Agility for Physical Fitness and Sports

How to Test for and Improve Agility

Young woman exercising outdoors

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Agility is the ability to move and change the direction and position of the body quickly and effectively while under control. It requires quick reflexes, coordination, balance, speed, and correct response to the changing situation.

When you are agile, it means you are moving to the best position to take the next action, such as catching a ball or making a tackle. Agility ensures that your body and sports equipment are in the right position to take the next action effectively.

To be agile is to respond to what is going on around you and take that information in. This translates to how your body is positioned so you can effectively maintain balance and control.

Agility and Sports

Agility is one of the key components of fitness and is valuable in many sports and physical activities. Think of the sports where you have to use agility. In team sports such as football, soccer, basketball, hockey, volleyball, and rugby you must quickly respond to movements of the other players and of the ball.

In tennis, handball, squash, table tennis, and similar individual sports, you have to quickly respond to the position of the ball. In surfing, skiing, and snowboarding, you must be agile to respond to the changing conditions of the surface of the water and snow.

Agility Tests

Shuttle runs—where markers are set up and you sprint from one marker to the other, do a quick turn, and sprint back—are often done as an agility test as well as a drill to build sports agility. For example, the U.S. Military Academy uses a shuttle run test.

The following agility tests are widely used in various professional sports and other training settings:

  • The 5-10-5 shuttle run, also known as the Short Shuttle Run or the Pro Agility Drill, is used by the National Football League (NFL). It is an advanced shuttle run test to build agility and power in players that incorporates lateral movements in the drill.
  • The Illinois Agility Run Test is often used by schools and law enforcement as a test of agility. It uses a running course and involves not only a shuttle run, but also weaving between four cones. Because it has been used for many years, there are norms and a grading system that can be applied.
  • The SPARQ rating combines testing for speed, power, agility, reaction, and quickness. It is sport-specific as well as a test for general athleticism. The general assessment tests include the agility shuttle 5-10-5 to measure agility.

For sport-specific agility, they use a lane agility drill for basketball, a shuttle cross pick-up for hockey, and the arrowhead drill for soccer. The SPARQ rating is used by many sports training companies and certified SPARQ trainers.

Agility Drills for Athletes

There are also a variety of agility drills that can be used in different sports to develop speed and coordination, including:

  • Dot drills: These use an X-shaped pattern to jump from dot to dot with both feet at the same time; it is used for field and racket sports as well as skiing and basketball.
  • Forward-backward sprints: Sprint forward to a cone, then jog backward to the start.
  • Lateral plyometric jumps: Jump from side to side.
  • Shuttle runs: Sprint from marker to marker with frequent changes in direction.
  • Speed ladder agility drills: Using a piece of equipment that looks like a ladder, run forward with high knees to improve foot speed for field sports, or run laterally to improve agility for court sports.
  • Tuck jumps: Jump straight up from a squat position and remain tucked at the top of the jump before extending your legs to land.
5 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Tomkinson GR, Lang JJ, Blanchard J, Léger LA, Tremblay MS. The 20-m shuttle run: Assessment and interpretation of data in relation to youth aerobic fitness and health. Pediatr Exerc Sci. 2019;31(2):152-163. doi:10.1123/pes.2018-0179

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  4. Preedy VR, editor. Handbook of Anthropometry, Physical Measures of Human Form in Health and Disease. New York: Springer Science & Business Media; 2012.

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By Elizabeth Quinn, MS
Elizabeth Quinn is an exercise physiologist, sports medicine writer, and fitness consultant for corporate wellness and rehabilitation clinics.