Let me start off by saying that every tool in the gym has it’s time and place and can be beneficial when used for the correct reasons. Ladders can be a great tool. In fact, I use them often with many of my clients. However, when it comes to developing speed and agility, the ladder falls short.
What is speed?
Speed is a combination of stride frequency and stride length. Basically, if you can take more steps with greater length, you will be faster. Now, a speed ladder, which is done at maximum speed, may help produce more frequent steps, but does not translate to speed development in the field. Why? Look at the picture of Mike Trout below:
The angle at which he is putting force into the ground is much more horizontal than any speed ladder drill. This makes sense because in order to steal a base or track down a fly ball, we need to move in a more horizontal direction to cover ground quickly.
Also, note how he is going through full hip flexion on the left leg and full hip extension on the right. This is crucial to get maximum power production from the biggest, strongest muscles in the body. In addition, this hip range of motion is a critical part of creating stride length. The problem here with ladders is that most speed ladder drills are done with limited hip range of motion.
What about agility?
Agility is defined as the body’s ability to change direction quickly. Agility depends on many different factors. The first is our ability to slow our body down. The faster we can slow the body down, the quicker we can transfer force to another direction. This braking system is crucial for the body to change direction. Ladders, which are usually done at a constant speed, don’t address the high forces that need to be slowed down in sports.
The other is our ability to react quickly. Speed ladders, which are done in a predictable pattern, don’t train our bodies to react to unpredictable stimuli.
What can speed ladders be used for?
As I stated in the beginning, speed ladders definitely have value as a training tool, just not for maximal speed and agility development. Here are 3 great uses for the ladder:
1. They are a great tool to use in a warmup for speed work. The get the body warmed up and moving in a predictable pattern.
2. Low level plyometric training- Hops through the ladder can be used to teach how to produce and absorb force. This can help create a foundation for higher level power work.
3. As a conditioning tool. Ladder drills can elevate the heart rate and act as a great overall cardio exercise.