Agility AKA Motor Control

Many people and companies claim to have specific workouts that will increase foot quickness, but here at SensorySpeed, we help our athletes and clients understand the mechanism to strengthen their confidence in themselves to move with more conviction and purpose. This week we go over the concept of agility, foot quickness, or what it really should be called, motor control.

What is Motor Control?
Motor control is how fast you can stop and start contracting your muscle. Yes, you can strengthen muscles for a little agility, but if you have no motor control, it’s like driving a car with no steering wheel or brake pads. When people have a ton of agility, it can be observed by fast foot movement; they are moving their feet fast because they can take short quick steps by starting and stopping quickly. See the video below:

Role of Genetics
Of course with most things in the human body, genetics can be a huge factor in quickness. Genetic factors include length of limbs and muscle fiber type. Although this is true, they are not enormous factors, and there are other ways to train. Below are ways to develop a good agility program.

Direction of Movement
Sports are multi-directional, so it is important to develop a drill in different directions (linear, lateral, diagonal, etc.). Muscles need to be able to start and stop quickly in different directions by activating certain muscle fibers for each direction.

Magnitude of Range of Motion (ROM) 
Sports are unpredictable, so one may have to raise the legs high or keep them low to ovoid obstructions or to initiate a movement. For this reason, drills should include sets where you raise your knees high, or intentionally keep them low.

Precision of Movement
This perhaps might be the most important part of motor control as it is directly focused on control of movement. When developing an agility program, one must focus on control during a drill. For example, if one is jumping back and forth laterally over a line, are they just jumping to random spots, or are aiming for specific points on the ground? With novices, random movements occur more frequently. A well-designed program has athletes focus on a certain foot location to develop control.

Equipment for Agility
Below are two common types of equipment used for agility exercises, and how they work.

 – Resistance Bands – Resistance bands cause the legs to move faster when moving them closer to the body. This helps with quickness because the body needs to adapt to this change, and learn how to start and stop muscles when external force is applied. 

Additionally, in physics, it has been proven that if resistance is applied farther from the axis of rotation of a lever, it is harder to move the lever. In this case, the axis of rotation is the hip joint, and the lever is the entire leg. This means that the further the resistance band is down the leg (foot being the extreme), the more difficult it will be to move.

 – Strength Shoes/Jumpsoles – Jumpsoles or strength shoes are weighted equipment added to the shoe or that replace the shoe entirely. These can increase vertical jump and quickness, because it keeps you on the balls of your feet which aids in speeding up the Stretch-Shortening Cycle (SSC) of the calf muscles, but we will go more into that in another post. The main reason it increases quickness is because of what we mentioned above. It adds more resistance to the furthest point of the lever, your leg. This forces you to train your muscles by actively figuring out how fast and how hard you need to contract feet to accurately step in a particular spot.Although we use these in certain phases, this is not the end-all-be-all of our program. We use equipment in our program, but do not program around our equipment (as we believe we never should).

Testing
Testing is very important to measure if an athlete is getting better. When developing your own test, or trying out a program, pay attention to how the test AND train. Many trainers or companies test a certain drill, train the same drill, and then re-test the same drill again. For example, a trainer may test the icky shuffle (footwork move), train the icky shuffle, and then test the icky shuffle all in the same drill. In this case, the athlete is getting better at the test because they are practicing the same movement being tested in the exact same drill; of course they will improve at it. At SensorySpeed, we train these movements in many different drills and varying cognitive load (stress) factors to ensure our athletes have a valid and reliable test. Our athletes improve in these tests showing legitimate improvements in quickness.

This information may be tedious and overwhelming, but we ensure all our coaches understand the physiology and science behind how the body works and adapts. Be sure to ask your trainers questions, so you understand why you are performing certain exercises.