#81: An Athlete's Guide to Agility Training

#81: An Athlete's Guide to Agility Training

According to Cambridge Dictionary, agility refers to “the ability to move your body quickly and easily.” Agility plays an important role in most sports and athletic endeavours. How exactly do you teach your body to move more quickly and easily, though? Let’s talk about agility training and what it might look like for you. 

Agility Training 101: An Athlete’s Guide


When considering agility exercises to add to your programming, there are a few things in particular that you should look for. 

1. Speed


The best way to learn how to move fast… is to move fast more often! One of the most efficient methods for accomplishing this? Sprints.


But we’re not only talking about the sprints you do on the track, although that’s obviously a great place to start. To sprint is simply to do something as quickly as you can. Therefore, you can turn many movements and exercises into a sprint merely by doing them at your maximum speed.


Hop on the rower for sprint intervals. Try 15 seconds at max speed followed by 45 seconds of rest for 10 rounds (10 minutes) total.


You can even turn your single-unders and double-unders into an agility drill by turning them into a sprint and knocking out those reps as fast as you can.


Of course, you want to apply this only to things you can safely do while maintaining excellent technique. We’re pretty sure no coach would ever recommend that you sprint bench press at 80% of your one-rep-max. Form and safety matter, always.

2. Explosiveness


Speed is one important component of agility, but you can be moving quickly and still not be agile. That’s where explosiveness comes in.


Yes, explosiveness does inherently require some speed, but it’s about more than that. Explosiveness implies moving quickly from a place of stillness.


For example, a box jump is an exercise of explosiveness. You begin standing on the ground motionless. You’re then required to wind up and build tension into a semi-squat before exploding upward onto the box. 


Side note: Don’t have a plyometric box to work with? Do tuck jumps instead.


Another great example is banded sprints. Loop one end of an exercise band around a strong, stationary object — like a squat rack built into the ground or some sort of pillar. Step into it so that the other end of the band is around your waste. At your starting position, the band should already be on-tension. Explode forward into a sprint, covering as much ground as you can. Slowly return to your starting position and do it again. You can try doing this for reps (maybe five at a time) or for time (15 seconds of work with 45 seconds of rest).


If you’re an Olympic weightlifter or gymnast, you’re likely already well-familiarized with being explosive and might not even know it. Throwing a barbell overhead and executing flips and handsprings all demand this quality.


You’ll see that for these agility drills, being fast isn’t enough to succeed. You must also be explosive.

3. Changing Directions


Part of being agile is being nimble. So, you want to coordinate agility workouts that force you to quickly change directions and stay on your toes — almost literally.


When we say “change directions,” we don’t mean the way you’d do it with box jumps, where half of the movement is gravity doing its thing. Rather, we’re talking about the athlete actively needing to shift their direction, always in control. 


One such type of agility training is what some athletes call ladders. You stand before a series of lines. You run to the first one, tap it with your hand, and then turn around and return to your starting place, also tapping it with your hand. Then, you run to the second line, and continue repeating this process. You can either stop at the last line or once again work your way back in descending order. 


As another example, anytime you see a coach take out cones, it’s likely for agility exercises. You can set the cones up so that you’re moving in a zig-zag pattern or forward and back.


Rehearsing quick reaction times will teach you to become more agile.


4. Quick Feet


If you want to move more quickly and easily, then you have to be fast on your feet. And for that reason, you need to include footwork drills in your agility exercises.


Rope ladders are helpful for this. Lay one on the ground and start simple, running through the ladder, making sure both feet touch in each square. Then you can spice things up by bringing your feet outside of the ladder before coming back in. You could even try running through it backward. There are endless types and variations of these ladder drills.


Another piece of equipment you might consider checking out is hurdles — but not the kind you see on the tracks. Look for hurdles that are six to 12 inches in height. You can do exercises with these similar to what you’d do with a floor ladder.


High-knees and butt kicks are another good one. As an added bonus, you also get to work on your speed and explosiveness a little bit, as well.


With each of these four elements, bear in mind that you will likely be doing them for a short period of time. A print, by definition, is a short burst of physical activity. And with the others, they also involve too high of an intensity to maintain movement for too long. That’s why these agility drills work so well with interval training. Give it your all for maybe 10-20 seconds, and then enjoy some rest before going again.


Ready to kick your training up a notch? PowerDot can help. Electric muscle stimulation is beneficial for this type of anaerobic training — where you’re moving for short, quick bursts — because it enhances performance and improves training. It targets your muscle fibers to help your body better understand what it means to be agile. (Don’t think you can’t use it for aerobic training, though, too!)


EMS is for everyone, regardless of your fitness level. PowerDot athlete and former CrossFit competitor Josh Bridges says, “I wish I'd had the PowerDot when I was in the military, that would've been incredible. Everyone should have access to this technology, not just elite athletes.”


Learn more about what anaerobic training requires of your body.


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