Agility Training for Athletes
Time to Read
7 minute read
- Advantages of increased Agility
- Definition of Agility Training
- Reactive Agility Training [R.A.T]
- 10 Example R.A.T exercises
Athletic agility has become an area of increased focus over the past couple of decades.
There are many definitions of agility, but the one that research has currently settled on is “a rapid whole body movement with change of velocity or direction in response to a stimulus.”
What does that mean, and how does an athlete train to become more agile?
A much simpler definition of agility is your ability to think on your feet.
As an athlete, you have a greater advantage in your sport when you’re able to react more quickly when challenged by an opponent during a game.
While strength and power are important, your ability to react quickly lies mainly in your brain. This ability can be improved through specific types of training.
Advantages of increased agility
Researchers have identified the following advantages to having increased agility:
- Greater body control - agility training improves the athlete’s neuromuscular awareness giving them more control over their body and its movements
- Improved athleticism - athletes claim a noticeable increase in performance as they gain a sense of control over the smallest movements coordinating their body for postural alignment related to speed and skill
- Decreased rate of injury – agility training improves athletic injury management through increased control of the body during that split-second moment of impact where an injury may be prevented or at the very least the severity of injury lessened
- Distinguishes higher performing athletes - agility is regarded as a key aspect of performance in team sports and is considered capable of discriminating between higher-skilled individuals and their lesser-skilled counter-parts
Definition of agility training
There is a lot of confusion among coaches and athletes regarding the best methods to improve agility. They confuse the ability to move or change directions quickly with the ability to react quickly.
According to a review of agility literature by Sheppard and Young, here are the definitive characteristics of agility training:
- Must involve initiation of body movement, change of direction, or rapid acceleration or deceleration
- Must involve whole body movement
- Involves considerable uncertainty, whether spatial or temporal
- Involves a physical and cognitive component, such as recognition of a stimulus, reaction, or execution of a physical response
- Should be sports-specific
The best way to improve agility is not through an endless series of pre-programmed drills, but rather through drills that present you with unprogrammed, unpredictable stimulae that are specific to your sport.
Reactive Agility Training
Research shows that Reactive Agility Training (RAT) is the best method for improving your agility.
RAT challenges you with an unpredicted stimulus, either visual or auditory-based, such as the pointing of a hand or blow of a whistle and you are expected to react.
While research supports the evidence that video-based training can help, the cost and methods for that type of training aren’t practical for the everyday athlete on a normal team.
Sport-specific, unpredictable drills are something an athlete can plan, or a coach can provide to a team at any level of sport.
If you’re looking for drills you can do by yourself, you won’t be very effective. At a minimum you’ll need to find a partner and engineer a few drills to allow for the element of unpredictability.
10 Example Reactive Agility Training Exercises
The following 10 agility drills are effective for improving your agility. These are just examples, there are many more if you look for “Reactive Agility Training.” Remember to try and find ones that are more specific to your sport. Some have links to videos you can view for more detail.
Athlete mirrors coach’s change of direction
Developing and improving athletes’ cognitive and reaction time
The cat and mouse drill is simple and effective; one athlete acts as the mouse and the other acts as the cat. The “mouse” will initiate a chase and use their speed, agility, and advantage of determining the direction to get away. The “cat” will try to catch up by following the unpredictable movements. Be sure to alternate between roles. The distances and total volume can be programmed however you see fit.
The point and move drill requires the athlete to stand in the center of a defined area. The coach will stand in front of the athlete and point in a direction for the athlete to move. The athlete will quickly shuffle or sprint in that direction and return to the center. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions.
For this drill, the athlete will begin by facing in the opposite direction of which he or she will be running. On cue, the athlete will quickly hip turn in the opposite direction and sprint for the desired distance. After sprinting, the athlete will decelerate and wait for the next cue. Be sure to perform the hip turn in both directions.
Wayne Simmonds reactive agility training - the hockey star shows how to improve your agility and reaction time on the ice with this dryland drill.
This is a fun tag-based warm up to develop quick thinking and the reaction time of the players.
Tennis-specific agility and reactive ability drills
Set up four cones in a box, with fifteen yards between each one. Have two athletes start in one corner, blow your whistle twice, allowing the first athlete (the runner) to get a slight head start on the second athlete (the chaser). The runner can run in any direction and change directions as needed as long as he/she stays within the boundaries of the box.
The drill ends if the runner moves outside the box or is tagged, or if the runner can out-maneuver the chaser for ten seconds. To add a competition aspect to it, you can divide your team up into groups of three or four, and have one member from each group play against a member from other groups in a round robin format, keeping score throughout.
There are a variety of tag-based games, all are great for practicing real-world agility.
When considering reactive agility drills, keep in mind that they should also be fun. Kevin Neeld, CSCS states:
"I understand that there is a mind state that hard, effective training shouldn't be fun.
I urge you to reconsider.
When athletes dread training, their performance goes down, and so does their recovery rate.
The more optimistic and enthusiastic they are, the better the result.
Remember that success in competition isn't about going through the motions; it's about reading and reacting quicker than the opponent.
Add some of these drills into your team training and you'll create a fun atmosphere to develop competition-ready athletes. "
Agility is important for all athletes at any level – it allows them to achieve peak performance and improve control over their body while decreasing the risk of injury. Effective training for agility must include some form of reactive behavior to an unpredictable stimulus. Reactive agility training (RAT) is possible to carry out at any level of training and has been proven effective at improving athletic agility while not necessarily sacrificing fun.
About the Author
This article was written by Tim Powell, fitness blogger for Shrinkinguy.com. He promotes tips for eating well, exercise and healthy living.
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