Renowned as one of the most dedicated trainers on the county circuit, Middlesex and recently recalled England batsman Nick Compton shares his tips on a winter routine to ensure you’re ready for next season.
Let’s make no bones about it, the English cricket season is demanding. It’s busy, it’s long and it makes a lot of demands: mentally, spiritually and physically. It requires a combination of mental and physical resilience because it’s important to remember that the season is six months long – it’s not about who gets out of the blocks fastest in the first few weeks, but who’s in the race come the business end of the season.
I’ve learnt the hard way, having spent winters abroad flogging myself day after day in gyms and learning more about my body and its limits. Unfortunately there is no easy way to find your ‘happy place’ but as I’ve got older and maybe a bit wiser I’ve better understood the requirements of a county season.
As a player it’s paramount you stay focused on your main skill. Cricket is a skill-based game and that is where the focus should lie. I’m a batsman and therefore when I break down the components of my game I try and ensure that every aspect of my training is designed to enhance this skill.
I like to break down my winter training into the following components:
Take a break
This is just as important as anything else. Relax the mind and get thoughts of technique and the pressure of performance out of your system for a few weeks. Take a holiday or immerse yourself in an activity away from cricket.
Strength training will make you stronger, look better and feel good but cricket and batting is about timing and touch and when I spend too long working the bicep curl I find that my batting can start to become too rigid and forced. That’s where yoga comes in.
Yoga trains the brain to stay mindful and focused on the task at hand. Much like cricket, the ability to stay focused on that ball at that specific time can be the difference between making a good decision or not. This skill needs to be practised.
Meditation is becoming increasingly prevalent in Western society and if done regularly it can be an amazing tool. The ability to bat for a long time comes from mental concentration, patience and the ability to do the simple things over and over again. Meditation is exactly that: it trains the mind to focus on ‘the breath’. Sachin Tendulkar has spoken about how he focuses on the breath in between balls so that his mind remains clear. Just like the bench press to work on strength, focus can be trained and enhanced.
How many times do you hear guys come in after getting out early and say, ‘Bugger, I wasn’t ready for that’? For anyone at any level you only get one chance as a batsman so you need to make sure you are ready: mentally, emotionally and physically.
A change is as good as a rest
Over the Christmas period I tend to visit my parents in South Africa. You don’t necessarily need the warm outdoors to do different fitness activities but I enjoy cross-training and it helps in that regard.
Get involved in a spinning class, go for a run, do some high-intensity interval training, try rowing and swimming. Variety is key because it acts as a break from the monotony of warm-ups and gym training.
Staying fit and on the park is the most important thing. If you’re not able to play then general fitness becomes irrelevant and this is where pilates comes in very useful.
Pilates is the best way to get the core and body strong. Do an hour’s pilates session with a top instructor and I can promise you eating breakfast for the rest of the week will be hard work! Pilates focuses on proper core strength and alignment and for those with back issues this is an absolute no-brainer.
I spend December and January making sure that my foundations are strong. From there I’m ready to get more cricket-specific with running shuttles and heavier power weight sessions and I’ll be in a place where I can hopefully endure the rigours of a full county season.
Remember to pace yourself. We all want to hit the ground running but I always remember Mark Ramprakash saying that he effectively gave the first two or three months of the season to the bowlers; at that time it was just about building up his batting and facing as many balls as he could. Then, later in the year, he would use that time spent in the middle to cash in on the batsman-friendly conditions.