With the warmer weather finally starting here in Canada, outdoor sports are starting. With this comes the over and misuse of 1 particular training tool, the Speed/Agility ladder. Proponents of them make some serious claims of ladders will make you faster, and that they will improve your change of direction ability. The truth is, NEITHER of these claims are true in any regard. So then what usefullness do these ladders have?
Speed/Agility ladders have next to no use for varsity and professional level athletes or over the age of 16. Their effectiveness is only shown for motor skill development in younger athletes who are learning how to use their still growing bodies. What I mean by this, is younger athletes' brains are like a sponge for learning motor patterns and figuring out how their body moves in the first place. So by challenging them to coordinate their limbs in a non-regular manner like in walking or running, they become better at adapting to situations faster like a stutter step.
The other redeeming quality for young athletes to use the ladder is that it can create a fun way to strengthen the supporting structures in and around the ankle. What this does is improve the ability to avoid rolling and spraining the ankles in a game, one of the most common injuries in sports. A more efficient and beneficial way to train this would be to perform very short but fast, repetitive hops. At the same time factoring in side to side hops as well. A second way is including different "special walks" (ie. on toes, heels, outside of foot) as a warm up and cool down activity. Especially when dealing with a team because you can have everybody going together! As for varsity and professional athletes, the ONLY use for the speed/agility ladder is as a warm up tool but there are better ways to do this as well.
The most ludicrous claim is that they increase foot speed and make you faster. FALSE! They only make you good at ladder drills, that's it! I don't see and never will see Usain Bolt, or other top sprinters in the world using a ladder to make them faster. The simple reason is because it doesn't! (more on what makes you faster in an upcoming article).
As for the claim of making you more "agile" and having better lateral movement, again this is false. At no point in a game will a player have the time to go thru a coordinated and scripted stepping pattern to either deke, crossover, cut or to avoid contact. The only true way to train for this is game situations in practice, not ladder drills or cone step over drills. That's because these scenarios are situational, not scripted. So practice situations instead and you will have much better results.
The main reason ladders are so popular in sports, particularly Soccer and is a preconceived myth of improving foot work and because they look cool. The other aspect is that the culture of the sport keeps them around but yet they do not get you results! So if your Strength & Conditioning Coach/Trainer takes one out for speed or agility training, do yourself a favor, save your money, and fire them. They have shown they're excellent salemen, BUT, have no idea what they are doing, are incompetent and are out to steal your money.
Train smart to get maximal results!