Best Agility Exercises for Athletes

Use these drills to develop speed and coordination

Agility is defined as an athlete's ability to move at an accelerated pace in one direction and then instantly decelerate and shift position within a matter of seconds. It is the one facet of sports training that can separate a good athlete from a great one.

Whatever sports you engage in, these agility drills can improve your performance by strengthening the joints and muscles that go largely untested in daily life. As with any type of sports training, start slowly and focus on maintaining proper form. This will not only help you develop the stability needed to perform at your best, it can significantly reduce your risk of injury.


Plyometric Agility Hurdles

Plyometric jumping drills

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Athletes often use plyometric jumping exercises to build power and improve coordination. Hurdles are not only vital to training for field sports, they can improve the strength and jumping ability of basketball players, skiers, figure skaters, and sports divers. This exercise should only be performed after a thorough warm-up.

To do plyometric agility hurdles:

  • Set up a series of low agility hurdles in two-foot increments.
  • Starting with legs shoulder-width apart, jump upward and forward to clear each hurdle, landing on the balls of your feet.
  • Upon landing, jump again, driving forward with your arms.
  • Repeat for 10 to 12 repetitions ("reps") for one set. Rest for about a minute and complete two more sets.

You can perform the same drill with only the right foot and then only the left foot. As you improve, move the hurdles further apart.


Speed Ladder Agility Drills

woman doing ladder drills with male coach assisting

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The speed ladder is a simple piece of portable equipment that can be used to perform the following agility drills:

  • The forward-running, high-knee drill is great for improving foot speed and coordination. Run with high knees through the ladder, touching every ladder space. Land on the balls of the feet and drive forward with your arms. Repeat for a total of three sets.
  • The lateral-running, side-to-side drill is ideal for court-sports, improving both knee and ankle stability. Keeping a low center of gravity, step side-to-side through the ladder one foot at a time. Touch in each rung of the ladder with both feet. Land on the balls of the feet. Repeat right to left and left to right for a total of three sets.

Plyometric Box Drills

woman doing plyometric box jump in gym

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Plyometric box drills are a great way to build explosive power and foot speed. A plyometric box is a padded or unpadded cube that is anywhere from 14 to 36 inches in height. 

Among some of the more popular plyo box drills:

  • For step-ups, start by standing in front of the box. Step up onto the box with one leg, then bring the other leg up as you straighten both legs. Step back down and repeat on the opposite side for one rep. Repeat 10 times for one set. Complete three sets
  • For lateral stepovers, start by standing to the side of the box. Step laterally onto the box with one leg, then bring the other leg up so that you’re standing on top of the box. Step down with one leg, then bring the other leg down to the ground. Continue for one set of 10 reps. Complete three sets.
  • For box jumps, start by standing in front of the box. Jump up onto the box, landing with both feet. Jump back down from the box, then immediately jump back up. Continue of one set of 10 reps. Complete three sets.

Lateral Plyometric Jumps

Lateral plyometric jumps help build dynamic power, coordination, and balance by using just an athlete's body weight. This advanced exercise is a must for any athlete who needs lateral power and coordination. Start slowly and gradually increase the height of the barrier. 

To do a lateral plyometric jump:

  • Lay a string or length of masking tape on a carpeted floor, lawn, or gym floor. Avoid doing this drill on a concrete floor.
  • Standing on one side of the line with your feet no more than a hip-width apart, bend your knees to a deep squat position.
  • Pushing through your heels, propel yourself upward and sideways to the other side of the line. Land softly and absorb the shock by squatting deeply. 
  • Repeat jumping back and forth over the line, keeping your shoulders and hips square and facing forward. Continue for 30 to 60 seconds for one set.
  • Rest and complete two more sets.

As you get stronger, you can jump over exercise steps and even low hurdles.


Tuck Jumps

man doing jumping exercise in gym

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Tuck jumps are simple drills that improve your agility and power without the need for equipment. They not only strengthen the quadriceps muscles, they fully engage the core and hip flexors that lift your knee toward your body.

To do a standard tuck jump:

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart with your knees slightly bent.
  • Bend your knees and jump straight up, bringing your knees to your chest while in midair.
  • Grasp your knees quickly with your arms and let go.
  • Upon landing, immediately repeat the next jump for a total of 10 to 12 reps. Rest and complete two more sets.

Dot Drills

Dot drills develop dynamic leg strength while increasing knee and ankle strength and stability. This is a great drill for any sport that requires quick changes of direction and solid landings (including soccer, basketball, racquetball, and skiing).

To do the dot drill, you will either need to purchase a dot drill mat or place five tape marks on the ground in the same pattern as the five dice.

The dot drill involves three exercises:

  • For exercise one, start with your feet on two dots on one side of the square. Jump to the center dot with both feet, and then jump to the two dots on the opposite end of the square. Jumping backward to the center dot and back to the starting position for one rep. Continue for a total of six reps per set. Complete three sets.
  • For exercise two, follow the same pattern as exercise one, but instead of jumping backward, jump up and spin around 180 degrees before continuing back the starting position. Complete three sets of six reps.
  • For exercise three, start with your feet on two dots on one side of the square. Following one step after the next, move your right foot the center dot, left foot to the forward dot, right foot to the forward dot, left foot the center dot, right foot back to the starting dot, and left foot back to the starting dot. Continue, picking up speed, for a total of six reps. Complete three sets.
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