What is Agility? Why You Need It and How to Improve It

Jul 14, 2022

Jaymon Cervantes

by Jaymon Cervantes
ACSM CPT

“Life is 10% what happens to you, and 90% how you react to it.” — Charles R. Swindoll. 

While most hear this quote and consider how it applies to handling emotions, it’s just as relevant in athletic performance. 

ProActive Physical Therapy offers more than just injury rehabilitation. Our skilled team’s deep understanding of anatomy, strength, and performance allows us to apply clinically-based speed and agility training through our sport-specific therapies.  

What Is Agility?

It’s the difference between good and great. Agility is the ability to move quickly and easily. When athletes change direction at top speed with skill and control, they use their agility to react to a stimulus or movement. This immediate, controlled reaction takes a complicated balance of coordination, speed, stamina, and strength. 

While many athletes use their agility gracefully, dismissing it as a natural skill or tendency is easy. However, the correct exercises and drills can cultivate more agility in anyone. 

Why Is Agility Important?

Regardless of the sport, athletes need agility to perform well. There are frequent directional changes, starts and stops, and split-second decisions in high-speed sports like basketball or soccer. 

Athletes need to use their reflexes, coordination, and reaction time to be where they need to be when they need to be there. Agility exercises allow the body to react to situations with speed and efficiency and operate at peak performance. 

Women playing soccer.

What Benefits Come with Improved Agility?

Agility and reaction time are two components of health-related fitness that work together to improve performance. Working on agility enhances reaction time — and vice versa. 

Athletes who work to improve their agility also see improvements in their overall athletic abilities, including in critical areas such as balance and stability, coordination, body control, cognition, and recovery time.

How Does Agility Improve Balance and Stability?

Athletes who prioritize agility training improve their balance while performing dynamic movements. 

Sudden direction changes and quick actions can cause injuries or stumbles. However, athletes who train for agility find fluidity and stability even while changing direction. The improved balance and strength found through agility reduce the risk of accidents or injury while enhancing overall performance. 

What Does Coordination Mean for Agility?

Agility requires muscular coordination, efficiency, and cohesiveness between the upper and lower body. These skills come together in elite athletics, where the body needs to move with precise coordination to outsmart opponents and move efficiently.

Additionally, agility skills improve hand-eye coordination and speed. This ensures that transitions are fluid, impossible passes are caught, and athletes can be in the right place at the right time. 

Young football player running to catch the ball.

How Does Agility Improve Body Control?

When agility exercises require athletes to suddenly burst into top speed or change directions instantly, they aren’t just training for reaction times. They also teach the body to perform these actions with proper form and alignment. 

When athletes train with proper posture and body positioning, they remember that alignment on the field. These skills allow less strain on the body while making powerful movements, less risk of injury, and more dynamic reactions.

What Does Agility Mean for Cognitive Functions?

Both physical and cognitive performance benefit from agility training. Since it requires focus and concentration, studies that examine the benefits of agility training for cognitive function have seen improvements in athletes’ memory, concentration, and mental agility. 

Agility training requires the work of multiple brain areas at once, forming stronger connections among those regions as athletes improve their focus and coordination. These benefits carry over to an improvement in overall cognitive performance.

How Can Agility Improve Recovery Times?

Agility skills tend to incorporate strength, flexibility, and a wide range of muscle groups. These exercises increase stamina, improve the body’s adaptability, add strength, and improve circulation. In addition, these components improve athletes’ recovery times, allowing for fewer injuries and more effective workouts.

How to Improve Agility

 

Agility exercises benefit athletes of all skill levels. Many agility exercises target actions or motions specific to the activities and movements of the athlete’s sport. However, there are also agility exercises that benefit all athletes. 

Athletes should warm up their muscles before moving into agility drills. Warm-ups may include five minutes of cardio, such as jogging, cycling, or brisk walking. Next, athletes should work through dynamic stretches to warm up the muscles that experience the most stress in agility drills. These include:

  • Calf muscles
  • Shin’s muscles
  • Quadriceps
  • Hip flexors
  • Hamstrings
  • Glutes
  • Abdominals

Incorporating agility drills into your exercise routine doesn’t require fancy equipment. At most, agility exercises use cones and a speed ladder, but even those tools aren’t needed, as you can draw a ladder with sidewalk chalk to achieve the same effect. 

Some agility drills that benefit all athletes include:

High Knees – Run forward through an agility ladder with knees as high as possible. Aim to touch each ladder space, landing on the balls of your feet and leaning slightly forward. Repeat for three sets.

Side-to-Side Drills – Side-step through the agility ladder as quickly as possible, ensuring that each foot lands in the ladder space, one at a time. Throughout this drill, keep your center of gravity low and stay on the balls of your feet.

Line or Ladder Sprints – Using the lines of a basketball court or simply three to four lines spaced about 25 yards apart, sprint to the first line, then back to the starting point, then to the second line, then back to the starting point. Continue through all three to four lines. 

Man exercising with ladder drills.

Box Drills – Using a plyometric box, step, or cube between 14 and 36 inches high, step up onto the box with one leg and lift the opposite knee to the chest as you shift your weight to the top of the box, then step down. Repeat, alternating the stepping leg for a set of ten. 

Man exercising with box drills.

Following the same format, step laterally onto the box. Then, practice jumping onto the box, landing with both feet. Perform three sets of ten for each box drill.

Improve Your Agility with ProActive Physical Therapy

ProActive Physical Therapy offers trained physical therapists in Tucson, AZ, and the surrounding areas who work with athletes to optimize performance, reduce the risk of injury, and improve alignment and body control. 

Our skilled physical therapists ensure our clients get the comprehensive support they need in honing their agility, speed, and reaction times. When you’re ready to take your training to the next level, contact ProActive Physical Therapy

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