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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit his website at http://www.pritchardperformance.com.