As someone once said (Jeff Martone? Steve Maxwell?), quick feet are happy feet.
In this case they were talking about using kettlebells. Because if you drop one and it lands on your foot, you will be a hurting unit.
So, in this case, situational awareness (I just dropped a KB) knowledge of what is going to happen if I don’t move my feet (It’s going to impact my foot and hurt!) and immediate action (I jump my feet out of the way) leads to happy feet.
Quick foot and body movements lead to happy outcomes while playing sports or when engaging in other activities where a fast movement gets us out of harms way or saves someone else some pain.
As mentioned in an earlier article, many things come into play when a person moves with agility. Picture a big cat, like a lion, running down its prey. To survive, the prey animal had better be fast and agile. To eat, the lion had better be faster and more agile than its prey.
If you have ever seen such a large animal run down prey you realize the lion is strong, powerful, extremely fast and agile. It explodes into motion. It twists, the rear digging in for traction to power the body forward at nearly any angle as the front of the lions body digs in and reaches forward to grab its’ prey at even a different angle. Repeatedly the lion reacts to its prey darting about in front of him. If he is faster and more agile he reacts to his preys movement and their paths cross in an explosion of force or the lion jukes to the left, sort of anticipating the animals move an instant before it darts to the left and the lion is there to meet it.
So, herein lies part of the equation to getting faster and more agile:
Running hard and moving with agility while doing so requires an ability of the body to absorb and redirect huge loading forces. The feet land at less than optimum conditions, landing with forces many times your bodyweight. The torso twists, the arms pump or reach and grab or block, the body may duck low or dive, twist or jump and many things are happening that requires a strong but flexible body.
Now, think about that lion again. Watch how fluid and smooth that lion is moving. It doesn’t move in a herky-jerky way. It flows.
So, in order to move with agility we need to move smoothly, fluidly.
Most of us at one time or another can recall an instance where we moved explosively and did something without seemingly any effort. It just happened in the blink of an eye and we felt in the zone, as people say, and we accomplished something that made others say: “WOW! How did he do that?!”
If asked about it we generally say we didn’t think about it, we just did it. And we usually realize it felt effortless. Smooth, like it was meant to be.
The smoother we can do something, the faster we will be able to do it. So practicing a movement until we can do it with fluidity, smoothly without seeming effort, then we can begin to execute that movement faster than ever before.
That is why we can move so fast when we don’t think about doing something. Our brain doesn’t get in the way. We don’t have time to over-think the situation and what and how we should act or react. We just move. We just do.
Case in point:
I’ve dropped a water filled glass before that I had hanging from my fingertips at my side. It slipped and fell straight down (the direction things seem to always fall, ha ha) and without even thinking I dropped down and caught the glass with the same grip before it hit the floor.
Now some will say this is just a reaction and not really agility. But, agility has to include our reaction time or ability to act quickly.
If you are playing football and suddenly the guy in front of you darts to the left, your reaction to that movement and your agility will determine whether you catch him or not. The quicker your reaction and the more agile you are the greater the chance of success.
In catching that glass of water, many things came into play and that was possible because of previous training. I had done countless reps of tactical lunges. I had done countless reps of Olympic lifts where you drop and pull yourself suddenly under a weighted bar. I had done countless reps of speed bag training for quick eye hand coordination. All of these things and more let me drop my body down suddenly in an instant to reach for and grab that glass before it hit the floor and shattered.
Even though I had not practiced that particular movement of dropping into a squat to grab a glass, the larger movement pattern had been drilled repeatedly from various angles using different exercises and movements. Thus a basic pattern of movement had been drilled, practiced but also expanded on into other similar movement patterns based of the act of squatting down.
Agility also includes pre-emptive action. You react based on a perceived notion of what may occur, so you move in an attempt to be a step ahead of the situation.
Interestingly enough, you are still reacting. For example, you sense, without even thinking, that the man trying to block your play with the basketball is about to block you to your left and make a play for the ball, so you react to something that has not occurred yet and you spin out to the right away from him to create distance (which equals time) to try a jump shot.
You moved without really giving it any thought. But you in all likelihood practiced this maneuver many times so that you could do it smoothly. So when the opportunity presented itself, you merely stepped up into that smooth movement pattern you had practiced and you make your shot.
So, training situational awareness (SA) can help us become more agile.
Training SA can speed up our reaction time. Its just common sense:
If I can sense something quicker than before or sooner than the next guy, I can begin movement sooner. Now he has to play catch up.
If I can begin to move smoother, then more energy is directed at my goal and not wasted in motion that will not help me in achieving my goal.
If I can do all of this without thinking, over-analyzing, then I can move faster.
If I have trained my body for flexible strength, for expressing mobile strength and power, then I will move with greater agility, greater speed of movement.
My body will intuitively know that I can do this or that without threat of injury to myself, because my body knows it has the needed strength to not only initiate the movement but also to slow it down safely. Thus, all brakes are off. If I am too weak in some area, my body will slow the movement down so I am less apt to injure myself. My body will put the brakes on somewhere in this movement so I don’t go too fast.
This is what happens when guys try something they haven’t done before or haven’t done in a long time. They try it and get mediocre results. This is because their body is smarter than they are and won’t let them perform at a high rate of speed or agility because it knows they will get injured. So, our man decides to try harder (especially as his friends cajole him about swinging the bat like a girl) and he swings with all he can muster, overriding his bodies built in common sense and he ends up pulling a muscle. Or if he is running trying to catch a friend playing ball, he pulls a hamstring.
Another problem comes from overanalyzing a move. This will slow us down. Imagine a guy teaching us how to slip a tackle or block in football or soccer or Ultimate Frisbee. He demonstrates what he wants us to do. Then we practice it. But we keep getting beat. So he breaks it down for us a step at a time and we practice it step by step. Then we string it all together.
We repeat the practice and as we do so we think about each little step:
“I have to step to the left, plant my foot, drive off the right foot, duck my shoulder, spin on the left foot, stand as I drive off the right foot and throw my left arm up and back and down to slip his arm and drive off the left foot…”
We still get beat.
So we practice at a slower speed. We begin to get it a little better. We start getting smoother.
So we try it again at a faster pace and we get tackled again. “Dang! I’m getting confused, it’s too much to think about.”
Then our coach says something like:
“You’re doing well. You know how to do it. Just stop thinking about it and do it. It’s like a dance. Just pretend you are dancing and running by a sprinkler that gets suddenly turned on and you are trying to dance by it without getting wet.”
“Cool”’ you think, “I can do that”.
So you practice the move again at a higher rate of speed and BAM! you slip the tackle and sprint away like never before and all you did was think:
To get agility:
Get strong. A strong body will let you move faster.
Get flexible strength. This will let you move with more fluidity. You will have a greater range of motion in which you can express your strength and speed. Thus, you will take the “brakes” off. Your body will “let” you move better.
Practice movements at a slower pace. Look for the smoothest transition from one foot to the other. Try to flow with the movement like wind through tress or water down a hillside. Seek out the easiest flow of movement. Practice that. Gradully increase your speed. Just let it happen.
Increase you situational awareness but avoid becoming hyper attentive. Hyper alertness will wear you out quickly. Practice calm awareness like a lion sleepily lying there but ready to explode into action with the flip of a switch. He is calm but aware.
Develop greater reaction ability. Seek to get closer to your reactive time potential.
Master basic patterns of movement with one implement and then later gradually expand that movement pattern with other forms of training implements.
That is all for now. In another article we will look at more specific ways to actually improve these various attributes. I will give you ideas for developing these qualities through training.
Quick feet are happy feet.