WOW, what a fantastic question!
The agility ladder is one of the most loved and hated tools in the training world.
Whether or not an agility ladder is worth the money really comes down to another question – “what are your goals with the ladder”?
For the older athlete, college and professional I do not believe this tool should be the end all of training, but can be used as a solid warm up tool, however for the young athlete it is a solid choice.
On the higher level of the strength and conditioning profession most professionals and articles that are written say no, it is a waste of time and there are better choices.
This hate is because of all the crazy footwork drills you see on the internet of the ladder being the main tool to increase speed and footwork that do not directly relate to the sport the athlete is training for.
As stated prior, I believe it depends on what you are using the agility ladder for and what your training goals are.
Are you using it for a professional athlete or a young athlete? Two totally different outcomes you are looking for with the ladder.
My answer is YES, it is a great tool in the toolbox for athletes!
Let’s start with the younger age groups and work all the way up to the professional athlete.
For the sake of this article let’s define the young athlete as being between 5 and 14 years old. The older athlete, 15-18 and then the college and professional athlete.
Agility Ladder Uses For Every Age
The 5 – 8 Year Old Athlete
The beauty of the agility ladder is that you can start using it as young as you want. Sports start younger and younger and if you have an athlete as young as a 5 year old playing a sport or looking up to a older sibling, they can jump into ladder training and it is perfectly SAFE!
The young athlete can do the basic ladder drills and this will allow the young athlete to develop coordination, balance and body positioning.
In the 5-8 year old range you will want to start with the basic ladder drills and repeat them multiple times in a training session.
The ladder series for this age group does not need to run more than 10 minutes. This is not a more is better scenario, but a quality over quantity.
Once you see an athlete this age lose focus, cut them loose from the training that day and reset on a different day.
The series can be repeated multiple times per week.
Example ladder training series for the 5-8 year old:
4 rounds of each exercise (down the ladder is 1, coming back would be 2)
- 1 foot every hole
- 2 feet every hole
- Lateral high knees
- Hop in hop out lateral
8 – 10 Year Old Athlete
At this age you will start to see some athletes have better coordination than others. The ladder can assist in the development of coordination for these athletes.
The workout for the 8-10 year old can increase to 12-15 minutes. Take your time to ensure that the footwork is correct as they go through the drills.
As with the younger group, once they lose focus or start getting frustrated, end the session and try again the next day as you want the ladder drill session to be fun!
- 2 in 2 out lateral
- Scissors lateral
- Hop Scotch
11-14 Year Old Athlete
This is my favorite age to introduce the ladder if the athlete has not used it before.
The goals are very specific in the use of the ladder at this point as many of these athletes have chosen to participate in sports with a more serious attitude and outcome.
The ladder for this age group should focus on body positioning, balance, coordination and keeping their eyes up while going through the drills.
In this age group you will see a tremendous difference in the athletes abilities as many will experience quicker development than other athletes this age.
You can begin to push the athlete with the pace of the drills as long as the athlete’s footwork is correct.
Remember, do not let speed come before the technique of the drill, the athlete will have much better success when putting the technique of the drill first.
The training session at this age can still be in the 15 minute range and is best performed when they are fresh near the start of the workout.
This age group can add the following drills:
- Hop scotch with a kick
- Jump cuts
- 2 in 2 out linear
15-18 Year Old Athlete
Once the athlete has reached the high school age, they have probably gone through agility ladders many times and are well versed in the drills.
If they have not done them before and compete in athletics, they should pick the drills up pretty quickly.
During this time, the ladder can be used as a secondary means for quickness and basic footwork drills to help develop that first step quickness for sport.
An athlete can You Tube agility ladder drills and find a tremendous amount of videos to help guide them through a training session.
I would recommend starting with the same drills as the 5-8 year old athlete would and build up to the more advanced exercises.
College / Professional Athlete
Many times at this age or place in life the ladder gets a bad rap of being a waste of time within the training session, I believe the ladder can be used for general warm up the same way a jump rope would be utilized.
This allows the athlete to reach back to where it started with their training, to repeat drills that they have been doing their entire life and to get into the right training mindset for that particular session.
What’s the Best Type of Agility Ladder
You really don’t have to get too fancy when it comes to an agility ladder (and you don’t need to spend a fortune either).
Here at our facility we use SKLZ Speed and Agility Ladders. SKLZ has become one of the leaders in speed and agility equipment. You can find them online and at most big box stores. They’re good quality and well priced.
Most agility ladders are essentially plastic ‘rungs’ held together by two pieces of nylon. They’re also all going to be roughly the same size and function the same.
The two main things to watch out for when it comes to buying an agility ladder is to avoid cheaply made ladders that have cheap, thin material.
Cheap, super light material will struggle to stay in place when you lay it out on the ground. (All ladders will move when kicked, but super light ladders will sometimes not even lay flat and extended.)
Also, cheap plastic rungs will break somewhat easily, especially if you are working on them in cleats.
However, a good quality ladder will last you for awhile. We’ve had ladders that have lasted us for 3 and 4 years and that’s with hundreds of athletes working on them every week.
For these reasons, it’s definitely worth spending just a few extra bucks and getting a good ladder that you’ll be able to use for a long time.
In conclusion, the ladder is a great tool for the young athlete to use for the development of body position, coordination, balance, and focus.
The drills prescribed can and should be repetitive at a young age and can progress with advanced exercises as the athlete demonstrates the correct aptitude of the basic drills.
As the athlete develops, the importance of the ladder may decrease in time but offers a very productive way to get the mind and body prepared for the upcoming training session.
To answer the question, Yes, the agility ladder is a good tool in the athlete’s tool box of training methods.