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10 Agility Ladder Drills To Build Speed, Agility, And Quickness

Develop the nimblefootedness of a panther with these exercises

Agility ladder drills don’t have to be reserved for competitive athletes who play sports like soccer, football, basketball, tennis, squash, or boxing.

Rather, recreational athletes, marathon runners, pickleball players, and everyday individuals looking to improve functional fitness can benefit from incorporating agility ladder drills into their fitness routine. 

Agility ladder drills, as the name implies, are designed to improve agility, which is the ability to quickly and precisely change direction in a coordinated manner.

In this agility ladder exercise guide, we will discuss how to use an agility ladder for speed training and the best agility ladder drills exercises to improve your quickness and coordination.

We will look at: 

Let’s get going!

Agility ladder drill.

What Are Agility Ladder Drills?

An agility ladder, also called a speed training ladder, is a piece of fitness equipment generally designed as a soft, foldable “ladder“ made from nylon straps like the straps used to tighten a backpack. 

An agility ladder for beginners is usually about 6 to 10 feet long, but more advanced athletes may use longer ladders or may connect multiple agility ladders together for more difficult agility workouts.

After laying the ladder down on the ground, you can perform different agility ladder exercises based on your skill level and goals.

Ladder drills are designed to improve agility, which can be described as the ability to quickly and precisely change direction in a coordinated manner when you are moving.1February 2020 – Volume 34 – Issue 2 : The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. (n.d.). Journals.lww.com. https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Fulltext/2020/02000/The_Arrowhead_Agility_Test__Reliability

What Are the Best Agility Ladder Exercises for Beginners and Athletes?

If you have never used an agility ladder for speed training drills or footwork exercises, you may have no idea where to start or even how to do agility ladder drills.

While you can get quite advanced and specific with agility ladder exercises, and you can work on tailoring your agility training workouts towards your specific sport, here are some basic agility ladder drills beginners can get started with:

#1: Single-Leg Hops

The simplest agility ladder drills are basic double or single-leg hops inside the rungs of the ladder.

For the single-leg hop speed training drill, you start at one end of the ladder and hop inside each rung of the ladder all the way to the end on the same foot. Try to stay on the same foot as you do a 180° hop turn, and then hop all the way back on that same leg. 

Then, rest before doing single-leg hops to the end of the ladder and back with the other leg. Beginners can switch legs at the end of the ladder if their leg feels fatigued.

Build up to three sets on each leg.

Remember to keep your core tight and think about landing on the ball of your foot and springing off the toe.

Bend your knee as you land to cushion the landing and engage your quads and glutes.

#2: Speed Jumps

Double-leg hops are a good plyometric agility ladder exercise. You can work on jumping into every box of the ladder. Try to explode upward and land precisely in the middle of the box. 

You can also work on broad jumps, where you skip one or two rungs of the ladder and land two or three rungs later. 

These types of bodyweight plyometric exercises help work on the triple extension movement pattern, which is the simultaneous extension of your ankles, knees, and hips.

#3: Hopscotch

One of the best speed ladder exercises for beginners is a basic hopscotch foot training drill.

Depending on how many rungs are in the agility ladder you are using, you can play around with doing single-leg hops and then two-foot jumps in and out of the boxes of the ladder.

For example, you might start on your left foot and do a single-leg hop through the first three boxes of the ladder and then jump both feet out to either side of the ladder so that you straddle the right and left sides of the ladder with no feet inside the rungs. 

Then, hop your right foot back into the ladder. 

Continue single-leg hops on the right foot until the end of the ladder. Then, stay on the right foot and practice turning around as you jump. 

Use a hopscotch pattern back to the other end of the ladder again, hopping in and out and alternating between left foot single leg hops and jumping both feet off the sides of the ladder.

The goal with the hopscotch agility ladder drill is to never land on the sides or rungs of the ladder and to work on having fast feet as you work your way up and down the ladder.

#4: Single Leg Agility Ladder Weaves

For this agility ladder exercise, instead of hopping straight forward, weave in and out of the ladder as you hop.

This means you should hop in the center of the first box of the ladder for your first hop, and then hop to the right, so your right food lands on the outside of the ladder. 

Then, hop back in for the next box and then back out for the next.

Weave in and out on the right foot all the way down to the end of the ladder and then return weaving with the left foot.

#5: Fast Feet

Agility ladder drill.

Another good agility training exercise for fast footwork training is what I like to call “fast feet.”

There are different ways to do agility ladder drills to work on foot speed, but for simple, fast footwork drills for beginners, you will basically run inside the rungs of the ladder to the end of the ladder and back.

However, instead of running straight down and back, you will try to get a certain number of running steps in each rung before moving on to the next. Think about drilling your feet rapidly into the ground as you run, as if running on hot coals.

For example, you might try to make five rapid footfalls within each rung with each foot before you advance your lead leg to the next rung.

So, imagine your left leg is the lead foot. 

You would start in the first box and rapidly run in place with left foot, right, left, right, left, right foot, etc., until you have done five super fast feet running steps per leg. 

Then, advance your lead leg left foot into the next rung and continue. 

The goal is to work on your quickness and precision with your foot placement. 

Time yourself to see how long it takes you to get to the end of the ladder and back. 

Over time, you want to see the total time get faster and faster.

#6: Lateral Hops

A person doing an agility ladder exericse.

Agility ladder drills should also include some lateral training to help prevent muscle imbalances by training the body to stabilize the hips and trunk in a different plane of movement (frontal plane) than many common exercises focus on (sagittal plane).2Markström, J. L., Grip, H., Schelin, L., & Häger, C. K. (2019). Dynamic Knee Control and Movement Strategies in Athletes and Non‐athletes in Side hops: Implications for Knee Injury. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports29(8). https://doi.org/10.1111/sms.13432

Lateral training involves side-to-side directional changes rather than running or jumping back and forth.3Asadi, A., Arazi, H., Young, W. B., & de Villarreal, E. S. (2016). The Effects of Plyometric Training on Change-of-Direction Ability: A Meta-Analysis. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance11(5), 563–573. https://doi.org/10.1123/ijspp.2015-0694

‌Beginners can start with single-leg lateral hops.

Simply start by facing the ladder at a 90 degree angle. Your lead leg will be the hopping leg. Perform lateral single-leg hops to the end of the ladder.

This means that instead of hopping forward and facing the end of the ladder, you are hopping to the side and facing one side of the ladder. 

When you get to the end of the ladder, hop back with your lateral movement hops, but stay on the same leg so that the lead leg is on the far side of your body. 

This will work on adduction with lateral movement, and not just abduction.

Switch legs at the starting end of the ladder by turning around to face the other side of the ladder and then hopping with your other leg into the first box as you work your way down to the end of the ladder.

#7: Lateral In and Outs

You can also do a lateral in-and-out drill. 

Start in the first box facing the side of the ladder.

Hop your foot into the second box by doing a lateral movement hop and then do a forward hop on the same foot out of the box so that you are on the outside of the ladder. 

Then, do a lateral hop to the side of the next box. 

Then, hop backward on the same lead leg so that you are now inside the ladder. 

Do another lateral in hop so that you are inside the ladder in the next box.

Continue to hop to the side, front, side, and back to do lateral in and out hops down to the end of the ladder.

#8: Carioca

The Carioca drill, also called the grapevine, is a great agility ladder exercise to work on fast footwork. 

The agility ladder makes it more difficult because you really have to be as precise as possible and not step on any of the ropes with your footwork.

Stand upright with your core and glutes engaged, chest up, knees bent slightly, and feet slightly wider than hip-width apart.

Press into your left foot to push off, bringing it behind the right foot, crossed behind your body as you transfer your weight onto the left foot.

Step your right foot further to the right (out to the side) so that you’re standing back upright with both feet in a similar stance to the starting posture.

Next, cross your left foot in front of your body in front of your right foot, drive your knee up towards your chest, and step your weight down onto it.

Again, step your right foot out to the right to move sideways.

Continue shuffling to the right with this pattern, alternating moving your left foot first behind then in front of the right foot until you’re at the end of the planned distance to the right (30-80 meters or so).

Reverse directions to come back, starting with bringing the right foot behind the left foot, stepping the left foot to the left, and then bringing the right foot in front of the left foot.

#9: Crossover Shuffles

You can also do a crossover lateral shuffle to the end of the latter and back. Start in the first box with your left leg as you face the left side of the ladder. 

Then, do a crossover step and hop your right leg into the next box. 

Then, do another crossover lateral movement with your left leg so that you are doing crossover shuffle steps to the end of the ladder and back.

#10: High Knees

You can also do high knees in your speed ladder drills for cardio conditioning. 

Work on driving each knee up as high as possible and then landing quickly and lightly on your feet before progressing to the next box.

What is the best way to incorporate agility ladder drills into a workout routine?

If you aren’t playing a competitive sport that requires a lot of footwork and directional changes, incorporating just a few agility ladder drills once or twice a week is generally enough to reap the benefits rather than needing speed ladder drills to serve as a cornerstone workout in your training program.

As a certified personal trainer, I work with everyday athletes who are trying to lose weight, improve cardio fitness, decrease the risk of injury, build muscle, run a marathon or half a marathon, or otherwise just be “fit for life.“

We don’t avoid drills that work on quickness or even using a speed ladder altogether, but I like to think of agility ladder exercises as the “sand“ around the bigger “boulders“ of the training program.

In other words, the focus is on getting in 3 to 5 cardio workouts per week, 2 to 3 full body strength training exercises per week, and then filling in around those main rocks of the program with smaller but still important components of fitness training.

These include workouts such as plyometrics for power, yoga and foam rolling for flexibility and mobility, and agility ladder exercises for quickness, footwork, and neuromuscular coordination and agility.

Agility lader exercise.

How Should You Structure an Agility Ladder Workout?

When I’m putting together an agility ladder training workout, I like to include a handful of exercises that work on different components of speed training and agility. 

This means that you should have one exercise that focuses on quickness with footwork, one that incorporates a change of direction, one that has a lateral movement, and one plyometric exercise to build power and reap the benefits of plyometric training.

Then, if you have specific training goals, you can add additional agility ladder drills that focus on your weaknesses or hone in on the aspects of agility ladder training that are most applicable to you.

For example, with trail runners, I would suggest focusing even more on foot speed and changing directions. 

Single leg hops, carioca, crossover hops, and going in and out with lateral shuffles or across the side of the ladder can be helpful because you have to have nimble feet on the trail to avoid rocks, roots, and other little obstacles.

In contrast, an athlete who is primarily interested in strength training to build muscle can add plyometric drills with more single leg hopping, high knees, or jumps that straddle in and out around the rungs of the ladder to focus more on the power side of things than fast footwork.

A person doing an agility ladder drill.

For athletes who practice or compete in sports such as American soccer (football), American football, tennis, boxing, squash, lacrosse, and basketball, agility ladder exercises are just one of the several components of agility training.

For these types of athletes, as well as any athlete who plays a court sport or most ball sports, working on quickness, the ability to change direction, neuromuscular coordination with your body weight on one leg at a time, and rapid decision-making skills are critically important to competition and athletic performance.

Incorporating agility ladder drills into a warm up before a cardio workout or alongside other dynamic footwork drills such as high knees, top scotch, suicides, and other speed training exercises is an important way to work on different aspects of physical and mental quickness.

Note that for any agility ladder training session, you should always do a thorough cardio warm-up as well as several dynamic stretches to prime your central nervous system and muscles for the demands of speed training.

Then, you can start with easier agility ladder exercises, such as the ins and outs to the end of the ladder and back up or a basic single-leg hop down to the end of the ladder and back on each leg.

As your neuromuscular system “wakes up,“ you can progress to more advanced speed training with crossover drills that work on fast feet or more explosive plyometric drills that build power in your lower body while working on quickness and foot speed.

If you would like to include more plyometric exercises in your fitness routine, check out the following article:

References

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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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