When you start looking for alternative ways to build up your endurance, speed, or dexterity, the agility ladder should be one of your first choices. They are great for working out your whole body as well as vastly improving your coordination and well… agility. Finding the best agility ladder drills and workouts, however, can be a long process, so I decided to sum them up in this article and talk a little bit about each one of them.
For our purpose, we will separate the drills that I want to show you in three different categories:
- Basic agility ladder drills
- Speed-focused drills
- Agility drills
- Muscle building drills
If you want to browse from some of the best agility ladders for this year, make sure you check out my full Buyer’s Guide!
Basic agility ladder drills
Here are the simplest, most basic agility ladder drills that you need to first go through:
- One step
- Side step
- Basic hops
- Lateral and zig-zag hops
- In-and-out side hops
- Straddle hops
- Toe taps
- Broad jumps
As the name suggests, the One step drill is done by placing one foot at each box going lightly over the rungs. Start slow but remember that the key to the exercise is to eventually do it as quickly as possible. Keep your arms at your side, ready to spring in the end (optional). This is one of the best and easiest ways to warm up with an agility ladder.
The side step is also an easy exercise but it often confuses beginners. What you do is actually move sideways across the ladder with your backfoot pushing the pace and your front foot reaching for the next box. Keep your arms at your side at 90-degrees.
The key to doing the basic hops properly is to keep your feet tightly together and jump with your soles trying to minimize the bend at the knee. Work with your hands to create a forward swinging motion. Start by jumping in each box but you can, later on, figure out different patterns and boxes to jump through.
If you want, you can spice up this exercise a bit by mixing it with the One Step drill. Do 5 hops and then run for the rest of the ladder in a one-step fashion. You can do hops until the end of the ladder and then sprint as well. Mixing exercises like that will become the cornerstone of your progress and you will find yourself wanting to do it more and more often!
Lateral and zig-zag hops
Lateral hops are the same as the basic hops but they are done with you turned 90-degrees, parallel to the ladder. Facing either left or right, jump with both your feet through each box. If you want you can do this one time at each side (right or left) or with your right or left foot only.
Zig-zag hops are similar to basic hops but you jump next to the right or left of your next box. So, you start with jumping in the first box, and then you jump right to the next one followed by a jump inside the second box. Then, you jump to the left of the third one and into the third, and so on. This can also be done with one leg at a time.
In-and-out side hops
In & Out is a drill where you face the side of the ladder and start on the outside. Your lead foot steps inside the box, followed by your other foot. The lead foot then steps out and continues to lead the way down the ladder. Arms are at the side at 90-degrees vibrating. Make sure you repeat the exercise on the other side of the ladder once you reach the end.
Straddle hops (or inside and outside straddles or side straddles) are one of the most well-known ladder drills since we are all used to do it as kids when we were playing hopscotch. Even though you are moving forward down the ladder, your feet are moving in and out of the ladder, both touching the outside of the box and then both simultaneously touching the inside of the box. Make sure you don’t slam your feet into one another each time you step into the box. Keep your body composed and your hands at a 90-degree angle.
Ladder crossovers is basically a sideways run through the ladder. The back foot steps over the front foot without swinging it out wide. Keep your arms at 90-degrees and move them along the rest of your body. you can repeat each run facing either left or right.
Toe taps are a variation of in and outs and are basically scissors across the ladder. You hop onto each box with an alternating foot, touching the center of the box with your toes. Only one foot goes in every other box. Basically, you start with your right foot in the first box, with the ladder continuing to your left. Then, you hop and place your left foot in the second box, and so on
Broad jumps are the same as the basic hops but you choose a different amount of boxes to jump over. They are a great beginner’s exercise and will push your ability to jump further by constantly increasing the number of rungs you go over.
Now, let’s focus on some drills that are primarily geared towards building up your speed. Those are:
- One in run
- Fast feet
- Ickey shuffle
- Back and forth
- River dance
- Double trouble
The centipede is one of the more advanced drills that will take your speed and coordination to the next level. Start sideways to the ladder and get your lead leg in followed by the other leg. Once they are in the same box, move them over to the next box leading with the lead leg. Once they are in the second box, move them out of it and start all over.
Here is the sequence you need to memorize – two feet in, two over, two out, repeat. Arms should say where they always stay – at your side.
One in run
The one in run drill could be classified as a beginner’s drill but I wanted to put it here since it is also one of the best ways to develop short bursts of speed. It works best with around 8-10 boxes, so if your ladder is longer you might want to exclude a few rungs. You do this drill by running through the ladder by placing one foot per box only. In the future, you can skip a box with each foot to make your steps bigger. That will allow you to accelerate further and easier out of the ladder.
Fast feet is the advanced version of “One step”. You place each foot at the next box without both of your feet ever touching the same box. The key here is to do is fast and to glide over the ladder. Keep your hands steady and accelerate out of the ladder for an added explosiveness.
You can increase the difficulty of this exercise by adding hurdles every 2-3 boxes.
The Ickey shuffle is perhaps the hardest agility/speed exercise you can learn and it will melt your brain when you start learning it. It allows your body and feet to move in both forward and lateral directions at the same time which really enhances speed endurance and coordination.
The drill starts by you sitting at the start of the ladder (as you stand for a normal “One step”) but slightly to the left. Step into the first box with your right foot and then follow with your left. Step outside the box with your right foot and plant it next to the second box. Lift your left leg and start the move all over but this time going to the left side with your left leg stepping in the second box first.
For added difficulty, you can add cones at each side that you touch with your hands at every passing. You can also do single-leg shuffles by staying at one side of the ladder only. If you do those, always return the other way around to train your other leg’s dexterity.
Back and forth
The back and forth drill gives you a lot of dynamic range for both forward and backward movements at the same time. You start by standing at the side of the ladder. Go through the first box with your right foot and step out with the left one followed by the right one. Then go backward with your left foot, stepping in the second box and then step over the ladder with your right foot followed by your left, ultimately restarting your position.
The river dance is a quick rotational and lateral drill, maybe one of the few with such properties. It features an “in, behind and out movement” that goes like this – you start next to the ladder; you step inside the box with your lead leg and turn around slightly to step over the ladder with your other foot. Then use the foot that stepped out of the ladder to initiate the second movement and to step inside the box, followed by the other foot this time. Each foot steps inside the box only once.
Double trouble starts at the beginning of the ladder. You step with your right foot inside the first box, followed by the left foot right next to it inside the same box. Then you step outside the box with your right foot, at the level of the second box, followed by your left foot stepping on the other side of the second box. Then both your feet step inside the second box and you repeat that until the end. Keep your hands steady near your chest and try to do this as fast as possible. This exercise is a bit of a brain-melter at higher speeds, so make sure you gradually increase the tempo rather than try to pull it off at high speeds from the get-go.
Agility drills are often similar to the basic drills as well as the speed drills but they tend to have a bit more twist to them. They train your body to resist all sorts of movements and are typically done at a higher continuous pace. Some examples for those are:
- Jab steps
- Step behind crossovers
Carioca is a true hip-opening drill that will improve your body’s agility and dexterity. Begin by standing on the side of the ladder with your left foot being placed right next to the first square. Start by placing your left foot into the square followed by your right foot stepping behind your left foot and into the second square. Then, move your left leg into the third square and do the same movement with your right leg in order to put it into the fourth square, and so on. The second passing with the right foot, however, should happen at the front of the left leg. So the right foot passes the left one alternating between going around its back and its front side at each step.
The centipede combines a good amount of lateral, forward, and backward movements. Start in the same position as the Carioca. Put your left leg in the first box, followed by the right leg. Then, place your left leg in the second box moving sideways, again followed by your right leg. Next, step outside with your left leg first and follow with your right leg so that both your feet are outside and have their fingers pointed at the third box. Repeat the movement. Keep your hands near your chest and try to keep your core muscles engaged so that you aren’t put off balance.
Jab steps is a good drill for any boxer or mixed martial artist. It can be done with each leg leading and a few alternating step-in combinations. The key here is to jab with whichever leg you step inside the box. You stand at the side of the ladder, facing it, and you step with your lead leg inside the box while doing a jab. Step outside and repeat the same thing. You can switch stances and directions to train different hands and feet. You can also do the drill without stepping outside the ladder, just touch every box with your lead leg by moving it sideways and shifting your weight to your back foot between the boxes and jabs.
Step behind crossovers
Step behind crossovers are a mix of traditional crossovers and the Ickey shuffle. You start facing the ladder slightly to its right side. Place your left foot inside the first box and then move your right foot on the left of that box by having it pass your left foot from behind. That will result in a twisting motion. Then, step on the left of the box with your left foot as well and repeat the same thing for the second box but this time step inside it with the right foot and pass it with the left one behind.
Muscle building drills
Sometimes agility ladders can be used to build up your strength and muscle mass. They can easily be implemented with various exercises like squats, push-ups, planks, and others. Here are a few drills that are helpful if you want to improve your strength using an agility ladder:
- Plank walks and crawls
- Jump Squats
- Wide walks
- Push-up walks
Plank walks and crawls
There are a ton of variations of the plank walks and crawls. The most common ones are sideways plank walks and back & forth plank crawls.
The sideways plank walks are done by standing at the side of the ladder with your hands planted in the same box. Keep your weight at the tip of your toes and your hands. Move your back hand over the leading one into the next box and then move the leading hand onto the box next to that. Follow the motion with your feet and have your core muscles engaged during the whole drill. Always return the same way you came!
Back and forth plank crawls are done when you face the ladder directly. Place both your hands in the same square and start crawling forward by either placing them at the same square at each step or alternating squares and hands. Have your core muscles engaged and follow with your feet. Go back without turning around. Bonus points if you have your feet step into each square just like your hands did.
Jump squats are pretty easy to understand but pretty hard to pull off properly. Jump into each box with both your feet and do a squat. Keep leaping into the next box until you are done. The squats will be harder since your legs are closer together. Don’t try to go very low, instead focus on the jumping and your balance.
Wide walks are done by placing your right foot inside the box and keeping your left foot as far away from the ladder as possible. Step forward while crouching as if you’re trying to sit on a chair. Once you get to the end of the ladder, turn around and do it with the other leg inside the ladder.
Push-up walks are done by having both your feet inside the first box of the ladder and your whole body forward along the ladder’s length. Do a push-up and hop your whole body so that you step into the second box. Do that until you finish the ladder and return the same way. You can add clapping for bonus points.
You can also do plank walks and push up combinations by stopping at each box and doing a push up along with the plank walk. Remember, the key here is to have the drill be as hard as possible so if you get any crazy ideas on how to make it more difficult for yourself, do it!
How to warm up for your agility ladder workout
Warming up for your workout is a complex process that mainly depends on two things – your current fitness level and the intensity of the upcoming workout. As a whole, you want to always try to work your body into the intensity that you’d expect from it for the rest of the workout. Start slow with the most basic stretches and build your way up to the dynamic stretching you have developed for yourself. Before you get on with the complex agility ladder drills, do a few of the simple ones like One step, Side step, some Crossovers, and others that will prepare your joints and muscles better for what’s about the come.
Apart from your warm-up, you should never ignore or skip the post-workout recovery. Whether you stretch a bit or just wind down with a good fat-burning meal in front of you, it should always be a point to let your body cool down before you move on with your day.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do ladder drills improve your agility?
Absolutely. After all, this is where they get their names from! Agility ladders work on your motor coordination and improve the connections between your brain and legs, as well as the overall core balance of your body.
Can you do ladder drills every day?
Ladder drills, apart from being a good workout on their own, are an amazing way to warm up your body for a harder, more intense workout. Many football players as well as some track and field athletes incorporate ladder drills in their warm-ups.
Are agility ladders good for cardio workouts?
Yes, workout out with an agility ladder is a great way to get your pulse up. In fact, agility ladders are one of the best ways to mix aerobic workouts with agility training and core muscle training.
To perfect your agility ladder drills and workouts, you need to start from the basics and slowly work your way towards the more complex exercises that require a ton of footwork, agility, and coordination. The key aspect here is to never rush your progress since those exercises involve a lot of lateral movements and twisting and can easily catch you off guard if you aren’t fully concentrated, which can result in preventable injuries.