The current definition of agility is “a rapid whole-body movement with change of velocity or direction in response to a stimulus”. Coaches often miss the change of speed element and think the fastest response is always best. This is typically not the case, at The U of Strength we teach our athletes that they need to control their speed. This will allow them to react to the stimulus with an appropriate response and solution. The ability to quickly decelerate and under control is essential for athletic success.
Another important part of agility training that is often overlooked is the connection between the perceptive and cognitive processes. The quality of an athlete’s movement will be directly related to the quality of decisions made. We promote, the athletes who can quickly make effective decisions will likely gain a step on their opponent, even if there’s a difference with physical abilities (speed, strength and power).
The cognitive components are organized into 2 different categories:
Here are some progressions we follow to facilitate the ability of being under control and making effective decisions:
1. Increasing the work space
At the U of Strength our goal isn’t building the strongest or fastest athlete, it’s creating the most resilient athlete. With early specialization and the playing of sport year-round, there’s an extreme amount of stress placed on the athlete’s system. Most young females’ athletes naturally cannot handle that workload. This is why we’re seeing a high rate of non-contact and overuse injuries, like soft tissue tears and stress fractures.
This is addressed with speed, power & strength movements. Depending on the time of year and training level will determine the emphasis:
▪Deceleration Mechanics (Speed/Change of Direction)
- Closed and Open Skill Drills
▪Landing Technique (Jumps)
- Drop Jumps/ Bounds/ Hops
- Depth Drops/ Altitude Landings
- Single Response Movements w/ Stick
▪Eccentric Phase (Strength Exercises)
- Slow to Moderate Tempo (Descending Phase)
Early on we focus on force absorption, we improve an athlete’s breaks before their engine. If sequenced properly, an athlete will be able to safely absorb and then efficiently re-produce force. This will lead to greater power output potential and decrease in non-contact related injuries.
Here’s a great look at the vertical jump and the different joint positions.
In the video, this athlete has great arm action with an explosive descent and ascent. But as you can see there’s a horizontal displacement with the take-off and landing. Ideally, we like a parallel relationship with the shin and trunk throughout the entire movement.
At the beginning of the take-off there’s a shift forward to the toes. This will place more stress on the quads and a disruption with that parallel relationship. The upper half is moving faster vertically than the lower half. This means that the jump will be initiated by the lower back. The lower body will be delayed and therefore causing a limited “push-off” or leg drive. This is an inefficient jumping technique that will negatively affect the athlete’s force production.
The lower body power movements are organized into jumps, bounds, hops, shock or hybrid.
See below for everything we take into consideration while organizing & selecting the different lower body power exercises for our athletes.
Progression process (relative to the athlete’s training level)
Unilateral (Single Leg)
We will introduce unilateral explosive exercises early on in the training process. The context is most important and we take into consideration the athlete’s sport, time of year and training level. We don’t follow the typical progression of bilateral (2-leg) to unilateral (1-leg) or vice versa. Both 2-leg & 1-leg are used concurrently & follow the above progressions.
An in-season athlete will still follow our progression process, but the major difference is that every landing will be on an elevated surface.. The athlete will still get the desired training effect and adaptation, without over-stressing their system (less impact).
As an athlete reaches the intermediate to advance training level, we get more specific and individualize the power movements with a force (strength) or velocity (speed) emphasis. We determine if the athlete has a force or velocity deficiency. Once this is known we train and attack the weakness or opposite quality.
We also incorporate additional equipment or change in surface that will complement our progression protocol and appropriate for the individual. For example:
It’s important to have a systematic approach when planning and organizing all of the different qualities (speed, power, strength, suppleness, capacity, etc…) that need to be addressed in an athlete’s physical preparation process. Proper progressions and exercise sequencing will set the athlete up for long term success.
If there is one thing I’ve learned from working with athletes from various backgrounds, it’s they all are individually different. These individual differences determine the programing and coaching style that works best for them. No two athletes are alike. One movement or training regime might work well for one individual, where that same exercise or program might be the complete opposite of what the other individual needs.
“You can’t fit a square peg in a round whole”. Determine the athlete’s jumping style and train them accordingly.
Strength Jumper (Force Dominant)
A strength dominant jumper is naturally stronger, has more muscle mass and thicker joints. The athlete will tend to have a more forceful take off with less “spring” when they jump. They will require more of a knee bend and will spend longer time on the ground. This type of athlete will benefit complementing their strength work with more plyometric and complex/contrast methods.
Speed Jumper (Velocity Dominant)
The elastic style jumper will naturally have longer leverages (bones & tendons) and smaller joints. This athlete will have more of an effortless take off with a lot of “spring” when they jump. They will take full advantage of the stretch shortening cycle and will spend less time on the ground. This type of athlete will benefit from complementing their plyometric drills with absolute strength and strength-speed movements.
Understanding that the cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all approach will be detrimental to an athlete's short term and long term development. Individualization and specificity are two of the major principles that our training system is built upon.