6 proven ways in which you can increase your agility

Have you ever been to a football game and thought you knew exactly where the running back was going to end up -- on the bottom of a pile of defenders at the line of scrimmage -- but then...WHOA! How did he cut and juke through the defense like that and turn what seemed like a dead-end play into a first down?

People associate those types of quick moves with speed, but it is actually agility that enables them to make such crafty and unexpected moves.

In the sports and fitness world, agility is an integral part of moving, both on and off of the field and in and out of the gym. Your agility needs to be fine-tuned, practiced, and improved as your body progresses.

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What is agility and why is it important to me?

As some of the examples at the beginning of this blog illustrated, agility is a term generally associated or (incorrectly) used interchangeably with “speed,” when in actuality, it is the ability of your body to abruptly change direction from an accelerated movement by quickly decelerating, changing direction, and accelerating in the new direction, all in a smooth transitional pattern. Sure, speed comes into play because the move has to be done quickly, but those nimble, light-on-your-feet movements aren't due to speed -- it's all due to agility.

The physical benefits of agility

Physically, improving your agility helps to improve your joint strength, muscle movement, and endurance, so you can get the most out of every physical activity your life may throw at you. Increasing your agility will decrease your risk of injury as well. Instead of overreaching past your range of motion, or pulling a muscle by over-twisting, your body will be more flexible and mobile. On top of that, your reaction times to situations will increase vastly.

The two sides of agility

Believe it or not, agility is not just a physical trait your body can possess. Yes, agility is a physical action your body performs, but there's a huge mental component of agility as well. Learning how to increase your agility further develops the mind's visual and auditory focus, helps you retain information longer, and assists with the overall recall of memories. Improving your overall agility won't just help you out on the football field or the basketball court, but it will also provide a great “assist” in your day-to-day household “playbook” of routines.

Getting ready to boost your agility

Now that you're up to speed on what agility is and how you can increase it, you're probably chomping at the bit to hit the gym and get to work so you can benefit from a boost to your agility. But first, it is always important to stretch and warm-up before getting into any sweat session, and agility training is no exception. You will be moving quickly in different directions, thinking on your toes (and bouncing on them too!), and twisting your torso to get the best range of motion without injury, so be sure those muscles are warm! Include a few dynamic moves in your warm-up that will closely relate to the movements you will be using during your workout session. These types of actions will encourage those primary muscles to stretch and warm up before being pulled and twisted in multiple directions as you hit the height of your workout.

Listed below are six great ways to increase your agility, both physically and mentally.

1. Try these exercises

There are so many options out there, but don't get overwhelmed by the variety of drills you read about as you research agility, because in the end, they basically boil down to be variations of about four basic moves: quick shuffles/toes, jumps, reaches and bends. These four base movements will likely overlap each other in the same exercise and across different exercises, and that is completely OK. Let’s break it down a bit further:

A. Quick Shuffles/Toes - These are basic drills you can do that involve lines, ladders, and cones. Ladder drills can be broken down into a number of variations; the sky is the limit to your movements! You can shuffle through each space, toe-tap each rung, and shuffle back to your starting position. If you have a cone, step, piece of tape, or ball you can conduct some speed training with toe taps. Add a quick push up or jump squat to your taps and it's a full-body agility craze.

B. Jumps (Box, Rope, Jack, Squat) - The types of jumps you can practice to increase your agility are practically endless! Box jumps will help you push that distance while stretching your hamstrings for those quick turns and twists in any sport. Keeping your balance, lean back slightly and alternate tapping your toes onto the cone, box, or ball while maintaining a quick, consistent pace. Squat jumps go great with wall balls (tossing a weighted ball above your head at the wall as you push up from your squat position). Jumping rope and jumping jacks are also great cardio warm-ups with multi-movement training.

C. Reaches - Wall-ball squats melt into the reaches you can do to increase agility. Other methods of reach exercises include the use of an agility ball. These balls have different surface levels, so when thrown at the wall, it will bounce in a different direction each time it hits. The action causes the trainee to hop on their toes and be prepared to quickly shift left or right, squat, or reach out to catch the ball and return to starting position. Similar tactics use a lighter weight ball, like a volleyball. Volleyball exercises are great for agility training if you have a partner who will bump and pass the ball to you in multiple directions, causing you both watch where it will go and react before it hits the ground.

D. Bends - How many times a day do you bend over to pick something up, move something over, or maybe tie a shoelace that came loose? We do all of these moves throughout our daily lives and never really think about it until we pull a muscle or pinch a nerve. Then we yelp, sigh, and maybe stretch it out -- but if we were practicing our bends during a shuffle or line drill, perhaps we could have prevented that pain. Bends can be added to any line work, ball throw, or jump. If you are a weightlifter, you are likely adding bends into squats, lunges, and deadlifts. If yoga is your thing, you are bending in every direction. Poses like downward dog, warrior pose, and tree pose force you into positions that require continued flexibility, stability, and mental clarity. What better way to be sure your tree stance is tall and strong than by increasing your agility moves outside of yoga?

2. Eat Healthy

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Not every agility training includes the gym or a sports field. They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day for good reason. Before you set out to greet the day, be sure to get a great breakfast packed full of the vitamins and minerals that your body requires. A healthy lifestyle consists of eating the right things at the right times, and all of that box jumping and toe-tapping is going to need a significant energy source to pull from! Fresh produce and healthy proteins are a great way to stimulate the body...and mind.

3. Engage in mind games/puzzles

If you're a hardcore gym rat, you might be surprised to see something like mind games and puzzles on a list of ways you can increase your agility, or maybe even think it's a bit silly. But there's a huge mental aspect of agility, and you need to keep your mind sharp and focused. How else do you think elite athletes are able to make such dazzling and jaw-dropping moves on the field? It's because their minds are working a mile a minute, analyzing the situation on the field and anticipating what's going to happen before anyone else even realizes it. The mind has to be sharp in order to quickly tell the body what moves to make. As a result, agility training isn't just about being quick on your toes -- it includes keeping your brain on its toes as well. By engaging in puzzles and brain games, your memory, recall systems, and focus will be up to par when you are ready to hit the field again. Try a crossword puzzle, Suduko, or even memory/matching type puzzles to keep you sharp-witted.

4. Get into a friendly, logical debate

OK, we get it. Puzzles might not be your thing. If that's the case, we're going to get your brain some exercise another way! Try joining a debate team, or getting involved in a friendly debate, either online or in a focus group to encourage your mind to keep thinking. Plus, you can allow your competitive side to come out. Are you right? Of course you are! But why? Explain your stance with a logical argument and win that debate! If you rack your brain cells and bounce some new ideas off that frontal cortex of yours, your body will thank you later as you're zipping around the field, making decision a split second before your opponents and gaining that ever-important edge.

5. Read

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I bet you didn’t know you could increase your agility just by kicking back with a good book and relaxing, did you? Not every aspect of training has to be mentally or physically straining. Sitting down with a book -- maybe even one about sports or fitness, since that's what you enjoy -- will still work your subconscious and drive your mind. You will learn new words and information. It's a relaxing and enjoyable way to keep your mind sharp. Your opponents are probably hitting the gym just as hard as you are, but are they taking the time to train their minds as well?

6. Test your agility and keep improving!

Put your body AND mind to the test...repeatedly. There are recall quizzes, physical trials, and timed testing you can put yourself through to gauge where you are in your agility training. Take these sorts of tests regularly and compare your results to see how far you've come and what room for improvement you have. Don’t ever think you have reached the “top level” of your agility ability. There are always ways to improve. You can go faster, jump higher, reach farther, or stop more quickly than you did last week.

Maintaining agility for years to come

Maintenance is just as crucial as getting started when it comes to anything you do. Eating healthy does not stop just because you lost weight or lowered your cholesterol. You have to continue doing it and maintain that cholesterol level by eating healthy all the time. The same thing applies to your fitness lifestyle and agile movements. It is the little things in life that you can choose to do that will maintain your current level of health and wellness: take the stairs instead of a lift or elevator, go dancing, include yoga or Tai Chi into your workout routine, or jump around from time to time! Puddles after a summer rainstorm are just begging to be jumped in! Making small healthy changes in your day to day activities can significantly improve your range of motion, stability, agility, and even decrease your risk of injuries.

Agility is just one part of your overall fitness training, but it is essential to include in your workouts and improve on continuously. Runners need to be able to jump over a rock or hole quickly. Boxers need to dodge a jab quick enough to avoid a big hit to the head. Weightlifters need stability for deadlifts and increasing weights in all other activities. Even outside of the gym, everyone bends to pick something up, perhaps a child or laundry basket. You might need to move out of the way of something, or catch a flying object coming your way. No matter what life throws at you, increasing your agility will improve all aspects of your life, mentally and physically.

Opt for the stairs instead of that crowded elevator. Jump in those puddles with your kids. Sit down for some quiet time and enjoy a book. If anyone asks, you are catching up on your agility training!

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