Honing Agility and what it really means

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Agility is commonly associated with foot speed, quickness and reaction. Common training modalities to improve agility include speed ladders and closed-chain predictive drills.

Although nothing is necessarily wrong with these traditional methods, they do have their faults and more effective techniques can be taken.

Rather than assigning one definition to agility, I like to break it down in to a few different areas.

 

WHAT IS AGILITY?

Multidirectional speed, deceleration, change of direction and reaction time all encompass what I consider to be agility.

Traditional methods typically address a few of these areas, but not in the detail that is necessary for adaptation.

Take, for example, the classic ladder drill known as the "Ickey shuffle." Nearly every person who has played sports has performed this drill at some point; it involves quickly shuffling in and out of the ladder while moving forward and finding a rhythm. This is an OK drill for low-level novice athletes seeking to attain basic motor skills, but it does not address the key elements I previously defined under the umbrella of agility.

The athlete knows what to expect, so there's no reactive element.

Very little deceleration is involved because the athlete does not need to slow down at any point. Finally, the direction is hardly changed as the ladder is laid out in a straight line, causing the drill to be predominantly linear in nature.

Consider all of these factors in addition to the fact that the athlete typically conducts the drill with a non-athletic, narrow stance — while staring down at the ladder — and we see how it can be a waste of time.

 

WHAT TO DO INSTEAD?

Instead of employing traditional methods as previously described, I implement numerous other modalities while training athletes for agility.

First and foremost, I teach my athletes how to decelerate properly.

Why would I build a big, fast, strong car that has no brakes? I wouldn't, and similarly, I wouldn't do the same to my athletes. If I build a strong and powerful athlete that can sprint or jump tremendously but cannot stop themselves quickly, then I'm asking for injury.

Once they can decelerate, I teach them how to change direction properly without wasting movement. This includes teaching them proper shuffling, crossovers, jab steps and drop steps.

It is amazing how much quicker an athlete can become when they master efficiency of locomotion.

Harnessing technique is a never-ending process, and I continue this throughout an athlete's career, and when ready incorporate reactive drills. Whether a client of mine is an Olympic athlete, or simply enjoys mountain biking on the weekends, every activity is unpredictable.

Aside from sharpening technique, why would training for unpredictable activities only involve predictable methods? It shouldn't, therefore I will use drills such as mirror shuffling, color cone reactive sprints, and many others to ensure my clients are being cognitively challenged as well.

As the athlete or client becomes more advanced, so do the drills.

LAYERED DEFINITION

While the above is a brief explanation of what proper agility training is and isn't, providing insight into the correct approach to take, do not be fooled into thinking that agility training is as simple as how fast you can move through these exercises. Instead, I encourage you to look at agility through a different lens, with a layered definition.

Thanks for reading, and stay agile out there no matter what your actives are.

Jimmy Pritchard has a B.S. from Colorado Mesa University and is a certified strength and conditioning specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He is the Director of Strength & Conditioning for Ski & Snowboard Club Vail. Pritchard's passion is to help others meet, and often exceed, their goals in all areas of fitness. Contact him at 970-331-3513 or jpritchard@skiclubvail.org. Visit his website at http://www.pritchardperformance.com.

Get a Grip

A firm handshake is a sign of self-assuredness, but it can also carry greater implications.

There is a strong (pun intended) link between grip strength and longevity, and those who retain higher levels of grip strength throughout life often times have lower risks of developing heart disease, heart attacks and strokes.

It may sound like hearsay, but countless research studies have been conducted to support this conclusion.

Among the most popular study is the international Prospective Urban and Rural Epidemiological study, which had researchers measure 140,000 adults across several different countries. Researchers tracked the health of those being studied for nearly four years, measuring their grip strength with an implement called a dynamometer. Interestingly enough, when an 11-pound decrease in grip strength occurred over the entirety of the study, there was a 16 percent higher risk of dying — from any cause. Heart attack risk went up 7 percent, stroke risk went up 9 percent and heart disease risk went up 17 percent. Researches then adjusted the study to consider factors such as exercise, smoking and age, but still found a correlation between disease and grip strength.

 

SEIZING THE SIGNIFICANCE

The mechanisms behind these correlations aren't completely understood; nevertheless they are not new. Countless other research studies have shown similar findings.

Grip strength, in a sense, can be viewed as a biomarker for longevity.

Biological age is vastly different than chronological age. Those who take care of themselves and monitor their health often display physical attributes much younger than what's considered "normal" for their chronological age.

You cannot stop aging, but you can certainly slow it down. In a practical sense, grip strength can help aging populations with activities of daily living. Those who can tightly hold on to railings while walking down stairs or through an icy path in the winter will be less likely to fall, for example.

Activities that may be taken for granted now but are used throughout life requiring grip strength include but are not limited to: carrying bags and groceries, opening jars and bottles, playing sports, operating machinery and cooking.

Obviously it is not to say that you won't be able to do any of these things when your grip strength is sub-par, but the day that you won't be able to will reach you quicker.

 

MORE WITHIN YOUR GRASP

Intelligent strength training can help retain, or even increase, your grip strength.

Pulling exercises such deadlifts, rows and chin-ups will aid in grip strength training.

Two of my personal favorite methods are farmers carries for distance (see how far you can walk with weights in your hands) and dead hangs from a pull up bar for time. These two exercises will increase grip strength endurance.

Aside from those, special implements can be purchased called grip-trainers. A company called Iron Mind sells what it calls "captains of crush" at various intensities for those who want to get extra serious.

Equally important to training the hand and forearm flexors are training the extensors. This will ensure that your grip is strong through and through. I hope you find this article as a useful tool toward developing your grip strength and understanding why it is key to health and longevity. As always, thanks for reading and have a nice week.