By Zoid Fitness Team on Nov 11, 2019 6:00:00 AM
Agility is an often misunderstood element of physical fitness. It's also one of the goals that's most worth striving for. When you increase your agility, you increase your ability to perform at your sport of choice.
Agility is all about reaction time. Science for Sport defines agility as a change of velocity in response to stimulus. In other words, agility is a combination of your mental ability to interpret a situation and your physical ability to do something about it.
The ways that agility relates to fitness are tied into this definition. You need agility to make effective use of your fitness training. No matter how strong you are or how perfect your form is, those skills don't mean anything unless you can use them. And agility is all about teaching you to use your body as effectively as possible.
Agility training improves your speed
Many athletes say that speed is their favorite part of agility training, and in many cases, the reason they undertake it in the first place. You want to go faster, and you want to go faster with a purpose. This isn't training to sprint; it's training to run, jump, catch, and move as effectively and intently as possible.
Many agility programs start with footwork training. You'll learn to place your steps quickly and with precision as you move over small hurdles and platforms. Unlike normal speed training, which focuses largely on time and endurance, agility training pushes you to go faster while maintaining your attention to detail.
Agility and speed training are often paired side by side. Place your focus on completing each action correctly. As you become more skilled, your fluidity and speed will naturally increase.
Many of the other benefits of agility training, like improved muscle tension and balance, will also increase your overall speed. Agility training has a large focus on injury prevention; this is accomplished through slowly and steadily training your muscles to react while you're in motion. It might sound counter-intuitive but you have to start slow if you want to go fast later on.
The truth is that high-quality, efficient movements are always faster in the long run. When you learn to perform each action with care and precision, you don't waste time or energy on unnecessary movement. Tight, clean actions can shave seconds or even minutes off your final performance time.
Use your agility training to improve your speed while keeping your muscles safe and healthy. You'll enjoy the benefits throughout your entire athletic career.
Agility training improves your perception
Most fitness training focuses on the muscles you can see. Agility training also improves the muscles that you see with. You can't react to a stimulus that you can't sense, and that's why perception is such an important part of agility.
A 2018 article from the Strength and Conditioning Journal mentions that athletes don't retain the benefits of their agility training unless they find a way to improve their perception alongside their physical fitness. Luckily, perception is fully trainable, so if you put the work in, you can quickly improve your ability to know what's coming and do something about it.
Agility training teaches you to sense, interpret, and react. Imagine a ball gets thrown at your face. You need to see the ball coming (sense), realize what it is and where it's coming from (interpret), and catch it or dodge it before you get beaned on the forehead (react). The faster that you do all of these things, the better your reaction will be as that ball gets closer. The same concept relates to turning corners, dodging hurdles, and selecting the right path to take up a climbing wall.
Perception isn't just about sight; many athletes believe that if you wait until you've seen the stimulus, you're already too late. You can hear the ball getting closer, and you can feel the wind approaching your skin. You might even use that subliminal danger sense that humans may or may not have. What's important is that your brain gets the information and does something with it before it's too late.
Perception might be the most important relation of agility to fitness. Perception impacts the real-world applications of your fitness training. As an athlete, you're refining your body into a well-oiled machine. You need to be able to drive that machine, or you're not going to use it correctly. Fitness is about becoming your best self, and your senses are just the next muscle you need to work on.
Agility training improves your muscle tension
Agility training tests your ability to fluidly change from one action to another. To perform this change without injury, you need to develop positive muscle tension.
In order to complete a physical movement, such as lifting your leg while you're running, your muscles need to contract and then relax. If your muscles aren't strong enough, they won't contract correctly. If they're too tense, they won't be able to relax after the motion is complete.
Agility training increases your body's ability to quickly change between muscle states. Strong emphasis should be placed on flexibility alongside endurance. Most injuries don't happen when a muscle is tensed; they occur when the muscle is improperly released before the next action takes place.
If you're a runner or a biker, improved muscle flexibility will increase your overall speed. Tight hamstrings can't bring the leg as close to the body, which means the leg won't have as much potential energy on the way down. Tight muscles also prevent your hip from reaching its full range of motion, and this can limit the amount of power that your legs can produce.
When you increase agility, you increase the flexibility and reactivity of your muscles. This will improve your performance and reduce your potential for injury. No matter what kind of fitness you're into, a dose of agility training will make you that much better at the other aspects of your workout routine.
Agility training improves your balance
While you're improving the flexibility and tension of your muscles, you're also increasing their strength. An increase in strength inevitably leads to an increase in balance.
The muscles that hold you upright are located in your legs and your core. Not coincidentally, these are the muscles that most agility training exercises focus on. When these muscles are strong and flexible, you're significantly more capable of maintaining your balance while you're in motion.
Agility training also improves the speed at which your brain can send messages to your muscles. When you lose your balance, your body has only a second to notice the problem and react before you fall.
The nerves that notify you when your body is off-balance are called proprioceptors. If you step on your foot at a bad angle, the proprioceptors in your muscles will notify your brain and demand an immediate reaction. You will probably change your posture, move your weight, or otherwise regain your balance.
People who react to changes in balance more quickly have a better chance of avoiding an injury. Agility and balance training increase your reaction times and make sure that your muscles are strong enough to support the sudden change in movement. The result is fewer injuries in the gym and out on the field.
You've probably noticed that the ways in which agility relates to fitness are tied into each other. Improved perception increases your ability to notice situations that you need to react to. Greater speed means that you can complete your reaction in a shorter timeframe. Healthier muscles are able to perform those movements without injury, and the end result is greater balance and stability while your body is in motion.
Agility training improves your control
The elements of agility discussed so far include speed, perception, muscle tension, and balance. These elements lead up to the main benefit of agility training: an increase in control.
When you first became an athlete, you probably had an end-game fantasy. Maybe you wanted to be the fastest, the strongest, or the best at the sport of your dreams. Whatever you imagined yourself doing, you pictured yourself doing that thing well.
Fitness training increases what your muscles can do, but agility training increases how well you can control them. What's the point of learning to run if you can't make a quick turn or leap a hurdle when you need to? You already know that you're not in the game for vanity fitness. You exercise to become more healthy and capable. Agility training is just the next step towards realizing the end goal of cohesion between your body and your mind.
After you've spent a few months on agility exercises, you'll start to notice a significant increase in the time between thinking of a movement and completing it. You're an athlete, so your reaction times are already quite short, but training will make your reactions quicker and better.
Agility exercises will also improve the quality of your actions. If you've been focusing precision during your speed training, your movements will be sharp, fluid, and to-the-point. Your muscles will be flexible and ready to react to new situations, and your improved balance will keep you stable when you try something new.
Your increase in physical control might feel subtle. It's hard to notice that you're not getting injured, but you still appreciate the benefits all the same. Agility training is the difference between having physical skills and being able to apply them safely and effectively.
Improving your agility and fitness
The relation of agility to fitness isn't always obvious. When you're working out, it's easy to stick to the exercises that you love best. If you're a runner, you want to run. If you're a lifter, you want to lift. But if you spend time on agility training, you'll notice greater performance and control during the rest of your workout routine. Your muscles will feel better when you're lifting, and your endurance runs won't leave your hamstrings quite as tight.
Physical fitness requires balance between the different parts of your body. Agility training helps you bring your senses and your muscles in tune with each other. Use agility exercises to increase your reaction times, improve your balance, and gain more control over your actions. No matter whether you exercise to look great, feel great, or be great, agility training will help you get more out of the rest of your routine.
If you're looking to learn more about agility training, or you need some pointers or advice as you train, be sure to check out the ZOID Fitness Movements and Drills page for a number of helpful agility training resources!