Today's guest post is brought to you by New York-based strength coach Jared Rosenberg.
Agility ladders have always been a staple in strength and conditioning programs. Ladder drills are used to help increase foot speed, agility, and coordination thus making one faster in their sport. But, in recent years many strength coaches have put the ladders away and noted that because rate of force development is what correlates most to faster sprint speeds, max strength and power training need to take priority in a program. Even though there is truth to this, it doesn’t mean you should ditch one method all together and claim it has no value.
With the rise in popularity of a constraint led approach, especially one in which a coach becomes narrow minded in his methodologies, many “old” drills have fallen out of strength coach’s arsenals; speed ladder drills being one of these casualties. In a constraint led approach, movement will emerge from three constraints: organism, task, and the environment(2). In the case of a speed ladder drill, the organism is the athlete, the task is the specific drill being performed, and the environment is everything around the athlete from the ladder itself, the ground, to the clothing worn, and the background noise. Training should be planned out to manipulate these three variables to make the athlete more prepared and resilient for what is demanded of them in their sport.
Because of this approach others may also choose not to use agility ladders in their training because while the athlete can plan out their movements to fit the task of the speed ladder drills, they cannot plan their movements when playing their sport. Therefore, agility ladders will improve foot speed, but will not improve the player’s ability to read the opposition and make appropriate decisions in an open environment.
Although one can argue against the use of an agility ladder, I still find great value in speed ladder drills, for the following three reasons:
One of the most important things a coach can do is create “buy in” with a team. Without “buy in,” your athletes will not try their best for you, making your program much less effective. While we as strength coaches know that these drills might not be as effective as once thought in increasing one’s speed they are very appealing to athletes because the agility and change of direction seen during the drills is clearly relatable to their sport. Athletes may now trust you more because you can relate their training to their sport, and this creates “buy in.”
Two goals of the warm up are to increase heart rate and improve reaction time(1). While many coaches use traditional warm ups, such as running laps, I always found this monotonous. I prefer to use ladder drills, which accomplishes all of the same physiological needs of a warm up. My athletes also find them more fun, and in return I get a more positive reaction from them. In my opinion, the use of speed ladders is far superior to a traditional warm up. There are a number of different speed ladder drills that cover different aspects of improving athletic performance. For example, one can improve, eccentric control, single leg control, proper landing mechanics, and multi-planar stabilization.
In my opinion, an often-overlooked benefit of ladders is that they can be used as low-level plyometric exercise. When hearing plyometrics, many coaches will think of hang cleans or box jumps. When working with most athletes, hang cleans and box jumps are a great plyometric exercises, however hang cleans and box jumps are not for everyone. Before I became a strength and conditioning coach, I was a personal trainer at a commercial gym. Most of my clients being middle aged individuals. While I believed plyometric exercises were important for my clients to perform, I thought hang cleans and box jumps were way too high of a risk. Instead, for plyometrics, I had my clients do ladder drills.
I selected drills that would be performed at faster than normal speeds for my clients, taught them proper jumping and land mechanics, and got them out of performing every exercise in the sagittal plane (moving forward and backward). These ladder drills offered my general fitness clients a lower risk and higher reward option with minimal force on their body.
While I can understand why many coaches have stopped doing ladder drills, I still find great value in them. Just like any exercise, I think the “why” is the most important thing. If you can justify an exercise with scientific evidence then that exercise should be in your program. Before bashing speed ladder drills because they do not make better athletes, I think it is important to ask why they are or are not in your program. If you open up your mind it will be easy to answer why agility ladders are an important piece of an athlete’s program.
1. Baechle, T. Earle, R (2008). Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetic
2. Chow, J. Davids, K. Button, C. Renshaw, I. (2016). Nonlinear Pedagogy In Skill Acquisition an introduction. 2 Park square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jared is a certified Strength and Conditioning Coach currently enrolled in the Master’s program in Exercise Science at East Stroudsburg University. In addition to being a student, Jared is completing an internship at the College of Saint Rose working with the baseball and women’s volleyball team as the Strength and Conditioning Coach. Jared has earned two undergraduate degrees, an Associate of Science in Sport Nutrition from SUNY Morrisville and a Bachelor of Science in Fitness Development from SUNY Cortland. In addition to his education, Jared has certifications in both FMS (level one) and TRX. Jared enjoys powerlifting, playing basketball, and quoting Anchorman. You can follow Jared on Twitter or check our his blog at JRStrengthFit.