To become a better athlete, you must continually increase the difficulty of your training program. For advanced athletes, ladder drills alone don’t serve much of a purpose except for a warm-up. Why? Because they too often involve the same patterns over and over, becoming monotonous and too easy.
The following five drills increase the difficulty of traditional ladder drills by making you focus on more than just footwork. What was once a simple drill becomes more complex, fun and challenging.
1. Mini-Band Resisted Ladder Drills
Adding a mini-band forces your legs to work harder to move quickly. More important, your glutes will be on fire. I choose exercises (like the ones in the video) that work on hip abduction, so the gluteus medius plays a significant role. This is also important for injury prevention, because strengthening the glutes can help you avoid knee valgus and ACL injuries.
2. Visual Cueing
Athletes rarely stare at the ground while competing, but watch them go through a ladder drill: their heads are down. This drill works to cure that habit. As you go through the ladder, have a partner stand in front of you and hold up random fingers. Announce aloud the number of fingers he or she holds up. This drill challenges you to keep your head up and forces you to think quickly.
ACL injuries usually occur from getting hit in the knee when the leg is planted, a poor landing, a change in direction or decelerating from a sprint. We need to train the last three. Learning to decelerate can easily be incorporated into ladder drills. Simply perform the drill, then sprint out of the last box for 5 yards and decelerate for the next 5 yards before coming to a complete stop. When stopping, brace your abs, squeeze your glutes, and sit back on your heels in a quarter squat. You should be able to see your toes if you look down.
4. Ladder Drill to Ball Drop
As you come out of the last box of the ladder, have a partner drop a tennis ball in a random direction and move to grab it. This adds a reaction component, trains hand-eye coordination and—depending on where the ball is dropped—works conditioning and change of direction. It also reinforces acceleration with a forward lean. Always decelerate after catching the ball.
5. Ladder Drill to 2-Ball Drop
This is my progression of the previous drill. It has all the same benefits, but it trains deceleration and change of direction on every rep. Have your partner drop a ball as you come out of the ladder. As you grab the first ball, have your partner drop another ball to your left, right or behind you. This forces you to decelerate and immediately change direction. I cue my athletes to lean in the direction in which they are changing to get to the second ball, always engage their glutes and sit back when stopping.
Clark, Michael, and Lucett, Scott. NASM Essentials of Corrective Exercise Training. 1st ed. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Baltimore, Maryland: 2011