Agility is often defined as “the ability to start, stop and change directions under control” and is essential for successful performance in team and individual sports. It is not uncommon for some coaches to have athletes perform a series of agility drills, e.g., pro agility run, T-run, 3-cone run, etc., hoping that rehearsing the movements in these drills will improve agility. Most often, it will not. Athletes who have learned how to move properly will look good when performing these drills while others will look bad. Improvements after several agility training sessions are often due to the athlete learning how to perform the drills, not to improved movement efficiency. Simply performing drills will not teach proper movement or enhance movement skills. Agility drills assess how well you move and should be used initially to determine movement strengths and weaknesses and later to re-enforce movement efficiency after efficient movement skills are developed.
Let’s look at the pro-agility run (also known as the 5-10-5), for example. The drill is 20 yards in length and requires the athlete to start from a static position, sprint 5-yards laterally in one direction and then stop and change directions quickly before sprinting 10 yards in the opposite direction. The drill ends with the athlete stopping under control and quickly changing directions before sprinting 5 yards in the opposite direction. The criterion measure is how fast the athlete can complete the 20-yard course. After multiple trials, most athletes will become familiar with the movements required in the drill and performance time will improve primarily as the result of learning but there will be little improvement in movement skills and limited transfer to on-field movements.
The key to efficient movement is to teach athletes how to achieve the optimal angles and movement skills required to start, stop and change directions under control, not to run them through drills that require these movements. In the pro-agility run, for example, the athlete has to stop after first traveling 5 yards and then after traveling 10 yards. While both involve starting and stopping quickly under control, each is performed as the athlete is traveling at significantly different speeds and with different amounts of momentum (quantities of motion).
Table 1 contains the split times and momentum generated by a 200-pound (91.8 kg) athlete who runs the first 5-yard leg in 1.201 seconds; the 10-yard leg in 2.018 seconds; the final 5-yards in 1.068 seconds and the completes the drill in 4.387 seconds.
|First 5-yd (4.572 m)||1.301||3.514||322.7|
|Middle 10-yd (9.144 m)||2.018||4.531||416.0|
|Last 5-yd (4.572 m)||1.068||4.281||393.1|
In-house data on participants in NFL combine training programs at the Landow Performance Center in Denver, CO indicates that it takes 11 steps for most participants to complete the pro-agility run after several weeks of training; 3 steps in the first leg, 5 steps in the middle and 3 steps to finish. Similar testing on young, minor league professional baseball players and first-time participants in NFL combine training programs, however, indicates that some take 13 steps to complete the same run; 3 steps in the first leg, 7 steps in the middle and 3 steps to finish.
Why the large difference? Momentum and training. Momentum is the quantity of motion in a moving object and is the product of mass (kg) x velocity (m/sec). The greater the momentum, the more force needed to decelerate and stop. While the three legs or segments of the pro agility run appear to be similar, they differ significantly in momentum. The momentum of the player in the previous example during the second leg (10-yard segment) is approximately 30% greater than during the first 5 yards which means that it take approximately 30% more effort to stop and change directions in the middle of the run than in the first leg. This explains, in part, why some young athletes take 7 steps in the middle of the run – they either lack the single-leg strength to overcome high levels of momentum, are unable to quickly transition from force reduction to force production and/or do not understand how to achieve the proper angles and movement skills needed to overcome the increases in momentum observed in the middle of the run (training). Research and previous experience indicate that these shortcomings can be corrected with proper training.
Research on over 1,100 professional baseball players from rookie ball to the Major Leagues has shown a positive correlation between performance on the pro agility run and offensive and defensive performance1, 2. Likewise, data suggest that many of the injuries observed across all sports occur during changes of direction, making agility an important factor in both performance and injury reduction3.
So what do you do? While providing a step-by-step agility training program is beyond the scope of this post, there are some basic things that can be done to improve agility. For example, coaches should work with athletes to:
- Increase single-leg eccentric strength to improve force reduction
- Add plyometrics to shorten the transition time from force reduction to force production
- Teach athletes how to achieve the proper angles and body positions needed to efficiently reduce and produce force quickly.
Landow has had success by having athletes break the movements down into shorter, progressive segments and perform them slowly at first and then gradually increase the speed with which each segment is performed. Once an athlete can perform each segment properly at a reasonable speed, the segments are gradually sequenced together and performed at a controlled speed. Over time, all segments are integrated into one sequential movement and then the intensity and speed of the movements are gradually increased. According to Landow, adding reps to dysfunctional movement, i.e., doing more reps and drills, will not improve movement; often it will make the dysfunction worst4.
When teaching the pro-agility run, for example, Landow often uses the following steps:
- Teach the athletes how to properly start.
- Teach the athletes how to properly stop under control.
- Teach the athletes how to start and then stop under control at different speeds.
- Teach the athletes how to start, stop and re-start in the opposite direction under control.
- When they can perform these three skills efficiently at slower speeds, increase the speed of each movement.
- When they can start and stop properly at relative high speeds, perform the first 5-yard segment of the run at half, three-quarters and near-max speed.
- When they perfect the first 5-yard segment, teach them how to perform the middle (10-yard) section starting at slow and progressing to faster speeds.
- When they can perform the middle section quickly and under control, combine the first two segments, i.e., have them perform the first two segments in sequence starting at half-speed and gradually increasing to full-speed.
- Teach them how to perform the last 5-yard segment at progressively faster speeds.
- Combine the three segments and have the athlete perform the segments in sequence starting at slow and progressing to faster speeds.
- Hoffman, J. R., et. al., Anthropometric and performance comparisons in professional baseball players. J S&C Res. 23:2173, 2176, 2009.
- Mangine, G.T., et. al. Predictors of fielding performance in professional baseball players. Int. J Sports Physiology and Performance. 8:510-516, 2013.
- Boyle, M. Advances in functional training. On Target Publications, 2010.
- Landow, L. Train to win. http://lorenlandowperformance.com/
Gene Coleman, Ed. D., RSCC-E, FACSM, was the Head S&C Coach for the Houston Astros from 1978-2012, has been a strength and conditioning consultant for the Texas Rangers since 2013 and is currently Professor Emeritus in the Exercise and Health Sciences Program at the University of Houston – Clear Lake. Loren Landow, CSCS, MAT Specialist, USAW, is Director of Loren Landow Performance, Denver, CO. http://www.speedandagilitycoach.com/ and Director of Sports Performance at Elite Sports Services. http://elitesportsservices.com/ .