Monday, February 21, 2011

Part 1 of 2: Speed Ladders.... The Benefits and Myths

Turn ESPN on during the weeks leading up to the combine you'll probably see video's of some of the most elite athlete's going through agility ladders at a tremendous speed. These athletes do pretty much everything well, but the result of this has been a lot of bad trainers throwing down a ladder, putting a group of athletes through some variations and saying that they are doing "agility" or even worse "speed" work.

I am not putting down the ladder by any means and think it is a great tool, but for much different reasons. Agility ladders have their place and purpose, but I want to warn athletes or coaches of trainers saying that the ladder will make you faster.

Here's a break down, in my opinion, of the benefits and myths of speed ladders.

1. Improves foot/eye and center of mass awareness:
When going through ladder drills, the athletes must maintain control of their body or it gets ugly fast. Gray Cook coined the term "self limiting exercise," meaning that the movement itself is the coach. If someone leans too far forward constantly, they will end up messing up their rhythm and missing a lot of squares. It can naturally teach an athlete to control their center of mass while moving dynamically. This control may not carry over to full speed movement drills but they now have more awareness of their body. It also teaches foot/eye "coordination." I hate to use the word coordination here because to me this has no carry over to controlling a ball with your foot, which would be true coordination. However, your brain does tell your body where your foot needs to be which is coordination in a broader view.

2. You can reinforce some key movements:
Most of the ladder variations are just for show but there are a couple that I love because it can emphasize certain techniques that I will teach at another time. Here are two:

The crossover run. It emphasizes how to push with their lead leg and punch with the other.

Modified Icky Shuffle: You work on controlling your body and learning how to push off moving laterally. I love to progress this to see how far the kids can push away from the ladder while maintaining body control.

I still think there is value to other ladder drills but these give me my biggest bang for my buck.

3. It's a great way to warm-up:
Kids LOVE the ladder. It gets their heart rate up, their mind focused, and involves some dynamic movement while maintaining control of your body. I usually leave it at that.

In general, the athletes who look best on the ladder are the ones who have trained with me most. They are proficient on the ladder because 1. They've performed the movements hundreds of times and 2. They have worked their butt off in the weight room and during the actual speed and agility drills.

Stay tuned for Part 2: The Myths..........

The Other Side:
I love stupid videos. I think it was growing up with Dumb and Dumber, Billy Madison, and Tommy Boy as some of my favorites. I would like to thank Greg Rose for showing me this one.

Since I'm not a big fan of sit-ups here's an appropriate prank....


  1. Hey Casey,

    I was looking at using an agility ladder as part of a warm up/movement program for a little kids bball program. I saw an agility ladder in conjunction with some bball drills and I thought the kids really liked it. Do you know of any other drills that maybe a little more open ended instead of the repetitive pattern of the ladder. I was looking at using the ladder for some co-ordination/warm up.

    Thanks in advance

    1. I see nothing wrong with adding a basketball in a speed ladder, I just personally don't think it will enhance a skill it all. Might be a great wake up for the brain. I wrote about my opinions on the speed ladder here...

      I typically only go through 5-6 movement patterns with ladders for 5 minutes maximum. I don't see boredom too often with the speed ladder, probably because I don't use it very often. You can also make it a competition. Does that help?

      Thanks for the question!

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