Agility training is a key part of any well-rounded fitness program, but it’s frequently left out of many standard workout routines.
When it comes to comprehensive fitness training, you’re probably familiar with the importance of strength and aerobic training. While both are needed for health and performance, it’s a good idea to include agility training alongside these methods.
This article breaks down the definition and importance of agility training and discusses some key agility exercises you can add to your fitness program today.
Agility is the general ability to change direction when moving quickly and efficiently, all while maintaining proper posture and movement mechanics.
Good agility requires the ability to safely decelerate, reorient, and reaccelerate in as little time as possible.
In a sporting context, agility typically incorporates this change of direction in response to a stimulus, as an athlete’s change in movement and direction during play almost always occurs in response to the movements of opposing players (1).
Therefore, agility training involves a range of exercises designed to improve your ability to change directions during movement.
When it comes to measuring improvements in agility, if you can run forward, side shuffle, backpedal, and reaccelerate faster than before, your agility has improved.
Agility is the ability to change directions rapidly and safely during movements such as sprinting and shuffling. Agility training can be used for both general fitness and sports performance training.
Agility training brings a host of benefits for individuals of all ages, occupations, and fitness needs.
For general fitness, when compared with inactivity, agility training improves a range of physical performance metrics including:
- lower and upper body strength
- lower body and trunk explosive power
- walking mechanics and endurance
When comparing traditional training programs that don’t incorporate agility with agility-based programs, research found that the benefits of agility exercises were slightly greater on the compared parameters.
For example, most of the agility programs studied required less total time to achieve similar results, compared with other fitness training methods (
Additional research found that among older adults, agility-based programs were at least as effective as traditional balance and strength training at improving balance and endurance.
However, the agility training led to greater improvements in explosive power, particularly in the legs and trunk (
Agility exercises are beneficial for a range of physical measures, including balance and strength. Agility training may be more time-efficient than traditional training and improve explosiveness.
The following are agility exercises you can perform at home with little to no equipment. For cone-based exercises, it’s fine to use any durable object that will remain stationary on the ground, such as a wallet, can of soup, or piece of workout equipment.
The exercises are listed in order of difficulty, starting with the easiest to execute and progressing to the hardest exercises.
Some ladder-based drills are included at the end. You can include these if you have the available equipment.
The side shuffle is a basic agility exercise involving a lateral movement, deceleration, and acceleration in the opposite direction.
To perform the side shuffle:
- Position two cones or other objects roughly 15 steps apart.
- Stand next to one of them, facing perpendicular to an imaginary line between the cones. You should have one cone right next to your foot, and the other should be 15 steps toward your opposite side, not behind you.
- Bend your knees slightly and sit your hips back in a small squat to adopt an athletic stance.
- Without crossing your feet, step sideways toward the far cone with your closest foot. Step your other foot in the same direction to adopt the original stance, one step closer to the far cone.
- As you approach the far cone, stop, and accelerate in the opposite direction to shuffle the other way.
- Add speed and intensity as you warm up. Ultimately, you’ll be explosively accelerating off the planted foot during each shuffle and quickly changing directions at the cone.
- Be sure to face forward the entire duration of each set.
- Perform 3 sets of 5 laps. As you become quicker, add additional laps for increased difficulty.
The carioca drill is a common track and field warmup that involves cross-stepping with a lateral shuffle. It’s also known as a grapevine because of the front-to-back crossing pattern of the feet.
To perform the carioca drill:
- Position two cones or other objects roughly 15 steps apart.
- Stand next to the cone on your left, facing perpendicular to an imaginary line between the cones. You should have one cone right next to your foot, and the other cone should be 15 steps toward your opposite side, not behind you.
- Bend your knees slightly and sit your hips back to adopt an athletic stance.
- Push off with your left foot and bring it toward your right foot.
- Cross your left foot in front of your right foot while maintaining balance, and plant your left foot on the ground.
- Move your right foot to the right side to uncross your legs.
- Cross your left foot in back of your right foot and plant.
- Move your right foot out to the right to uncross your legs.
- Repeat the drill until you reach the far cone, switch directions, and perform the drill going the opposite direction to return to the starting cone.
- Perform 3 sets of 4 complete laps with 2 minutes rest between each set.
Stand up to figure 8
The stand up to figure 8 is an excellent agility drill for older adults to maintain functional abilities. You’ll need a chair and 2 cones for this drill.
To perform the stand up to figure 8:
- Position a chair in an open area. Place one cone roughly 5 yards (4.5 meters) in front of the chair, and a second cone roughly 10 yards (9 meters) in front of the chair in the same line as the first cone.
- Begin seated on the chair.
- Stand up from the chair as quickly as possible and move forward toward the left of the first cone.
- After passing the first cone, continue forward to the right of the second cone.
- Move around the second cone and weave back around the first cone until you reach the chair. Your path should form a “figure 8,” and you should face the direction of movement the entire time.
- Sit down on the chair to end the drill.
- Perform 3 sets of the drill with 2 minutes between each set.
The 5-10-5 drill is a classic agility drill and field test. This test measures your ability to sprint and rapidly change directions by 180 degrees. Practicing the drill will improve your overall change of direction and acceleration ability.
- Position 3 cones in a line with 5 yards (4.5 meters) between the middle and outer cones. There should be 10 yards (9 meters) between the outer cone.
- Starting at the middle cone, sprint toward an outer cone.
- When you reach the outer cone, rapidly turn and reorient 180 degrees and accelerate to a full sprint.
- Sprint past the middle cone to the other outer cone and perform another 180-degree turn and reorientation.
- Accelerate rapidly again and sprint toward the middle cone.
- The total time for the drill begins at the first sprint from the middle cone and ends on the final pass through the middle cone.
- Perform 1 set of 5 drills with 2 minutes of rest between drills.
The T-drill is another classic field drill that incorporates forward, lateral, and backward movements with a change of direction. You will need four cones or objects to set up the drill.
To perform the T-drill:
- Position 3 cones in a line 5 yards (4. 5 meters) apart, as in the 5-10-5 drill.
- Position a fourth cone 5 yards (4.5 meters) from the middle cone on a perpendicular line to the original line of cones.
- Begin at the fourth cone.
- Sprint toward the middle cone.
- Upon reaching the middle cone, quickly change direction and shuffle left toward the end cone.
- Upon reaching the end cone, quickly change direction and shuffle right using the carioca drill until you reach the opposite end cone.
- Upon reaching the end cone, quickly change direction and shuffle left until you reach the middle cone.
- Upon reaching the middle cone, quickly backpedal to the starting cone.
- Perform 3 sets of 4 repetitions. Each time you do the drill, switch the direction of the initial shuffle so that you carioca on both sides evenly by the time you complete all repetitions of the drill.
Agility ladder drills
If you have access to an agility ladder (also known as a speed ladder), you can perform a multitude of agility exercises to improve the precision of your footwork, as well as your ability to change direction.
The following are just a few of the top agility ladder exercises you can perform in your workout routine.
The lateral sidestep is a great beginner agility ladder drill.
To perform the lateral sidestep:
- Begin with the ladder rolled out to your side.
- Take a step to the side with the foot closest to the ladder to put one foot in the first box.
- Step with your other foot to bring it next to the first foot. Your feet should now be in the same box of the ladder.
- Repeat the drill until you reach the end of the ladder, and repeat moving the opposite direction while facing the original direction.
- Perform 3 sets of 5 full laps with 2 minutes between sets.
Two-in-one linear run
The two-in-one linear run is a great ladder drill for improving foot speed and precision when moving forward.
To perform the two-in-one linear run:
- Begin by facing the ladder rolled out in front of you horizontally.
- Step one foot into the first box.
- Bring your other foot next to it.
- Repeat down the ladder using the same forward foot.
- At the end of the ladder, change direction. Repeat the drill in the opposite direction with the opposite foot as the leading foot.
- Perform 3 sets of 5 full laps with 2 minutes between each set.
Two-in lateral forward shuffle
The two-in lateral forward shuffle combines forward and lateral movements in the same drill.
To perform the two-in lateral shuffle:
- Begin facing the ladder fully rolled out in front of you vertically. Stand to the left of the ladder, so that it’s positioned to your right.
- Step your right foot into the first box, followed by your left foot. You should now have both feet in the first box of the ladder.
- Step your right foot to the right and plant it outside the ladder to the right of the second ladder rung.
- Lift your left foot and touch it briefly to the ground next to your right foot, before stepping it to the left into the next box of the ladder.
- Step your right foot into the box next to your left foot, both feet should now be in the second box of the ladder.
- Repeat the steps going down the ladder, shuffling in and out as you move forward.
- When you reach the end of the ladder, change direction, reorient 180 degrees, and repeat going down the ladder in the opposite direction.
- Perform 3 sets of 5 full laps with 2 minutes between each set.
Agility exercises include forward, lateral, and backward movements combined with various directional changes. Cones, hurdles, and agility ladders are useful for agility drills, but you can use other objects as well.
Depending on your goals and current fitness level, you can structure your agility program in conjunction with your current strength and aerobic training, or as a separate workout.
Begin with the side shuffle, carioca, and 5-10-5 drills, slowly increasing the intensity. If performing them as part of your strength or aerobic plan, perform just 2–3 sets of 2 exercises and progress from there as your ability allows.
If you want to just do pure agility exercises for your fitness, begin with a 5-minute aerobic warmup followed by 3 working sets of 5 agility exercises.
Begin with the side shuffle and work up to the more difficult exercises, such as the T-drill, hurdle side shuffle, or two-in lateral forward shuffle.
Older adults should perform slow controlled side shuffles and then use the stand up to figure 8 exercise for their main agility exercise. Progress to harder exercises or increase your speed as appropriate.
Tracking the time it takes to complete each drill alongside your overall movement quality is the best way to measure improvement on a given exercise.
Be sure to stay consistent with your measurements using either yards or meters to ensure that you can measure time improvements.
The following form tips apply to all agility-based exercises:
- Your foot and ankle should point straight ahead in a flexed position when hitting the ground. Avoid excessively flattening your foot or turning your foot outward, which places undue stress on your ankles, knees, and hips.
- Your knees should point straight ahead. Misalignment of the knees decreases your force production and increases your risk of injury.
- When accelerating, your torso should lean into the direction of travel.
- Your head should remain in line with your hips, which should be in line with your knees and feet.
Agility training effectively works many muscles, starting from the feet through to the hips and core when properly performed. Additionally, the movements in agility drills transfer well to real-life functional activities compared with isolated exercises.
Muscles worked in agility training include:
- calf muscles (lateral and medial gastrocnemius, soleus)
- shin muscles (anterior tibialis)
- quads and hip flexors (vastus lateralis and medialis, tensor fascia latae, rectus femoris)
- hamstrings (biceps femoris, semimembranosus, semitendinosus)
- glutes (gluteus medius, maximus, and mimimus)
- core and low back musculature, especially on drills with torso rotation (multifidus, obliques, transverse abdominis)
Agility training works a wide range of muscles from your feet all the way to your hips and core using functional movements.
Agility training is a practical and effective method to add intensity, variety, and functional training to a well-rounded fitness program.
Agility exercises revolve around improving change of direction abilities and footwork, but they also improve strength, mobility, and endurance. Muscles worked include most of the muscles on your legs and hips, including your calves, quads, glutes, and hamstrings.
Depending on your level and equipment available, you can add one or several agility drills to your fitness routine, or perform an entire workout comprising agility exercises.
Whether you’re a general fitness enthusiast or competitive athlete, agility drills are a key component of a great training routine.