Hitting bigger sixes in cricket. Part 1: How to increase bat speed by changing your warm up.

In the coming weeks we’ll continue to be surrounded by a feast of T20 cricket. Last year we witnessed 674 sixes at the IPL, with Chris Gayle smiting 51 of them! But what is it that helps Gayle hit so many big ‘uns? Due to Gayle’s imposing physique, most of us would say he just muscles the ball over the boundary with brute strength.

chris gayle sunglasses

Chris Gayle, a six-hitting beast!

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What about bat speed? Are the big IPL hitters able to generate more bat speed?

With all the technology being used in TV broadcasts it’s surprising that we haven’t got some sort of bat speed indicator for T20 cricket (it could be used for Test cricket too, but I dare say bat speed of a forward defensive might not get the ratings up!). At the moment most of the bat speed talk is subjective opinion with commentators telling us ‘he really gets his hands through the ball’.

Which batsmen would you say have had the fastest bat speed in the recent era of world cricket? MS Dhoni? Steve Waugh? Virender Sehwag? Brendon McCullum? David Miller?

It’s hard to tell with the naked eye.

I acknowledge that bat speed isn’t everything – after all, a fair few of us could probably claim to be able to swing the bat like a fly swat at that wide half-tracker – but hitting big sixes also comes down to a good eye and timing, efficient weight transfer, wind direction, a quality bat, great shot selection, balance, speed of the bowler, willingness to risk, power… to name a few.

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Power isn’t everything, though…as you’ll see in this video, from 1:53 onwards!

Today, we’ll focus on some of the ways T20 batsmen could warm-up to ensure their bat speed is at its best when they face up.

Research on bat speed in cricket is limited but there are some findings that have looked at bat speed during front-foot drives and, due to varied measurement techniques, have shown that bat speed varies considerably (40 to 70 km per hour). However, research into bat speed in cricket is limited so we will switch our attention to the USA and delve into the world of baseball. Baseball has experimented with different warm up methods to improve bat speed:

Dry-swinging weighted bats

There has been a reasonable amount of sport science research that has looked at the effects of using weighted baseball bats during warm-up to help increase bat speed. These studies often use ‘dry-swinging’ of a weighted bat and so a ball is not actually hit. Generally the research has assessed the effects of bats with weight increased from +13 to +80% (a standard baseball bat weighs 0.85 kg vs. a standard cricket bat of 1.10 kg). Findings have been mixed. Some sport scientists have reported increased bat speeds after warming-up with weighted bats, some decreased bat speeds while others have demonstrated no effects.

Sometimes, a bowler can help your bat speed too!

Sometimes, a bowler can help your bat speed too!

Dry-swinging light bats

Other baseball studies have assessed the effects of swinging underweight bats (-13% standard weight) during warm up. Some studies have shown improved bat speed after using lighter bats, others have shown no effect. As with heavier bats, the jury is out.

Dry-swinging mixed-weighted bats

Another option may be to try dry-swinging heavy, light and normal weighted bats in different orders during warm ups. Indeed, researchers from Northern Illinois University revealed that swinging a standard bat, light bat and then heavy bat had the best potential to improve bat speed (by 6%).

Various other warm-up drills to improve bat speed have been investigated but, before we get carried away we need to spell-out a crucial difference between baseball and cricket: in cricket, unless you are an opening batsman, the time at which you face your first ball is unpredictable. What’s more, if weighted baseball bats do improve bat speed the benefit is unlikely to last longer than the first few swings. This is fine in baseball, as you need only hit a limited number of balls but being able to swing a bat faster for your first few balls is only of benefit in cricket in certain circumstances, even if you are playing T20.

Nevertheless, there are occasions where batsmen come in during the last couple of overs of a T20 and have to try and hit big from their first ball.

So for this week I leave you with this top tip to increase your bat speed: if you’re heading out to the crease for the last 2-3 overs do 6 warm-up swings with your normal bat, 6 swings with a light bat and 6 swings with a heavy bat. I can’t guarantee you’ll be able to hit sixes like Chris Gayle but it might help you get a bit closer!

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This is the first of a 3 part series. Next week, we look at longer lasting training tips to increase your bat speed tips from the latest sport science research.

written by Laurence Houghton PhD MSc BSc (Hon), Sport Scientist and Strength and Conditioning Coach at ACE Cricket Academy and creator of the BATEX phone apps at www.batexbattingtips.com/blog

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