Linear speed gets all the attention. Both athletes and coaches focus intently on top-end speed, whereas athletes in the majority of sports spend most of their time changing directions.
Imagine a running back. He sprints to the line and jukes from side to side to avoid defenders. Or a basketball player who shuffles from side to side to keep an opponent from driving to the hoop. These athletes are successful because of their multi-directional speed and agility.
That’s why you should include this type of speed in your training—unless you’re a sprinter. Multi-directional speed and agility allow you to quickly decelerate, change directions and accelerate in every direction—one of the most important skills in sports.
Todd Durkin, owner of Fitness Quest 10, prioritizes multi-directional training when working with his athletes, including Drew Brees and Darren Sproles. He takes a comprehensive approach, developing this skill in the weight room and on the field. Here are some of his favorite exercises. Check out the video player above for instructions from Durkin on how to perform each exercise and drill.
Agility Ladder Drills
If you have any experience with speed training, you’ve probably done agility ladder drills. Contrary to popular belief, they won’t necessarily make you faster in a traditional sense. However, they are a great way to start a speed workout (after your dynamic warm-up, of course) and to improve your footwork. They makes you a more efficient mover, which increases your speed. Also, these drills get your heart rate up and can be used as a conditioning tool.
- Turn your hips
- Keep your shoulders square
Icky Shuffle with Carioca Step
- Step inside and outside of the ladder
- Start slow and build up speed
Single-Leg Windshield Wipers
- Turn your hips back and forth
Lateral Shuffle With Tennis Ball Toss
- Get into a rhythm with your feet
- Keep your eyes up
Sets/Reps: 1-2×2 each drill
Check out more agility ladder drills.
Just as with sprinting, to increase your agility you need to improve your explosive power. Durkin explains that Skater Plyo improves lateral power, which is critical when moving from side to side. It’s especially important when changing direction, because this exercise simulates planting on one foot, absorbing your body weight and exploding in the opposite directions.
- Explode off your outside leg
- Land softly on your opposite foot and bring your rear leg behind you
- As you build speed, touch the ground in front of your foot
Barefoot Balance Drill
This might not seem like a traditional speed exercise or drill. You don’t even move your feet. But it’s critical to improve stability and balance when performing agility movements. Durkin says the exercise increases stability in the ankle and foot. “You want to be stable down low and dynamic up top,” he says. Your ankles are designed to handle your body weight, and strengthening them improves balance and control, reducing your chance of rolling an ankle. Also, having strong ankles and improving overall balance helps to protect your knees.
- Stand barefoot on a pad or the ground
- Keep your core tight and maintain balance
- Swing the towel with your upper body
Sets/Reps: 2-3×10-15 each side
One of the best ways to improve agility, quickness and change of direction is with cone drills. Durkin’s favorites are the Zigzag Drill and traditional 4-Cone Box Drills. Running different patterns through the cones improves speed running forward, laterally, backward and every direction in between. Stopping at every cone improves deceleration, one of the most overlooked aspects of speed training. The faster you can decelerate, the faster you can stop and move in another direction.
- Start slow and gradually increase your speed
- Spin around each cone with your weight on the ball of your inside foot
- Stay low
Sets/Reps: 1-2×4-6 cones
- Stay low
- Move to the outside of each cone
- Change directions as quickly as possible
- Progress to advanced variations as you become familiar with the drills.
Sets/Reps: 1-2×2 each direction
One of Durkin’s favorite drills is the Rebounder. Competing with a partner by tossing the ball in random directions off the rebounder trampoline improves reaction time and quickness. Plus, who doesn’t love competing with a friend or teammate at the end of the workout? Who’s the best at Durkin’s facility? That would be Drew Brees.
- Maintain an athletic position
- Keep your feet moving
- Switch between using one hand and alternating hands
Sets/Duration: 5×20-30 sec.
RELATED: 4 Foot Speed Drills to Increase Speed and Agility