Quick Feet – Part III

“Agility or nimbleness is the ability to change the body’s position efficiently, and requires the integration of isolated movement skills using a combination of balance, coordination, speed, reflexes, strength, endurance and stamina.”

I really like this definition of agility, taken from Wikipedia at this link:



It’s funny, though, when you think about it. All of the above qualities, taken in isolation, still require several of the other qualities to perform. For example, you can’t display the quality of balance without using strength, coordination and reflexes.

So, what’s the point?

None of the above qualities can exist without the other. As Dan John says, the body is one piece. Don’t focus on any one attribute, thinking it is the missing piece of the puzzle to greater agility. That is why merely focusing on things like stepping drills (such as running tires or ladders) will not give you the boost in agility you seek. I touch on much more than just agility in this article. Perhaps some one point may help you in your training.

So, how can you become more adept at changing your body’s positioning more efficiently and I might add, more effectively?

I think of moving efficiently as moving smoothly whether walking or running or swimming, etc.

Moving effectively means you actually achieve the goal the movement is meant to accomplish. I can move efficiently like a ballerina, but if it doesn’t help me throw a hammer further, it was wasted movement, no matter how efficient and smooth. It may have looked pretty but it probably lacked power.

I want to effect a result on the hammer, in other words, throw it farther than before. To do this, my movement must be efficient but also cause an effect on the hammer, it must be effective movement.

So, how might we train for better agility?

How might we train for efficiency and effectiveness of movement?

As a dancer, a ballerina moves a certain way to effect a certain result.

So, what is the result you want from your movement?

Block a kicked soccer ball? Catch a line drive on first base?

Block a punch? Blast through an opponent while running the ball? Catch a Frisbee and land to twist and sprint away from an opponent?

When we move we don’t think about each individual step of the movement. Sure, we might break things down to learn how to do an Olympic Clean and Jerk:

We might train front squats, hang cleans, high pulls, jerks off a rack, etc, to isolate a particular part of the complete movement to strengthen a weak area. But the actual practice of the full movement is what wires the body to perform it in competition.

So, trying to isolate the key components of agility by focusing on one part is usually not good, unless there is a glaring weakness there. Better to focus on performing a full movement.

So if we need to catch a Frisbee while another guy tries to jump and grab it from us, how about getting a few guys and practicing that?

Try something like this:

One guy throws the Frisbee to his teammate. The other guy tries to intercept it. Have another man or two ready to try to block you once you land and run with the Frisbee.

This will train you to run, jump, catch the Frisbee under pressure, land and spin or twist away and dodge or slip an opponent or two immediately after. Repeat this several times. Change roles with each other.

Don’t play an entire game, but take some time to actually practice a snapshot of some part of game play. This little scenario happens all the time in sports. A certain chain of events repeats itself throughout a game. Many games are won or lost on these little spots of play during a game. So, take that little part of the game out and practice it until you can effectively complete the mission. In this case, out run, jump and catch the Frisbee and then sprint away from a few opponents.

This is actually what pro teams do. A volleyball team may practice a set-up and spike of the ball many times in practice. This makes actual game time more productive and effective. Do you think they merely get together and practice playing an entire game every time they train?

So, think about your sport. Where is the opportunity for the other team to best  capitalize on your mistake? Practice getting smoother at that part of the game. What is the crunch point of your sport? Prepare that. Practice that.

You might play a entire game and then when you are tired, practice this particular point of the game. This teaches you to perform under duress.

If you don’t have time to play an entire game, engage in some form of training (squat thrusts, burpees, kettlebell swings, etc) until you are winded and then immediately try practicing the agility standard you are trying to meet for that particular point of play.

Smart wrestlers do this: One guy stays on the mat. Others step on the mat and wrestle with him for two minutes. They get off the mat and another guy steps up to wrestle the first man. Every two minutes a fresh man steps up to wrestle the first guy who is getting more and more tired because he has no rest. He is forced to move more efficiently but also effectively if he wants to continue. This idea can be used for many sports to train greater stamina and create the ability to perform better under the duress of competition.

It also means you will have to express greater agility than your opponent while tired. You will learn to rely on your body knowing what to do rather than trying to think through it.

But this idea needs to be used occasionally, not all the time. It is a way to test how other parts of you training are coming together.

Remember, too much of a good thing is not good!

Too much O2 and not enough nitrogen would kill you. Too much water drowns you, too much training under duress will burn you out or worse.

So, for agility, train what you need for your sport. Get better at training the crunch points of your sport, but don’t forget to drill the basics too.

For those who really don’t compete in a sport, here are some ways to train agility so you will be able to do many things easily without thinking, choking or freezing up:

Lateral lunges under a stretched out rope. Lower the rope as you become more adept at ducking under it to lunge laterally side to side.

Walk down the length of rope tied between two points as you also duck and stand to each side of it.

Try running in sand, on rocks, up trails, through trees, bushes. This is more random than running cones. Running cones you move feet around object but not the body. Good for dodging rocks but not people. Need to get feet and body around trees, poles, bushes, tables, and other people trying to tackle you. This trains quick feet, getting traction in multiple surface conditions, lifting feet and legs over rocks, branches, logs, etc. Track and roadside running does not do this as much. It will be a more intense run.

Also, running through bushes, trees, etc, forces you to get your body around objects. Cone running drills do not do that, as the body is usually leaning over the cone as the feet go around it.

Get a group of guys and run through each other. Try to hinder the man running through. You might have shirts made up with several hang tags (use Velcro) on the sides, front and back. Run through the group and try to avoid getting a tag ripped off.

Try running a set line while others try to push you off course. This trains you to resist falling or stumbling too much when bumped just before you make a shot at a hoop, throw a ball or jump to catch something.   Not every bump is a foul.

Have a bunch of guys’ (5-10) line up in front of a soccer goal or a wall. Have one man face them. Each man has a ball held at chest level. He will pitch the ball forward with two hands and the lone man will try to catch or block the ball. Pitching from the chest relays less info to the blocker than throwing one handed. You don’t need a wind up to throw with two hands from the chest, it’s just a quick forward thrust, with or without a step forward. Thus the blocker can’t “read” who is going to throw the ball next. He will be forced to react faster than if you throw the balls with one hand. This will train agility as he has to move from side to side to stop the balls from hitting the wall or entering the goal. It will train reaction time, speed, etc. You can vary how close the men stand away from you. Closer will, of course, reduce the time the blocker has to react.

Run through swinging sand bags.

Run a gauntlet. Set up an area you have to run through while people throw water balloons, snowballs or some other object that won’t hurt too bad, and run through the gauntlet without getting hit.

Build up your ankles, knees and hips. Get flexible. Stretch. Work on Turkish Get-Ups, windmills, pistols, one leg dead-lifts, tumbling drills. Get stronger: dead lift, over-head press, pull-ups, pushups, carry things, etc.

Play what we used to call Russian Bulldog. Set up two lines running parallel to each other, about 50’ apart or so. Get a bunch of guys. Select one hit man and put him in-between the lines.  He is the Bulldog. The turf between the lines is his. Outside the lines it is safe. Everyone, except the Bulldog, is standing behind one of the lines all on one side. He yells:

“Russian Bulldog!”

It’s Go Time!

Everyone rushes for the safety of the other line. As they try to run to safety, the Bulldog or hit man attempts to tackle one of them. He must be down. You can determine what you consider to be down or tackled. Sometimes we would go so far as to say if you can crawl on hands and knees with ten guys on your back and cross the line you were safe, but that gets pretty rough, ha ha! So, you might say if you are on one knee or no longer vertical and running, you are down; its up to you, you can make it as hard or as easy as you want too.

The man who got tackled stays with the Bulldog. He is now a recruit. Everyone who got to the other line is safe. Once everyone else crosses the line the Bulldog yells:

“Russian Bulldog!”

Everyone now runs back to the safety of the other line.


Now there are two guys who can tackle! They can team up on one guy or they can each try to make their own tackle.

Repeat until one guy remains to cross the line. In the final round he has to run through/by everyone to make it to safety. If he does, he is the man! You buy him a beer.

If you play another round, the first guy who got tackled is the new Bulldog of the next game. Be prepared to get roughed up! This game will teach you to take hits, dish them out, break tackles, sprint, dodge, juke, slip, spin, it’s got it all. It will develop agility or you will get hammered a lot. I think this should be a professional sport, ha ha!

You can play a form of follow the leader:

Set up an obstacle course or pick a path through a bunch of trees or, in an urban setting through a bunch of rooms in an empty building or through a park, etc. Run through it and the person behind you tries’ to tag you or pull a tag off your back.

Practice tumbling drills and coming up to either run or jump. So, try doing a somersault or shoulder roll and as you roll back to your feet jump up and run or jump up and catch a thrown ball or Frisbee, etc. Somersault and roll back to your feet and block a thrown ball.

Do shoulder rolls off both left and right shoulders. You will find you have a particular side you favor to roll off of. Practice both sides until you can roll off either shoulder easily and comfortably. You can even roll backwards and as you come up to your feet sprint to your front, right or left or even spin around and run to the back.

Go into your somersault or rolls from a low position, gradually work up to doing a roll from standing and then walking and finally from a run. If you play a sport, depending on the sport, you will at one time or another find yourself tripping for one reason or another and if you can roll with it and come up running you can still effect a play.

Anyway, this is just a few things out of the box, so-to-speak, that you might use to develop agility. I’m not saying you must do these things. That is for you or your coach to decide. Whatever you do, think about it.

Use your head. However you decide to train, you must assume the risks inherent in that form of training. Let’s face it, no form of training is ever always safe.

Don’t blindly follow everything a trainer might tell you to do. That includes me. I don’t know everything and am constantly learning. How I train works for me. It is constantly evolving in some ways. It may work very well for others. If the risks seem to high for you right now, a better course should be followed. You’ve only got one body.

Does the risk out-weight the returns of the training? In other words, if you play ping-pong professionally do your really need to train to be tackled?

Well, maybe you do if you live in a rough neighborhood or work security as a side job.

So be ready to accept the risks of the training.

Agility should include training for when things don’t go as planned. Plan and train for the the usual and the unusual. Thus, when the unexpected happens, you react as if it is a normal expected event. When the unexpected happens, it does not surprise you, you take it all in stride. You are way less apt to freeze or choke.

Falls happen, your feet lose traction and slip at inopportune times. Someone happens to be in the way when you didn’t expect it or they react in an unusual way. By putting yourself in various forms of movement in varying circumstances, environments and terrain, you will be forced to adapt to changing conditions that do not always give you a favorable advantage.

When under stress we revert to our training. Or to our lack of training.

Prepare for the unexpected and it will not surprise you when it happens. Greater agility helps us react in a more favorable way and enhances the possibility of a better outcome.

Agility requires strength, speed, explosiveness, flexibility, mental acuity, spatial awareness, strong core, hips, shoulders, back, knees, ankles feet, situational awareness, ability to read and preemptively move, etc.

The best bet to develop agility is to get out there and MOVE!

Run, jump, zig and zag, chase and be chased, bump and run, get bumped and run, catch on the run, get mobile!

Strength training, gym training, etc, is great. Training flexibility and balance is awesome. Training reaction time is cool. Everything helps, but to put it all together you have got to move your body under varying circumstances and through various environments.

That is part of the reason I train many different things. I train certain things all the time, but other things I change up frequently.

Re-read that. There is a great secret here. I train certain attributes pretty much the same way. But other attributes I train with much more variety.

Create the expected in your training but also add in  a little chaos or unexpected training. Agility training can be a great place to do this.

Agility is really many things, and any form of training may be used to improve this attribute. Really, swinging a 56# hammer around to throw  takes agility. Running a football takes agility. Don’t sweat it too much. Practice your sports’ skills and particular hot-spots of your sport. If you compete you must drill your sports particular unique skills.

If you don’t compete, you can have more variety in your training and become more rounded in what you can do. A man taking a car to the drags every Sunday is going to build his car differently than a man who rides a motorcycle in heavy traffic.

The first is only concerned with straight line speed and launching correctly. He has to get the power to the pavement to accelerate the car. He has to read the tree and react correctly to the lights and the input he feels as he launches his car. He is competing under set rules and fairly  controlled conditions. A few things can go wrong. Medics are probably on standby right at the event.

The motorcyclists has to worry about many more things from many more sources of input and be prepared to deal with them or avoid them all-together before they happen. There are rules of the road but few follow them. He can’t count on others following laws they are probably not even aware of or choose to ignore. There is no medic waiting right there for him. Many things can go wrong.

The two men would train differently, but spending a little time in the others world could benefit them too. Small amounts of cross training done safely can help an off-season athlete. But that is for a coach to plan, incorporate  and monitor if he so chooses.

So, if competing in a sport, focus on your sport and it’s required agility parameters.  A tennis player doesn’t have to worry about training to take a tackle and hang on to a ball. But learning how to fall from a slight run could help the tennis player avoid a broken wrist.

Sometimes we need to really focus on our agility and other times don’t worry about it, just let it happen. Planned insertion of variety can help with agility, mobility, the whole spectrum of end training results.

So, where does you agility need to take you? To the winning circle and a trophy?

Or daily survival in traffic, on a hike, on a rescue team?

Agility for me is more than just an ability to play a sport. It should encompass how you move throughout your life. Lack of agility can even cost you your life.

For the average person, too much emphasis is placed on training for sports. As has been said by others, “Health ends where competition begins”. You will give up certain things to be competitive.  If you don’t earn money from whatever sport you are competing in, if you don’t support your family playing a sport, if it isn’t how you make a living, you are one of three things:

1.) An up and coming athlete who may soon make his living as a professional athlete. In that case focus on your sport but have a backup plan. Follow your coach and other athletes who have made it.

2.) An average everyday guy or gal who focuses on a sport and has no hope of ever making it to the big league of a paid professional athlete (no matter how serious you are and no matter how high you rank in your amateur sport).

Now this is Ok and I am not saying this to  tick people off, but you would no doubt benefit from more variety in training  and though you should train for your sport it should not be the only  focus of your training.

Become more rounded in your abilities and you will no doubt actually do better in your sport. At first, as you learn a sport, you will need to focus on learning it, but as the skills become more readily available to you, broaden out in your training. It doesn’t take as much time to keep or improve on your sports skill as it does to learn it in the first place.

3.) Someone like me who doesn’t compete in any sport but desires to do many things well and wants to be well prepared for anything.

This reminds me of a friend years ago who would do no strength training whatever because he felt it would throw off his shots in basketball. He worked a full time job, played pick-up games when he could and had no hopes of ever making it to the NBA. He would have benefited greatly from some variety in his training. All he did was practice dribbling and making shots.

A year after we met, a group of us  traveled to another town to meet some friends  of his. While there, the guys decided to go play some basketball.

Now, I’ve never been great at dribbling a ball. I grew up in the country with a rough dirt driveway and no basketball courts around. But I could shoot pretty good as we did have a hoop set up. So, here I am, now living in a city and still never really playing basketball or practicing dribbling. So we started playing one-on-one and winner stayed on court while loser walked and the next man came up to play. I don’t even recall what they called the game. First man to 5 points won. At the change of the ball you had to take it past half court.

We went through the rotation (6 men) and the winner changed every few guys. I was up 5 or 6  times but usually ended up losing by a point or two cause I couldn’t dribble that well. But my speed and strength kept them from winning by too many points and I could get their rebounds usually if they missed a shot.

But a funny thing happened. Everyone started getting more tired. It was a very hot day, typical for AZ.  But I had more strength I could still use. As they tired they did not have the strength to keep using what skill they had. My speed and agility seemed to stay the same even as I got tired. But they were getting slower, stumbling at times and making more mistakes and missing shots, some of the shots falling short and bouncing off the rim. And I would get those rebounds.

They played games but not too often did they play one-on-one which is very intense, almost like sprinting intervals.  So when they came up to bump me or block me I could move them and get in a shot or create some space (and thus time) and dribble away enough to shoot. I could jump higher and block their shots. I could jump and shoot over them. Sweat was pouring off me. It was 100 degrees outside. I’d sneak a quick drink as the men changed to face me on the court. I kept my bottle by the upright.

I went through two guys, then three. Four.  Some of the guys began cheering me on. “Dorey! Dorey! Dorey!” I was on that court and faced down 10 guys in a row until finally one of them beat me. I played against my friend who was worried strength training would ruin his shot, and beat him several times.

No one else stayed continuously on the court for that long. Most of the guys knew I was more of a football player than a thump hoop kind of guy. I was heavier than most of them by about 50 pounds. I could move way faster than they thought I could, but not being able to dribble at that speed did me no good until they got too tired to move fast enough to block my slower attempts at dribbling.

Most of them  practiced B-ball but I was the only one who trained all types of stuff. Olympic lifting, power-lifting, heavy bag, speed bag, hiking, sprints, odd-object lifting, weighted throws, body-weight, etc.

No doubt, some variety in their training and they would have did even better than me as I had no real skills in basketball. Their sports skill would have remained high even as we all tired because they would have had the ability to still express strength.  You see, strength lies at the bottom of speed, explosiveness, agility, etc. It is a part of the foundation off which everything else is built.

I was use to doing strength moves while winded. I was used to running up a rough trail while carrying a pack and dodging rocks and tree roots, remaining agile.  I would move over 20 tons of metal everyday by hand and then train for about an hour nearly every day, maybe Olympic lifting and then riding a Mountain bike home 9 miles and taking a swim or power-lifting and then pounding on a heavy bag and finally a speed bag. Some days I would move the metal all day, then work overtime digging a trench with a pick-axe and shovel for another few hours and then go lift after that.

The various attributes I had trained came together under the stress of continuously playing 10 rounds on the court against ever changing opponents.  This is just one story of where variety has helped me.

To reiterate:

Everything builds on everything else. It can be as complicated or as simple as you want.  A few strength moves coupled with a few days of variety coupled with some sports skills training is pretty easy to do.

Or a few days of strength training and a few days of variety training (if you don’t play a particular sport) and you are good to go.

What is your goal for training agility?  Is there a specific focus? How much agility do you need?

Train for that.

Become a man of action.

One thought on “Quick Feet – Part III

  1. hi,

    I hope you start writing again soon. I like the way you think.

    Can you write some posts on the following topics?

    -lifting focus, periodization and supplemental work. I train the O-lifts primarily, but would like to hear your take on what you do for training legs. I know you no longer back squat. But suppose you do goblet squats…do you do them often? How often and with what rep schemes and loading parameters? I am asking out of personal interest. I squat (high bar, and front) several times a week (and will seldom do other squatting movements…zerchers with various implements, goblet, even lunges), but I don’t plan on dropping barbell squatting anytime soon. I am almost 31 years old and realize it will be healthy for me to take an alternative approach to leg training after about 10 more years or so.

    -What is your definition of ‘strong’? For example, what is a strong pair of legs? What is a strong back?

    -The psychology of those who lift from those who don’t.

    These are some topics I would like your opinions on. Your writing imparts wisdom that I am very attracted to…I have even recommended it to a very strong friend of mine.

    cheers and Happy New Year


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