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Whether you’re an athlete looking to optimise your performance, a gym goer looking to increase your functional fitness, or simply interested in prioritising moving well as you age, improving agility is a crucial workout consideration. 

But what is agility, and how can you improve it?

In this article, we’ll outline what agility is, why it matters, and share 5 of the best exercises to improve agility. Ready to learn how to improve agility? Let’s get started. 

What is agility?

Agility refers to the ability to change direction, at speed, with ease. Being agile requires a mixture of speed, power, flexibility, and coordination. It also requires a lot of joint stability, as they are being put into compromising positions, and under varying levels of strain. When combined, these skills equip us to move easily, navigate obstacles, and adjust course. 

Agility is an essential component of most sports – particularly those that require fast change of direction. Team sports such as football, basketball, rugby, and hockey require fast responses to both the ball and other players. Similarly, individual sports like tennis and squash require rapid movement in response to the ball, while sports like skiing, surfing, and snowboarding call on the athlete to respond to the elements while moving at speed. 

Why is agility important?

In addition to improving sports performance, incorporating exercises to increase agility has a range of benefits. 

Agility training helps to: 

  • Improve overall fitness
  • Help injury prevention and reduce the chance of falls in older adults
  • Improve functional movement and body awareness
  • Boost calorie burn 
  • Improve cardiovascular fitness
  • Increase workout engagement and program adherence – agility training is fun!
  • Improve cognitive functioning, including working memory and attention
  • Improve mobility 

With so many benefits, getting more agile is a great SMART fitness goal to prioritise this year

Who needs to do agility training?

Agility is an essential training component for almost all athletes. Many agility drills mimic the skills and movements used during sports that include quick changes of direction, such as football, and agility training is a common component of athletic training. 

However, agility training isn’t only for athletes – pretty much everyone can benefit from incorporating agility training into their workout regime. Agility is a key element of functional fitness, which is a core element of workout programs like Crossfit and Les Mills. Functional fitness prioritises building strength through movements that support activities of everyday living, such as lifting, carrying, bending, and reaching. Functional workouts can be a great way to improve mobility, balance, and flexibility, and encourage injury prevention as we get older.

What is agility training? 

There are endless training exercises to improve agility, and agility training doesn’t need to look one specific way. 

Whether you incorporate agility drills into an existing workout or train agility separately, the key is to incorporate a range of drills that build upon basic movements with increasing control, speed, and complexity. This could be as simple as a series of shuttle runs, alternating between a run, shuffle, and lateral step. 

Agility training doesn’t need to be a separate workout if you don’t have the time – many agility workouts can double as cardio training, and agility drills also make a great warm-up. 

How to improve agility: 5 training drills to improve agility and speed 

Ready to get started improving your agility and speed? Incorporate the following drills into your agility training 1-2 times per week and watch your agility improve. 

Plyometric box drills

A white, male athlete lands a plyometric box jump inside a gym. He is crouched on top of a tall box having jumped up as part of an agility drill. Fitness equipment is visible in the background against a red wall.

Plyometric exercises focus on building explosive power, agility, and speed. Box drills are a great place to start, with endless variations to experiment with and build up to.  

What you need: A padded or unpadded plyometric box or box step (alternatively, find a sturdy step or bench in your home or local park). Choose a box between 14-36 inches in height – you can start small and build up. 

Drills to try: 

  • Forward step-ups
  • Lateral step-ups
  • Box jumps
  • Box jump overs
  • Squat jumps
  • Burpee box jumps 

How to get started: Start with a forward step-up drill. Position yourself with feet facing the box, and use a controlled movement to step up one leg at a time. Then, repeat the movement in reverse to step back down. This basic step can be repeated as many times as you like. 

Once you’re confident, add lateral step-ups, or work towards box jumps or squats, which build explosive power. 

To complete a box jump, begin with feet facing the box, shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees, and using your arms to create power, jump up onto the box, landing with feet together. Immediately jump back down. This is one rep. 

Reps: 1 set = 10 steps (1 step = step up and down) or 10 jumps (1 jump = jump up and down). Complete 3 sets, or to exhaustion for jumps. 

Coaching tips: Prioritise good form before using a taller box. For box steps, focus on pushing yourself up through your leading foot, and support yourself through your core, without straining forward. For box jumps, complete as fast as you’re able without comprising form, and aim to minimise the time between landing and jumping again. 

Ladder drills

A young male athlete jumps a plyometric hurdle after having completed an agility ladder drill. Other althetes are visible in the background on a grassy football field.

A popular schoolyard exercise and football drill, ladder drills are an accessible agility exercise, regardless of your existing fitness level. The need for fast footwork, precision, and changes of direction make this drill a must for improving agility. 

What you need: An agility ladder (or chalk to draw a ladder on the ground); an open indoor/outdoor space. Incorporate a plyometric hurdle for bonus explosive power!

Drills to try: 

  • 1-in (1 foot in each box, alternating left, right)
  • 2-in (2 feet in each box, alternating left, right)
  • Single leg hop (Hop the ladder! Complete on your left leg, then right, then alternating)
  • Side shuffle (Facing sideways, place both feet into each box in succession)
  • Carioca sideways run (Run sideways, each foot crossing the other as you move)
  • In-in-out-out (Both feet in, followed by both feet out to form a straddle position over the ladder)

How to get started: Lay the ladder flat on the ground, and begin with feet facing the ladder. Start with a 1-in ladder run, 2-in ladder run, or single-leg hop drill. As you gain confidence, build up your speed, go in reverse, or try some of the more advanced drills on the list. Add a plyometric hurdle at the end for a burst of power!

Reps: Complete 2-4 sets of 3-5 reps of each drill, with 60 seconds recovery in between sets. 

Coaching tips: Engage your core, with your pelvis tucked under. Pump your arms to add power to your run, and keep your head (and eyes) facing forward. Focus on clearing each step of the ladder neatly and with good form before increasing your speed. 

Plyometric hurdles

A white, male athlete dressed in black jumps with feet together over a plyometric hurdle, as part of an agility hurdle drill. he is on a basketball court, and trees and a fence are visible in the background.

Plyometric hurdles can be used for a vast range of agility drills, and encourage coordination, speed, and explosive power. 

What you need: Plyometric hurdles (20cm-50cm); a clear indoor/outdoor space. Scissor hurdles are a great option for easy height adjustment. 

Drills to try: 

  • 1-step (A running hurdle drill with 1 step between hurdles)
  • 2-step (A running hurdle drill with 2 steps between hurdles)
  • Standing hurdle jumps (A static hurdle jump with feet together)
  • Multi-directional hops (Forward and backward hurdle jumps in succession) 
  • Lateral hurdle jumps (A sideways jump that starts at a 90° angle to the hurdle)

How to get started: Set up hurdles with equal spacing, taking stride length into consideration. A standard hurdle setup includes five hurdles at 33 inches high, spaced 1.5 meters apart. 

Start with a basic 1-step hurdle drill to get acclimated to the hurdle setup. This is a quick run through the line of hurdles, with one foot stepping down in between each hurdle. From there, introduce standing hurdle jumps to build agility and power. 

Reps: 3 sets per drill, with 60 seconds of recovery in between each set. 

Coaching tips: Focus on keeping the hurdles standing before you work on building up speed. Once you can consistently complete the drill without knocking any hurdles, experiment with drill type, hurdle spacing, and the number of hurdles you use in the drill. The ability to consistently clear the hurdle with good form is more important than the height – focus on a clean takeoff, successfully clearing the hurdle without knocking it, and a supportive landing.  

Jump rope

A female athlete jumps rope inside a gym. She is wearing black shorts and a black sports top, and fitness equipment is visible in the background. A long window lines the back wall of the gym, and light is shining on the floor.

Jump rope is a high-impact, full-body exercise that’s a great addition to your agility workout. Not only does jump rope build agility and speed, but it’s also an excellent way to get your heart racing and build cardiovascular fitness. Plus, with practice, you’ll be able to build endurance, coordination, and power – and maybe even throw in an impressive move or two. 

What you need: A jump rope and a clear indoor/outdoor space. 

Drills to try: 

  • Slow jump (Double feet jumps, 2 jumps per rope turn)
  • Quick jump (Double feet jumps, 1 jump per rope turn)
  • High knee steps (1 foot touches down at a time, raising your knees to your chest)
  • Criss-cross steps (Alternate between left foot crossing right to right foot crossing left. Add a neutral jump in between for an easier version)
  • Twist (double feet jumps, twisting your hips to alternating sides on each jump)
  • Ali shuffle (Starting with staggered feet, jump and switch feet positions. A great one for coordination)
  • Single leg jumps (Hop, but with a jump rope! Alternate legs per set)
  • Hurdle steps (Combine a high knee step with a lateral movement. Great for ankle stability and balance).

How to get started: Find a clear space, and warm up with some slow jumps for 60 seconds. Pick a drill, and complete 10 sets of 30 jumps. If this is too easy, increase the reps or take it faster. 

Reps: Depending on your stamina, track sets in reps, or set a stopwatch with a time limit. Try 10 sets of 30 jumps for each drill, with 30 seconds of recovery in between. 

Running drills 

A male athlete completes a powerful sprint drill on a red, outdoor running track. He is suspended midair by the power of his run. He is wearing a red athletic shirt, grey athletic shorts, and black running tights.

Running drills hit several training points simultaneously – they’re a great lower body workout, help build power, speed, and endurance, and build cardiovascular fitness. Short, focused running drills that incorporate changes of direction or speed are a great way to improve your agility. 

What you need: A space to run! While a treadmill can work for sprint drills, an open space provides more options for different types of running drills.  

Drills to try: 

  • Shuttle runs (Sprint drill: run between two markers spaced 20m apart, touch down, change direction, and run back)
  • High knee runs (Set up as a shuttle run, but run with high knees)
  • Lateral runs (Set up as a shuttle run, but run side-to-side. 
  • Box drills (Working within a square of 4 cones: sprint, shuffle, backpedal, and shuffle each side of the “box” in turn)
  • Run-shuffle-shuffle-run (A straight line drill between 3 cones: run, then shuffle, shuffle, and run again)

There are endless variations of these popular running drills. As you increase your agility, mix things up to keep yourself on your toes – literally. 

How to get started: In an open space, set up 2 cones 20m apart. Warm up with a jog and touch down to each cone. Then, progress to sprint drills, running to each marker, touching down, and running back – as fast as you can. For an alternative, run around the cone as tightly as possible at each end. Once you’re comfortable, progress to other movements in the same formation, such as high knees, lateral runs, or backward runs. 

Reps: Complete 3-5 sets of 10 reps, with 60 seconds of recovery in between. 

Coaching tips: Running drills can be as accessible or challenging as you want. Add resistance for more of a challenge. To switch things up, combine running drills with ladder drills or hurdle drills, or create an obstacle course featuring a mixture of the drills from this list!

Test your agility with a functional movement assessment 

Agility and moving well don’t have to be out of reach. By consistently incorporating the drills outlined in this blog, you can work towards greater agility, improve your sports performance, and experience greater ease of movement in your daily life. 

If you’re not sure where to start, an agility test and assessment of your range of movement can give you a concrete baseline to build upon. At My Vital Metrics, our dedicated sports lab brings together the very best in scientific testing.

In our functional movement assessment, we assess your current functional strength, flexibility, and range of movement. We start off each functional movement assessment with a large compound movement to visually assess your levels of strength, movement, and coordination across multiple joints simultaneously. We use this info to inform which tests we perform. High-sensitivity pressure plates (ForceDecks) and a Dynamometer allow us to measure your strength, movement, and stability across individual joint complexes. This will give you a quantified assessment of strength and flexibility levels which you can work on to see improvement. Based on the results of your assessment, we can make any personalised recommendations for improving your range of motion, flexibility, or agility.

To find out more, book a free fitness consultation at My Vital Metrics today!