Regardless of the client or athlete I’m working with, a proper dynamic warm-up will always be included in their training session for the day. I feel a good warm-up will help with injury prevention and prepare the body for the rest of the workout. Mobility drills, activation exercises, stability training, and movements to help increase the heart rate make up the majority of the routine. One tool I use on occasion to help increase heart rate and challenge footwork and coordination is the “agility” or “speed” ladder. Fitness equipment companies, like ‘Perform Better’, have different ladders to choose from if you are looking to get your own. If the budget it tight, simply grab some electric tape and tape out some boxes on the floor.

 Benefits of the ladder include:

  1. Multi-planar coordination
  2. Increased heart rate and blood flow throughout the body
  3. Increased mind-body connection…helps to get us focused

All of these are key benefits to incorporate into a proper warm up routine. Notice I didn’t say that the ladder is great for increasing your agility or your speed. Despite the popular terms used to describe the ladder, I think they are a bit misleading. I prefer effective bodyweight drills and movements, as well as strength training, to improve an athlete’s agility and speed.

The biggest issue I have with the ladder is the body position it puts you in; specifically, your head. This clip below will further explain the issue. In the indoor shots in the video, I did not give my two MMA athletes any cues prior to these ladder drills; I simply told them to move laterally and put both feet in each box. Yes, they are fast, but notice their head position…eyes are looking straight down. I don’t know about you, but if I’m an MMA athlete I think I’d rather keep my eyes up on my opponent. That holds true for all sports…if you are a football player or basketball player, you want to be looking down field or court respectively. You want to see the playing field in front of you in order to make the best play possible. Looking down at your feet worrying about tripping is not an athletic position.

Having said that, I still like to incorporate the ladder occasionally for the benefits listed at the beginning of the article. In order to remedy the “head position” issue, I use a couple different strategies that you see in the video clip. Again, I did not give the athletes any cues here nor did I tell them why I was filming their ladder drills. I wanted to see if these strategies would work without them knowing what I was trying to accomplish. By the looks of the clip, it does.

The outdoor shots just show you a larger group of individuals performing a variety of ladder drills. When I use the ladder, I typically include 10-12 drills that will cover all 3 planes of motions; sagittal, frontal, and transverse. This should only take 2-3 minutes to complete. Some movements include the “solutions” I mentioned above and some do not. I switched it up on the athletes intentionally so you could get another look at their head positioning. In this outdoor session, the athletes performed a number of additional drills and you can still play catch or have them call out a number regardless of the drill they are performing.

1. Play Catch – Using any ball (I used a tennis ball and a stability ball), simply play catch with the athlete while they are performing the ladder drill of choice. This will force them to keep their head up and also work on eye-hand coordination at the same time.

2. Hand Gestures – If you don’t have a ball at your disposal, put your hand up and flash different numbers while they perform the drill. Have them yell out the number and keep changing it up to keep them “on their toes”…so to speak.

At the end of the day, your body alone is all you need to accomplish a number of your fitness goals. I love fitness equipment, toys, and gadgets as much as the next guy and I feel they are a nice complement to bodyweight training. I think it’s important to have many “tools in your toolbox”. Ladder drills should be included in the dynamic warm up phase of a complete strength and conditioning program on occasion to change things up and keep it fresh. Just be sure to use proper form and don’t stare down at your feet…you have the same shoes on that you had when you started your workout.


About Doug
Doug Balzarini, CSCS, MMA-CC, is the owner of DB Strength, which provides fitness training, education, and resources. He is also the strength and conditioning coach for Alliance MMA where he works with UFC Champion Dominick Cruz, Phil Davis, Brandon Vera, Travis Browne, Ross Pearson, Alexander Gustafsson, and more. Prior to starting his own business, Doug worked at Fitness Quest 10 as a personal trainer, strength coach, and Operations Director for Todd Durkin Enterprises (TDE).
He has completed some graduate work in Biomechanics at SDSU and has obtained multiple certifications including ACE, NSCA-CSCS, MMA-CC, TRX instructor training, EFI Gravity instructor training, LIFT Sandbag Certification, and FMS training. He has produced his own 2-DVD set on strength training for combat athletes, appeared in many fitness videos and articles, and was recently a coach on “The Ultimate Fighter” TV show.

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