Every athlete wants to get quicker, nimbler, and more explosive—and that means agility training.
But just because you want to become the best wide receiver in your weekend football league doesn’t mean you have to do shuttle runs until you barf. Just as resistance training and high-intensity interval training have their own rules, so does agility training.
Here’s a set of five guidelines and principles to help guide you in the right direction as you hone your quickness. And when you're ready to hit the track, be sure to check out these five agility workouts that make you better at any sport.
Travis Hansen, C.P.T. (NASM, NCSF), is the director of the Reno Speed School at the South Reno Athletic Club and was recently named the leading authority on speed training for the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA).
Without adequate rest intervals between workouts, sets, and reps the neuromuscular system will not be able to fully restore leaving you slower and less coordinated.
Think of agility training like sharpening a pencil—a few turns of the crank each day and you’re good to go. Anything beyond that will just grind you down.
#2. Keep the volume and frequency low.
You don’t need massive amounts of training volume to become quicker and more agile, especially if you’re a beginner-level athlete. Lots of guys tend to overdo it on agility training, but this is one training modality where volume is actually counterproductive. When it comes to agility training, less is more.
#3. Perform every rep with maximal effort.
Once you’ve learned the proper technique for an exercise and you feel absolutely comfortable with it, then make sure to practice every rep with explosiveness and operate at the highest speed possible so that your body is forced to react quicker and faster. Only by training at peak output will your body develop new power and agility.
#4. Save your conditioning work for the end of the workout.
Remember: Agility training IS NOT endurance training. Many athletes, coaches, and trainers fall into the trap of training for high levels of endurance during agility training segments of each workout.
Both are absolutely essential to an athlete’s overall physical development, but if you approach agility training like endurance work, then you’ll inevitably feel frustrated and burnt out. And while there will always be a slight natural carryover between speed and endurance training, they lead to very different adaptations in your body—so treat them differently when programming your workouts.
Your workout should go in these phases: (1) Warmup/preparation, (2) agility or speed training, (3) strength training, (4) metabolic conditioning, (5) cooldown.
#5. Not all agility training is created equal.
There are two types of agility training: rehearsed and reactive.
In rehearsed training, athletes move through pre-set cone arrangements, focusing exact techniques to become more explosive and more efficient at changing direction. Rehearsed exercise training it helps improve potential motor learning in centers of the brain—and that means permanently engraining the correct motions that you can use later. Think of rehearsed training as a baseline method that an athlete needs to master before progressing to reactive movement scenarios.
Reactive agility training, on the other hand, challenges athletes to react to unpredictable cues in real time to mimic game scenarios. Coaches or trainers will use visual or audio signals—whistles or signs, for example—to challenge athletes to think fast and move in response to game situations.