Agility is your ability to move rapidly in different directions while maintaining balance and posture.
It can be applied to both body and mind and determines how easily or seamlessly you can alter your position or direction (either physical or mental).
To increase agility in sports and fitness, which greatly enhances reflexes and coordination, athletes do agility training or agility drills.
These unique, fast-paced exercises condition the body to respond quicker and better, improving performance and reducing risk of injury.
Meaning of Agility in Physical Fitness
Agility in fitness is the ability to speed up, slow down, and quickly change direction without losing form or posture.
Physical agility includes the components of speed, balance, reflexes, coordination, stamina, and power.
But, despite its seemingly physical focus, fitness agility also trains the brain, enhancing the mind-body connection and encouraging reflexive decision-making.
What Is Agility Training?
Agility training is the circuit of exercises performed to improve both physical and mental agility in the areas of sports and fitness.
It is closely tied to muscle memory, which is the ability of the body to perform a specific movement the same way without conscious thought (shooting a free throw is a great example of muscle memory).
While agility drills consist of physical exercises that train the muscles, they also strengthen the connection between the body and the mind, allowing your body to complete actions on reflex without having to think about them first.
You might see how this benefits athletes who must respond quickly to the rapidly changing circumstances during matches or games.
Benefits of Agility Training
The benefits of agility training are extensive and don’t apply solely to athletes.
Anyone can benefit from the ability to move more seamlessly with greater coordination (especially older people at risk of falls).
Some benefits of doing agility drills if you develop (and stick to) a routine include:
- Improved strength and muscle tone (especially in deeper, lesser-used muscles)
- Improved flexibility (often in less-targeted areas)
- Improved dynamic balance (the ability to stay balanced during rapid, changing movement)
- Improved physical control/coordination
- Improved body alignment
- Improved posture
- Improved endurance
- Improved heart health (including lower blood pressure)
- Improved sleep
- Weight loss
- Reduced inflammation
- Pain relief (over time, as the spine and joints strengthen)
- Better form while participating in sports and other physical activities
- Reduced risk of injury
- Reduced recovery time
- Increased cognitive function and decision-making (overall, but especially during physical activity)
For athletes, these things combine into greater performance.
Here’s NWSL star Sophia Smith demonstrating what agility looks like on the soccer field:
For everyone else, these things combine into better balance and greater reflexes, which reduces our risk of falls and injury and allows us to move better throughout our daily lives.
How often should I do agility training?
Many agility exercises are fast-moving. (In fact, a lot of agility training involves getting faster and faster as you go along.)
They will work your muscles in intense and different ways.
They will also build and tone your muscles.
As such, you should treat agility drills like any other form of strength training. P
erform them no more than 2-3 times per week, with at least a day of rest between.
If you’re overly sore, or have lingering pain, give it two days.
The rapid, unique nature of agility exercises is great for conditioning little-used parts of the body, but it also provides a lot of potential for injury.
How long should an agility training session be?
When you first start agility training, you should perform exercises slowly until you are able to do them well with correct form.
Many agility drills involve patterns of movement that take time to learn and be able to consistently do.
So, you should start at a slow to moderate pace, aiming for memorization and precision instead of speed.
During this time, your agility sessions may be 30-40 minutes as you rehearse the patterns and slowly perform them.
However, when you start doing agility drills at speed, you will be in HIIT (high-intensity interval training) territory and don’t need long to see the benefits.
A 15 to 20-minute session is ideal.
More than that, you risk the possibility of overtraining, which will have a negative impact on movement instead of a positive one.
Is agility training good for weight loss?
The fast pace of agility training makes it a great cardio workout, so, yes, it is highly conducive to weight loss.
As long as you’re moving fast enough to be out of breath, you’ll be torching calories.
Does agility training burn fat?
Not only does agility training burn fat (once you reach HIIT levels), but it’s a SERIOUS fat-burner.
Like all HIIT exercises, rapid-paced agility training forces your body into hyper-burn, digging into fat stores to supply energy carbs alone can’t provide.
The intensity of these exercises also requires equally intense repair, so you will continue to burn extra fat for up to 24 hours following agility drills.
Is agility training HIIT?
Yes, a good portion of the time agility exercises qualify as HIIT.
The idea behind agility drills is to go as hard as you can (with proper form) for a set number of reps with short rest breaks between.
That’s all HIIT is, peak performance followed by brief periods of rest.
Does agility training build muscle?
Yes, the rapid movements of agility exercises can help you build muscle.
More importantly, agility training uses muscles differently than other forms of exercise, which can help you increase your muscle power.
Agility training, like other forms of HIIT, activates Type II fast-twitch muscle fibers.
These are the types of muscle fibers used in explosive movements such as swinging a baseball bat or striking in martial arts.
Is agility better than strength?
It may be hard to believe, but in many sports (and in life) agility is more beneficial than strength.
In soccer, the ability to move quickly while controlling the ball at one’s feet is agility, not strength.
In American football, a running back dodging and leaping out of tackles is agility, not strength.
Even in boxing, the fighter who can move the fastest and avoid being hit will often beat the fighter who can hit the hardest. (Though, agility training’s work on those fast-twitch muscle fibers can help boxers throw more powerful punches as well.)
And in our day to day lives agility typically benefits us more, and more often, than strength.
If you can dodge projectiles, it doesn’t matter how hard you can knock them aside. (And your hand will thank you for it.)
How to Improve Agility
While most forms of exercise improve agility to some extent, when athletes (and non-athletes alike) want to work on their agility, they typically do so with agility drills, exercises specifically designed to challenge the body’s ability to accelerate, decelerate, and change direction.
Agility drills require very minimal equipment (or none at all if you’re feeling crafty) that can be laid out in different arrangements to allow for a variety of exercises.
Agility Ladder Drills
Agility ladder drills are performed using an agility ladder, which looks much like a real ladder, but is laid out on the ground.
Exercises are performed by stepping (or jumping) in and out of the ladder in different ways, like this –
Cone Agility Drills
Agility cone drills use plastic cones in a multitude of set-ups to challenge rapid turning and movement, like this –
Cones may be used in a straight line, as in the image above, but are often placed at a distance from each other.
Drills are performed by sprinting between the cones and circling around them as you reach them.
Other Agility Equipment
Other common equipment used in agility training includes:
- Speed Hurdles
- Reaction Balls
- Agility Rings
- Plyometric Boxes
For more information on these and other training equipment, see our post Essential Agility Sports Equipment.
Speed and Agility Training at Home
Like many bodyweight and general movement exercises, agility training is something you can easily learn and do on your own. (Which is good, because few gyms and fitness centers offer classes in agility.)
If you do prefer a little more guidance for your training, you can find agility classes at sports and athletic training centers.
These centers are geared toward athletes, but often have classes for anyone who would like to participate. (Many sports training centers also offer online coaching.)
Another option for agility training is to hire a personal trainer.
Simply look for a trainer who provides agility coaching as part of their system.
A personal trainer can help you perform movements safely and effectively.
Simple Agility Exercises for a More Fluid You
Agility is one of those things that is paramount not just to fitness and athletics, but to good movement in general.
When you improve your agility you improve your ability to do many things, from walking up and down stairs to dancing to playing a sport to chasing after your kids.
Mostly, though, you improve your ability to react and to avoid injury.
This makes agility training one of the key components of good overall fitness and healthy aging, and the sooner you begin the stronger and less accident-prone you’ll be.
Looking for some agility training inspiration? Check out Agility Quotes.
Want more yuks with your agility training content? Check out our Agility Training Puns.