5 essential components for developing agility

Are you quick?  I’m not talking 100 meter dash time.  I’m talking “5-10-5” time.  That person who fears nobody 1 on 1, and who nobody wants to defend.  You create separation on offense and close the gap on defense.  Do you want to be that athlete (or develop that athlete)?  He are 5 essential components you must include in your training program if you wish to develop your agility.

*Addendum: This blog was written with the intention of these being ideas for someone who has no major imbalances/deficits/asymmetries needing correction – I.E. they have a good functional movement and mobility assessment with solid movement patterns.

1) Core Stability

Amazing agility takes great control of your center of gravity.  You have to be able to resist motion and momentum in order to change direction quickly.  Core stability is the foundation for deceleration (which is the foundation for change of direction).   For the following exercises, I like to aim for 30 reps in a set done well before increasing difficulty.  As you improve, you can increase speed of movements with the side plank and bridge (as long as your trunk is stable).  Here are some things I use:

    • Side plank with extremity movements (1:16 mark on the video).  Get creative with your extremity movements to up challenge.
    • Bird dogs (video).  Also try these ipsilaterally!
    • Single-leg bridge with marching: Perform these slow and controlled – keep your trunk in one place while flexing one hip as in the picture.  Work up to 2 sets of 30 reps each side.  Unlike the picture, with these place your arms like you are “under arrest” (since you’ll soon be breaking the speed limit).
    • Anti-rotation exercises (video thanks to Martin Norum).  Slow and controlled is the key here.

2) Strength (Glutes, Quads, Adductors, Calves)

Strength is the foundation of power (see below).  By improving your lower body and hip strength, you’ll be able to produce more power into the ground, thus propelling you the opposite direction while making your opponent look foolish.  Periodize your strength program properly, with rep # appropriate for the phase you are in.  Here are some exercises I use:

      • Deadlift: 2 versions to work on.  Traditional (video thanks to Eric Cressey) and Single leg RDL (video thanks to Angel Stone).  When doing traditional deadlifts, if you have bumper plates focus on a strong lift, then drop from tall.
      • Goblet lunges (multi-direction): “Goblet”-style hold increases posture muscle stress, challenging core.  Forward, lateral (like in the video – thanks Eric Cressey), diagonal (forward AND backward), and retro should all be performed.  Work on the “push back” version in place like in the video to develop eccentric strength, and the walking versions for strengthening the concentric component of cutting.
      • Mini-band lateral walking:  Band around the knees = easy, around ankles = harder.  Avoid knees buckling towards each other while you step.  Great exercise to use in superset on an upper body day.
      • Calf raises: Off of a step to increase stretch reflex.  Do lots of them.

3) Lateral/Rotational Power (Plyometrics)

You have to use your core stability and strength in an explosive manner.  Here are some ideas from what I use:

      1. Medicine ball throws: Rotational, “punches”, “Granny toss” or underhand overhead, and overhead forward with follow-through to RDL (see above).  Perform sets of 6-8.
      2. Single-leg bounding (multidirection): First work on doing these in place (off of one foot and landing in the same spot on the other). Imagine hoping over a low fence. These can also be performed forward, lateral, diagonally, and backwards. Perform sets of 6 on each leg.
      3. Broad jumps (multidirection):  In addition to jumping forward, also try lateral and diagonal.  Sets of 6.  (thanks to Nike Training)
      4. Quick hops:  Channel your inner MC Hammer.  Less foot contact time on the ground is better! Perform in place, or moving back and forth forward, lateral, or diag (2- or 1-legged). Two versions: Standing tall or perform while staying in “athletic position”.  15-30″ sets, depending on your training phase.

4) Acceleration and Deceleration (planned)

Simple fact: in order to change direction, you have to be able to slow down and stop (temporarily).  Too often athletes only focus on developing speed and power, but neglect to spend much time on deceleration training.  Stop faster than your opponent, and you’ll be changing direction faster than your opponent.  After you decelerate and stop, you have to move quickly in a new direction.   Gain speed quickly.  BOOM! Like being shot out of a cannon.  Here are some drills I use:

      • Lateral step Med ball fake throw I learned this from Lee Taft (thanks Lee!)
      • Lateral/diagonal bounds with med ball (video thanks to Nike Training).  The next level up from Med ball fake throws, now you cover more ground with your bounds
      • Med ball catches: Perform the above drills, but instead of holding the med ball, have some one toss it to you so that you catch it just before you land in your “cut” position.
      • Push Shuffle and Carioca: Perform for footwork and for speed. To push shuffle, a) do not cross shoes, and b) move laterally by pushing the ground away from you through your back shoe. When doing carioca with or without ladder, focus on a good hip turn and pump arms “athletic” rather than “dance-style”. (Thanks to King Sports Training for video) 
      • Low box shuffle/crossover: check out these two great videos on low box training that I use for agility.  Shuffle (thanks Lee Taft) and crossover (Thanks RPI Strength)
      • Spider drill (video thanks to QuickBoard).  Use both a “shuffle only” version as well as a natural crossover version

5) Reaction (unplanned)

Making a planned change of direction is one thing.  Reacting and making an unplanned change of direction is true agility.  The final crucial component to developing your agility is to work on your reaction skills.  Here are some drills I use:

    • Tennis ball catch reaction(Thanks to Joe Hos for video)
    • Reaction cuts (variable cues): Work on performing quick starts and 45/90/180 degree change of direction skills while reacting to variable cues. Visual instruction (coach points), verbal (clap/whistle), or movement (go after tossed ball).
    • Partner Mirror Drill:  Get creative with rules.  “Use only shuffle”, “Can use crossover”, “Anything goes”.  Can also be performed using forward, backward and lateral movements in 4 planes of motion. (Thanks RPI Strength for video)

5 components to work on, all important in developing agility.  Ready to help your athletes become a human highlight reel? Go dominate.


Questions or additional recommendations? Leave a comment.

Ryan Stevens, MPS, LAT/ATC, CSCS

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