Ladder Exercises: Speed and Agility for Everyone

ladder exercisesFeeling sluggish? Bored in your workouts? Unsure if you could win a race with your two year-old?

Jump on the ladder! Ladder exercises are fun, high-energy, and leave you feeling like you really pushed yourself. After 4 weeks of bi-weekly ladder workouts, you should feel increased energy, drastically increased cardiovascular capacity, increased coordination, and an uptick in fast-twitch muscle response. In short, ladder exercises can make you feel quicker and younger.

Working with a speed and agility coach on your ladder exercises has many, many benefits: quicker results, targeting and pushing of your max, and a coach who makes workouts fun and dynamic – like you’re training for a sport. Most importantly, a coach will constantly correct and perfect your form to maximize results and prevent injury.

If you’re going to be your own coach, it’s highly recommended that you get the basics down “How To Develop Speed, Strength, and Agility”  is just the thing to help you get the basics and have the know-how to start your ladder exercises.

Now let’s jump on the ladder.

Step #1: Set the Scene

  • You do need some space to carry out a proper ladder workout. Most ladders are 15 ft long, so a hardwood or gym floor space 23 ft. in length is ideal, so that you have 4 ft. of recovery room on each end. You don’t need much room on the sides, but at least 2 ft. is necessary for some exercises.
  • A hard surface is best for this workout – a bouncy surface can inhibit your speed work. Gym floor, hardwood floor, or concrete would all be suitable.
  • Set up some sound. Turning up your favorite workout tunes definitely compliments this type of workout.
  • Set down your ladder. Most gyms have several ladders for use. You can also order one online for $15-$35. Whether it’s the gym’s or your personal ladder, you should roll it up your neatly after each use so you can roll it quickly, avoiding tangling and snagging.
  • Wear proper workout attire and shoes. Running shoes are not best – workout shoes with less moulding and a thinner sole are.

Step #2: Warm Up Exercises

Warming up for speed and agility work is so, so important. Pulling a calf muscle or a hamstring is easy to do with ladder exercises if those muscle groups are not properly warmed-up, and those injuries take a long time to heal! If you’re planning on a 20 minute ladder workout, carve out at least 10 minutes to warm up. Not sure how to carve out an additional 10 minutes out of your day? “10 Minute Daily Invigorator”  is here to help!

  1. Pointer  Yes, this is a core exercise. Making sure your core is warmed up and activated is key to any workout. Start on your hands and knees. Good form for this means your hips are directly over your knees and your shoulders are directly over your wrists. Spine is neutral – not bowed or arched. Using your abs, lift your right arm and left leg up at the same time so that they are parallel with your torso – no higher or lower. Make sure your hips stay level and don’t twist to one side. It can be hard to tell if you’re doing this, so this is where a coach – already – starts to come in handy. Keeping your abs tight and hips level, stretch your leg toward the back of the room and your arm towards the front and count slowly to 12. Switch sides, lifting your left arm and right leg. Repeat this twice more on each side.
  2. High Knees Run the length of the room alongside the ladder, bringing your knees as high up as possible. To do this, arm position is important. When the left knee comes up, the right arm should as well – at a 90 degree angle. Right knee, left arm. Keeping good form from the start of your workout will start your coordination results. Run the length of the room with high knees 5-6 times.
  3. High Knee Side Lunge This one is a doozy! Start facing to the side with your feet together. Step out with your right leg, bringing your knee as high as possible and stepping out as far as possible. Keep the side-lunge fluid – bending at the right knee, lunge to the right. Keep the left sole of your foot down and your left leg straight. Make sense? You are now in a low side lunge with a straight left leg. Keeping your hips low, bend the left knee and straighten the right, transferring your upper body and weight to the left. Press through the left foot to stand up, bringing the left foot to meet the right. You’ve travelled the width of your lunge. Step out again with your right leg to repeat. Do 8-10. When you get to 10, do not turn around. Step out with your left leg, and do these lunges back the other way. This is an amazing warm up that opens your hamstrings and hips and readies them for your workout.

Now you’re ready for the ladder.

Step #3: Coordination Exercises

  1. Both Feet In Face the length of the ladder with feet together. Starting with your right foot, put your right then your left foot into the first square of the ladder. Continue down each square of the ladder, putting both feet in before moving to the next square. Next time, start with your left foot. Do the length of the ladder 4 times each foot – that’s 8 times total.
  2. Trail Leg Whip Right leg steps  into the first square, left leg taps to the side, then taps behind. Using this behind tap to push off from, move your right leg into the second square – left taps to the side and then behind. All the way down the ladder. Start with your left foot (right leg trails) on the way back.
  3. Sideways Lead Whip Face the side of the ladder. Star with your left foot in the first square. Tap your right foot into the second square, and then above the first square of the ladder. Pushing off this tap, move your left foot into the second square, tap the right foot into the next square and then above, moving sideways down the ladder .

Water break

Take a few sips – gulping water here will slow you way down and possibly make you nauseous.

Step #4: Speed Exercises

  1. Double Icky Shuffle This involves moving down the ladder by going side-to-side through the middle with both feet. Start to the left of the ladder. Put your right foot into the first square, then your left, then your right outside to the right of the ladder, followed by your left. Now move your left foot into the second square followed by your right, then left foot out to the right of the ladder followed by your right. Now you are outside the ladder to the left, so right foot goes into the third square of the ladder followed by your left and so-on. A bit of a brain-tease at first, but it’s one of the simpler exercises, so once you get it down, speed it up!
  2. Crossover Icky Shuffle Similar to the Icky Shuffle but here you step back in with the opposite foot, causing your hips to swivel. The more exaggerated and quick the swivel, the faster you can go.

Step #5: Drink Water and Stretch

How important is hydrating and stretching? Saying that all the gains you just made can be lost would not be overstating it. Do 10 minutes of active-release stretching that especially targets your calves, quads, hamstrings, and hips.

Yoga is a great compliment to these workouts, and you can learn some great stretches to use in your cool down as well. Take “Happy Hips and Hamstrings”, a Yin Yoga class that’s great for the day after your speed and agility workouts. “Yoga: Strengthening and Opening”  is a more dynamic class great for the day before.

To wrap up:these workouts are challenging! They challenge you physically and they challenge your coordination. You may not have ever done a workout that feels like this, so be patient with yourself. And practice, practice. You can practice the tough exercises slowly anywhere – waiting for the subway or at home in your living room. Once you have practiced enough, eventually your muscle memory will take over and you’ll really be able to concentrate on speed. You’ll be amazed at how the coordination  work improves your performance in day-to-day activities.

With 40 minutes – 10 minutes of warm up, 20 minutes of ladder work, and 10 minutes of stretching – you’ve completed a great speed and agility workout. Chances are, you’re already looking forward to your next one!

Really getting into this speed and agility stuff? Take your progress to the next level with your nutrition. “Recovery Nutrition for Athletes” is a great place to start.