Agility training is an important aspect of being physically fit, reducing your risk of injuries, and improving your athletic performance.
But what are agility activities, and what are the best agility exercises to perform? How should you perform exercises for agility workouts if you are an everyday athlete rather than a competing sports player?
In this exercise guide, we will discuss how to improve agility and provide instructions for some of the best exercises for your agility training workouts, no matter where you are in your fitness journey or how you like to move your body.
We will look at:
- What Is Agility Training?
- What Are the Best Agility Exercises?
Let’s get going!
What Is Agility Training?
Agility training involves performing agility exercises, agility activities, and agility workouts to improve agility, which can be described as the ability to quickly and precisely change direction in a coordinated manner when you are moving.
Although some degree of agility is required for most physical activities and even some activities of daily living, exercises that require excellent agility skills include sports like soccer (football), tennis, basketball, and badminton, among other sports that require running up and down a field or court while dribbling or carrying a ball and avoiding defenders.
Although other common forms of exercise, such as running, cycling, walking, and weight lifting, do not require the same degree of agility as many competitive team sports, agility training is still important for recreational athletes because it can reduce the risk of injuries and improve athletic performance.
Even some of these types of exercise that aren’t generally considered “agility activities “ still require agility skills.
For example, trail running and hiking require good agility and footwork so that you can carefully and seamlessly navigate loose rocks, roots, and uneven terrain on the trail without tripping and falling, needing to slow your pace significantly, or losing balance as you run or hike.Certain strength training exercises and CrossFit exercises also require good agility and can serve as standalone agility training exercises such as box jumps, skaters, and medicine ball exercises.
What Are the Best Agility Exercises?
As with most aspects of fitness and athletic performance, the “best agility exercises“ to add to your personal agility workouts will depend on the types of exercise you tend to perform and the goals you have with agility training.
For example, if you are a soccer player, the best strategy for how to increase agility will include more sports-specific agility exercises like zig-zag cone drills while dribbling a soccer ball.
On the other hand, tips for how to improve agility for an older adult will be looking for agility exercises for beginners or functional agility exercises to reduce the risk of injury and stay safe in general fitness workouts and everyday life activities.
Here are some of the best exercises for agility workouts and how to increase agility:
Agility Ladder Drills
One of the classic agility training tools is an agility ladder.
Agility ladder exercises are useful for any athlete playing field sports, as well as runners, dancers, boxers, hikers, or other athletes who need to do fast and precise footwork in their sport.
There are a number of agility activities you can do with the agility ladder. This piece of equipment is generally 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 string multiple agility ladders together for more intense agility workouts.
After laying the ladder down on the ground, you can perform different agility ladder exercises, such as the following:
#1: Single-Foot Ladder Hops
In this agility ladder exercise for beginners, simply hop from one end of the ladder to the other on one foot, trying to land squarely within the open space and not on the crossbars of the ladder (straps).
Try to land on the ball of your foot and use your calf muscles and glutes to spring up and land within the next space.
Stay on the same foot for every box of the ladder and then turn back the other way using the other foot.
#2: Single Leg Agility Ladder Weaves
This agility exercise is slightly more difficult.
You will follow the same steps, but instead of hopping straight forward, weave in and out of the ladder as you hop.
In other words, hop in the center 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 and then return weaving with the left foot.
#3: Forward and Back
This agility training exercise helps you work on backward coordination and precision with your agility training.
Hop all the way down in each space of the ladder on your right foot and then continue facing forward and hop all the way back on your right foot, making sure to land precisely inside the box behind you without looking.
#4: High Knees
For this cardio agility workout exercise, perform high knees in the ladder, trying to get your knees up as high as possible and landing in each square of the ladder with both feet before moving on to the next box.
You can progress any of these agility ladder exercises by completing more rounds without stopping, weaving in and out and making use of the sides of the ladder to train lateral hopping and lateral agility, and even closing your eyes and using a blindfold as you progress in your agility skills.
#5: Lateral Hops
Agility workouts should also include lateral training exercises for cross-cutting motions and side-to-side directional changes in sports and everyday life.
Incorporating lateral training in agility workouts can 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).
Hop down the ladder on one foot doing lateral hops the entire way and hop back on the same foot and then switch sides for the next round.
The carioca drill, also called the grapevine, is a great agility exercise.
You can perform this exercise with or without an agility ladder; 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.
Here are the steps to perform carioca:
- 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 and 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.
#7: Jumping Rope
Jumping rope may seem like child’s play, but it’s actually a great exercise for training agility.
Work on quick footwork, imagining yourself to be a boxer as you try single-leg hops, moving or jogging while jump roping, double unders, double Dutch if you have multiple people, and other rapid jump rope exercises.
#8: Single-Leg Step Jumps
If you are doing agility training at home, you could use a regular stair, or you can use a shorter plyo box at the gym or a curb outside for single-leg box jumps.
Hop on and off the box with a single leg at a time. Use your arms for momentum, and make sure to bend your knee when you land to cushion the landing.
Build up to 10 to 20 reps per leg and then switch sides.
Progress this training agility exercise by also performing lateral hops by facing the stepper box at a 90° angle.
#9: Box Jumps
When doing plyometrics and agility workouts, think about speed and precision more than power.
You can use a shorter box and jump up and back down off the box as quickly as possible, continuously performing reps without compromising your form.
#10: Side-to-Side Hop Overs
Side-to-side hops over a line or flat jump rope on the ground is a good agility exercise for beginners that can be done right at home. This agility drill also increases strength in the hip muscles, like the gluteus medius, and improves hip stability in the frontal plane.
Beginners performing this exercise for agility training workouts can start with jumping with both feet together because this will provide more stability and require less balance.
Advanced athletes should progress to single-leg lateral hops, which will require more core activation, coordination, and recruitment of smaller stabilizing muscles in the ankles and hips.
You can hop over a low barrier like a cone as you get stronger.
To supplement your agility workouts, check out our guide to foam rolling for the legs to aid your mobility.