The Quickest & Easiest Ways To Improve Your Agility
Agility in football gives a player the ability to stop, start, and make quick changes of direction without losing their balance. It takes quick reflexes, speed, and coordination as well as balance, so agility training can’t be singled out as a stand-alone aspect of fitness, it requires a combination of exercises, including drills designed to build strength and power.
Out on the pitch, you need good lower-body eccentric strength to be able to slow yourself down from running at speed. Without it, you’re going to struggle to decelerate and make quick changes of direction. It’s about training your body to absorb force, so this can be done using bodyweight alone or with weights in a gym.
Drop lands from a box or step are a useful eccentric strength training exercise that uses only bodyweight.
- Stand on a box that’s around knee height.
- Jump down to the floor with both feet.
- As you land, try to freeze in the bent-knee landing position for 3 or 4 seconds before straightening your knees and walking out of it.
Back squats using a barbell, or any other squat variation, can be used as a tempo exercise to build eccentric strength.
- With weight in place, go from the top to the bottom of the squat in a slow, controlled four-second count.
- Explode out of the bottom of the squat back to the top at speed.
Key point: Eccentric training exercises (the lowering phases of weightlifts) cause greater muscle damage compared to other forms of exercise, so you may experience greater muscle soreness as a result. For this reason, it’s going to be best to schedule this type of training into the earlier part of the week if you have a game on Saturday. Pre-season is also a good time to work on eccentric strength as it’s not so important to keep muscles feeling fresh.
Once a good level of lower-body eccentric strength has been developed, it’s time to focus on producing greater concentric strength. Out on the pitch, concentric strength gives you the explosive power you need to accelerate quickly, so, when combined with eccentric strength, you’re able to sprint, stop, turn, and sprint away repeatedly.
Double-leg and single-leg box jumps provide a useful progression from drop lands.
- Jump down from a box with both feet as in the drop lands exercise above, but immediately power out of the bent-knee landing position by jumping up onto another box.
- Or, jump down onto one foot and power out using the same leg to jump up onto another box.
In the gym, exercises such as the clean pull or Olympic lift can be used to develop concentric strength that will transfer into movements needed in football. These are explosive lifts that finish with your heels lifting from the floor, helping you to develop the strength you need to power out of a stop and turn on the pitch.
Key point: The above are plyometric or ballistic exercises, and suitable variations include a loaded trap bar jump or loaded squat with a jump.
Of course, explosive moves in football are rarely upwards, they’re much more likely to be rapid changes of direction from one side to the other. This means agility training in football must include lateral movements. Options include:
- Advance the above single-leg box jump to directional box jumps. Instead of jumping straight up onto another box, jump sideways onto another box, making sure to repeat the exercise using the other leg.
- Use a landmine attachment in the gym (or a barbell positioned in the corner) to work on side lunges. From a standing start, step out into a side lunge and then push hard to return to the start position.
Key point: The purpose of lateral movements is to further develop eccentric and concentric strength in a way that’s more specific to football.
The last stage of progression in terms of agility training for football is to practice agility drills. These can be split into closed or open drills:
Closed agility drill:
Closed drills are the best way to begin as they generally involve just one predetermined change of direction. An example would be running out to a cone and running back. In this type of drill, you already know where you need to change direction, so your focus is on technique and making the change in as few steps as possible. Fewer steps followed by a big push out to switch direction is the aim of the exercise. If it takes you 8 or 9 steps to switch direction after running into the cone, your eccentric strength needs work.
Open agility drill:
Closed drills can be progressed to include more than one cone, but the changes of direction remain predetermined. In an open drill, the number of changes and the direction of the changes remains unknown until instructions are called out. For example, you might begin by standing in a box marked out on the pitch with different coloured cones in the corners. A teammate then calls out one of the colours, and you must sprint out around that cone and back to the centre of the box. Colours will continue to be called out at random, so the number of sprints or the direction of the sprints will never be known in advance, bringing in a cognitive element.
The faster your mind can register the instruction, the faster your body can react, making open drills more like actual play on the pitch. However, the rapid reactions needed in open drills require a good level of eccentric and concentric lower-body strength, so it’s always advisable to begin with closed drills and advance to open drills when you’re able to switch direction on a sixpence.
The bottom line…
Agility is not a stand-alone element of fitness. To be agile, you need balance, coordination, speed, strength, and quick reflexes. This means that the best approach to agility training is to follow a training plan that brings all of these skills together. Keep it progressive, and you lower the risk of picking up injuries.