Agility is a loaded term: It’s used to describe a lot of different things, like lateral movement, change of direction, balance and body control.
But these aren’t all the same movements, and training one doesn’t always help the others.
Instead of just using the standard cone and ladder drills, you should add moves to your workout that will improve all aspects of agility. These seven drills will improve your quickness, lateral cutting, change of direction and balance and strength.
You don’t need to use these drills as a standalone workout; instead, incorporate two or three of them into your current training routine.
These are for the short, fast reactions — think of a football wide receiver planting a foot and changing his angle slightly or a point guard making a wicked crossover move. Here are three drills that will challenge your reaction time:
1. Jump Rope Double Unders
This drill is a fundamental tool for improving quickness. It builds stability in your foot, ankle and lower leg. Double unders teach you to apply a big force to the ground in a really short amount of time, building reactive strength.
Do It: Work up to 60-second continuous rounds for three to five rounds.
2. Hexagon Agility Drill
Lightning-fast changes in direction or body position in a small space is a hallmark of athletic quickness. This drill tests that quickness in all directions. Once you’ve mastered the hexagon drill on two legs, make it harder by performing the drill on one leg.
Do It: Three times around as fast as possible. Alternate directions each set, doing four to eight sets.
3. Lateral Bounds
Sharp sideways cuts or explosive shuffle steps are examples of lateral movement. With the lateral bounding drill, you’ll develop greater power moving sideways and enhance hip, knee and ankle stability.
Do It: Three to five reps per set are plenty, with two to four sets working well.
Specific Strength and Balance Drills
In order to move fast, you have to be strong. But being strong for strength’s sake isn’t helpful. Strength improves agility if (and only if) you can apply force in a small amount of time in the proper direction. Runners don’t stand up straight when they run: Powerful runners are tilted forward, driving through each step in a forward motion.
Here are two drills that will drastically increase the strength required to improve your agility.
4. Single-Leg Squat
So many big moments in sports involve athletes cutting and changing direction on a single leg. This means you must have strength and stability in all the muscles and joints, from hip to foot. Add this into either strength or agility sessions to build up your leg strength.
Do It: Work up to 10 reps for two to four sets. Hold a kettlebell or weight plate to progress.
5. Medicine-Ball Rotation
Watch an athlete moving fast and making a sharp change of direction, and you’ll see how they load the lower leg and hip to absorb their momentum and then explode out in the new direction. This drill teaches you to load and then explode off that leg.
Do It: Use five to eight reps on each side for two to three sets. As you improve, progress from single reps to continuous repetitions.
When an athlete makes a big change of direction or gets ready to react to an opponent, they bend their hips and knees and get into a lower, balanced position with the legs and hips loaded for the next move.
These drills build the eccentric strength, range of motion and the explosiveness to move in and out of that position.
6. Ladder Level Lowering
Ladder drills are overused and as a result, many athletes just go through the motions. Add some value to yours by lowering your center of mass every few moves in these ladder drills. By lowering as fast as you can into a stable, balanced position, you’ll find you have more control when you have to react to an opponent.
Do It: Pick two to three patterns and do each for two to three times down and back for each set. Two to four sets work well.
7. Inside Box Drill
A big part of agility is reaction. This drill helps with that. You work on sharp changes of direction and getting low at the same time that you’re reacting to a partner or mirroring their movements. It’s also a great drill for competing and getting the heart rate up.
Do It: Set up the box between three to seven yards, depending on sport. Make each set seven to 10 seconds and perform six to 12 sets. Take turns with a partner being the mirror.