As Doug and Kelley wrap up their fourth week of ELITEAM camps, and head into the final two sessions in Vermont, agility is high on the list of favorite activities. Be it racing through sand pit slaloms, negotiating obstacles on the field, or jumping and weaving through the woods, the most fun and productive workouts are all about agility. Here Doug explains why this is such an important component of fitness.
TRUE OR FALSE: YOU ARE EITHER BORN COORDINATED OR UNCOORDINATED
ANSWER: FALSE. BIG-TIME!
Agility is a skill that you can work on and practice and ultimately improve. And the best time to do that is from ages 8-15, when your body learns new skills the fastest.
What is Agility?
• The ability to change directions, accelerate, decelerate and react at all times to different situations in a sporting event.
• The ability to move your body quickly with speed, body control, and balance.
• The ability to control your speed, acceleration and direction while you maintain the balance in your body.
As an athlete I am very proud of my agility and coordination skills. They helped me become an Olympian as well as enjoy recreational sports more like mountain biking, trail running, soccer and dodgeball. Looking back into my childhood, I know where these skills came from and it is not from the gym. It is from the countless hours playing, running, and exploring the woods behind our house. My siblings and I grew up in the “boonies” in Vermont. Our playground and gym was the outdoors.
I specifically remember setting up Obstacle Courses in the woods, then jumping over logs, lifting rocks, hopping from rock to rock all with the goal of beating my individual time records. I just thought it was fun. Little did I know I was training my brain and muscles to work together. I crashed a lot (and have a few scars to prove it) but later, when I was standing in the starting gate, or preparing for a soccer game, I knew that I could make the moves I needed to stay upright and be successful. To this day, agility is what gives me the confidence to give my best efforts and enjoy every activity to the fullest.
What’s the Big Deal?
Agility may be the most effective way to train your muscles and your brain to work together to learn and master sport-specific skills. It is a critical link for athletes to apply their strength and conditioning improvements to their field of play and helps in every aspect of sport. Here are just a few of the bennies:
• It will improve your performance by enabling you to make moves around, over and between objects.
• It will keep you safe and healthy. A more agile person will fall less and also falls more “gracefully” (if that is possible), avoiding injury. Also, agility helps you maintain form, balance, rhythm and control which further helps you avoid injuries due to fatigue.
• It will allow you to develop skills that are not even imaginable. By creating and memorizing new movements, your body can react by making up new movements when you need them most—like as you ski through the trees, run through the woods, bike on a rough trail or just need to move somewhere FAST.
How Do You Develop Agility?
As with anything, you just need to practice. Putting yourself in situations where you have to move quickly through a variety of planes, angles and directions will improve your agility. These include simple activities like:
• Trail running
• Obstacle courses in your back yard
• Obstacle courses in the park
• Balancing on anything you can find (curbs, railings, rocks)
When and How Much Agility Training is Best?
It takes athletes weeks and months to see improvements in speed and agility, so it needs to be an ongoing part of any training program. Agility exercises should be performed at the start of a session (but following a thorough warm up). Agility sessions are not intended to be physically exhausting, but they require a very high level of intensity. That is why they become much less effective if you have just completed a tough workout!
So when it comes to developing agility, think EARLY and OFTEN, and most importantly, keep it fun!