Agility ladder drills are a great way to improve coordination and balance.
One of my symptoms is festination (I think). It’s a common thing in several movement disorders. It is the involuntary shortening of stride and quickening of gait that occurs in some diseases. Also, most of my challenges revolve around poor balance and coordination.
Another issue I have, which you may have too, is the tendency of my feet to want to stay on the ground. I frequently shuffle when I walk or run (try to anyways!).
Today, I wanted to talk about the agility ladder. I should probably use it more than I do. I want to go over the benefits of using the agility ladder, some basic techniques, some more advanced drills and how you can get your own.
Benefits of the Agility Ladder
There are several benefits of the agility ladder:
Improved Balance, Coordination and Focus
Many of the drills we’ll talk about involve moves to which you may have had little exposure. In order to perform them correctly:
- you will need to be balanced (since one leg will be briefly off the ground),
- you will need to be coordinated (you’ll have to move your arms in concert with your feet),
- you’ll be forced to focus (keep your eyes on the square just ahead of you).
The agility ladder also helps to strengthen your joints, ligaments, focus, and heart health.
Doing the movements slowly, precisely, and then faster will tax your brain and your body you’ll find. You may also find that it builds firmer calf muscles too!
If you’re new to the patterns we’re going to cover, you may get discouraged. It can be intimidating. But once you get the hang of it, it starts to get fun.
The multiple ways you use the ladder will force your brain to work. You’ll have to memorize the different footwork patterns. Making your body follow the set patterns will help strengthen the connections between your brain and your muscles.
The cognitive improvements you may become aware of are encouraged through the principle of neuroplasticity. That is, steady practice of this new skill will allow for the building of new neurons and neural pathways. There’s one catch, however. If you stop, the new connections you build will slowly disappear.
Our brains get rid of neural connections that they no longer see as useful. My brain examines how often I use the agility ladder. If the answer is never, the brain assumes that I no longer need any neurons associated with that task and begins the process of discarding them – a process called pruning (like you would if you were gardening).
Although I don’t have any hard data or research on this yet, my instincts tell me that this would be of huge benefit to anyone with a movement or neurological disorder. Most of what I did find was in relation to Parkinson’s and something about autism.
Watch this video by athlete Christian Banda on the benefits for Parkinson’s:
Agility Ladder Basics
For those of you just starting out and trying to wrap your head around the drills, here is a handy diagram with 6 basic patterns:
In the video below, Shana Martin of Prism Fitness Group discuss the agility ladder footwork for beginners:
Another good place to start is by practicing slowly like this:
Once you’ve got the basics down. Say after 4 to 6 weeks of practice, please move on to one of the more advanced drills. Staying in the warmth of your comfort zone won’t be helpful.
Agility Ladder Drills
If you’ve done some ladder work, or you have gone through the basics above, here are some more advanced movements:
Two-footed Forward/Backward Jumps
“Stand alongside the agility ladder with your chest facing the squares. Quickly jump into the ladder, landing with each foot in its own square between the rungs. Then jump backwards out of the ladder at about a 45-degree angle to your right. Next, jump immediately back into the ladder again, progressing to the right one square at a time, down the ladder.”
Ali Shuffles with Base Rotation
“Stand alongside the agility ladder with your chest facing the squares. Place your right foot in the first square with your hips rotated slightly to the left. Then jump so that your left foot enters that square as your right foot exits back out off the square and to your right at about a 45-degree angle.
Next, jump so your right foot enters the next square down, followed immediately by the left, while your right exits out and to the right again. Continue that same pattern quickly down the ladder to your right. Never let both feet occupy the same square at one time.”
“Stand at the bottom, left corner of the ladder with your chest facing in the direction the ladder is running. Step into the first square with your right foot, then immediately bring your left foot into that same square.
As soon as your left foot touches down, the right foot will exit the square to the right while moving forward at a 45-degree angle so you can enter the next square down the ladder.
Next bring your left foot one square forward and immediately bring your right foot into that same square. As your right foot touches down, the left foot will exit the square while moving forward at a 45-degree angle.”
There are also some reallty good drills in the video below:
Making Your Own Agility Ladder
Now that we have established that the agility ladder will be a valuable addition to your training toolkit, you should get one. You may be lucky enough to be a member at a gym that has one. If not, I recommended getting one of your own. I don’t recommend you buy one. A big brand name one could run you upwards of $50. There are cheaper ones on Amazon of course, but if you can, I advise you make your own.
Check out this cool video to see how you can make one for under $5!
If you don’t have the time or patience to build your own, I would suggest going for an entire kit, which you can pick up here.
I hope this article inspired you to introduce the agility ladder into your training regimen. Remember, the key is to start and remain consistent. Maybe your energy levels only allow for twice a week ladder drills. Maybe only once. That’s fine.
Wherever you start, don’t stop or reduce the time you put in.
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