Agility is one of those head-scratching terms. You’ve heard it tossed around, couched somewhere between strength and speed, but you’re not quite sure what it means or why it matters.
It’s time to break down the buzzword, explain its importance and find out how to best implement it into your routine.
What is Agility?
You don’t have to be Serena Williams on the court—ready to switch the direction of your backhand and distance from the net at a moment’s notice—to benefit from agility. Agility, put simply, is the ability to decelerate, accelerate and change direction while maintaining control. It helps you keep your balance, strength, speed and body control.
On the tennis court, good agility means a faster response time and a better performance. Off the court, it means improved functional movements and enhanced natural reflexes. And if that’s not enough, agility training has even been shown to improve cognitive performance.
How Do You Improve Agility?
Improving balance (both static and dynamic), strength and coordination all help to improve agility. One of the best things about agility training is that you can make it your own. When done intensely, and with only short bursts of rest, agility training can be its own HIIT workout. If you have something else planned for your training session, starting with a few agility-based movements could make for a dynamic warm-up.
Try integrating the exercises below into your training schedule for a functional training boost.
1. Ladder Drills
A great place to start is with the agility ladder. This simple—and portable—piece of equipment takes fancy footwork to a new level. According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), drills done on a 10-yard long ladder separated by rungs into 16″ squares help boost quickness, foot speed, coordination and body awareness. So, once you’ve laid out the ladder, where do you start?
Try warming up by doing high-knees through each box, then implement movements like the sideways shuffle, where you face the ladder and move your feet in and out quickly from start to finish. You can also try lateral single-leg hops, a unilateral exercise where you hop one leg in and out of the rungs before switching, as well as the common in-in-out-out, where you quickly move both feet in a square of the rung and then, just as quickly, move them out.
2. Speed Skaters
There’s no ice needed for this movement, which trains lateral power—essential when moving side to side. It also targets your core and stabilizers. Beginning in a single leg half-squat, with the other leg slightly lifted off the ground, jump in the direction of your lifted leg. Gain momentum by pushing off of your outer (grounded) leg. When you land, sit your hips back and reload, this time preparing to jump to the opposite side.
Looking for an added challenge? As you build speed, aim to touch the ground in front of your foot.
3. Standing Toe Taps
The great thing about this movement is that you can use whatever you have lying around. A plate or a box both work great for this exercise. Constantly switching feet will put your balance to the test.
Standing with your shoulders relaxed and hands loose, place one foot on the box (or plate) and the other behind it. Your heel should be hanging off the edge while your toes rest on the surface. Quickly switch your legs back and forth, alternating which foot (or, more specifically, which toe) is resting on the box. As you do this, pump your arms back and forth.
4. Medicine Ball Throws
Add a little resistance to your agility training with a medicine ball single-jump throw. Using a ball that provides ample resistance, let’s say anywhere upwards of 8 pounds, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees bent and the ball at chest level. Jump forward while simultaneously pressing the ball out as far as you can upwards and forwards (preferably against a sturdy wall). You should aim to achieve full extension—no bent hips—at the top of the movement.
5. Suicide Runs
By changing up the pattern of your runs and preventing your body from getting used to any one specific plane of movement, you’ll boost both agility and speed. Suicides are great for this. You don’t need much to begin—just a start line, first, second and third sprint line (each line being further away from the start).
From the starting line, sprint to your first line and then back to the start. Then, sprint down to the second line and back, and then the third. Change the pattern as needed, touching the end line each time before sprinting back to finish. Not only will you increase your agility and your ability to come to a quick stop before hauling off at full force, you’ll also improve your stamina (though don’t be surprised if the first few rounds leave you winded).
6. Jump Rope
Turns out jumping rope isn’t just for children on the school yard. It’s great for agility training, too. The nature of jumping rope requires you to have quick feet while the versatility of the equipment allows you to tailor it to your training needs. From the standard forward jump to the side-to-side, single-leg and backward jump, jumping rope challenges you to change your position quickly and seamlessly—putting your agility to the test if you don’t want to risk getting caught in the crosshairs.