Jaime Cavazos MS, CSCS
Certified strength and conditioning specialist
Cavazos Sports Institute
Every athlete who runs fast has fast feet, but having fast feet does not mean you can run fast.
Athletes should focus on SCIENTIFIC TRAINING PRINCIPLES for developing speed and quickness such as: building strength, becoming powerful, and transferring that power to speed and agility.
NO AGILITY LADDER, FOOTWORK, OR SPRINT DRILL WILL HELP YOU if you lack absolute strength and functional power.
Athletes who have not yet reached this high level of their strength-to-mass ratio should spend less time on predetermined, non-game-specific footwork drills (like the agility ladder). Instead, they should spend more time engineering speed specific strength. In turn, the athlete will develop horizontal force production and lateral movement velocity.
AGILITY VS FOOTWORK
Developing an athlete’s agility is VERY DIFFERENT in comparison to just doing footwork training on the ladder. For example, true agility training includes stopping quickly, altering direction, and accelerating with a decision-making action during the movement (live game play). By contrast, most footwork-training drills lack the ability to process visual and audio cues as a stimulus to react and make a fast decision. This lack of reaction is a big reason why most ladder drills and fast feet drills do not mimic game situations very well. These ladder drills also tend to teach athletes to look down at their feet during movement. I cannot think of any sport where athletes need to look down at their feet and repeatedly move their feet in place. Nearly all sports require the athlete to look up at the field or court, and require only one or 2 foot contacts on the ground before a powerful change of direction is needed.
Ladders and fast feet drills do have their time and their place, however. They are a small piece of the puzzle used to enhance speed and acceleration. They are a GOOD tool to use for an active dynamic warm up and have neuromuscular benefits that connect and enhance the path from brain to feet to improve coordination and conditioning. However, this is mostly beneficial to younger athletes looking to master locomotor movements.
Professional athletes already have developed an elite level of power and have a great strength to mass ratio. These pro athletes use the ladder more to activate and maintain the muscle fiber firing pattern they have built in the weight room. Their ability to accelerate their body weight is so highly advanced, that they can place more time into footwork drills and in detailed cutting and foot speed.
SPEED COMES FROM STRENGTH
We often see a lot of kids enter our program who can do complex footwork on ladders – rotations, turning in circles, going backwards, and can move their feet super fast. Most however, fail to have an above average standing broad jump, vertical jump, 40 yard sprint and pro agility shuttle.
Edinburg junior RB, Ethan Vela, in particular, is a perfect example of how CSI develops speed and quickness without using ladder drills. In about 4 months, Ethan dropped his laser 40-yard time .40 of a second from 5.05 to 4.66 all while doing absolutely little to no ladder or footwork drills. CSI high school and middle school athletes use the ladder once every couple of weeks during our conditioning phase of our periodization mesocycle. It is never used as a means to build speed or agility.
Ethan is an athlete that already had tons of strength before starting his speed training program at CSI. All we had to do was help transfer that strength into the ground powerfully, using speed specific strength training. His acceleration highlights his ability to push the ground away from him when sprinting. This cannot be done by simply training to foot tap the floor quickly and repeatedly and not moving dynamically.
Taking words from world renounced and nationally recognized Strength Coach Mike Boyle: “Fast feet drills do not use the ground well to produce enough force to move the athlete in any given direction.” Let’s think about this. This is basic physics. An athlete needs push into the ground with high linear force to move forward quickly. Fast feet drills do the exact opposite. Touching your feet on and off the floor as fast as possible places a low amount of force into the ground- in turn you can not have an opposite reaction or quick movement from it.
“Fast feet drills are like putting nice rims on a ford escort,” he says. “They make the car look nice and fast, but the car isn’t gonna drive any faster. The key is to build horsepower, enhance the accelerator, and improve the brakes.”