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5 Ways To Improve Your Agility

5 Ways To Improve Your Agility

Drum roll please…

It’s NOT doing ladder drills, or attaching yourself to a speed harness, or strapping yourself to a “speed” parachute, or running zig-zag, squiggly, forward-back, sideways through cones.

If this were the case, any Joe Blow could start a speed and agility business and call himself a “Certified Agility Trainer.” 

The answer is more complex than performing fancy drills that make people “Oooh” and “Ahhhhh.” Just like there’s no single answer as to why Hilary Clinton is a nut case. Or why I’m writing this post on my toilet. Or why Rebecca Black became famous for singing about Friday.

So to dumb agility down and keep peeps interested, let’s look at the movie, Fast and Furious.

Think of agility as a car – in order for it to drive at maximal speeds, turn quickly, shift gears, and accelerate uphill, it needs the right fuel, a good braking system, horsepower, durable tires, and a badass driver like Vin Diesel.

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Put simply, you can’t throw a Prius on a race track and expect the crowd to go wild with its sharp turns and change of direction speed. Just like you can’t throw a weak athlete into the game and expect him to break ankles and look like the next Lebron.

Provided the athlete has the right tools – power, strength, core function, mobility, and brains – their agility will thrive.

Chiming in on this post is Vancouver-based strength and conditioning coach, Meghan Callaway. She is well-respected in the industry and pretty much kicks athletes’ and non-athletes’ asses up in Canada.

So let’s break agility down, sha’ll we?

1) Strength
First and foremost, priority should be placed on strength. Push things, pull things, throw things, carry things, etc. Simply put, build more lean muscle mass, get strong at the big rock lifts (dead lift, squat, chin up), and become a badass.

When it comes down to it, speed is about efficient use of force.

forceformula

See what I did there? I’m good at physics. Or just stole an image from Google.

The fastest athletes, sprinters, running backs, and soccer players, are strong as hell and are able to produce maximal force into the ground.

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Ever wonder why Alex Morgan is so fast, navigates defenders quickly, and makes the cover Sport Illustrated?

“Strong glutes, especially, help stabilize your pelvis and knee, which make your lower body movements more efficient and controlled, and help to reduce the risk of injury,” says strength coach Meghan Callaway.

There’s just something magical about strength that improves body composition, increases lean muscle mass, and increases our running speeds in all planes of motion.

2) Power
While strength serves as a foundation for athletes to move faster, it alone will not improve agility. This is a great segue into the next tool: power training.

Building explosiveness involves training the components along the force velocity curve that you’ve been ignoring.

Force-Velocity-Curve

For most of you, you’re probably hovering toward the maximal strength end of the curve and trying to outdo your buddies to get a 500 pound dead lift. Or in the other corner, some of you are still performing speed bodyweight movements from Shaun T’s Insanity and wondering why you’re not improving your pro agility time.

To acquire the sweet spot of power, all elements of the curve must be trained. These will allow you to:

– improve your central nervous system’s ability to fire faster
– increase rate coding
– increase fast twitch muscle fiber recruitment simultaneously with little delay
– increase your ability to take over a Pokemon gym

Newsflash: these are all important neuromuscular actions involved in changing direction quickly. Imagine that!

Once you got strength-speed exercise dialed in (back squat, dead lift, bench press), sprinkle in medicine ball throws, jump squats, or power cleans at sub-maximal loads. Here, high power output (low loads, high speed) is your friend. And precise agility is the byproduct.

3) Flexibility
Oftentimes, you’ll see Division 1 programs bringing in yoga instructors to work with teams on flexibility.

As long as the athletes are becoming more supple and not just going to stare at a hot instructor in yoga pants, all good in my book. In fact, I believe athletes need to do more of this.

Whether that is yoga, foam rolling, static stretching, Pilates (yes, I said the P word), these will ensure athletes have the mobility to turn quickly on the pitch.

According to strength coach Meghan Callaway, “In order to have speed and agility, you need your body to move well. While certain regions in your body need to be stable, others require mobility. These areas include the ankles, hips, and thoracic spine region.”

Not being flexible is like the Tin Man trying to run a T-drill in less than 10 seconds. Yeah…not happening.

A soccer “yoga flow” to try:


4) Core function
When most athletes train their core, they opt for aesthetics over function. Sure, a six pack will increase your chances of getting laid. But. A functional core that interplays stability as well as hip mobility will help you turn quicker, produce more power between upper and lower extremity, and reduce your chance of injury.

A hockey swing, golf swing, tennis serve, and soccer shot all involve the hips working in conjunction with the core. Training the core in all planes of motion – stability, strength, and power through the hips is your best bet.

Or if you want to up the ante on a core stability exercise, try this:

You either train core aesthetics OR core function.

Look. It’s not like I’m asking you to choose sex OR chipotle for the rest of your life. Be smart with your core training and the aesthetics will come. And you’d be surprised…you’ll still get laid.

5) Brains
This isn’t to say become the next Einstein. It means don’t be an idiot. Why? Because not all sport performance training is physiology focused. Whether you like it or not, there IS a mental aspect.

So how are you in the reaction departments? Like this:

Or like this:

I’m no neuroscientist, but the neurological component of agility is critical. For basketball, soccer, football, lacrosse, and hockey players alike, everyone is playing a game of uncertain scenarios:

How fast can you connect your laces to the ball for a bicycle kick? When is the next defender coming? How fast can you do a move and get a quick shot off? How fast can you get to a loose ground ball in lacrosse? How fast can you flick off the ref without him seeing? Or how fast can you pick your wedgie without the crowd seeing? 

All equally important questions to ask yourself.

Don’t overlook training the mental aspect of agility. Get your athletes thinking about the random aspects of the game with drills that scare, change perception, and alter learned patterns.

One epic nugget I gained from the Seattle Sounders Sport Science conference was from Dr. Tim Gabbett:

“Are your athletes fast movers, fast thinkers, or both?” I’d hope BOTH.

Some drills to try:

The coach calls out a color and the player reacts by sprinting to it as fast as possible.

Or directional drills, again, simulated by the coach or trainer (left or right):

To make this one harder, point one direction and have the athlete run the opposite way, or include the ball.

* Believe me. I have TONS of cognition drills. Holler if you need any.

To Sum Agility Up

If you’re a coach, don’t neglect the above tools. But also, don’t complain if your athletes are still slow as fuck and you got a bag full of parachutes, overspeed cables, cones, and hurdles. Up to a certain point they’re effective, but then it’s time to get your players into the weight room, as well as play some thinking games.

At the end of the day, it’s about building well-rounded athletes with strength, power, flexibility, function, and cognition. Also, an Alex Morgan booty never hurt anyone either. ;-0

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