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Back Pain in Fast Bowlers ... What a challenge ?

How best to organise a body to create enough momentum to hurtle a ball 160 km/hr towards 3 sticks ? And then, how to build enough endurance capacity to allow the individual to do it over and over again without excessive fatigue ?


It has been the topic of the week for me.


I was fortunate enough to interview Australia's Best (if not the world's best ?) Fast Bowler - Dennis Lillee this week on my Building Bulletproof Backs Podcast. Here is a man who suffered ongoing back pain, with international spot light on full beam, for many years. His pain was labelled "muscular" for years, as he was in the pre "scan anything that hurts" days. Eventually Dennis was diagnosed with a stress fracture and told he wouldn't bowl again. Without doubt, the same mindset that helped him become the world's best, also enabled him to continue to bowl and play international cricket to a ridiculously high standard. More impressively, he is now passionate and invested in the training of young bowlers with better form and technique, so his cycle is not repeated.


And then I read Shane Watson's post the very next day. Another super star cricket athlete attempting to break the cycle of injury and woe by sharing his insights on lessons learnt conditioning his body for international cricket.


It got me thinking.


Here is an opportunity to pass on what i feel is missing in today's realms of "athletic conditioning".


  1. Movement Efficiency is the Key. NOT Core Strength.

I have seen countless athletes with six pack abs who are still in a whole world of spinal pain. The common denominator with 100% of them is that they could not move their pelvis, over their base of support (FEET) in all 8 directions with ease and balance. Core Strength does not give you quality movement. They are 2 separate concepts. One gets a lot of attention, the other is hardly spoken of, and yet, in my years of experience repairing bodies and training my own endurance levels, I can testify that Movement Efficiency has way more impact on reducing injury and increasing performance than core strength. Ironically, if Movement efficiency is trained well, core strength develops. The reverse cannot be said.


I define movement efficiency as the ability to access all areas of your base of support with ease, grace and minimal muscular effort. When you can move freely with minimal effort, it leaves a lot in the bank for power, agility, endurance. Joint reaction forces are balanced, tension within myo-fascial units are balanced and therefore sprains, strains, compression fractures, etc are greatly reduced. If an athlete can't centre his/her pelvis on their feet in a static position, you can guarantee they won't be doing it in the midst of their athletic pursuit.


2. Organised Sensory Inputs MAXIMISE motor outputs


Essentially, to be a better athlete you need to work on your Brain more than your BODY. Movement efficiency is a direct result of an expanded motor and insular cortex.

Devices like the Halo Sport and movement practices like Feldenkrais are the way of the future. When the sporting world starts to fully comprehend that movement is neurological, then the way we train will change. Sensory inputs from our feet, our ears, our eyes and our skin will become the predominant focus for organising our Neurological inputs to Maximise our MOTOR outputs. The concept of Neural Loading will be embraced with wide open arms and Nabosa surfaces will be the norm for footwear (when barefoot is not practical) .


3. Peak Movement Performance requires a high level of Interoception. (Insular Cortex)


Intero what ? We have all heard of Proprioception, but what about a lesser-known sense that helps you understand and FEEL what's going on inside your body "Interoception". When you have developed this part of your brain you have heightened awareness of injuries about to happen and when you combine this with a well developed motor cortex you have an infinite number of ways to respond in real time, for example, by shifting weight in your feet, altering your pelvic position, adjusting your ribcage, etc. Endurance athletes especially benefit HUGELY by training their insula. They can learn to switch muscles groups as fast as a racing car driver switches gears.


I certainly have not played sport to the level that Shane Watson and Dennis Lillee have. Their insights are superb and cricketers especially should be grateful that they have taken the time to pass on their wisdom. My learnings come from helping broken bodies find balance again, from running 100 km ultra's and competing in 24 hr Spartan Iceland Epics. The interesting thing to note is that whatever makes an athlete reach peak performance can also be applied to everyday people trying to get their spine more functional. Organised, Efficient MOVEMENT.


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