Updated: Jul 6
Speed. Agility. Power. We understand their importance for sport, but those days are over, right?
Maybe you are on the wrong side of 40, and you have no desire to move quickly. Maybe you just want to build muscle and don't see how an agility drill is going to help you reach your goals. We tend to constrain ourselves based on short term goals and what we perceive as the easiest ways to accomplish said goals. But what about long term function?
Being able to move quickly is empowering. Sometimes we have to be in a rush to get somewhere. Other times the family volleyball game looks too fun to pass up. Just the peace of mind of knowing that you could participate in a challenging task without injury is freeing. We are designed to be able to move quickly. The unfortunate truth is that our level of function mimics the demands we place on our body. If we don't train fast, we won't be fast. If we don't work on agility and power, we won't be agile and powerful. And if we don't possess these qualities, we are handcuffing ourselves to a suboptimal level of function.
Why Train Power, Speed, and Agility?
Power is your ability to generate force quickly. Agility is your ability to react to a sound or a visual cue and change directions quickly. Speed is your ability to go from point A to B in the shortest amount of time possible. These three characteristics, along with strength training, allow you to recruit and utilize your fast twitch muscles to their potential. Fast twitch muscles are your large muscle fibers. These fibers respond well to large weights and fast movements and demand more energy/burn more calories. Want to fully develop these larger muscle fibers and avoid atrophy as you age? Want to optimize bone and tendon health? Move weight and move it quickly!
Aside from being a great way to burn calories, learning to activate muscle at a high rate optimizes function long term, specifically with fall prevention. As we age, we tend to calculate our movements. We move slower. We take smaller steps. We lose access to our fast twitch system. The issue is that when life calls on you to react and move quickly (i.e catching your toe on the rug), your fast twitch system is not conditioned to respond in time. If you can get comfortable generating force quickly, you won't be caught off guard when life inevitably calls on you to recruit these fast twitch muscles.
How Do I Train Like an Athlete Again?
Mix it up. Work on moving your feet quickly. Be explosive. There are endless ways to train speed, agility, and power so incorporating it into your training and fitness can be overwhelming. Find a professional to help guide you!
Here is a quick reference to get the wheels turning:
1) Increase the speed of exercises that you already do
Squats turn into squat jumps. A 30 minute jog turns into 10 minutes of 30 second sprint intervals. A kettlebell swing turns into a max effort, low rep exercise. Decrease sets and reps and see how powerful you can be with each and every rep.
2) Incorporate Plyometrics
Plyometrics are not just box jumps and squat jumps. Plyometrics are movements that require high force over a short period of time. Clapping pushups, med ball slams, double unders. These are all forms of plyometrics that require you to utilize the stretch shortening cycle (SSC). The SSC is the contraction of a muscle immediately following a stretch or lengthening of that muscle. Plyometrics, by nature, optimize this quality of our musculoskeletal system and prepare you for whatever life throws at you.
3) Challenge Your Footwork
Work on quick feet and transition through different planes of movement. Side to side. Rotation. Change of direction. Life is not linear. Incorporate movements that challenge dynamic stability and require you to move your feet quickly. Ladder drills, cone drills - You name it. Just change up the demands of your footwork.
Reaction time is an integral part of being an athlete and an even more integral part of optimizing our function as we age. Avoiding danger is largely attributed to your ability to react to a stimulus or perturbation. Just like everything else, this diminishes with age. Train your body to move upon a given stimulus, visual or auditory. In this example, I am creating my own stimulus with a med ball slam and bounding as the ball hits the ground. Get creative. React.