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Our 25 Best Agility Drills to Enhance Braking Skills & Change of Direction

Written by: Nick Jack
Category: 2014
on 29 January 2021
Hits: 579

Welcome to part two of our two part series of articles about agility training. In part one I discussed in great detail how valuable agility training is to different age groups and why it is more than just a series of drills for sporting athletes. While it certainly has incredible benefits to the sporting athlete it is a highly under-rated form of training that can significantly improve how people move in daily life. You do not need to be a sporting person to reap the benefits of these unique drills. In this article I am going to share with you what my favourite agility drills are, starting with the easiest versions and progressing to the seriously challenging and complex drills. To help you understand what drill is best for you to use I will label each of the various exercises with "best for" so you can stick to the ones most relevant to your needs. However, if you are confident and you feel you have mastered the simple drills, by all means challenge yourself and try the various progressions towards the end of the article. As long as you keep things safe and train in an area that has good stable footing you should be fine.

The Two Biggest Problems Most People Have With Agility Training

Before we jump straight into the exercises it is important to address a few of the problems surrounding safety and technique.

The two biggest problems I find most people have with learning these drills are

  1. They cannot stabilise their body during landings.
  2. They move too slowly.

If your problem is with stabilizing you will need to regress the movement and work on some of the fundamentals for a bit longer, such as single leg deadlifts, lunges, squats, and single leg squats. I suggest to read the article - What is stability training for more ideas on how to do this. Once you have improved your stability and strength with these slow and more controlled fundamental movement patterns you will find it easier to progress to the much faster and lightning quick exercises shown in this article. 

And if your problem is you move too slowly you may need to spend some time with power training to learn how to do this. This is where you can learn how to accelerate and generate extremely fast and explosive speed with exercise. These are exercises like medicine ball throws and hang cleans.

You will find a great deal of information about power training in this article – Why power training is so important to include in your workout

The more challenging exercises towards the end of this article do not allow you time to think and align joints with control. Your body has to be working on a reflex level and be able to adjust and maintain posture within a millisecond of you moving. The strength of the muscles is not of as much importance during these movements as what the timing is. For the timing to be right you have to be fast!

And it is for these very reasons that I find agility training can be so valuable for so many people. Who doesn't want to move fast with perfect posture and stability?

The very first thing you need to do before you even consider what exercises you are going to use for your agility workout is to ensure you have a safe area to work in. I always ensure that the floor or surface I am working on is not slippery or has potholes and objects that I could trip over and hurt myself. I will also make sure that I have plenty of space and nothing is too close to me while I am completing various exercises at high speed.

The next thing to do is determine what equipment you need.

What Equipment Do You Need?

The best part about agility training is you do not need to have a stack of dumbbells and barbells to carry with you. Almost all of these exercises require your own body-weight as resistance. However, there are some great tools you can use to challenge your workout.

Some of the tools you can use are:

  1. Cones
  2. Mini Hurdles
  3. Speed Ladders
  4. Resistance Bands & Slingshot tubing
  5. Medicine Balls
  6. Small box

If you do not have any of these tools that is fine you can still create an awesome agility workout with no equipment. If you think creatively you can easily create similar equipment by using chalk to draw speed ladders on the road and using various objects to create hurdles to jump over. Even without any of this you can still complete most of these exercises very effectively.

Now that we have covered safety and equipment where you do you start with your exercises?

Foundation Strength & Foot Stability

It goes without saying that before you even attempt agility work you will need to have a great understanding of the basic strength movements of:

  1. Squat - 7 Best Squats for bulletproof knees
  2. Bend - How to learn the deadlift
  3. Lunge - Lunges are vital to athletic performance and this is why
  4. Single Leg Stance - How to use single leg squats as an assessment tool

You will also need to have a great understanding of FOOT STABILITY and HIP MOBILITY.

Grab a copy of the FREE REPORT on functional movement below to ensure you have these skills before you start your agility session.

All of these movements are key ingredients you will require to complete the upcoming drills safely and efficiently. In every one of the videos you will hear me ramble on about "foot plant" as it is so important to executing these drills safely. The plant foot angle is intended to provide an optimal base for eccentric control of deceleration and concentric force production during the subsequent acceleration or push-off movement. If the foot plant is correct, the deceleration and the push-off movement become smoothly linked.

If the foot plant is poorly placed you will significantly increase your chance of injury and in particular the knee and the ACL!

You may not be 100% perfect across all of these movements and that is fine, but you must have a good understanding of what good technique is, and more importantly where your weaknesses and deficits with these movements and joints are.

As long as you are working on this you can begin to introduce your agility work which if used wisely will help you to improve these areas anyway. Always remember stability is needed to gain strength, and strength is needed to produce speed and power and the ability to brake.

"Effective stopping demands a high level of eccentric strength demands. It is the proportionate bending of the ankle/knee/hip. Basic strength is a pre-requisite for force production and reduction."

Many of the exercises will demand the body to handle forces in an eccentric mode up to 12 times body-weight and be able to change direction and overcome those forces. This all must be done in tenths of a second. It is developed through exercises that develop unilateral and reciprocal leg strength. The following table shows the relationship of the strength qualities to the components of agility.

These qualities must be developed together for the person to succeed in mastering the exercises. This means that you must be working on your strength program in combination with your agility work for one feeds the other.

Many sporting coaches believed all you needed to do to get better at these drills was do more work through repetition of the movement. Their theory was the more the athlete did the drill the stronger they will get, but unfortunately it does not work this way. The bad habits and patterns that are developed due to improper strength often result in poor movement mechanics. So even though the athlete is completing the drill, the transfer to the sport will be negative as they will be learning how to compensate. Incorrect repetitions lead to the acquisition of faulty movement patterns that will create the formation of compensation, poor performance, and eventually injury.

You can read more about this in the article - Why it is never good to sacrifice exercise technique

Okay now we have got the important foundation covered it is time to get into the agility work. There literally is hundreds of combinations you can use so if I have left anything out I apologize for there was so many I wanted to include but could not fit it all in.

Level 1: 6 Basic Agility Exercises

In part one we very quickly covered the fundamentals of the ATHLETIC READY POSITION and the LATERAL BOUND which are two key positions used in most agility drills. In the video below I cover these for you in more detail, but I also show you 4 other exercises I would label as fundamentals to master before progressing to the more challenging drills.

In the video I use a mini hurdle to jump over, however if I did not have one I could just draw a line on the ground and jump over that instead. I could even place a stick or my jacket to use as a hurdle.

The 6 exercises shown in the video above are:

  1. Athletic ready position
  2. Single leg hop
  3. 2 Leg lateral jump
  4. Lateral bound
  5. Zig Zag lateral bound
  6. (bonus exercise was the balance board stick and hold)

Best suited to:

These exercises are suitable for ALL AGES.

Level 2: 6 Lateral Movement Drills

This level focuses specifically on lateral movement and starts with basic strength type movements of the lateral lunge that gradually increases in speed until it reaches the explosive change of direction cutting movements.

I have found this is a great way to introduce a beginner to these complex skills by showing them the value of a strong foot plant and hip position at slow speed, then using some clever progressions of the same exercise to gradually speed up the movement. The last two exercises are performed at explosive speed and require incredible braking skills.

I keep progressing to the point that they begin to lose form and then that is the point I work with until they can get this right before allowing them to move on.

Below is the video that features these drills.

The exercises in this video are as follows

  1. Lateral lunge
  2. Lateral lunge to 1 leg balance with lateral raise
  3. Lateral bound to 1 leg balance with lateral raise
  4. Explosive lateral bound to 1 leg balance with lateral raise
  5. Low box lateral cutting
  6. Lateral hopping over mini hurdles

Best suited to: These exercises are suitable to kids and sporting athletes. The first two exercises are great for older adults but the mini-hurdle hopping and lateral box cut are a bit too advanced and not relevant to their demands.

My preferred exercise for older adults is the lateral ankle drill shown below. This is in no way an easy exercise for anyone, let alone an older adult, but it comes with much less risk of injury than the much more explosive jumping exercises.

Anyone who has suffered an ankle injury in the past will benefit greatly from the exercise above. The backwards hopping is in particular a fantastic way to build tremendous strength endurance into the calf muscles, ligaments, and tendons around the ankle joint to prevent future sprains.

You can read more about other drills I use with ankles here - Why Ankle Mobility Is So Important

Level 3: 8 Braking Skill Agility Drills

Now we are starting to get into the more serious drills that require a great deal of skill, concentration, strength, balance, and coordination.

The main focus with these drills is to build incredible BRAKING POWER. These exercises will develop your ability to slam the brakes on and stop with good alignment and posture. On the sporting field this means it is easier to change direction, it keeps you on your feet and prevents you falling but most importantly it prevents injury. It is in this movement that we see so many non-contact ACL injuries occur so it is very important to fully concentrate on getting these exercises perfect.

The exercises shown in this video are as follows:

  1. 2 leg lateral jumps
  2. 2 leg lateral jumps for height
  3. 2 leg lateral jumps for speed
  4. Mini-hurdle maze jump
  5. Mini-hurdle maze jump with crossover
  6. Single leg FORWARD hop and stick landing
  7. Single leg LATERAL hop and stick landing
  8. Above drills added with a cutting move

Best suited to: The two leg drills shown at the start of the video below I will often use with older adults and kids for there is minimal risk and less coordination required to get these right. Once the skill is developed it makes it significantly easier to progress to the much more challenging and complex SINGLE LEG LANDING exercises shown later.

Make sure you master all of these exercises before you try to progress to this next stage.

Level 4: Plyometrics & Crossover

This next level takes things to a whole new level as we introduce more lightning quick movements and the crossover drill.

Firstly I will explain what plyometric means. When performing a rapid stretch before the contraction as seen in the rapid jumping of Dylan shown in the video below, not only can the elastic qualities of the muscle be harnessed, but there will be increased neural drive for muscle contraction, increasing the number of active motor units.

This has been termed “plyometric”.

The video shown to the left gives you a great visual of this and I also show you how it can relate to a sport like basketball. The video on the right shows you several versions of a hopping test used for determining when an athlete is ready to participate in sport after ACL surgery. 

 

Plyometric activities involve preloading the muscle using an eccentric muscle contraction prior to the concentric phase. With the addition of a quick counter-movement, the force production of the muscle increases. While the elastic qualities and the stretch-shortening cycle are involved, there is also increased neural drive to the contracting muscle mediated through a spinal reflex called the myotatic reflex.

Anything that requires this neural drive requires high levels of coordination and skill which is why these drills are so hard to do. Strength alone is not enough.

Best suited to: Sporting athletes.

This particular exercise is not suitable to kids and older adults. However early on in level 2 we saw one example of the lateral bound on the BOSU using this plyometric speed. That would be a good version to use.

The next drill is the CROSSOVER.

When you watch someone complete this drill it appears really easy, yet it requires high levels of coordination and speed to complete it efficiently. This is where many non-sporting people are really exposed with their lack of speed and acceleration. The beauty of learning this exercise is it teaches you how to gain maximal ground in the least amount of time.

Best suited to: Sporting athletes and kids. This can be invaluable skill to teach a sporting athlete looking to improve performance and speed on the playing arena.

It is also something we should be teaching kids as there is minimal risk of injury with this exercise, but it can be a "game changer" in terms of their movement development. This is a great way to improve their coordination.

Level 5: Reactivity

This last level is the most fun and by far the most challenging. I love this quote by Peter Twist as it sums up the importance of using reactivity training for sporting athletes.

“Sport situations require the ability to read and react in an environment of organized chaos. Sport is unpredictable, demanding quick decisions, the ability to move explosively in any direction usually within short distances, typically within a range from fingertip to fingertip.”

All of the drills up to this point the person knows exactly what to do and what to expect. Where things get really hard is when they do not know what to expect and have to react within a millisecond to the random stimulus that is thrown at them. This part of agility training becomes very sports specific but as you will see it can also benefit the older adult with reacting to a slip or a trip!

Here are some videos we have filmed in the past using reactivity training.

This first video on the left shows how we combine a slingshot tubing along with verbal instructions to try and disrupt Nathan from executing his agility exercises. His body has to react to the distractions as fast as possible while he moves. The second video to the right shows a hockey player looking to improve speed, power and change of direction skills. She had worked for several months on all of strength and movement skills before we started to introduce some sports specific reaction work. The slingshot tubing seen in this video is an awesome tool to use for these various drills as it applies resistance and at times over-speed to the hips that must remain low and slightly back in order to efficiently move.

 

While it seems like these type of drills are limited to sports only, the benefit of this type of training can be applied to older adults and one of the best ways is to use the mirror drill that we showed you in part one.

For such a simple drill it is really very good at improving reaction times.

 

I was hoping to film a few other videos for you this week with some older adults featured in them but I simply ran out of time. Speed ladder work is various shuffle drills around cones are other great ways to incorporate reaction training in non-sporting people. 

Special Report With Additional Information

Below is my most detailed report relating to agility and change of direction exercises and methods. I originally created this report as a rehabilitation program for ACL knee injuries but decided to include a stack of additional information to use as a preventative program as well. This report provides you with detailed assessments and step by step instructions for implementing all of the functional movement patterns and agility drills seen in this article.

Summary

That brings us to the end of another epic article that should give you tons of ideas to use with your training. Make sure you follow my You Tube channel Noregretspt as I will be posting a lot more new videos over the coming weeks. I was hoping to film a lot more in time for this newsletter but I ran out of time.

Anyway I am sure you would agree you have a lot of stuff to work with already. Please do not underestimate the power of agility training for changing how you move. Whether you play sports or not they are so good to be using in combination with your strength, mobility and stability training for it helps to tie it all together into efficient flowing movement.

Like anything the more often you practice with the focus on movement quality, the easier it gets and the faster you will move.

For more ideas and information on specific topics I may not have covered in detail be sure to check out our INDEX PAGE on the website that has over 200 of our best articles. These are all sorted into categories for quick reference so you can find what you are after more easily.

If you do need specific help with your exercise program please feel free to reach out to me for help and we can organise a consultation or Zoom online program if you live overseas.

About The Author

Nick Jack is owner of No Regrets Personal Training and has over 15 years’ experience as a qualified Personal Trainer, Level 2 Rehabilitation trainer, CHEK practitioner, and Level 2 Sports conditioning Coach. Based in Melbourne Australia he specializes in providing solutions to injury and health problems for people of all ages using the latest methods of assessing movement and corrective exercise.

References:

  • Twist Conditioning Sports Strength - By Peter Twist
  • Twist Conditioning Sports Movement - By Peter Twist
  • Functional Training For Sports - By Mike Boyle
  • Athletes Acceleration Speed Training & Game Like Speed - by Lee Taft
  • Knee Injuries In Athletes - by Sports Injury Bulletin
  • The ACL Solution - by Robert G Marx
  • Understanding & Preventing Non-Contact ACL Injuries - American Orthopaedic Society For Sports Medicine
  • Movement - By Gray Cook
  • Corrective Exercise Solutions for the Hip & Shoulder - by Evan Osar
  • The Psoas Solution - by Evan Osar
  • Diagnosis & Treatment Of Movement Impairment Syndromes - By Shirley Sahrman
  • Low Back Disorders - by Stuart McGill
  • Anatomy Trains - by Thomas Meyers
  • Motor Learning and Performance - By Richard A Schmidt and Timothy D Lee
  • Assessment & Treatment Of Muscle Imbalance - By Vladimir Janda
  • How To Eat, Move & Be Healthy by Paul Chek
  • Scientific Core Conditioning Correspondence Course - By Paul Chek
  • Advanced Program Design - By Paul Chek