Training for Agility Part 1: In the gym

In this blog post Ian Fisher outlines what agility training is and then goes on to detail agility as a component of speed, and its relationship to change of direction speed. Read on to find out some agility training exercises and drills for agility in the gym,  followed by practical application and examples!

Training for Agility Part 1: In the gym

By Ian Fisher BSc ASCC 

One of the key components of sports performance is agility. Agility is defined as a rapid whole body movement with change of direction or velocity responding to an external stimulus, (Sheppard &Young 2006). In context of sport this stimulus is usually an object, ball for instance, or an opposing player, putting a large emphasis on decision making and perception along with speed of movement. This neuromuscular element of game agility is arguably only trainable specifically by the exact stimulus, i.e. the game or sport itself (Siff 2002). However, the need for speed is an endless endeavour on the practise pitch and in the weights room too.

Firstly I am going to detail agility as a component of speed, and its relationship to change of direction speed. I will then outline programming considerations for agility in the gym, followed by practical application and examples.

Agility and Speed

It is important to realise differences in agility speed and sprinting speed, as these are not significantly correlated, (Baker &Nance 1999). Distances covered are an obvious difference, with most team field sports running in a straight line no further than 20-30m, and court sports much less than this, in contrast to track sprinters who do not hit top speed until around 50-60m. Actual sprinting mechanics are different according to Young (2001), with the biggest difference being a shorter stride length in order to decelerate and laterally accelerate a number of times within each piece of speed agility. This suggests that acceleration speed is a more crucial component than top sprinting speed, and this ability to accelerate needs to possible in all directions and from a whole host of starting positions, which differs between sports.

Change of Direction Speed

What most people refer to as agility training is change of direction speed, or planned agility drills, and such drills are used in testing protocols in virtually every sport  We have all seen these drills, and it must be said that despite them lacking the obvious stimulus of game play, they are a very trainable speed component, and before you all throw your agility drills programme away… this has a correlation to actual game agility (Gamble 2010), and is part of the whole package to building the athletes we all want! Fast, strong, agile, durable, powerful, and smart etc. Like any athletic development goal, breaking down the overall outcome into trainable elements, and progressing the athlete through them is the essence of programme design.

Programming for agility

Using the multi-component model of agility (figure 1) by Young, James, and Montgomery (2002), I found in a great book edited by Cardinale, Newton, and Nosaka called biological principles and practical applications of strength and conditioning, you can see how as an S&C coach you can address the components influencing change of direction speed.

Agility in the gym

The deceleration and push off action of changing direction requires relative strength, single leg strength, balance and postural control and this is where I try to start when programming strength for agility. Building levels of general strength and power is required to influence the moment of inertia whilst decelerating and being able to cope with this high demand eccentrically and then concentrically is crucial.

Some key Exercises for CODS

Squats – Front, back, split, single leg, lateral, jump

Lunges – Forwards, reverse, cross over, diagonal, explosive

Example: Clock Lunges – Multi planar balance, Proprioception, and strength

Deadlifts – Regular, Sumo, SLDL, SL SLDL,

Example: Sumo Deadlift – Posterior chain emphasis, Glutes, Glute Med, Hamstrings, lower back

Anti-rotational core control – Paloff presses, planks, Alekna’s

Rotational strength – BB rotations, wood chops, Med ball side passes

Olympic lifting – Clean, hang clean

Plyometrics/ Eccentric – Box drops, SL box drops, lateral jumps, lateral bounds, vertical jumps, broad jumps, SL jumps, SL landings

Once general competencies are achieved you can start programming specifically, and adding the exercise you think will best influence the change of direction movement seen in the sport in a progressive manner.

More examples

Here are some more of my preferred exercises to influence CODS.

Lateral explosive step ups – Explosive lateral strength

Lateral Lunge to single leg squat – Eccentric strength and control, core control, Explosive strength, single leg strength, and balance

Speed and agility programming

It’s vital that modern day coaches are highly efficient at development speed and agility in their clients and athletes. On our REPs Level 4 S&C course we give you everything you need to practise and improve your own competence on speed and agility, and your coaching in general. You’ll have a programme to follow meaning you literally cannot go wrong at any point. You’ll also have the tools and the mindset to really build an amazing business and career for yourself.

So there you have it! Let us know what you think by leaving a comment below. Have you used any of these exercises and how did that go for you? Have you used different movements? If so, which ones?

Ian Fisher BSc ASCC


  1. Brian Wardle November 8, 2011 at 1:49 pm

    Hi Ian. Nice article. Thanks.

    Question. How important is agility training for cricketers? Is it something you would train separately or would it be trained along side other qualities? Looking at your exercise selection here it seems they could quite easily fall into other categories. For example general strength and power training.

    Hope this makes sense? 🙂

  2. Ian Fisher November 8, 2011 at 7:20 pm

    Hi Brian,

    In my opinion agility is hugely important for cricketers. Fielding especially is where is the highest level of agility is displayed as it requires, reaction speed, rapid movement in all directions and the agility to pick a ball off the floor, stop turn and throw to a target, and possibly get off the floor first. Batting also requires change of direction speed when turning for a second or third run, and with the rise of shorter forms of cricket recently, games are often decided by one run or a run out.
    Cricketers will most certainly be working on agility in both cricket sessions and with speed agility specific training.

    The exercises demonstrated in this article do fall into strength and power catagories as strength and power is hugely influential in speed and agility. All the exercises are aimed to train muscles responsible for both linear and lateral movement.

    I am currently writing part 2 to this atricle which will hopefully link the gym exercises to movement on the field or on court and display the intended crossover.

    I hope this helps, thanks for getting in touch


  3. benjamin December 14, 2011 at 12:35 am

    hi ian

    some really good exercises and some i’m defiantly gonna use in my programmes.

    i would defiantly use these exercises for someone who wants to improve their agility and sports performance!

    but if i had someone trying to bulk up (hypertrophy) and put on muscle mass, would i use these exercises? the sumo deadlift i would defiantly use, but what about the rest?

    what would be your advise on this?