Agility Ladder Drills

THE TRUTH ABOUT AGILITY LADDERS

I’ll be honest with you – I LOVE using the agility ladder in my coaching work!

But I know exactly when and why I am using them with my athletes.

The thing that confuses me constantly is that I see a lot of coaches all around that are literally swearing in the brilliance of the agility ladder as one of the best agility and speed tools!

Now, that makes me want to raise a hand and say a few words about the whole topic. Because I believe that the more ideas, facts, experience and knowledge we all share – the more we can all learn!

Even though there is not enough of scientific data to confirm this, agility ladder drills are known as a good addition to improve and to work on some aspects of agility, footwork, quickness, balance, and coordination. Still, a lot of coaches will present the agility ladder mostly as a great tool to improve speed and agility specifically.

To be completely transparent – agility ladder can improve mostly foot contact, body control, rhythm, coordination, foot/lower-leg stiffness, foot speed, and CNS activation – all of which can translate into more effective movement in any sport. And that is why we should use the agility ladder and what we should give them credit for!

Agility ladder is a very “heated” debate within the strength and conditioning community.  🙂 While in our handball community, it’s somehow glorified and celebrated mostly as an amazing training tool for improving agility and speed.

The fact is that agility ladder drills overall carryover to athleticism is very limited, and this should be clear to all coaches, and also it should be reflected in your work and explanations to athletes or coaches.

 

WHAT IS AGILITY LADDER ACTUALLY GOOD FOR AND HOW IT SHOULD BE USED?

There is a very important thing that needs to be clarified about the agility ladder – and that is the misguidance of its name! Agility ladder is often called a “speed ladder” or “quickness ladder”, but the ladder is actually not a speed or agility tool!

Of course, the real effectiveness of agility ladder depends on the user. But the truth is that many coaches often either overuse or incorrectly use the agility ladder.

However, the main goals with using the ladder should be to develop an awareness and framework of how the foot contacts the ground, shin angles, rhythm, body positioning/body control, foot/lower-leg stiffness, and CNS activation.

Agility ladders help in learning how to maintain control of the body/centre of mass and they can also improve foot-eye awareness.

 

Agility ladder drills challenge the body to adapt to new muscle patterns and improve proprioceptive ability, and to enable better footing during athletic performance.

For agility ladder drills to be truly effective, coaches have to challenge their athletes with drills that they are not familiar with, with patterns that sometimes feel unknown and awkward, and with drills that require them to slow down and think about what they are doing.

This was one of the main inspiring ideas that I had when I created my agility ladder video compilation with 102 drills! To present and share some of the more challenging and more unusual agility ladder drills that I use in work with my athletes.

Besides that, the main idea that I had with my agility ladder video compilation was to present different drills that are beneficial for improving different cognitive functions.

Performing agility ladder drills helps an athlete’s athletic I.Q. by teaching them several foot patterns through different drills with good technical foundations. Besides that, performing agility ladder drills helps with developing fast footwork – foot speed, which comes from a very short contact time with the ground. Agility ladder training is all about foot speed that any athlete can execute in any sport.

Athletes that are really good and skilled at the ladders are so good at it because they became better at memorizing specific movement patterns / agility ladder drills.

But with a little creativity, you can (and you should!) turn any ladder pattern into an open reactive drill! J

 

In my opinion, the agility ladder should be utilized at very select times in training in very low but intense volumes to reap the biggest reward.

The agility ladder can be applied more specifically in the context of “high frequency” training that neurally charges or amps up the body’s nervous system prior to competition. Which, of course, can be applied in training as well.

My biggest advice for coaches and athletes, when it comes to implementing agility ladder drills in the training, is to implement drills that require athletes to move in different directions, that makes athlete react on a different stimulus, to make a sudden decision, to use a bilateral coordination, to use cross-body movements, and to suddenly change direction in ways that relate to their playing positions.

 

AGILITY LADDER DRILLS DON’T IMPROVE SPEED

Firstly, it’s important to answer on the question: what is speed?

Simply said, it’s the rate at which an individual can run, horizontally on the ground.

Speed is defined by the following equation: (Stride Length x Stride Frequency) / Time.

This is a really important information: research has shown that the fastest athletes are not faster because they take more strides, but because they cover more ground with each stride.

This is possible for them because they put more force into the ground, which then enables them to cover a given distance in a shorter amount of time.

When it comes to speed, it’s all about generating power: driving the foot against the ground, which then enables the extensor mechanism from the hip extensors (glutes and hamstrings), the knee extensors (quadriceps), and the plantar flexors of the ankle to propel the body in a forward motion.

When you are able to apply greater force into the ground with a forward lean and at a horizontal angle in a shorter time – then you can generate more speed.

 

So these are the questions you should think about when working on improving speed: how fast can you apply force into the ground to propel yourself forward? How much force can you apply to the ground? How far can your stride take you and how fast can your strides occur?

The fact is that basically nothing performed on the agility ladder can completely transfer to answering these questions optimally. There is really no maximal force application on the agility ladder. When we perform agility ladder drills – it’s all about very light and fast foot strikes. There is no maximal stride length, as the squares on the ladder are usually around 40 x 40 centimetres size.

Depending on what kind of agility drills are being worked on – there may be some maximal stride frequency, but it will still lack the force and stride length that are needed to be suitable for sprint speed.

Practicing on the agility ladder is skill, and running agility ladder drills will make you better at agility ladder drills, but it won’t make you faster.

 

There is a study about youth soccer players conducted by Padrón-Cabo, Rey, Kalén, and Costa, that found there was no statistical improvement in 10m and 20m sprint times between the group that did six weeks of agility drills versus the group that did not.

 

Our mass body speed is not nearly as high as it could be when working on agility ladder drills due to the natural design of the ladders and close proximity of the squares that the ladders is made of.

There is too much frequency with majority of drills when working in the agility ladder squares. Too much frequency doesn’t allow any real acceleration to occur.

Also, the impacts are also very small when working in the agility ladder, and that’s never the case in sprinting, especially in the case with increased running speeds.

The impacts are very important, because as we know, impacts are critical to the muscles “Stretch-Shortening-Cycle” and in creating muscle stiffness and bigger speed. It’s very hard to replicate this with agility ladder drills.

Since speed is a function of stride rate and stride length, making fast strides through an agility ladder will not help how long each stride covers.

One of the main factors or determinants of stride rate and stride length is STRENGTH.

The stronger an athlete is, the longer step can be made (which is a stride length), and the faster that step can be off the ground (which is a stride rate).

 

To conclude: by using agility ladders in your training, you are not working on improving speed.

The most efficient way to improve speed is to increase strength and power.

The stronger you are, the most power you can produce. In simple words: the more power/force you can apply to the surface you run on, the faster you can move on it.

Producing high speed is more than just being able to move your feet fast.

Agility is way more than just being proficient in learning different footwork patterns on the agility ladders, but I will write more about that in some of my next blog posts. 😉

Also, I will write more in my next blog posts about what are agility ladder drills good for and how you can use them, as well as how working on agility ladders is not the most efficient way to improve agility!

 

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 LADDER VIDEO

 

AGILITY LADDERS STUDIES AND RESOURCES THAT I USED

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.  🙂

 

RESOURCES:

Effects of Training with an Agility Ladder on Sprint, Agility, and Dribbling Performance in Youth Soccer Players

 

The Effects of Agility Ladders on Performance: A Systematic Review

 

Effects of Plyometric Training with Agility Ladder on Physical Fitness in Youth Soccer Players

 

Effects of training with an agility ladder on sprint, agility,  and dribbling performance in youth soccer players

 

The Influence of Ladder Drills And Jump Rope Exercise Towards Speed, Agility, And Power of Limb Muscle

 

Effect of agility ladder exercises on agility of participants extracurricular futsal at Bina Darma University

 

Effect of ladder drill and SAQ training on speed and agility among sports club badminton players

 

Effects of 6-week agility ladder drills during recess intervention on dynamic balance performance

 

Effects of incorporating additional balance and agility training into sports training for youth athletes to improve balance and agility performance

 

Impact of ladder training on the agility performance of footballers

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