Health: Dodging bullets with agility

PHUKET: Agility ladders, a staple of sports training when victory can hang on the athlete’s ability to turn quickly, have moved into mainstream gyms where fitness experts say they are helping everyday exercisers be nimble and quick.

Jumping, running, marching and hopscotching through the grids on the floor have become an added feature in personal training and group fitness classes.

Will Elson, personal training manager at the New York Health and Racquet Club in New York City, says the ladders also make a great addition to circuit training and can help to strengthen joints, ligaments and tendons, while elevating the heart rate.

“It boosts cardio with fast foot strikes and knee lifts, while incorporating balance and joint stability,” says Elson. “It also has the benefit of working on coordination. And it’s fun in a confined space.”

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Agility is the ability to change the body’s position quickly, efficiently and with control.

A study in the December 2013 issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that agility training can also enhance cognitive skills, such as memory and vigilance.

Elson likens agility training to learning a new language.

“It’s a great exercise to force someone to focus, to learn a movement pattern and be able to execute it without looking down,” he said. “The body is learning something new.”

Jonathan Ross, spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise, believes agility training is also a valuable skill for non-athletes.

“It actually develops eye-foot coordination where you’re able to move through a discretely defined space,” explained the Washington DC-based trainer and author of Abs Revealed.

“Most people don’t target foot placement,” he added. “Most people will look down, but in sports you can’t be looking down. You have to focus upward.”

Foot drills on agility ladders can range from simple walking between rungs, to complex skipping of spaces and sideways shuffles. However, Ross suggests conquering two or three basic drills before tackling new ones.

“A common mistake is going too quick too soon,” he says. “It’s like riding a bike. People get nervous about making a mistake, but it’s not that difficult to learn, as long as they don’t get too stuck in their own head.”

Elson also warned that all agility ladders are not the same and there is no standard size.

“One needs to take into account the height of the person and the size of the boxes,” he notes.

— Dorene Internicola / Reuters

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