What is agility?
Agility can be defined as the ability to produce a rapid whole body movement with a change of velocity or direction in response to a stimulus. If you consider any team based, combat or racket sports, changing direction or speed in response to a stimulus is a pretty key skill. In football, you are frequently required to change direction in response to other players' positioning. Similarly, in tennis you must change your direction in response to where the other player is hitting the ball. The ability to do that is known as agility.
Why everyone playing a sport should be doing some sort of agility training
Being agile involves many physical factors, but also a persons’ ability to make decisions in a short space of time. Reading the game, other players positions or the path of a ball is a skill which can only really be honed by playing the sport in question.
Research has attempted to assess this ability via the use of 3D video and high speed cameras which assess players decisions to stimuli and subsequent movement time. Short of having this technology to hand, here are some other things that you could practically do to improve your agility skill.
Factors such as strength and speed are factors you can easily work on in isolation which will have a positive effect on your agility skills.
Strength is an important component of agility due to the forces the body has to withstand during direction changes. Before any change of direction can occur, the body has to decelerate - this places considerable force on the body to stop the current motion it is performing. Getting stronger will ensure that your body is strong enough to withstand this demand and ensure strength levels do not become a limiting factor to your ability to change direction.
Working on raw speed will also enhance agility skills. If you train your body to move quicker, it will be quicker in and out of each direction of movement, meaning you change direction in less time. The body’s ability to get into a mechanically efficient position to change direction is a trainable biomotor skill, and as such, will get better with practice. It takes time to learn how to transition your body into an effective turn without thinking, so get practicing!
Strength and speed are two key factors that affect agility performance. Consider which sport you are training for and work on the key areas that are required in that sport.
For most sports, building lower body strength, particularly single leg strength is key. In most sports you decelerate running, then load a single leg to push into another movement. Having that single leg strength ensures you have the capacity to effectively perform that movement so ensure your programme is including enough single leg training in the gym. Add in some plyometrics into your programme to work on that muscle contraction speed and springiness off the floor.