DO AGILITY LADDERS IMPROVE AGILITY?
This blog post is a continuation of my previous blog post “The Truth About Agility Ladder”.
My intention with this agility ladders blog posts series was to put more light on the topic, and on often misguided terminology connected to the use of the agility ladder in training overall (but especially in handball training).
A lot of my colleagues in handball swear in agility ladders as an amazing tool for improving agility, besides improving speed as well. I already explained in my previous blog post why we can’t say that agility ladder improve speed, so if you want – you can check out that blog post, too.
Well, first of all, to be able to dive deeply into the question “do agility ladders improve agility?” , first we need to understand what is agility.
WHAT IS AGILITY?
Simply said – agility is an athlete’s ability to change direction at a rapid pace.
A large part of changing direction is a non-physical reaction, which means that you must assess a situation while you’re traveling one way and make a conscious decision to stop your movement/momentum and redirect it into a completely different direction in as little time as possible.
So, for example, if you are running straight forward and a defender suddenly shows up in front of you – you want to be able to create a powerful movement that will allow you to turn or change direction in as short time as possible.
The most effective way to change direction is having the legs move outside of vertical alignment of the center of mass, and to drive them into the ground at an horizontal angle as much as possible, to be able to create a strong impulse against the pull of momentum to continue in another direction.
Agility is the ability to quickly change body position. It’s the ability to start moving in one direction, then stop, and start moving again in a different direction. A very important detail is that there has to be an unpredictability/reactive part to it.
Since agility is an athlete’s ability to accelerate and decelerate a momentum, to change the direction or movement, we can conclude that to truly work on agility – agility ladders as the only equipment won’t be enough, because in majority of agility ladder drills – speed and direction are constant most of the time.
If you are aware of this as a coach – you can design and create agility ladder drills in a way that will be more beneficial for agility focus in work with your athletes.
When we consider how athlete’s body moves while performing agility ladder drills, we can conclude that athlete’s body doesn’t actually change position – the centre of mass doesn’t move much. It’s usually pointed in the same direction and the feet move underneath the body, in majority of agility ladder drills.
Of course, depending on the drill used, an agility ladder allows athletes to perform minor changes of direction drills at low impact rates.
AGILITY LADDER DRILLS ARE PRESET MOVEMENT PATTERNS
Agility ladder drills are preset movement patterns.
When you are working on agility ladder drills, you know exactly what’s coming next from the ladder drill.
Ladder drills are rehearsed, choreographed and practiced as a skill. To make this point perfectly clear: when performing agility ladder drills, athletes are not reacting to a sudden, random stimulus, and they are not suddenly changing direction or velocity.
This is why your only tool to work on agility shouldn’t be an agility ladder, and why you need to be creative as a coach when designing the drills for agility ladder work.
Agility ladder drills are learned patterns of movement without the influence of an outside stimulus that is present in handball (and other sports), like a ball for example, or opponent attacker od defender coming towards you. So if you devote too much time to the agility ladder training and learning how to tip-toe properly any of the given drills, while keeping your body tensed and looking at the ground (which is what happens most often with young athletes who are learning new agility ladder drills) – that’s not really going to translate efficiently to a high and efficient performance of your athletes on the field (or in front of the goal!).
In handball (and majority of other sports), the ability to generate forward or sideways momentum fast is equally as important as being able to act and react to a sudden, chaotic, unpredictable outside stimulus – an opponent attacker or defender, or a ball.
With this simple understanding of performance, we can realize that we shouldn’t put too big focus in training on working on any drill that is limiting an athlete to move in small steps through a series of 40x 40 cm sized squares of agility ladder. Without offering a challenge to suddenly displace an athlete’s center of mass or an effort in creating forward or sideways momentum through the development of proper mechanics.
This is why it’s so important to add different reaction or cognitive elements to your agility ladder work, or to use the drills that activate a bilateral coordination, or that consider cross-body movements (and you have a whole bunch of ideas for agility ladder drills that impact bilateral coordination and cross-body movements in my agility ladder video compilation that you can check out here).
Most of the agility ladder drills are a pre-planned, set patterns of movement, without a reactive component or an external stimulus to it. So to get desired results – we need to add a reactive aspects and unpredictability to agility ladder drills that we choose to work on with our athletes.
AGILITY TRAINING HELPS IN INJURY PREVENTION
For example, when guarding someone in handball, in some situations you may not know where the other players or the ball are going, at least maybe you don’t know that instantly. Being able to quickly and efficiently start and stop, to follow either the opponent player or the ball, takes a lot of coordination and balance from an athlete.
Without being able to quickly start or stop the movement when needed, or to quickly change direction, an athlete’s body can end up in compromising situations, where they get out of position and become prone to injury.
Without proper body positioning during the movement, a sudden change of direction on the court can happen – either to follow the movement of opponents, or the movement of the ball. That sudden change of direction could lead to a non-contact knee injury, for example. The injury could happen due to a combination of poor positioning, lack of situational awareness, being off-balance, and fatigue.
Luckily, proper agility training can help in addressing and preventing the potential injuries.
HOW TO PROPERLY WORK ON IMPROVING AGILITY?
If you want to work on the agility – the most efficient way to improve agility is to increase the speed and reaction time. The faster an athlete can react to a situation, mentally, in addition to how fast they can make their body adjustments in that situation, the more agile an athlete can be!
Besides that, you need to include changes of direction in your workouts, you need to introduce cuts, jumps and add a stimulus for the athlete react to in real-time.
So think about that when you are planning to work on agility with your athletes.
Training agility in a controlled environment with different drills for starting and stopping the movement can be very beneficial for athletes, and this is where you can get a good use from different agility ladder drills.
You can design different obstacle courses to test the ability of your athletes to perform under game simulated conditions in a demanding environment.
You can design different obstacle courses with agility ladder, cones, and different additional things with which you will help your athletes make multiple starting and stopping positions, or changing directions. All of this can and will significantly improve situational awareness and body positioning, which inevitably results in better overall performance on the court.
All of this is done in a demanding, but controlled environment.
Once your athletes master the controlled environment, you can start with a higher level of agility training where you can start including unexpected and new patterns.
In this version, your athletes won’t be aware of the prearranged demands and conditions in agility training, because you should set up the conditions to change from moment to moment.
This is when you should include different options of stimulus for sudden direction change, some great options are possible with differently colored cones, or different visual cues and stimulus. My favorite addition would be the TestYou Brain Training System, but of course you could use any other similar system with semaphores that have an option of changing colors or symbols.
When you do this kind of work, your athlete’s body and mind will become accustomed to processing and reacting to unexpected changes in very short time.
You can switch things up by calling out different words, numbers, specific-colored cones, challenging the athlete to react to a changing environment – which will make the training situation more real, and more similar to specific game situations.
In addition to improving agility, this kind of training will improve athlete’s reaction speed and cognitive skills.
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AGILITY LADDER VIDEO COMPILATION WITH 102 DRILLS
In the meantime, if you would like to purchase my agility ladder drills video compilation with 102 drills, you can do it here or by clicking on the image below.
AGILITY LADDERS STUDIES AND RESOURCES THAT I USED FOR MY LAST FEW BLOG POSTS
If you are a “nerd” coach, just like me, and if you would like to dive in some of the resources I have gone through while working on my agility ladder research, here are some links.
I would just like to say that, as always in my work, I go through a ton of research, and I consider learning about both “pro” and “con” data about anything that I am working on.
With that in mind, some of the research links below are pro agility ladders, and some are con. 🙂