How to Become More Agile
Updated: Jun 27, 2020
How to Become More Agile
In most sports, the ability to change direction quickly is vital for success. The ability to accelerate, decelerate or change direction in a game has many different components to it. Rarely in sports does straight line speed hold as much value as agility does, which is why it is vital to ensure you are training properly for the demands that decelerating, accelerating and change of direction require. Agility has 5 main components that must be accounted for in a training program, and include:
leg muscle makeup
speed of decision making
Speed is often measured and defined as straight line speed. An example of a test for linear speed is the 40 yard dash. The main determinants of linear speed are how long your stride is, and how fast you perform each stride. Therefore, to increase your straight line speed you either need to make your stride longer, make it faster, or a mix of both. Ways to make your stride longer are to work on your technique. Most beginner sprinters lose a lot of their speed not due to power, but due to technique. I would recommend watching this youtube video to learn more on the mechanics of a good sprinter (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KMDnPnRaKj0).
One way to begin helping with sprinting technique is to work on your hip, quad and hamstring mobility to enable you to move better and reach farther. Another way to increase stride length is by increasing the amount of time we are in the air. Single leg plyometrics, with an emphasis on being “springy” rather than powerful are a great start. This means using drills that focus on spending as little time on the ground as possible.
The next way to increase speed is to increase stride frequency. Factors that influence stride frequency include height, hip strength, neurological capabilities and technique.
Leg Muscle Makeup
Strength is an important factor to speed, however strength means nothing if you can’t use that strength at high speeds. The ability to use strength to generate speed is determined by the force you can produce, which is determined by calculating acceleration x bodyweight. Therefore, strength in relation to your body weight, is much more important than total strength in terms of speed.
There are three main types of strength that help us with our agility. These are:
Concentric strength - this strength is used when we push off during a running, jumping or cutting movement
Eccentric strength - Is used at any time we are trying to decelerate. Eccentric strength helps us stop quicker, so we can begin the concentric part of the movement
Stabilization strength - If necessary muscles are not stabilized during a running stride, you can lose a lot of force.
Another variable that affects our agility is our ability to generate power. Power refers to the force we exert, multiplied by the speed we do it at. One way to work on power generation is to lift weights while ensuring you are moving the weight quickly. By doing this, you are working on generating a lot of force by moving the weight, while also working on your speed.
It is extremely hard to go over all of the various techniques for different movements in one article. However, when doing exercises for agility, a couple of tips to improve your speed are:
Keep our arms tight - many athletes lose a lot of power due to inefficient arm movement. Keep your arms tight to the body, moving them forwards and backwards rather than side to side
Follow the 70°-110° rule - When sprinting, when bringing your arm forward bring it to approximately a 70° angle, and when your arm swings back extend it to a 110° angle
Have your hand straight and fingers spread apart - Rather than have your fist curled up in a ball, activate through the hands and spread your fingers apart.
When stopping and starting, position your upper body so that you’re leaning forward slightly
When sprinting at full speed, have your upper body in an upright position
Whether you like it or not, your body height, weight, fat and the length and circumference of your limbs play a big part in athletic success. Although many of these variables cannot be changed, some can. For example, if you are overweight, chances are you won’t be able to move as quickly as someone who is not overweight. By changing this one variable you can greatly increase your athletic capability.
Speed of Decision Making
Doing agility drills with a specific route or pattern is great for physiological adaptations, however in a competition reaction to external stimulus plays a massive part in our performance. For example in a 100m sprint, if you react 0.5 seconds slower than your competitor on the start line, chances are they will win the race. Components that affect how quickly we react to certain circumstances are:
Ability to process information
Our knowledge of specific situations and ability to anticipate what’s going to happen
How effectively and quickly we make decisions
How quickly our nervous system sends signals from our brain to our muscles, also known as our arousal level
When training out of competition, it is important to add drills that work on speed and agility while reacting to an external stimulus. These external stimuli can include a partner telling you what to do in a drill, someone using a visual stimulus such as their fingers to signal what to do, or reacting to where a partner moves to.
Dawes, J. (2019). Developing agility and quickness. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.