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Speed drills to run faster

Five types of agility training for fun, creative and effective cardiovascular workouts.

Story by Jeremy Grace and Photography by Mike Ritterbeck

Stone McDonald, a lifelong resident of Bluffton, is a senior at Hilton Head Preparatory School. He is all-state as a quarterback in football, an all-state power forward in basketball and is an honor student. He is also a graduate of the Hilton Head Island Chamber of Commerce Junior Leadership Program. He hopes to play football at the collegiate level at a school that is a match, both academically and athletically.

Cardiovascular exercise is important for maintaining heart health, lowering body fat, and improving overall physical fitness. Unfortunately, most forms of conventional cardio are painfully boring and limited to treadmills, tracks, and cycles.

Instead of dreading your cardio workouts, try agility training for a fun and effective form of cardiovascular exercise that allows you to creatively move your body, increase your heart rate, and burn fat. Agility training comes in various forms and is often used by athletes, soldiers, and martial artists to improve their ability to move quickly and efficiently in specific patterns and around obstacles. As a form of calisthenics and aerobics, agility training can burn 300-400 calories or more in just 30 minutes, depending on a person’s size and intensity level.

It might sound intimidating, but you’ve probably already done agility training before and didn’t even realize it. Hopscotch, running around a playground, jumping rope, practicing sports, playing dodge ball and even doing running drills in gym class were all forms of movement that improved your agility. Certain activities were probably more fun than others, and you might have outgrown some of them, but you can recreate the excitement and underlying effectiveness of these modes of exercise to better achieve your current health and fitness goals.

Try these five types of agility training to become more footloose and spry while improving your cardiovascular health, burning calories, and having fun.


1. Running Ladders

Running ladders is a more advanced form of hopscotch often used by athletes to become quicker and faster. Lay an agility ladder down on the ground or draw one by making a row of 10-12 adjacent 1-foot by 1-foot boxes on the ground. When you’re ready, run from one side of the ladder to the other using a variety of different steps. For example, you can put one or two feet in each box. You can run forward, backward, or sideways. You can hop on one leg, move two boxes forward and one box back, put one foot in and one foot out, or even pivot in circles.

What begins as a simple concept turns into an entertaining and creative cardio exercise as you come up with more novel ways of traversing the ladder using the fanciest footwork possible. If you don’t have any ideas, search the internet for new moves. As you’re having fun moving in increasingly nimble and impressive ways, you’ll also be getting a highly effective cardiovascular workout.

2. Footwork

Footwork is similar to running ladders, but it lets you use lots of different objects, patterns, obstacles, and outlines to guide you as you run, jump, and move your feet in different directions.

For example, you can go to a tennis or basketball court and practice running forward, backward, and side to side along the white lines. You can also start on one side of the court and run to each line and back, going out to a farther line each time. If you want to make your own pattern, use chalk to draw a grid, square, octagon, or any shape on the ground and run or jump to different spots or sides.

Additionally, you can place objects on the ground as obstacles. Place a log on the ground and practice jumping over it. Put two tennis balls on the ground and run figure-eights around them while facing the same direction. Jump over a series of boxes or in different directions over an old tire. The best way to be creative is to take what you have and find new ways of using it to help you move in inventive ways.

Finally, you can practice your footwork just by running or jumping back and forth across a given area using various steps, skips, and jumps. You can run forward, backward, side-to-side, in a shuffle step while squatting down, by jumping, skipping on one leg, by bringing your knees up, or by taking long lunge steps. Experiment with some of the patterns you tried while running ladders or try to mimic different athletic moves or dance steps as you move back and forth. It’s fun to move your feet and the quick and varying movements serve as an excellent form of cardio.

3. Jumping Rope

Jumping rope is probably the most simple and well-known exercise on this list, but many people forget that’s it’s one of the best ways to do cardio and improve agility. Just 30 minutes of jumping rope can burn 350-450 calories and it’s a great way to become more athletic and coordinated.

Find a rope that is long enough for you to comfortably jump over, but not so long that it drags on the ground or gets tangled. If you’ve never been good at jump roping, start with simple goals and work your way up. Try to get a few good skips in a row, then try to get a certain amount total, and then try to focus on doing as many jumps as you can within a certain amount of time.

It might be tricky at first, but you’ll quickly get the hang of it and your efforts will pay off as you continue to get better. All that moving, jumping, and arm swinging will become fun as your timing improves and you’ll be burning plenty of calories in the process.

4. Obstacle Runs

Obstacle runs combine footwork, jumping, and running exercises to form imaginative courses that are just as entertaining as they are challenging. There are two ways to go about obstacle runs. One is to make your own original miniature obstacle course, and the other is to go for a run while looking for interesting ways to move and inspiring obstacles to overcome.

You can set up your own obstacle course more easily than you think. Take a few cones, balls, chairs, logs, or any object that you can carry and set up a few areas using some of the methods we’ve already discussed. Draw a ladder that you have to run in a specific way, set up a few balls to weave around, place a log to jump over, and then tie together two chairs to duck under. You might have to get creative, but that’s the point! You can make the course as long or as short, or as simple or as complex as you like. Set up a course, run it a few times, and mix it up. It’s fun to experiment with new combinations and all that running and jumping is a great way to improve your agility and cardiovascular health.

If you don’t want to make an obstacle course, find one! Parks, plazas, sidewalks, beaches, and nature trails all have unique little obstacles if you know where to look. You can run up and down stairs, hop up onto ledges, jump over old tree trunks, run up hills, skip up and down curbs, or shuffle back and forth across vacant parking lot spots. Think about going for a light but highly creative jog and treat the entire area as your personal playground. You might have to be careful not to trip or get in anyone’s way, but you’ll be having so much fun that you’ll barely notice how hard you’re breathing or how many calories you’re burning.

5. Play Ball

When you throw, kick, or bounce a ball you don’t always know where it’s going to land. This unpredictability is perfect for agility training. Whether you’re playing catch with a partner, practicing a sport, or simply bouncing a ball off a wall, you can literally and figuratively have a ball while moving your body and elevating your heart rate.

If you have a friend or workout partner, play a simple game of catch, but throw the ball away from each other. Take turns throwing and chasing down the ball as quickly as you can. It might sound silly, but you’ll be engaging in an effective form of cardiovascular interval training as you alternate between running and throwing. You can use a tennis ball, football, soccer ball, Frisbee, or anything else to get you moving while having fun.

If you’re by yourself, you can create an effective cardio and agility workout just by briskly practicing basketball, soccer, hockey, tennis, or any other sport. Take a shot and immediately chase down the rebound, run back to position, take another shot, and continue. Rather than lazily walking after each shot or using multiple balls to save energy, do the opposite and use one ball and chase it down quickly each time. To increase the challenge try to use dribbles, plays, run patterns, fake-outs, spins, or any other special moves to mimic real-game situations.

Finally, if you’re bored and limited on resources, you can simply throw a ball against a wall or surface and run it down. Challenge yourself and throw the ball at different speeds and angles and run swiftly to catch it.

Whatever method of agility training you want to try, the important thing is that you move your body quickly to elevate your heart rate and that you come up with fun new methods to continue to challenge yourself in unique ways. Don’t limit yourself and don’t be afraid to have fun – that’s the whole point! Bring as much fun and imagination into your agility training as you can to make this interesting form of cardiovascular exercise as effective as possible. LL