Why we do ‘agility’ ladder drills

We love doing ladder drills. Not only are they an opportunity for free-wheeling use of jazz hands, they represent an opportunity to train some rather important qualities.

For every workout we do in our Small Group or 1-on-1 Personal Training sessions, we sub-divide the workout into sections:

  • Movement Prep
  • Dynamic Warm-up
  • Strength Circuit
  • Conditioning (cardio)

The movement prep section aims to do what the name suggests: prepare your body (and your mind) for the movement that’s about to come. We do a positional breathing drill to ‘dial-in’ your nervous system and then we do a series of exercises aimed at ‘waking up’ muscles that need to be ready for action and ‘settling down’ the muscles that tend to get a bit overactive.

From there, we begin our dynamic warm-up. This section is a bit of what you might think of as a traditional warm-up…but more deliberate. Here, we’re aiming not only to get your heart rate up and to get you warm, but also to get your joints and muscles ready for the movement to come. And we’re priming your muscles for power.

Why is power important?

Power is where muscles exert force quickly. Commonly, we tend to think of power as being muscles exerting lots of force quickly, as in powerlifting where the goal is to move heavy weights as fast as possible (ideally with excellent technique). 

But power can also involve muscles exerting lower levels of force quickly, as in running and jumping and throwing things.

Running and jumping happen, for the most part, in just one direction: forward.

Life, on the other hand, doesn’t always happen in straight line. Sometimes, there are zigs and zags, where we’re called upon to change direction—sometimes, quickly. 

Examples of situations where you would need to change direction quickly include dancing or hopping from rock to rock as you cross that stream while on a hike.

When life asks you to zig or zag, it’s best to be ready.

In the most basic of ways, your muscles are responsible for stabilizing your joints in the positions they need to be in in order to absorb force (as you would when landing a quick step). 

If the muscles need to do this suddenly—but aren’t ready or able to do so—things can get rocky. If your muscles aren’t able to respond quickly enough to a sudden step, they may not be able to stabilize in time to avoid a fall or a stumble. At best, it’s no big deal, but at worst, a fall can result in injury. 

No one likes injuries.

And so it is that ladder drills become effective: once you get the hang of them, going back and forth can really get your heart rate up and, practicing the act of moving your feet this way and that—quickly—helps to get your muscles and nervous system ready to respond.

Beyond the training session, ladder drills are one way (of multiple ways) that we train your muscles for power. 

We’re training your muscles to respond to life when it happens.

Deeper hip angles

Deeper what?

Related to power and the ability to respond well to rapid changes in direction is the ability for your hips to flex into a deeper angle…while on one leg…without falling.

Basically: get low.

An unfortunate by-product of the sitting that we all tend to do is that our glutes (the biggest of the muscles that make your hips do magical things) tend to get a bit sleepy.

[‘Sleepy’ isn’t really the right word. ‘Downregulated’ might be better, if slightly less catchy.]

A knock-on effect of the sleepy glutes situation is that people tend to end up unconsciously avoiding joint positions that would call on the glutes to do their job, namely deeper hip flexion.

This is especially true when it comes to standing/balancing/working on one leg…which is the position you would find yourself in when zigging or zagging (or taking that first step after a stumble…you know, the step that pretty much determines whether you’re going to fall or not).

And so it is that we use ladder drills as an opportunity to practice getting into those deeper hip angles. On one leg.

It’s often a bit scary at first—a part of our brains doubts whether those ‘sleepy’ glutes will do their job—but this is why we practice. We get better at it when we practice.

Beyond the warm-up

If you wanted to nerd out with us, we also call the dynamic warm-up our ‘light implement power’ section. We’re practicing low-level power development using your body (or, in other cases, medicine balls—more on them another time).

As we progress in strength training, the total force that your muscles can produce increases. Consequently, the overall amount of power you can produce increases.

[This might just be another reason why strength training is so valuable. Ok. It’s definitely a reason why strength is so valuable.]

So, there you have it: If ever you wondered why we do those ladder drills (aside from it being a fantastic opportunity to work some jazz hands into the workout), we’re doing some low-level power work to practice moving and absorbing force in varying directions and we’re improving the functional readiness of your hip joints.

Wanna try out some ladder drills with us? Check out our current trial offer here.

Got questions? Emails us here.