Why And How You Should Do Agility Work This Off-Season

Improving your agility this winter can really help put a pep in your step come spring.

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

Although triathlon is a linear sport with athletes moving in one direction, agility training boasts several benefits—especially at this time of year. This type of training is typically associated with field and court sports, where multidirectional movement is key, but it still has a place in the triathlete’s gym routine.

While off-season endurance workouts tend to focus on base training without a lot of intensity, agility work is a good way to incorporate intensity into this process. It also keeps a little pep in your step and functions as a bridge to plyometric training heading into the season. In addition, it can help to improve balance, reaction time, and lateral movement. And ladder drills are a good place to start. An agility ladder can be laid on the ground for you to jump in between the boxes and back and forth. If you don’t have a ladder, you can use cones or any kind of marker.

Like any training concept that incorporates intensity, it is important to ramp up the process. Do not start with 30 minutes of ladder drills or you will wake up the next day with some interesting lower leg and foot sensations. Here, we stick with a selection of agility exercises that are challenging, but don’t have a steep learning curve. Every workout is a balance between what we need to do, would like to do, and our available time—and these ladder drills can be worked into any gym routine. While some of the moves might take some practicing, once you’ve learned them, you’ll soon see the improvements. Try to be as quick and precise as possible.

RELATED: 4 Agility Ladder Drills to Help with Off-Road Running

Agility 30-Minute Workout

1. High Knees (Video)

High knees can be done on an agility ladder.
Illustration by Oliver Baker

Move forwards through the ladder with two feet touching down in every box, keeping high knees as you go. Stay on the balls of your feet, and get off the ground as quickly as possible. Back pedal (run backwards) to return to the start. Repeat three times.

2. Lateral Ladder (Video)

Visualization of the lateral ladder.
Illustration by Oliver Baker

Move sideways through the ladder, with two feet touching down in each box and keeping your knees high. Think about springing off your feet—loading the spring, bouncing off the spring. Side step/shuffle to return to the start. Repeat twice in each direction.

3. Ickey Shuffle (Video)

Illustration by Oliver Baker

Stand to the right of the ladder, put your left foot into the ladder, follow it with your right. Once both feet are in the ladder, quickly put your left foot to the left outside, pivot from that planted left foot, and bring your right foot in the next ladder box ahead. Follow your right foot with your left foot into the box, then place your right foot to the right of the ladder. Pivot off that foot, bringing the left foot into the next ladder box, and continue in that pattern. Stay on the balls of your feet and be careful not to lose your balance on that outside touch. When you reach the end of the ladder, back pedal to the starting position, and repeat for a total of three times.

4. Agility Ladder Ali (Video)

Illustration by Oliver Baker

Named after the champion boxer Muhammad Ali, this movement begins with you on the side of the ladder, facing it. Jump, putting your left foot in the ladder box and right foot behind it, outside the ladder. Jump and switch positions in the same box, then move right one box and repeat. When you reach the end of the ladder, side step back to the start. Repeat twice in each direction.

5. Hopscotch (Video)

Illustration by Oliver Baker

Just like the kids’ game, this involves jumping down the ladder starting with two feet on the outside, hopping to one foot inside the ladder, and then back to two feet outside on the next ladder box—switching that inside foot each time. Speed and precision are key here, making sure to get off your feet as quickly as possible. Once you reach the end of the ladder, back pedal, return to the starting position, and repeat twice through.

Kevin Purvis is a certified personal trainer with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. He’s based in Boulder, Colorado, where he works with a number of endurance athletes.