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Speed Ladders Don't Make You Fast

It might seem like it, but I don't hate the speed/agility ladder. In fact I use it often during the warmup. So why am I writing this blog? Because I'm tired of athletes thinking that they will get faster and more agile by moving their feet as fast as they can in and out of tiny squares on the ground.

Key Takeaways

1. The speed/agility ladder is a tool that can be used in a speed program.

2. The speed/agility ladder will not directly make you faster.

3. It's how you use the ladder that matters, not the ladder itself.

Table Of Contents

Defining Terms

Let's all get on the same page here and define what true speed and agility is.

Speed: How fast the athlete is sprinting/running.

Acceleration: A positive change in velocity - everything leading up to max velocity.

Deceleration; How quickly an athlete reduces their speed.

Max Velocity/ Top Speed: The peak speed an athlete hits while sprinting/running.

Change Of Direction (COD): A rapid full body movement with a pre-planned change of velocity and/or direction.

Agility: A rapid full body movement that results in a change of velocity and/or direction in response to a stimuli.


If you want to sprint fast, you have to apply large amounts of force into the ground and in the direction you want to go, quickly. Makes sense, right? Cover as much ground as you can as quickly as you can. So how do "speed" ladders fit into this?

Well.... they don't.

When athletes perform ladder drills they're only moving their feet as fast as they can and usually looking down as they do so. They're missing the key component of covering distance. They're not producing force and projecting their body in the direction they need to go to sprint fast. If you want to get faster, you actually have to sprint. The drills you see on social media, and even the ones I program, are about learning positions. It solidifies when you actually sprint as fast as you can, with full rest in between reps.

So "speed" ladders don't make you fast, what about agility?

Putting The Agility In "Agility" Ladders

Often times people use the terms COD and agility interchangeably, but they are not the same thing. The biggest difference is that COD is pre-planned and agility is reaction based. Which one do you think ladders train? Hint: it's COD. Which do you think happens in sport? Hint: it's agility.

I would argue that almost all ladder drills are closed chain, pre-planned movement patterns. The athlete knows the footwork pattern they're going to do and they do it. It's COD training, not agility training.

Agility training requires:

- Timing

- Coordination

- Perception

- Reaction Time

- Visual Processing

This doesn't mean ladder drills are useless, because that would be saying COD is useless and it's definitely not. COD lays the foundation for agility to be expressed. It teaches athletes movement patterns that are found in sport and most importantly gives them a library of movement options to choose from. For example, if an athlete doesn't possess the skill of a cross-over step, when they go to do it in their sport they'll probably get tripped up.

How To Implement Ladders Into Your Training

At this point you might be thinking, "so what's the point of the ladder? Is it even beneficial to my training?" It can be! Let me tell you how I use them in my own and my athletes training, and how you can implement them into your training.

- The warmup is a great time to breakout the ladder. It's fun, low intensity, gets the heart rate up, and engages the mind. All important aspects to a good warmup. Start off with some easy drills and gradually increase the complexity.

- Low intensity conditioning is another time I'll break out the ladder. I hope we all know by now that there's more ways to work on your endurance than just going for a run, especially if you're an athlete. Setting a clock and running through drills can keep your heart rate in the proper range while incorporating a healthy amount low level plyometrics and lateral movement into the session.


Honestly, that's about it. I don't use ladders to train speed and agility, and neither should you. I'll use them in the warmup and for conditioning, but not for speed development. True speed development requires max effort sprinting. True agility requires a reactionary component. Again, I'm not saying they're useless, they're just a tool in the training toolbox, and if used correctly can help you become a better athlete.

If you have questions or are ready to take your training to the next level, contact Maine Gainz and join our team of elite athletes.

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