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Although many people associate agility with athleticism, the need for it shows up when you do things like cross the street as the light changes, step over cracks in the sidewalk or walk on the moving platform at the airport. The level of agility you display during sports performance or functional activities of daily living depends on the ability of your deep core muscles to stabilize your trunk. A core- and agility-training program will improve your overall movement efficiency.
The agile athlete wows us with the ability to explosively initiate a movement, accelerate, decelerate or slow down when needed. That athlete will also be able to accelerate again and swiftly respond to external forces and stimuli without slowing down, losing balance or distorting postural alignment. The active core muscles will stabilize this alignment, and help the body remain centered and dynamically balanced under all circumstances. This sense of postural stability facilitates efficient and powerful movement patterns.
If you covet improved agility, include proprioception or body position awareness training in your trunk-stability exercise program. One-legged balances, performed with eyes closed, promote ankle proprioception, which in turn will improve your ability to maintain balance and quickly change direction on different types of terrain. Lifting your knee and the opposite arm overhead poses additional challenge for your trunk-stabilizing muscles. Master these exercises on stable ground, first with eyes open, then advance to doing them with your eyes closed. Once you're able to perform them without wobbling your upper torso, try the same movements while standing on a balance board or disc.
Agility exercises should evolve from your trunk-stabilization program. When you master the one-legged balance, have a friend toss you a medicine ball, and play a game of catch. Increasing the weight of the medicine ball intensifies the trunk-stabilization challenge. Kick it up a notch by performing the exercise on a balance device. Start with a two-legged balance, then gradually progress to one-legged drills. Jumping rope -- impossible to do without trunk stabilization -- also improves agility. The National Strength and Conditioning Association recommends cone drills. Set up some traffic cones and practice running around them -- include backpedaling and changes of direction.
Injury Prevention Study
An article written in 2004 and featured in the "Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy" compares two types of rehabilitation programs for hamstring injuries. The researchers recruited 24 athletes suffering from hamstring strains. They assigned 11 athletes to a static stretching and hamstring strength-training group. The other 13 participants performed progressive agility and trunk-stabilization exercises, such as planks, single-leg balances, lateral grapevine type movements and sideways hopping progressions. The agility training group had a faster return to sports and a lower re-injury rate.