In Defense of the Agility Ladder

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Recently, there have been a lot of videos on Instagram showing off athletes going through agility ladder drills.

I am not going to pretend that is not impressive. There is a lot of coordination and quick feet at play there.

On the flip side of this, many strength and conditioning coaches are coming out and giving a good argument why the agility ladder is not speed or agility training.

So on one end we have pro athletes going through these drills and renowned performance coaches disagreeing with it.

Where does the agility ladder fall? Is it effective?

Well, I guess it depends.

I do have a few stances when it comes to the agility ladder from my experience with athletes. Our facility also serves ages 8-18 primarily so my population is not NFL players.

All athletes should be athletic enough to get through a ladder series

I do not care who the athlete is, how old, or how many awards they have received. All athletes should be able to get through a ladder drill.

agility ladder

It is very concerning when an athlete can’t. It tells me they lack coordination, quickness, and motor control. This information does not tell me why they are or are not successful in their sport, however.

We can still have a great athlete that is bad at ladders and I see opportunity for growth. In a short amount of time they can figure out these drills and then it is no longer a concern.

Anyone over the age of 13-14 probably does not need ladder drills anymore

When we look at the Long Term Athletic Development Model, the younger stages of 7-11 benefit from training agility, balance, and coordination.

Agility is a bad term to be used here because it is too broad. They are really adaptable to small area quickness.

Ideally, athletes would start training when they were 8 years old and continue until they are done playing sports. If that were the case then I would not give ladder drills to anyone older than 11. Athletes in this age range pick up and develop from these drills very quickly.

We do see middle school athletes that have either never done the drills, or spent too much time on the couch to keep up with them.

This brings us back to point number 1 where all athletes should be athletic enough to perform the ladder drills.

The agility ladder is not speed training

No one is going to become faster or better at changing direction by performing ladder drills. Again, the benefits are coordination and small area quickness.

Speed training incorporates good running technique, power production, and putting them together in sprinting drills.

Agility training teaches athletes how to slow down and accelerate in another direction, rapidly.

These qualities are not met with the agility ladder. Kevin Neeld recently wrote about how Usain Bolt is the fastest man in the world, while a world class dancer has the fastest feet in the world. The dancer may be moving their feet fast but he is not going anywhere.

Speed is about getting distance, quickly.

This also brings us to the videos of the professionals performing these drills.

Professional athletes do not need ladder drills. They are the best at what they do and a ladder is not going to make them better. They are also too old to really reap the benefits.

I think that these ladder drill videos are just to look cool. Some of them do and I know I cannot move as fast as those guys but we cannot necessarily call it speed or agility training.

I do like the ladder but it needs to be for young and inexperienced athletes. Once athletes can perform ladder drills well, I would rather use our time more effectively to develop power, work on technique, or getting athletes into actual drills.

The agility ladder has been abused by a lot of coaches lately but I think that is slightly unfair because it does have benefits for the younger population.