by NSCA's Guide to Program Design,
Kinetic Select August 2018
The coach or athlete interested in developing agility ultimately wants to know what types of exercises to use. Several training studies have been conducted in an effort to identify the best approach for enhancing agility performance. These studies have typically examined the effect on agility performance of training programs that consist of traditional lower-body resistance exercises (e.g., Olympic lifts, back squats, deadlifts, lunges, or jump training), straight sprinting, or specific change-of-direction drills.
Few studies have demonstrated improvements in agility performance following a traditional lower-body resistance-training program that consists of Olympic lifts, squats, deadlifts, and lunges (6, 11-13, 21). In fact, the majority did not observe significant improvements in agility when athletes performed lower-body resistance exercises exclusively. However, studies evaluating the value of strength training in conjunction with extensive agility training have produced favorable results (3). In one study (15), subjects performed jump-squat training (i.e., squatting down and jumping up with a bar on the upper back) with a load of either 30% or 80% of the athletes’ back squat 1RM (weight lifted in a single, maximum effort). Performance in the T test improved in both training groups, with greater improvements occurring in the group with 80% 1RM than in the one with 30%.
This sort of training may be beneficial because of the movements that occur during changes in direction. As the introduction describes, agility can be characterized as stop-and-go events that consist of braking (stop) and propulsive (go) forces. Performing the jump squat with additional load targets these actions at greater intensities than athletes are normally accustomed to, which leads to favorable adaptations when they perform rapid changes in direction.
The other jumping study that improved agility performance required subjects to perform several variations of jumps, including horizontally (jumping forward), laterally (side to side) on one leg, and laterally on both legs (16). Time to complete both the T test and Illinois agility test decreased following the jump-training period. These types of jumps may improve change-of-direction ability because similar movement patterns and physical characteristics are used in both the jumps and the agility tests. The physical requirements for performing lateral and horizontal movements in the T test and Illinois agility test are the same physical components recruited during lateral and horizontal jumping. Therefore, it seems logical that the benefits provided by these types of jumps could improve agility performance when incorporated into a training program.
A small number of studies have also looked at the effect of straight-sprint training on agility performance (14, 22). One investigation observed improvements in agility (14), while the other did not find improvement in change-of-direction performance (22). Based on these results, the effectiveness of training that strictly uses straight sprints for agility has not been fully established. On the other hand, training studies consisting of agility drills have consistently improved change-of-direction performance (3, 4, 7, 8, 18). Specifically, these studies integrated general agility training (sprinting with change of direction) or agility drills with actual training sessions for rugby, volleyball, and soccer athletes. Therefore, it appears that the concept of specificity holds true, since the greatest, most consistent gains in agility performance have been documented after change-of-direction training. In other words, to develop agility, athletes need to train with agility drills.
In summary, traditional lower-body resistance exercise alone may not be an optimal means of developing agility. Further, the effectiveness of straight-sprint training on agility performance has not been well established. In contrast, jump training, including loaded jump squats and horizontal and lateral jumps, holds promise. The strength and conditioning professional may integrate jumping exercises into an athlete’s resistance training program to improve agility performance if desired. The benefit of agility-specific drills on change-of-direction ability seems to have strong support. As a result, agility training can be recommended as an appropriate training mode for improving change-of-direction speed.
Developed by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), this text offers strength and conditioning professionals a scientific basis for developing training programs for various athletes at specific times of year. The book is available in bookstores everywhere, as well as online at the NSCA Store.