I am often asked by athletes and the parents of kids I coach, “How can I improve foot speed and agility?” and it’s evident that most people are looking for a quick fix on this issue. But does foot speed even matter? And does foot speed have anything to do with agility?
I think the problem is that coaches, athletes and parents equate fast and quick feet with speed and agility. However, fast feet do not make you quicker and quick feet do not improve your agility. In some cases, fast feet might actually make an athlete slow. Think about it like this: the faster your feet are the less time your feet are in contact with the ground and therefore the less force you can produce in every step you take. This is basic action-reaction physics – the stuff we learnt as kids! The more force you can put into the ground the more linear, lateral or vertical motion you can create. So speed comes down to force production and this why the athletes with the best vertical jumps are most often the fastest.
Some people may argue the fact that vertical jump and horizontal speed don’t correspond with each other but from looking at years of data from NFL and AFL combines this is simply not true. It’s simple really – force into the ground is force into the ground whether we are moving forward, back, up or to the side. So rather than trying to get the feet moving faster what you should be asking yourself is how do I become more explosive and how can I improve my vertical jump.
Ok so how do we get faster and more explosive? How do we improve vertical jump?
It’s simple – get stronger legs. Don’t worry about the feet. They will take care of themselves. Your legs matter the most. They are your engine so let’s upgrade the engine to generate more horse power and thus more speed! While we are at it, why not add a turbo and some good brakes for the corners. If you look at the fastest athletes on the planet in their respective sport, guys like Manny Pacquiao, Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal, Usain Bolt, Devon Hester. Their speed comes from their ability to create a powerful first step push off the ground. Look at their legs. There are some serious engines right there.
So what does this mean? To improve foot speed and agility you need to improve lower body strength. You need to work on lower body strength and power and you need to do it on one leg. The essence of developing quick feet lies in single-leg strength and stability exercises as well as landing skills to improve the ability to decelerate quickly. Improving your ability to decelerate and then accelerate fast will improve your agility enormously. This is essential in most sports.
The reality is that developing this speed and agility takes time. It comes down to horsepower and the nervous system. Every athlete is built differently and genetics play a huge role in how fast an athlete can actually get. There is no quick fix or magic drill. However, everyone can get faster with the right attitude and training methods. We need to work on lower body strength and lower body power through single leg strength exercises and power work. Single leg training just makes sense to me. In most sports we are moving, cutting in an out, turning and jumping and for the most part one foot is in contact with the ground while the other is not. So why would we not train this way? This single leg training concept came from Mike Boyle who has over 25 years experience training elite level athletes. Mike is an extremely clever and experience trainer so when I heard him talk about this I took it on board and starting implementing single leg training into all my strength sessions, plyometrics and even medicine ball power work.