3 Reasons Agility Training Isn’t Just for Athletes

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When you think of agility training, you think about college or pro athletes, right? Ohio State’s Curtis Samuel dashing across the turf or Houston Rocket’s Ty Lawson maneuvering along the court. You might believe that their training and how they hone their skills is not something that has a place in your routine. Think again, buddy: This form of training has various fitness benefits for everyday Joes like you.

First, let’s get a better understanding of what exactly agility is. Agility is the ability to move the body forward, backward, and laterally (side to side) quickly and easily — you know, without tripping over your own feet in the process.

Now let’s consider how agility plays into your typical gym routine. Most of us aim for split training with a primary focus on strength, right? On Day 1 and 4, work on back, biceps, legs, and core. Day 2 and 5: chest, shoulders, triceps, and core. Day 3, 6, and 7: rest. Essentially, it’s a whole lot of rows, curls, deadlifts, squats, presses, extensions, and sit ups — maybe a little power here and there with an explosive move or two (plyo-pushup or snatch and clean pulls). So it looks like agility doesn’t really play into the typical gym routine at all. Honestly, when was the last time you saw someone on the gym floor run through an agility drill, especially on leg day?

While increased strength is a solid goal that packs a ton of benefits, there’s going to be moment, and it’s going to be sudden — in which you’ll have to apply that strength during an everyday activity. And you’ll quickly realize that there’s no time to position your body into the perfect form. All of those goblet squats and Romanian deadlifts aren’t going to help you avoid a random sneaker on the floor while carrying your laundry basket, navigate a busy sidewalk while holding your grocery bags, or make that express train while gripping a full cup of coffee. What’s going to help you more than anything are the agility drills you should’ve been practicing.

If that’s not enough to inspire you to add agility training to your workout routine, here are three more reasons you’ll want to bring out the cones.

1. Weight loss

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When you work the lower body muscles (glutes, hamstring, calves and quads) in lateral and diagonal directions, not just in a linear manner, you burn more calories. This is because sudden movements in opposing directions call for the activation of numerous muscles at once, which requires more energy, in turn burning more calories. And we all know the more calories you burn, the more likely you are to lose weight. Not to mention, agility training can serve as a form of high intensity interval training, allowing for calories to continue burning well after the workout is over; this is known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption.

2. Injury prevention

There’s no denying that if you “don’t use it, you lose it.” But there’s also no denying that if you use it too much, and rarely switch it up, you’re going to eventually injure yourself. You see, repeatedly performing the same movements week after week, month after month, increases the risk of tissue fatigue and stress injuries. It gets to the point in which the muscle, and applicable connective tissues, only know how to move in just one way. So as a result, they are put at a disadvantage when it comes to that split second in which they need to quickly react and operate in a different direction or speed, leading to a strains and tears.

3. Brain power

Agility drills that get your heart rate going not only activate your sweat glands, but also the hippocampus — an area of the brain responsible for verbal memory and learning. Not only do you have to get your feet going, but you also have to grasp and memorize intricate movement patterns. During a workout, growth factors are released in the brain, and they actually get to work themselves aiding in the health and survival of brain cells. Plus, we’re all pretty aware of how exercise improves mood and sleep, and reduces stress and anxiety; so if you’re getting a good night’s sleep and barely stressing, you’ll be able to concentrate better and see improvements in your cognitive functioning.

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To get you started, we’ve got three basic agility drills. And lucky for you, they don’t call for much equipment. All you’ll need is a set of small cones, a reaction ball, and a small to medium rope – and you’re ready to make it a day in the park, or an evening in a nice spacious corner of the gym.

Keep in mind, these drills will do a number on the nervous, cardiovascular, and musculoskeletal systems, so they will require complete rest periods between sets for optimal recovery. You’ll want to start slow with not only speed, but also the complexity of directional changes and sets, as to not place too much stress on the muscles, connective tissues, joints, and bones.

Lastly, don’t forget to keep track of your workouts, because agility training is one form that allows you to really gauge the progress. As in, “Hell yeah! This is the sixth time I’ve done this drill in the past two weeks and I didn’t knock over one stupid cone!”

Break out the cones …

1. Cone drill

Set up four cones approximately 10 meters apart from each other in a box shape.

Stand at the first cone (if you were looking from above, top left cone) and side shuffle to your right toward the second cone. When shuffling be sure to bend slightly at the knee, keeping the core tight and chest high with a straight back. Also try to make ground contact with the widest part of the foot.

Once you reach the second cone, back pedal to the third cone (if you were looking from above, bottom right cone). As you back pedal, be sure to push off from the toe, again with core tight and chest high.

Once you reach the third cone, side shuffle to your left toward the fourth cone.

Once your reach the fourth cone, sprint forward toward the first cone. Try to keep the elbows bent at 90 degrees and generate movement from the shoulders as you drive the elbows back keeping the core tight and chest high.

Perform this drill four to six times (sets), resting 15 to 30 seconds between each. As a progression, you can increase the distance between the cones, add more sets or reduce the rest time to increase the level of intensity.

Grab a reaction ball …

2. Reaction ball drill

reaction ball

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Reaction balls are an amazing thing. They’re about the size of a baseball, made of rubber, and appear to have 6 additional smaller balls sprouting from it. They are designed to develop sharp hand-eye coordination and increase your ability to perform rapid change of direction while being quick on your feet.

For this drill, you’ll want to find a wall, stand about 5 yards away and lightly begin to toss the ball toward the wall. Due to its shape, on every single bounce you won’t know where it’s going to go; essentially you have to react to it relying heavily on lateral movements, lots of back pedaling and quick sprints with short stops, hip pivots, and ankle turns.

Be sure you have a solid grounding of the foot, tight core, and the ability to operate in an explosive manner throughout the drill. Side note: there’s going to be a little added shoulder work.

Perform this drill four to six times (sets) with 15 to 20 throws (reps), resting 15 to 30 seconds between set. As a progression, you can speed up the throw or switch up the throw angle, add more reps and sets, or reduce the rest time to increase the level of intensity.

Drag out the rope …

3. Rope drill

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As long as your local hardware store has 30 to 50 feet of a basic ¼-inch nylon braid rope you’re good to go. Once you’ve got your hands on the rope, you’ll want to lay it out onto the floor in a continuing zig zag S shape. The space between each section of the rope should be about two of your own foot widths apart, this way you can easily land a single foot into each space.

You’ll begin this drill at one end of the rope standing with the rope either to the left or right side of you.

When ready, bend slightly at the knees, brace the core, and hold the chest high with shoulders back; raise the foot closest to the rope and begin to laterally shuffle through the spaces with high knees.

Be sure you have a solid grounding of the foot, and the ability to operate in an explosive manner throughout the drill.

Perform this drill four to six times (sets), resting 15 to 30 seconds between each. As a progression, you run through the rope in a grapevine movement, add more sets or reduce the rest time to increase the level of intensity.

Ellen Thompson is a National Academy of Sports Medicine certified personal trainer at Blink Fitness in New York City, where she serves as Head Trainer at the Penn Plaza location. Ellen’s approach to training is that “anything is possible.” Endurance, strength, and stability/agility training are at the core of her fitness programming. She holds a master’s degree in New Media Publishing and Magazine Editing from the prestigious Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

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