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Train like an athlete

Jamie Hale explains why we must not neglect the development of quickness and agility in our training programmes

People often speak about the almighty bench press but very rarely does anyone mention agility training, quickness training, and dynamic range of motion or qualities that influence performance. Treat the bench press as a supplementary movement. The majority of pressing movements should be ground-based overhead movements. These movements require more stability and have a better application for most sports.

Hip Mobility

Hip mobility is very important for athletes. This quality is a key component in agility movements and speed production. Hip mobility is important for general fitness enthusiasts as well. How many people do you know who have a hard time getting around due to tight hips? With sufficient hip mobility movement becomes easier including everyday functional tasks such as stepping over a gate. How many athletes and coaches focus on hip mobility? Any ground-based sport relies heavily on players having this capability. Refer to Coach Davies' hip mobility drills in his book 'Renegade Training for Football' for an in-depth and complete discussion on this subject.


Agility is defined as the ability to accelerate/decelerate quickly, as well as change direction rapidly while still maintaining balance. If you are involved in a sport that requires multi-directional changes, then it is obvious that agility and quickness are motor qualities you cannot afford to neglect. These are some of the non-equipped wide range of agility drills:

  • Backpedal
  • Side shuffle

A properly designed agility program can lead to dramatic changes in an athlete's movement ability in the field of play.


Let us not forget the role of quickness in athletic performance. There is an overlap between agility and quickness drills but they can be categorized accordingly. Quickness is a rapid movement and reaction time in response to a given stimulus. Quickness can be thought of as the first phase of speed. Quickness can be achieved through a variety of reaction drills, quick feet and quick hand drills. The main emphasis in these movements is instant reaction and movement time.

Try this to improve quickness

In your everyday activities attempt to perform them quicker than normal. I call this random quickness training. Your neuromuscular programs will begin to function more effectively in relation to quick movements. You learn to recruit high threshold fibres that contract very quickly. Agility and quickness are King in most sports.


For proper movement to occur in any plane of movement there must be a sufficient level of balance. Below are some key terms to familiarize yourself with concerning balance.

  • Balance -- the ability to maintain the centre of body mass over a base of support
  • Static Balance -- maintaining balance while holding a stationary position
  • Dynamic Balance -- maintaining balance while moving
  • Positive Angles -- proper positioning of the ankles, knees and hips in relation to the torso, creates a positive environment for efficient movement and balance
  • coordination -- a synergistic effect of various muscle groups for the production of a specific movement

When training static-balance hold positions for increasing amounts of time work on uncommon positions such as holding one leg out to the side while holding a barbell overhead with the opposite arm. Balance beam work should also be incorporated. To push the balance threshold then practice the movements on unstable surfaces.

Tire Hop balance exercise

The movement is performed on a big tire. The athlete begins bouncing with 2 feet on a tire. Then the athlete begins moving around the tire in a circular fashion. The athlete moves in the direction indicated by the coach. The athlete is constantly changing directions. Once the athlete becomes good with two feet then the movement is performed with one foot. As indicated above proper balance is necessary for any movement to be performed efficiently.


Speed training is an issue that is thoroughly misunderstood in the athletic community. Speed is important in sports but should not be overemphasized at the expense of agility and quickness training. When training for speed alter the distance and intensity of training.


Practice starting from various starting positions 3-point stance, 2-point stance, lateral stance etc. This will vary according to the athlete's sport, position and strength and weaknesses. Max velocity sprinting should not be done more than once per week in most cases.

Sub-maximal training may be performed 1 to 3 times per week. The type of sprint workout and duration is influenced by the training phase and the individual's recovery ability. On a final note, the key determinant of Max velocity sprinting is a vertical ground force. This implies an individual must be powerful to be fast.

Strength training

Strength training should not be dependent on absolute strength. Keep in mind power production is very important in the field of athletics. Being strong does not always equate to being powerful. Power refers to speed strength. If you develop the force slowly it will be worthless in the field of play. Power training involves moving weights at high velocities. If weight is moved at turtle-like speed, the power production is minimal. That said; understand absolute strength and power are different attributes.

Planning the training

Periodise the training of these qualities intelligently. Utilize various tools in your strength training programs such as kettlebells, dumbbells, barbells, Olympic lifts and non-conforming objects. Various tools stimulate different neuromuscular properties. Vary the routine often to avoid neural burnout and boredom.

Developing optimal endurance programs should include anaerobic endurance as well as aerobic endurance. The majority of sports are anaerobic, yet coaches have their athletes run 3 miles per day. This affects the athlete's power production, sprint mechanics, and teaches the neuromuscular system to function slowly. There are very few sports that require high volumes of aerobic activity. Endurance athletes such as cross-country skiers, marathon runners, mountaineers and few others require high volumes of aerobic activity.

On the other hand, football players, baseball players, boxers etc. spend too much time focusing on aerobic conditioning. These athletes should dedicate more time to interval type training. Sprints, fartlek etc. are very beneficial in these cases. Training for endurance is important, but training for the right type is just as important.

Just because you have been doing something for 10 years does not mean it is correct. That only means it will be harder to break the habit. Look at the big picture. Always emphasize quality over pure volume.

Article Reference

This article first appeared in:

  • HALE, J. (2006) Train like an athlete. Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 31 /April), p. 9-10

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • HALE, J. (2006) Train like an athlete [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Author

Jamie Hale is a Sports Conditioning Coach in the USA, member of World Martial Arts Hall of Fame and contributor to numerous exercise and sports journals.