Mobility vs Stability and why Flexibility is overrated for Cricketers
As a cricketer, we aren’t fussed about flexibility. Yep, you read that right. Flexibility is essentially how much length you can get out of a muscle. We don’t need to be like gymnasts with our feet around our head so excess flexibility really isn’t something we need. So, stop stretching your hamstrings for hours! When you stretch something that doesn’t want to be stretched, it will just end up being even tighter. If something in the body is tight, it is likely trying to protect you from an excessive range of motion that you don’t have the capacity to handle.
Mobility and stability, however, we need in abundance. In this article, we will take a look at both and understand in what areas we require it. The diagram below shows us the areas that require mobility and stability. As you can see, this works in an alternating pattern across the body. This works in a clever way where, if a certain area lacks mobility or stability, it will effectively “borrow” some mobility or stability from a neighbouring region. For example, if someone lacks mobility in the hips, it destabilises that person's knees and lumbar spine as they need to find the extra range of motion, because of the hips not being able to do it. It is the ultimate compensatory system.
What is mobility?
Mobility is the range of motion around a joint.
For example, a good range of shoulder mobility will allow you to comfortably get your hands overhead without needing to arch your back.
Where do cricketers need to be mobile?
Ankle mobility is often limited with modern-day footwear, with raised heels, artificially giving us ankle mobility. However, we should be able to comfortably get our knees past our toes, with our heels planted on the floor. This will mean that your calves and shins aren’t as tight if you have a good range of ankle mobility.
The hips are the number one area we aim to mobilise and are also the area where most people lack mobility. This is due to the modern-day lifestyle where many people spend all day sitting down with their hips in a state of flexion. This leads to very tight hip flexors which takes people into anterior pelvic tilt. Tight hips contribute to the feeling of tightness in the hamstrings, quads and lower back. Mobilise your hips and tell us that those areas don’t feel better, we would be surprised!
The thoracic spine is essentially the upper back and an area we want to have a good range of motion, especially when rotating. This not only benefits us in how easily we can move but allows us to create a greater x-factor angle which benefits bat speed and bowling speed.
For bowlers and fielders, you are an “overhead athlete”. This means you want to be able to comfortably get your hand overhead which requires a good range of shoulder mobility. If you don’t have adequate mobility, then you will compensate by having excessive movement through your spine.
How can cricketers improve their mobility?
Movement is medicine. Daily movement through the areas mentioned above is a non-negotiable for all our members. Ideally, you should mobile at least twice a day. This will only take 10 minutes overall but will be massively beneficial to your ability to play pain-free cricket. This programme is a great option if you’re stuck on where to start.
What is stability?
Stability on the other hand is the ability to control the range of motion around a joint.
The knees are the most obvious example of this. Stable knees will just look “strong” and not be wobbling about everywhere when balancing on one leg.
Where do cricketers need to have stability?
Cricket is predominantly a single-leg sport or at least takes place majorly in a split or unilateral stance. This makes knee stability crucial, not so much to prevent knee injuries but protect everything else upstream. As cricket isn’t a contact sport, knee injuries aren’t as common as they are in say football or rugby where the leg gets planted and then receives contact. However, if knee stability is poor, then there will be excessive movement, wasting energy and meaning the body will compensate elsewhere. This is well explained in our article about the kinetic chain.
The lumbar spine, or lower back, is an area where cricketers often suffer from pain and injuries, such as stress fractures. How do you stabilise the lumbar spine and reduce back pain? Strong glutes and a strong core will help as well as also having mobile hips and a mobile thoracic spine. As you will read in the stress fractures article, the focus shouldn’t be on “strengthening” the lower back muscles, but actually loading the spine safely to increase bone mineral density.
The scapula region encompasses the rotator cuff, lats, traps and everything in our upper posterior chain. Strength and stability through this region will go a long way to a healthy and pain-free shoulder joint. The posterior chain acts as the braking system for our body. Better brakes mean the body is happier to let your anterior chain hit the accelerator, knowing you have sufficient strength to slow down again, thus, allowing you to generate more speed.
How do cricketers improve their stability?
Stability is improved by finding exercise variations in which you perform either split stance, single arm or single leg variations. This challenges the body's stability and allows it to become more comfortable. Standing on a swiss ball whilst squatting, however, isn’t a good exercise for stability, you will just get a few funny looks! Squatting heavy is going to help your stability more than doing a bilateral exercise whilst off balance.
A full-body approach is always going to be best for all of the above as you can see, it is all linked. Hopefully, you understand that little and often is the best approach to moving better and without pain rather than a long spell of stretching once a week!