Injury Prevention

How to start a daily agility practice

I bet that without much effort, you could tell me exactly where your yoga mat and foam roller are. I bet you could also quickly find your lacrosse balls and voodoo bands. The idea of having a daily mobility practice has been never been as popular as it is today.

Thanks to Kelly Starrett, everyone knows that if you aren’t strong AND supple, then you’re as good as broken.

In fact, meeting someone who doesn’t work on their mobility nowadays, is about as rare as skateboarder landing a 360 flip on the first try. It doesn’t happen.

Yet, I ask you, how many of you can say that you have a daily agility practice?

Unless you’re a circus acrobat, I’ll venture that you aren’t working on agility every day.

That’s too bad.

The more agile you are, the better athlete you are. More importantly, the more agile you are, the better you can avoid injury.

The importance of a daily agility practice

If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram you know that I love skateboarding. What many of you might not know, is that I turned 39 this week. The risks associated with skateboarding are always top of mind.

Last year I saw a buddy snap his ankle at a skatepark. He slipped on a backside tail slide, and came down on his foot like a limp lawn dart. Pop went his fibula.

Witnessing that was a wake-up call. It was such as simple accident. The more I thought about it, the more I came to think of how important it is to be light on your feet, not just in skateboarding, but all the time.

Stumbles, trips, and missteps happen to all of us. They happen while walking down the sidewalk. They happen in grocery stores, museums, and movie theaters. They happen in the most mundane moments, and in the heat of competition.

If you don’t train yourself to be nimble, then sorry, your movement practice isn’t complete.

Agility isn’t just the hallmark of a good athlete. It’s more than that. Being light on your feet is a crucial life skill.

Falls account for the majority of injury-related deaths in older adults. Think about that for a moment. Working on your agility could save your life someday!

What does an agility practice look like?

First of all, there is no need to make it complicated. Having a daily agility practice can be as simple as working on rapid footwork and simple balance drills. You don’t even have to cut into your normal workout time.

Here are a couple of guidelines:

  • Agility work can and should be part of your warm-up activities, especially before sports.
  • Practice hopping in and out of different positions, as if you were recovering from losing your balance. Hop forward, sideways, backwards. Go from two feet to one foot, and vice versa.
  • Be graceful! Keep excess arm and trunk motion to a minimum
  • Use targets on the ground to help refine your feet-eye coordination. If you’ve ever walked down the street, trying not to step on cracks in the sidewalk, then you know what I mean. The more aware of where your feet are, the more agile you become.

For those of you looking for more of a challenge, up the ante by introducing a small obstacle, like a thin block of wood or a piece of PVC pipe. Can you hop over it without getting your feet tangled?

Agility work is meant to test your coordination, and spatial awareness. The rope ladders and tire runs used by strength and conditioning coaches are great examples. Exercises where you quickly switch directions when running between cones is another favorite for team sports.

For another test of your agility, see if you can quickly hop onto and off of a small obstacle. It could be a low step or even the one of the ground rail trainers used in parkour. Can you land softly, stabilize, and then pop off again? What about jumping completely over the barrier and then back again? How about swapping your feet atop the obstacle? Imagine the surface was covered in sticky glue. Could you be so light on your feet that you would not get stuck?

Notice however that none of this resembles plyometric training. None of the jumping or hopping is anywhere near max effort. We’re talking about very small movements.

Keep your vertical and horizontal displacement to a minimum. Likewise, you shouldn’t be making any sound upon impact. Turn your ninja dial to 110%, and be as quiet as possible.

An example agility series to try right now

The following drill is the agility series that I use every time before I go skateboarding. I use it to warm-up my ankles as well as heighten my coordination. Put down your phone, tablet, or whatever device you are reading this on, and give it a spin:

  1. Double leg ankle hops
  2. Single leg ankle hops
  3. Alternating ankle hops
  4. Forward/backward hops
  5. Lateral hops
  6. 4-square hops

That is pretty straightforward, right? All together, it shouldn’t take more than a two minutes to do five to 10 reps of each exercise.

Like I said, that is the little flow that I use before skateboarding. A more thorough daily agility practice could include some of the elements mentioned earlier.

The point is to start incorporating rapid footwork and small balance challenges into your regular exercise programming. Even adding multidirectional hops while jumping rope can have a positive effect on your agility.

The more you practice these agility skills, the easier they become. Start small, and gradually increase the complexity.

If you already have a daily agility practice, what are some of your favorite drills?

I’m always looking for fresh ideas, so please leave a comment below!

*Disclaimer: This article is for information purposes only, and is not a substitute for medical care. Talk with your healthcare provider before beginning this or any other exercise routine. 

7 Comments

  1. As part of my warm up I do what I call the toy soldier series. With the same leg I do a toy soldier then a rdl them into a lunge with triangle . So great!

  2. Ben, This is potentially very helpful. I am presently very decoditioned but hope to be cleared to change that soon. I will include some simple agility exercises in my retraining.
    Prior to my illness, I worked on basic balance and core strength by free standing while putting on my socks and shoes and tying my shoes. Not wanting to fall, I would do this initially in a hallway where I could brace or catch myself. My goal was balance and core strength. When I can return to this practice, I may count it as (static)) agility training.

    I’ll also look up toy soldiers and check through Mad Skills for other ideas. “Rolling like a ball”(palates), or kipping up are skills which could help.

    1. Hi Mike, you were smart to work those activities in a hallway for extra protection. Maybe there is a local expert who can guide you through some tai chi-type balance drills? I”m looking forward to seeing your progress!

  3. Also, For some time I have been contemplating using a slack line at low height. How far do I need to be along in agility training before I can contemplate that safely? What would be an agility skill I should have, as a minimum?

    1. Slacklines can be very difficult to learn since they move underneath you. Two prerequisites would be the ability to first walk on a low balance beam, and then be comfortable standing on a balance board. A slackline is sort of a mash-up of the two skills.

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