Agility Training 101: Helpful Facts For Improving Physical Fitness And Athletic Performance

Agility Training

What Agility Training Is

According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine, Agility is the capacity to change direction, stop and start in a short amount of time, with correct posture. Agility training, then, incorporates an exercise program that trains different patterns of movement with the aim to increase directional speed, by using ladders, cones and other tools as obstacle courses. There are two standard drills that can test one’s agility level. One is the L.E.F.T. (Lower Extremity Functional Test) and other is the Illinois Agility Test.

The L.E.F.T. (Lower Extremity Functional Test)

The Illinois Agility Test
Participants are instructed to do specific patterns of movement around two cones, with a distance of 10 yards in between.
– the participant is then asked to sprint from the first cone to the second
– then he backpedals as he returns to the first cone
– he then shuffles to the second cone, then shuffles back to the to the first
– he then cariocas to the second cone, then cariocas back to the first
– and finally he sprints to the second cone.

The Illinois Agility Test

Participants are asked to run through a course of cones using a specified running pattern, the area being 10 meters wide and 5 meters long, in the shortest amount of time possible, without knocking down a cone. On average, an excellent time would be 15.2 seconds for men and under 17 seconds for women.

The Illinois Agility Test
Agility training is a valuable component for many different sports because it not only improves hand, eye and foot coordination, it also boosts strength, balance and endurance. This is important in many athletic disciplines, including:

  • American football
  • Badminton
  • Basket ball
  • Boxing
  • Hockey
  • Martial Arts
  • Rugby
  • Soccer
  • Squash
  • Tennis
  • Volleyball
  • Wrestling

Myths About Agility Training

1. Agility training alone increases agility

Professional trainers who train football athletes stress that agility training alone won’t improve sports performance. The reason is that without strength training (e.g. lifting weights), athletes can’t have the ability to produce the force needed to change directional speed. One trainer uses the scientific formula for force (Force = mass x acceleration) and says greater force is always needed to increase acceleration. Being agile means being able to exert a greater amount of force to push yourself off the field, to be able to hit the ground running.

2. Agility does not equal speed

The National Strength and Conditioning Association emphasizes that excellent running speed does not equate to better game performance, especially in sports like football. In their book “Developing Agility and Quickness”, they conclude that athletes who have the ability for maintaining speed while being agile in different directions can achieve greater success at competition. They say that training programs should not just include perfecting 40 yard dashes but improving directional speed, quickness and reaction reflexes.

Standard Training Techniques

While most sports professionals and trainers view natural genetic advantages like physical size or power as an athletic advantage, experts gauge agility as a main factor for true sports success. Agility also actually requires mental skill that can be improved over time with consistent repetition. Coaches and trainers adapt different exercises to train the following components of physical ability:

  1. Acceleration – the ability to go to maximum speed from a starting position
  2. Balance – the ability to control the body while in motion
  3. Coordination – the ability to execute athletic movements while using different parts of the body simultaneously
  4. Deceleration – the ability to slow down in the midst of directional speed
  5. Flexibility – the ability to have a range of motion while executing any movement
  6. Power – the ability to complete work at a faster rate
  7. Strength – the ability to use maximum force given a specified velocity

Tools for Agility Drills

Agility drills usually require sets of hurdles, cones and ladders. Each tool is used to specifically help train a particular type of movement. Average exercises include:

  • jumping in or jumping over obstacles, using cones, hurdles or ladders
  • running through obstacle courses, using cones, spikes or other “markers”
  • doing lateral or sideways movements while increasing speed, using ladders

Experts recommend perfecting the “cutting action” movement that’s critical for most actual gameplay. It involves training the legs to power movement instead of achieving faster foot speed. A cutting action calls for pushing a leg (using the hips and shoulders as turning points) in the desired direction and keeping feet closer to the ground to increase force to induce better acceleration.9 Ladders are usually best for training this valuable skill, commonly required in most sports activities.

Why Ladders are Better Tools for Agility Training

While cones are more commonly used for agility drills, agility ladders are becoming a more popular staple for many coaches and trainers, whether for professional or amateur sports. Agility ladders provide more opportunities for developing the “cutting action” skill needed to master actual gameplay movements.

Agility Training

In addition, ladders make good warm up tools to make the body better prepared for other more complicated training programs, whether for strength or resistance exercises. This provides an advantage over other agility training devices because it contributes to better recovery from intense workouts, thereby lessening chances for serious sports injuries.


Agility training is a vital skill that can benefit anyone interested in physical fitness and improved athletic performance. Combined with other programs like strength and resistance training, it can enhance a number of physical abilities, including: power, balance, speed, coordination and flexibility. Different techniques and tools can be used to perform agility drills. The Agility ladder, specifically, can offer more opportunities to perfect cutting action movements essential to gaining better performance success on field. This agility training tool also prevents sport injuries by providing sufficient warm up exercises prior to more intense workouts.

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About Ferland Manuel

Dr, Manuel Ferland is health care specialist,