Speed & Agility Training – How to Properly Train For It?

Apr 30th, 2013

Category: Agility Ladder

Speed & Agility Training – How to Properly Train For It?

Speed & Agility Training – How to Properly Train For It?

Founder of Functional Muscle Fitness

Speed is one of the most highly sought after goals of an athletic performance training regimen. However, speed is one of the hardest traits to acquire, unless it comes natural. Before undergoing speed and agility training it is important to have an understanding of certain characteristics that go hand in hand with speed and agility. Training and activating the stretch shortening cycle is the hidden gym when training for Speed & Agility performance.

The stretch-shortening cycle (SSC) is highly active when utilizing plyometric exercises. “Plyometric exercise is a quick powerful movement using a prestretch, or countermovement, that involves the SSC. The purpose of plyometric is to increase power of subsequent movements by using both the natural elastic components of muscle and tendon and the stretch reflex” [2 – pg.414]. The SSC utilizes tendons and ligaments in a spring like action, therefore limiting the amount of ground reaction force (GRF). The GRF is the amount of time your limbs stay on the ground during sprints and/or running. Faster athletes have more power in their lower body musculature and therefore have less GRF during sprints.

How do you train the SSC? Training for the SSC requires specific plyometric training (i.e. box jumps, hurdles, jumping, etc…). However, not all plyometrics training are created equal. Utilize mini hurdles or a plyometric that utilizes bouncing (springing) as a technique to the exercise are more efficient. For example, try this workout combination:
1. Perform Back Squats for 3 sets of 8 repetitions with a moderate to heavy load (weight)
2. Superset (perform right after) the back squats with a bouncing (SSC) plyometric, such as 2-1 jumps, mini hurdle jump over, or repetitive box jumps utilizing limited GRF

Performing back squats will breakdown leg musculature, which will result in strength and power gains. Leg musculature will in turn be capable of generating more power for greater speed and agility. Following this complex exercise with a SSC plyometric will further generate power adaptations. Due to the nature of the countermovement plyometric, if performed properly, you will activate tendons and ligaments as springs and not exhaust leg musculature like a full squat jump. The combination of strength and power lifting with a SSC plyometric will create an environment similar to that of real time competition requiring repeated bouts of high reaction forces that are similar to sprinting and sports.

Bilateral (two leg) hurdle jumps, or bilateral repetitive box jumps, are shown to utilize higher forces than other traditional jumping exercises (including regular box jumps). Sprinting and Agility require high forces when contacting the ground, SSC plyometrics require comparable forces. Therefore, it is theorized that creating a training environment with similar forces is highly sought after. “Bilateral jumps over hurdles are an excellent exercise to stimulate contact time and reaction forces because the values are similar or even superior than traditional resistance exercises such as squats, hang cleans, and loaded jumps” [3].

Bilateral jumps activating the SSC are preferable due to the shorter contact time and higher forces of the jump. However, do not neglect to utilize unilateral or alternating jumps. Running requires alternating unilateral jumps, utilizing the SSC, over and over again. Therefore, the athlete with the greatest amount of power and ability to spring from step to step will be faster, quicker, and more agile. When incorporating unilateral and/or alternating unilateral jumps into a plyometric regimen, it might be advantageous to seek plyometrics that allow less contact time. Examples include mini hurdles, mini cones and repetitive low box jumps.

It is important to note that bilateral jumps do not perfectly replicate real time competition contact times; neither do unilateral jumps. However, utilizing both bilateral and alternating unilateral repetitive jumps, which activate the SSC, creates an environment similar to that of sprinting / competition in terms of ground contact time and rate of force development (RFD).

Listed are some of the most effective plyometric exercises that activate the SSC:
• Repetitive Box Jumps (bilateral and unilateral) – spring up and down keeping a dorsi flexed position in your feet and a slight knee bend; the less time you spend on the ground the better
• 2-1 Box Jumps – just like repetitive box jumps, keep your feet in a dorsi flexed position and a slight knee bend to allow for greater spring (less contact time)
• Mini Hurdle Jump Over – utilize both unilateral and bilateral; when performing unilateral, it might be advantageous to use the smallest hurdle, maybe even short cones.
• Unilateral Side-to-Side Short Box Jump Over – this plyometric is highly advanced, therefore, novice athletes who have not been engaged in athletic performance training should start with bilateral jumps. Once they have shown the ability to perform bilateral repetitive box jumps then they can perform bilateral side-to-side short box jump over.

Learn More About Speed and Agility Training

1. Training Specificity of Hurdle vs. Countermovement Jump Training
by, Dario F. Cappa and David G. Behm
Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research
©2011 National Strength and Conditioning Association
Volume 25, Number 10, October 2011

2. The Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning (3rd edition).
By, National Strength and Conditioning Association
Editors: Thomas R. Baechle and Roger W. Earle
©2008, 2000, 1994

3. Optimal loading for maximal power output during lower-body resistance exercises
Cormie, P, McCaulley, GO, Triplett, NT, and Mcbride, JM.
Medical Science Sports Exercise 39: 340-349, 2007

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