How to Train Agility
I get asked at least once a week “what should I do for agility training?” In my opinion the best way to train for agility is to get stronger in the gym, particularly focusing on single leg and eccentric strength. Agility is how quickly you switch from an eccentric to concentric contraction. To improve this you need to be able to apply force into the ground and accelerate away from a defender. This is why having a solid strength foundation is so important.
Doing ladders and hurdles is a waste of time in my opinion as they train a pre-set movement pattern. Basically you get good at a certain movement through the ladders but it doesn’t translate to better agility or performance on the field, you just get really good at that one drill. In sports, athletes have to react to differing environments and use visual and audio cues to succeed.
How do I improve agility?
Well like most things I speak about it begins with structural balance. Often we find a discrepancy between left and right legs and imbalances between quadriceps to hamstring strength ratios for example. These imbalances can lead to injury but they can also hamper your agility and lateral speed. This is why I always focus on single leg exercises in the early off season. We correct the imbalances and also prepare the athlete to support the forces that they are exposed to on one leg when running and cutting on the field.
The stronger the athlete is, the less time it takes them to stabilize their body under these high forces which allows them to accelerate and change position much quicker.
The single leg exercises target the VMO muscle that is under developed in every athlete I screen. The VMO is involved in preventing ACL injuries as it stabilizes the knee and can also improve running speed. The single leg work also develops the hamstrings, the glutes, and gives the back leg’s hip flexor a good active stretch during the exercise.
Another good exercise to improve agility is lateral sled drags. They work on strengthening the adductors and abductors in a functional way and are very beneficial for goal keepers in soccer as an example. I see no point in a goal keeper running endless kilometres in an offseason.
What many people don’t realize is that when you perform a skills session you are actually already training for agility and it’s in the most specific way. When you run plays, you are cutting, evading defenders, and accelerating away from them. I feel this is all you need. Plus it is always done with the ball which is another area where people go wrong. They spend the off season working on perfecting running technique and how to turn around a cone or pole but as soon as you introduce the ball all that technique goes out the window. This is why everything I do is with the ball. It is even more important for sports like field hockey or tennis where they carry a stick or racquet as it changes running mechanics even more dramatically.
If you want to do some form of on field agility training in a smaller group other than a team environment then a drill like this could be useful as you are still responding to external cues:
Ladder, cone, and agility pole drills are “circus training” or “entertainment training” devices. It’s what many uneducated personal trainers use to attract clients as they make it look “cool” to those that don’t know better. As a strength coach I want and am expected to get results that transfer to the field. That is why I will never use these gimmicks. I will stick to getting people strong.