Agility For Athletes
How to massively improve agility for athletes and change of direction with strength training
There is a strong evidence base to support the thought that strength training can improve agility for athletes and your ability to change direction. When thinking about how strength training can improve your change of direction we need to think about the components involved including deceleration, power development and the ability to transfer between these two phases.
THE VIDEO: 7 Essential Strength Exercises to MASSIVELY Improve Agility for Athletes
Let’s examine deceleration first. Deceleration requires the body to work against gravity and momentum to slow the body down. This involves high levels of eccentric loading in order to direct force in the opposite direction to the direction of travel. As momentum increases, a higher level of braking force is required to slow the body down in the same distance. As a result, in order to stop on a dime from high speed, we need to be strong. Strength training can also improve pelvic control under deceleration improving efficiency and reducing the risk of a lower limb non-contact injury.
When prescribing exercises for deceleration you want to think of the key training principles of overload and specificity and the application of bilateral and unilateral exercises on these principles. Exercises such as eccentric squats and plyometrics are great tools. Single leg box drops and depth or drop jumps are great tools for improving this eccentric capacity but also aid the transfer between eccentric and concentric phases.
Unilateral vs Bilateral exercises
Most change of direction movements are performed unilaterally so a larger emphasis is placed on the adductors and other stabilising muscles around the hip to control pelvic positioning and aid injury prevention and propulsion. It is important to stimulate these muscles and unilateral activities provide greater stimulation compared with bilateral exercises. Split squats, lunges and pistol squats are good examples of these kind of movements.
To develop propulsion, we want to be performing fast movements and lifting heavy loads as fast as possible. The same principles of specificity apply in that propulsion. Change of direction is usually unilateral. However, we can use bilateral exercises such as squats, power cleans and hip thrusts to develop strength. By applying forces in different vectors through the posterior chain, horizontal hip thrust and vertical squats, we can improve transfer from the gym to acceleration during change of direction actions on the field.
Ankle power relates to change of direction performance so performing plyometric training can improve the ability to apply force quickly to the ground. Example exercises include pogos and lateral single leg hops improving stiffness and reactive strength, defined as the relationship between ground contact time and force, in vertical and horizontal planes.
One of the key determinants of change of direction is lateral pelvic control. Performing bridge variations can reduce lateral tilt on the stance leg during change of direction and improve your performance. Making exercises unilateral, single leg glute bridge or hold, can increase the activation of stabilising muscles specific for lateral movement.
Performing repeated pre-determined change of direction movements through cone drills, acceleration and deceleration technique will aid the transfer of strength to training to the field. The strongest people aren’t necessarily the most able to change direction. Once these movement patterns become effective and dominant, we can incorporate reactive drills, putting the body in a non-optimal position increasing the demand for stability in order to decelerate and apply propulsive forces.
It is important to prescribe exercises in such a way to target each of these phases of change of direction. Focus on eccentric loading and mechanics for deceleration, explosive movements and lifting heavy loads quickly for acceleration and utilise progressive plyometrics and incorporate on field change of direction activities ranging from pre-determined to reactive drills.