When I was younger, I was rigorously involved in team sports. Particularly, I developed an interest in basketball, practicing inside and outside the gym six days a week. As a basketball player, agility exercises were part of the regular training routine. Few, if any, competitive basketball players have lived without becoming all too familiar with defensive slides, “suicide” drills, and “foot fires.” If you’ve ever been involved in a team sport, you probably also done your fair share of agility exercises as part of your training.
Unfortunately, as we grow older and many of us become less involved in competitive sports, agility exercises are often dropped from our workout routines. Even runners, bicyclists, and surfers forget the very real importance of agility exercises. Why is agility important? Agility is defined as the ability to move your body quickly and easily with accuracy and fluidity. As you practice agility, you’ll improve your strength, balance, explosive power, reaction time, and coordination. As part of a workout routine, agility exercises burn more calories than continuous movement exercises (like running) and work more muscle groups than isolated muscle-strengthening exercises.
As you can imagine, these skills are important whether you’re hiking a mountain, scaling a cliff, riding a wave, or training for a marathon. They’re also important for retaining your ability to enjoy any sort of athletic activity as you get older. Fortunately, you don’t have to have a ton of space or fancy equipment to start an agility routine. While some equipment, such as cones and small hurdles, can be helpful, there are many exercises that don’t require anything but comfortable workout clothes and a small area in which to perform your exercises.
Here are five of the most beneficial agility exercises to get you started.
The exercise known as “grapevines” have a variety of names—Karaoke steps and Carioca steps are two of the other most popular. Whatever you call this drill, it’s fun to do and very effective. You’ll often see football players doing these while they warm up.
Face forward and put both arms out to the side, parallel to the floor. Begin by moving laterally to the left by stepping left with your left foot, then cross your right leg in front of your left foot and step as far to the left as you can. Uncross your legs, and continue by moving your right food behind your left foot, stepping as far to the left as you can. Continue this movement for the length of the room or outdoor space. Repeat in the reverse direction, stepping first to the right with your right foot.
This is one set. Do at least three sets of grapevines. Here is a video of this agility exercise to help you visualize the movement.
2. Side Shuffles (aka Defensive Slides)
Side shuffles, or defensive slides, are another simple agility exercise – but be warned, this simple movement becomes physically difficult when done correctly. You’ll want at least 10 feet of space in which to move side to side; however, a distance closer to 30 feet is preferable. Don’t worry if you have to perform this in a smaller space—this just makes the drill more difficult!
Start facing front with your left foot on a marker at the end of your designated space. Start in a crouched stance with your hands up by your sides. Step out with your right foot, pushing off your left. Shuffle as fast as you can, without crossing your legs, to the marker on the other side of your space. Without standing up, switch directions and repeat. This is one set.
Do three sets of these to start, and add more as you build up strength in your legs.
3. Rapid Alternative Step-Up
This exercise requires you to find a step (or curb) about 6 inches high. Though simple, this drill gets your heart rate up and improves your mobility.
Face the step or curb. Alternate stepping up and down on the step as fast as you can for 30 seconds. Switch your lead foot and repeat for another 30 seconds. This is one set.
Do three sets of this drill. As you practice, you may be able to increase the time to 60 seconds with each lead foot.
4. Jump and Reach
The “jump and reach” drill is one of the most strenuous. As you do these, remember that they’re great for increasing leg power and vertical jump, burning calories, and toning your glutes, quads, and calves.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and squat slightly, bending at the knees and hips. Bring arms back slightly and explosively jump into the air, reaching arms up as high as you can. Land in your starting position and repeat without stopping in between reps.
In this drill, focus only on vertical height. Depending on your level of physical fitness, you may want to start with just two or three reps. More fit athletes may start with five or ten reps. Slowly increase reps as you become able to do so without causing pain or immense strain.
5. Hop-on-One-Foot Ladder Drills (without the Ladder)
There are many ways to perform quick foot work drills using a rope ladder placed flat on the ground. However, you can also do these without the ladder—just make 10 tape or chalk marks on the ground about 1 to 1.5 feet apart. In this exercise, you’ll be hopping on one foot over the marks you’ve made.
Start at one end of your make-shift “ladder,” with the first horizontal line in front of you. Hop on one foot down the length of the ladder, making sure to jump over each line. When you get to the end, turn around and repeat with the opposite leg. This is one set.
Do three sets of this drill. As you become comfortable with this, you can start trying out more complex foot work drills if you wish.
As always, if you have any health problems, injuries, or concerns about your physical fitness, please consult your doctor before partaking in any of these drills. When it comes to your body, it’s better to be safe than sorry.