The Power of Agility

Maximize agility training by combining weight training and functional training drills in one super-set.

By Chip Sigmon

Chip Sigmon, CSCS, is the Head Strength and Conditioning Coach for the NBA Charlotte Hornets and WNBA Charlotte Sting.

Training & Conditioning, 11.4, May/June 2001,

As strength and conditioning professionals, we know the importance of lateral movement in sports. We see it all the time—whether it’s a basketball player cutting and weaving to get inside for a layup, a volleyball player sliding into position for a dig, or a third baseman shuffling over to field a grounder, each of these athletes is being called on to make a skillful lateral movement.

Because a high percentage of movements in many sports are lateral movements, strength and conditioning programs should devote an equally high percentage to drills using the frontal plane. In this article, we look at how to improve lateral movement by combining weight training and functional training drills in the same daily workout.

In training lateral, or frontal plane, movements, our objective is the same as for any other sport movement: to have the athlete generate maximum muscular force to accelerate the body in any direction as quickly and forcefully as possible (Velocity times Force equals Power). It is power that gives the athlete acceleration—the ability to change direction quickly. And with acceleration comes velocity. This is why weight training performed in an explosive manner combined with a variety of sport-specific drills can be so beneficial in improving an athlete’s speed and agility.

Allen Hedrick, Head Strength and Conditioning Coach at the United States Air Force Academy, has written an excellent article on using free weights to improve lateral movement (see “Further Reading” at end of article). I take this a step further by combining free-weight training with lateral drills in a super-set or even a tri-set routine. I use this program for our basketball players, but it can benefit athletes in any sport that requires lateral movement.

This program is mainly for off-season and preseason training. However, modifying the volume, intensity, and order of the drills creates an excellent program to fit in-season training needs as well. Athletes should perform one super-set twice a week during the off-season and once every seven to 10 days during the season.

I am fortunate to have plenty of space where I can set up free weights and other training needs for these drills. You may have to modify this program to fit your situation. Some drills can be done completely in the weightroom, but others demand that you go from one surface to another.

The Super Sets
#1: Side Squat / Lateral
Box Jumps
Side Squats utilize a barbell—weight on the bar will vary widely from none to about 30 pounds or more depending on the athletes you’re working with. When performing Side Squats, the athlete’s feet should be positioned five to six inches wider than his or her shoulders. The bar should be placed high on the trapeziuses with toes pointed straight ahead. From a standing position, the athlete then squats to one side or the other.

When squatting to the side, make sure that the athlete’s knee in the direction of the squat (right knee if squatting to the right) does not go out over the right toe, which can easily happen when doing Side Squats. Also, as the athlete moves laterally, make sure he or she drives his or her hips back during the eccentric phase of the lift while keeping the upper torso erect. The opposite leg should remain almost straight during both the eccentric and concentric phases. We have our athletes perform between six and 10 reps to each side and two or three total sets.

When finished with the Side Squats, the athlete should go directly to Lateral Box Jumps. We use a two-foot-wide box that is between 12 and 18 inches tall. Have the athlete start by standing beside the box. On command, he or she should jump with both feet laterally onto the box then jump down to the other side, then repeat the sequence by jumping on the box from the other side. The initial goal is to jump for 20 seconds, making 20 contacts or more on top of the box in that time. He or she should work up to jumping for 30 seconds, making 30 contacts or more.

#2: The Cross-Over Side Step-Up / Home Base Drill
These should be done in a place where the athlete can go from the side of a basketball court to the free-throw lane as quickly as possible. From the side of the court, have the athlete start with the Cross-Over Side Step-Up (we use the same box that we use for Lateral Box Jumps) by standing once again directly beside the box. Holding a pair of dumbbells weighing from 20 to 35 pounds, and with the left leg nearest the box, the athlete should take his or her right leg and cross it over the left leg and continue the Cross-Over Side Step-Up onto the box. When contact is made on the box, he or she should follow with the left leg so both feet are on the box. When stepping down, he or she should repeat to the same side.

Encourage the athlete to go as fast as possible while remaining under control and keeping the torso upright. Have him or her perform eight to 15 reps, then switch sides (left over right and up). He or she should perform three sets total.

When done, have the athlete go directly to the court for the Home Base Drill. We start with the athlete positioned with his or her heels at the bottom of the free-throw circle, facing the base line where the coach is standing. On command, he or she should run in place until told to run or side shuffle to one of the four blocks. When the coach directs the athlete to block 1 or 4, he or she side shuffles to that block and then side shuffles back to the starting position. When going to blocks 2 and 3, the athlete sprints to that block and side shuffles back to home base (the starting position). Have him or her perform three sets of 20 to 30 seconds each.

#3: Side Step-Ups / Mini Hurdles
For Side Step-Ups, we use a box 12 to 24 inches high and 18 to 24 inches wide. Have the athlete stand beside the box with dumbbells weighing 20 to 35 pounds. He or she then takes the leg nearest the box and steps up and across, attempting to reach the far side of the box. He or she should continue the Lateral Step-Up until both feet are on the box then step laterally back down off the box to the starting position for eight to 15 reps. After completing one set, have him or her repeat the movement from the other side and continue to alternate for three total sets.

As soon as the first set of Side Step-Ups are done, we have the athlete go directly to the Mini Hurdles. This is a simple drill that you can modify in many different ways. The Mini Hurdles we use are 12 inches high. In this drill, the athlete jumps with both feet laterally over the hurdle eight to 10 times, then runs 10 yards to where another hurdle is set up and he or she repeats the eight to 10 lateral jumps over this second hurdle. At some point during the workout, we may have three to four Mini Hurdles set up at different parts of the court.

#4: Side Lunge / Resistance Side-Step Drill
The Side Lunge is much like the Side Squat, but in this drill the athlete starts with his or her feet directly under him- or herself and in line with the armpits. The athlete then steps out directly to the side with the right foot as far as comfortable. While the left foot remains planted and the left knee is kept straight, the athlete bends the right leg while moving the hips laterally to the right. Again, make sure the athlete sits back while moving laterally to avoid positioning the knees over the toes.

He or she then returns to the standing position and performs the movement to the opposite side until all reps have been completed (six to 10 reps to each side and two to three total sets). We like using a bar on the upper back just as we do with the Side Squat; however, dumbbells may be used instead. Have this drill set up on the side or near the court so you can go directly to the Resistance Side-Step Drill.

For the Resistance Side-Step Drill, we use a device that is basically a single solid piece of hard plastic tubing with a spring inside that straps around both ankles, keeping them about a foot apart at minimum. We use this device extensively throughout the year, but this particular drill is done primarily during the off-season and preseason periods. Directly after a set of Side Lunges, the athlete straps on the tubing and performs a side shuffle moving laterally to the right at a 45-degree angle. He or she performs four to five power shuffles, then repeats the drill to the left side. The athlete should alternate sides until he or she has covered a total of about 30 to 35 yards. Repeat this drill for three or four sets.

On the last super-set of the Resistance Side-Step Drill, after completion of the drill, with the tubing off, have the athlete shuffle down the court and back two to three times. He or she will really feel the difference of not having the tubing on and the benefits in lateral quickness and speed gained from this drill!

While using the tubing, be sure the athlete stays low by keeping his or her hips back and knees flexed. Because our drills are directed toward basketball, we instruct our players to never cross their feet when performing the drill, keeping their feet four to six inches apart during the adduction phase of the exercise. However, other sports may benefit from practicing the drill with a cross-over step. If so, athletes should keep their shoulders as square as possible and stay low, with the hips down and back.

#5: Resistance Tubing / 20-Yard
Shuttle Drill
We also use resistance tubing attached around the athlete’s hips with the other end either held by a coach or anchored to the wall. The Resistance Tubing Drill is simple and consists of the athlete doing lateral shuffles 10 to 15 yards out from the wall or coach and back, repeating for the required number of repetitions.

Acceleration is very important against the resistance of the tubing, but also emphasize to the athlete the importance of the deceleration of the movement. When sliding back to the starting position, make sure the athlete keeps the knees flexed and the hips low while staying in control under the resistance of the tubing. The deceleration phase is excellent training for the stability of both the ankle and knee joints and can also be helpful in the rehabilitation of either of these joints.

As soon as a set of resistance slides are completed, have the athlete go to the 20-Yard Shuttle. The athlete starts with the feet straddling the starting line. On command, he or she power slides to the right five yards, then 10 yards back to the left, then finishes by sliding five yards back to the right and crossing the original starting line.

Key points: 1) the athlete should stay low with the hips down and back and knees fixed in a bent position; 2) he or she should not cross his or her feet; and 3) most importantly, the athlete should change direction as fast as possible so he or she is able to accelerate and achieve a good velocity in any direction.

You may want to time this drill to gauge the athlete’s improvement. Have him or her rest one to two minutes, then repeat, combining this drill with the Resistance Tubing Drill for two or three sets.

#6: Tri-Sets
All of the drills in this program begin with resistance work and finish with non-resistance work (“Contrast Training”). To finish the training, pick three of these exercises (Tri-Set) that compliment or fit your workout needs. Going from a non-resistant to a resistant exercise then back to a non-resistant exercise is very demanding and really elevates the metabolic system. Tri-Set work should only be done in the off-season and only two Tri-Sets are recommended each week.

When performing super-sets #1 through #5 in-season, preseason, or off-season (they’re excellent anytime but in the immediate postseason), choose only one drill for that workout session. As stated earlier, I would suggest having athletes do one super-set twice a week during the off-season and once every seven to 10 days during the season. No matter what sports your athletes are involved in, if they include lateral movement, put them through these simple drills and watch how quickly their lateral speed improves—along wtih their game!

Further Reading:
Hedrick, A. “Using Free Weights To Improve Lateral Movement.” NSCA Journal, 1999, 21(5):21-25.

O’Shea, P. “Toward An Understanding Of Power.” NSCA Journal, 1999, 21(5):34-35.

Special thanks to Dr. Ken Jones, Strength and Conditioning Coach and Assistant Football Coach, Gardner-Webb College, for his input on this article.