What is agility?
Agility refers to your ability to change direction safely and quickly. It is absolutely essential to sports performance and critical to keeping your body from getting injured.
For example, poor agility is one of the #1 reasons people get sprained ankles… i.e. if your body cannot change direction safely, your ankle can easily take too much force and strain from an unexpected movement, then stretch too far and damage the ligaments in the ankle, foot or calf. Of course, this applies to all the other joints in the body too!
But if you have good agility, you will be able to move powerfully and efficiently, and then, when the time comes to change direction, you will be able to do it safely and quickly.
So, how do we increase agility to improve performance and protect against injury? And how do we do it in a safe, progressive way, so you can increase your agility step by step and get all the benefits without the dangerous risks or pitfalls that most people fall into when training?
What do you need for great agility?
Agility is a powerful combination of balance, coordination, speed, reflexes, strength, and endurance. If any one of these links in the chain is weak, your agility will suffer. For example, if you have great balance, but no strength, you will not be able to change direction safely, since your body will not be able to decelerate safely.
Think of it like the brakes on a car. Your muscles have to be able to decelerate the motion from the movement and then quickly generate power to get you going in another direction.
Now, if you have great strength, but poor balance, then even though you can generate power, you will simply fall when the time comes to change direction.
The good news is that by doing the right kind of exercises and training correctly, you will naturally hit all of these crucial areas at the same time without even thinking about it.
How do I train for agility?
You have to take things step by step… there is no skipping any part if you want great results. Why? Remember that agility requires a powerful combination of balance, coordination, speed, reflexes, strength, and endurance.
So, if you want to be safe, the key is to start with foundational movements, do them properly (that means activating the right muscles), and then move into more challenging exercises.
First, you want to start with learning how to activate the big muscle groups that are most responsible for acceleration and deceleration. This is the gas and brake… Once, you know how to activate them, then you need to strengthen them. Go slowly and don’t rush it…
At the same time, you also need to break up old knots and improve flexibility, so your muscles have healthy range of motion and can move safely. Think about your muscles like rubber bands… you want them to be able to stretch safely without snapping.
After you are strong and stable, you will want to challenge your balance, coordination and reflexes, so that you can react to your surroundings and change direction without falling or getting hurt.
Finally, you will want to introduce speed and endurance in order to create a sports-like environment and make sure you can do everything safely at full speed.
What kind of exercises improve agility?
Now that you understand the progression of training, you want to mirror that with exercises too. Let me give you a simple example…
If you were to start working with a great exercise like the split squat, you would begin without any weight and probably holding onto something for balance. You want to make sure you go slowly and use great form (i.e. your knee does not bend forward and activate your glutes, etc.).
At the same time, it will be important to improve flexibility in your hips, legs and calves.
Once, you are able to do the split squat with great form and do not need to lean on anything for balance, it is time to progress…
The best way to do that for the next step would be to simply add weight. A great way to do that would be to do the kettlebell split squat. This will help you increase strength and stability safely and slowly. As time goes on, add more weight.
Once, you feel strong and stable, then it is time to start testing your balance, coordination and reflexes. A great way to do that would be to start doing lunges and then move into walking lunges and finally, do multi-directional lunges. You can add in extra difficulty by challenging your reactions… for example, you can having someone throw a ball to you (or throw it to yourself) while doing lunges, so you have to react.
Finally, if you really want to challenge your speed and endurance, move into different kinds of jumping lunges.
Obviously, there is a fair amount more that goes into a detailed program to improve the entire body, but this should give you a great overview to improving agility. It is well worth the effort, since great agility is absolutely necessary for quality performance and you want to make sure you minimize your risk of injury!