per week

U16, U17 42 balls per session 3 sessions per week

U18, U19 42 balls per session 3 sessions per week

4. Keep to the 2/4/7 rule

The important factor is giving the body time to adapt and become stronger. My so called 24/7 rule is based on the recipe adopted by the England Cricket Board which is no more than 2 consecutive days of fast bowling with no more than 4 days of play in every 7-day period. We know that fast bowling over 2 consecutive days causes a small amount of bruising to the bones in the lower back even without the presence of any problems. If a rest day follows, the body has time to recognise the stress and react and become stronger, allowing minor stresses to heal and repair and more tissue can be laid down in case the load recurs.

However, if a player bowls on 3 or more consecutive days or they have not done enough bowling over the previous few weeks, they will develop further bruising which can then build up and weaken the bone. Identifying these strains early can stop the problem at the bruising stage and with adequate rest, this will settle but if the symptoms are ignored, you are at risk of a stress fracture.

Our injury advice

Traditionally the advice for overload injuries was rest. With careful management compete rest may not be necessary if the athlete is given the correct early advice. Reducing the load down to a level where the symptoms become more manageable ensures that the tissues get time to adapt but that they do not become weaker. We usually advocate that a level of pain that does not exceed a 3/10 pain (10/10 is the worst pain known) and that settles by the next day is acceptable, but this is athlete dependent. No bowler under the age of 21 should bowl with back pain and any back pain that has been present for more than 2 weeks should be assumed to be a bone stress reaction until proven otherwise. They should be seen by a physio with expertise in assessing stress fractures. Rest alone will not change the reason why you might have developed pain. You either need to become stronger, more flexible or change your technique and workload. Something must change.

Recent thinking is that, in addition to excessive load there may also be a link to low levels of Vitamin D and it is worth considering supplementing the diet of those who live in northern England.

What can we do to help you avoid missing a vital part of the season?

Physiofit have experience in how to analyse whether a bowing action is a technical or a physical limitation such as tight muscles or a weak core. Individual screenings are part of any elite programme to identify risk areas and create individual programmes for each player. Physiofit have extensive experience of screening cricketers of all ages and abilities which has been used with the Cheshire Emerging Players programme for over 10 years.

Angie Jackson is the Cheshire Cricket Board physio and strength and conditioning consultant and has produced videos for ECB coaches on injury prevention. She and her team are available for talks/practical coach education sessions at local cricket clubs on how to prevent injuries and on a 1:1 basis to provide guidance on how to create strong and robust athletes who learn to monitor their workload and safely learn how to do age and sport specific strength and conditioning in a 1:1 or class environment in our rehabilitation centre in Wilmslow. The better conditioned a cricketer, the stronger level of protection against injury.

If you would like to receive a handout on how to succeed in sport or receive further information on any of our services, please do call us on 01625 590444; email us on info@physiofit.co.uk or take a look at our website www.physiofit.co.uk.


Gabbett TJ The training-injury prevention paradox: should athletes be training smarter and harder? Br J Sports Med Published Online First: 12 January 2016. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2015-095788


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