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Improve acceleration and improve athletic performance.

In my last blog post I gave my opinion (Which was somewhat negative...) on agility ladders. This was based upon their inability to actually improve speed and acceleration. If you haven’t read it yet you can have a look here.

Hunter Bennett Performance. Acceleration, performance, speed, agility, strength, power, athletic development.

Whilst this is all well and good, I didn’t really provide any in depth recommendations on how to improve change of direction speed and agility, and considering that these are directly related to acceleration speed, I thought a post addressing how to improve acceleration would be appropriate.

Sooooo. Acceleration. The reason I have chosen acceleration rather than ‘speed’ is I feel it is much more indicative of athletic performance.

Field based sports are characterised by short, repeat efforts, rarely longer than 20 metres (and most often less than that). So it can be argued that the ability to accelerate rapidly is much more important than top end speed.

*The exception here would be sprinters, as they need a good max speed and they need to maintain it for as long as possible.

So someone’s ability to accelerate can be broken down into two components. The amount of force they can put into the ground, and how quickly they can apply that force into the ground.

So, if a person is not particularly strong (can’t apply much force), they are going to be limited, no matter how quickly they can apply the force they do have.

This leads us into the first recommendation to improve acceleration.

Strength Training

By improving strength we improve the maximal amount of force we can produce. By increasing the amount of force we can apply into the ground we improve our capacity to accelerate.

My recommendations would be compound lower body strength exercises such as squats, deadlifts and split squats (and variations of), working within a basic strength sets and reps scheme (5x5, 6x4 etc) 2-3 times per week. This ensures we are not only training the muscles involved in accelerating and sprinting, but also using exercises that have immediate carryover to performance as they somewhat replicate the joint actions that occur during these movements.

Now, what if someone is strong (can apply lots of force), but not very powerful (slow applying that force)?

That leads us into the second component.

Power Training

So, now that we have built a solid foundation of lower body strength (force production capacity), we need to learn how to apply that force rapidly (improve our ‘rate of force development’, or RFD).

This can be done by adding explosive lower body movements into our lower body program. These would be jump variations (such as box jumps, broad jumps etc.), plyometric exercises (lateral bounds, tuck jumps etc.) and Olympic lifting variations (clean, hang snatch etc.). These exercises use either bodyweight or lower relative loads to train explosive movements, whilst the plyometric activities also improve our capacity to use the stretch shortening cycle (SSC).

The inclusion of short sprints are also recommended, as we are trying to get faster/better at accelerating.

These exercises should not be performed to failure as the intent is to move as FAST and as EXPLOSIVE as possible. As fatigue inhibits our ability to produce force rapidly, it would inhibit the training effect we are looking for. So these exercises should be performed before the strength component of the session, and not until failure.


I understand that this is by no means a comprehensive guide on improving acceleration, but i hope i have provided a brief explanation on some of the ways we can improve acceleration. These recommendations are fairly broad and provide more of a brief overview, for more detailed information feel free to contact me.


Do agility ladders really make you faster and more agile?

Hunter Bennett Performance. Agility, agility ladders, reaction time, speed, acceleration, power

Not really.

Now I will be upfront here. I am not a big fan of agility ladders. I feel they are over utilised, and don't deliver what they promise.

'But they make your feet faster right?'.... well maybe. But what does that even mean? So if my feet move quicker I will be faster? If we think about it, It’s not particularly shocking that that’s not really how it works.

Defining agility

Agility can be broken down into two components:

Change of direction (COD) speed. The speed at which we alter the direction of travel in a PRE-PLANNED manner. Note the emphasis on pre-planned. COD speed is completely physical, and simply the rate at which we can alter direction of movement.

And

Reaction Time. The time taken to react to an unknown or unpredictable stimulus. This is effectively the time taken to assess a situation or stimulus, and then react to it. This is a mental process.

So Agility is therefore both the process of making a decision and moving in accordance to that decision, in response to an un-controlled stimulus.

An example of Agility would be a rugby player making a tackle on another player who is coming towards them with the ball. The player with the ball is likely to move in one direction in an attempt to evade the tackler. The tackler must cognitively react to the unknown stimulus (the direction of the side-step), and then change direction in accordance, as means to make the tackle.

Soooooo? What about agility ladders?

So agility ladders don’t have a cognitive component, so they don’t directly train agility. But they do kind of train COD speed right? And that may transfer to agility?

Again, not really.

Speed, whether it be COD speed or straight line speed is function of power ((force x distance)/time). If you apply a greater amount of force into the ground in the same or less amount of time, you move faster. It makes sense. The more force that goes into the ground, the further you travel per step in the same amount of time.

To improve speed you therefore have to train at maximum speed, and produce enough force to increase maximal power production.

Now do you see the issue?

When using an agility ladder, you are not producing enough force to elicit a training response. Also worthy of note, is that when you use an agility ladder, you move inefficiently, in a way that does not replicate sprinting or changing direction. You’re just moving your feet quickly, while they stay within your base of support. Changing direction quickly involves the foot producing high levels of force rapidly whilst outside the base of support, producing lateral movement. If the foot is not outside the base of support the ability to move laterally is limited.

So now you can see the issue I have with agility ladders?

Again, this is a bit of an opinion piece, and one could argue that they may have some usefulness as an effective warmup tool, or potentially in a rehab setting. But  just don’t try and sell them as something that will significantly improve speed or agility, when in reality, they will not.

So what should we do instead?

Improving strength and power through resistance training exercises would be an important step. This will improve our ability to produce force, which is integral to speed. This could be followed by some speed/agility specific training, such as straight line sprinting, or lateral movement work. This specific training will allow us to develop the ability to use our increased strength in a speed/agility specific way.