Q: I am preparing to play college football after this year and was wondering if i could get some help developing a lot more agility and speed. I want to really improve my overall first step quickness and lateral movement and agility. In order to improve my agility can I just sprint?

Unfortunately you need to do more then just sprint to get more agile. In fact a recent study demonstrated this. Thirty-six males were tested on a 30-meter straight sprint and 6 agility tests with each drill incorporating 2-5 changes of direction. The subjects participated in 2 training sessions per week for 6 weeks using 20-40- m straight sprints (speed) or 20-40-m change-of-direction sprints. (agility).

After the training period, the subjects were retested, and the speed training resulted in significant improvements in straight sprinting speed but limited gains in the agility tests. Generally, the more complex the agility task, the less the transfer from the speed training to the agility task. Conversely, the agility training resulted in significant improvements in the change-of-direction tests but no significant improvement in straight sprint performance.

The conclusion was that straight speed and agility training methods are specific and produce limited transfer to the other.

So you need to practice the specific movement patterns that you'll need to become agile AND fast. The basic strength qualities are the same though. Here's the basic idea for any sort've explosive development whether it's speed, agility, or vertical jump:

4-step progression for agility, speed, and vertical jump development

1. Get light on your feet and learn to move efficiently.

2. Integrate the ability to be light on your feet with the ability to use your hips and posterior chain efficiently.

3. Build power through a full range of motion. Bend your legs and descend into a full squat or a lunge. Now pay attention to the position your in. The more powerful you are in that full range position the more potential you will have up high. The point is that you want to get powerful down low and be able to absorb and transfer force there so that you can be even more powerful up high. This step is extremely important for agility development.

4. Carry that power up high.

If you just do those things you'll be ahead of 99% of everyone else and probably save years of wasted progress. For specific examples of what I'm talking about open up this link in a new window:

Speed-Strength Exercises

Click on the following pics on that page to see videos of exactly what I'm talking about above:

RFI SL Linear - (be light on your feet)

RFI low squat lateral and RFI SL Speed-Jumps - (both of these integrate being light on your feet with the ability to use your hips)

ADA lateral SS- (be able to absorb force down low)

RA SS 180- (be able to absorb, transfer, and put out force down low)

RA Lateral BL- (Carry it up top)

RA Lateral SJ- (Focus on power development up top)

Each exercise addresses a different need for explosive development and at varying times there is a need for all. Now that is just on the reactive side of the coin. Remember that strength serves as a foundation for reactive power so you will want to follow a similar progression with your strength work. Get strong down low (squat, split squat, lunge, etc.) and particularly in the hips and hamstrings (deadlifts, step-ups, glute ham raises, reverse hypers etc.) and then carry that strength into power development up high with explosive exercises (jump squats).

The aforementioned movements will build up your strength qualities while you're simultaneously phasing those enhanced qualities into your specific goal whether it's sprinting, agility, or vertical jump development.

Q: When working to a 3RM attempt, which is better:

bar x 8, 88 x 5, 110 x 5, 132 x 3, 154 x 1, 176 x 1, 198 x 1, 220 x 3

or sticking to 3 reps from 154 on? I reckon the 3's is better as gives a bit more volume esp on a 3RM, diff on a 1RM.

I would recommend for a 3rm attempt you do the following:

bar x 8, 88 x 5, 110 x 5, 154 x 3, 176 x 1, 198 x 1, 240 x 1, 220 x 3. So go up to a heavier single and then back down to 3 reps. You should be able to use more weight for your triple then you could otherwise. If you're after volume instead of just trying to get a max 3rm lift then I think sticking to 3 reps from 154 on would be fine. By the way, who uses increments of numbers like 88, 154, 176, and 198 lbs?! Must be one of those foreigners!

Q: What are the benefits of unilateral (single leg) exercises v bi-lateral (2-leg) for athletes?

Good question! Here are some of the benefits of unilateral exercises:

1. They are more sport specific. You rarely move in sport with both legs together.

2. You also get more local muscular recruitment. For example, do a set of dumbell curls to failure and once you reach failure see if you can continue curling one arm at a time. You will be able to because when working unilaterally you're able to induce a stronger neural stimulus into the contracting muscle.

3. You can balance out limb development and strength. Many people have one limb that is weaker then the other.

4. You can be more specific in how you want the exercise to work and even people with less then optimal biomechanics can benefit from the exercise. For example, with an exercise like a lunge you can easily shift emphasis to the quads by taking a short step, to the hamstrings by taking a long step, to the glutes by taking a long step and bending forward as you descent, and to the adductors by taking a step to the side. Many tall individuals or individuals with flexibility issues have trouble squatting correctly but they can almost always lunge properly and get the same benefits of the squat.

The drawbacks are one, since you have to work each limb individually you have to do twice as many sets to do the same amount of muscular work. Say you do 3 sets of 8 squats for a total of 24 reps. To get the same volume equivalency per leg in a lunge you'd have to do 48 total reps or 6 total sets. This can be tough.

The most important thing is the absolute whole body nervous system stimulation is less with unilateral variations. Say you have the option of squatting 500 lbs or doing lunges with 250 lbs. The lunges will provide more local muscle stimulation but the squats will provide more whole body stimulation. The squats tend to carry over and stimulate your whole body as well as other non-specific activities because they are like throwing a gigantic rock into a pond of water. The waves cover the entire pond. Think of your whole body as the pond. Uni-lateral exercises are like throwing a smaller rock into the same pool of water. They hit what you're aiming at but don't make big waves everywhere else.

A good way of combining both is to use primarily unilateral movements during the GPP and offseason phase, when you tend to be away from your sport. They will provide more sport specific activity which you'll be missing out on. Then use bilateral movements during the pre-season and season when there is no need to be overly specific.

Personally I like to incorporate both bilateral and unilateral exercises into the same workouts because they both provide benefits.

Q: You know in the last e-mail I sent you, I said there is no way for me to train for the 2 leg vert, like I simply can't get it up, but today I've found out (I'm almost 100% sure) that my right leg is the weak link into this problem. You see, when I jump from one leg I always use the left one since I'm right handed. Today I tried to jump off my right one just to see the difference. IT WAS HUGE! I mean with the left leg I get up 36 inches and with my right about 20 inches at the most. Off two legs I get up 25 inches I guess, so there is something like : 37 left, 25 both, 20 right. As you see the more I use my right leg the more my vert drops. My right leg's explosion is comparable to an half-dead old woman's right leg explosive ability!

You remember I said that I just lose my balance when jumping off two legs due (now I discovered) to this VERY HIGH power deficit between my legs (I mean the right and the left :> ). When I jump off both legs, I put the right first then my left ahead of the right and jump. This means I have the base leg my right leg - thus no explosion whatsoever. If I do the other way (with the right ahead of the left) I completely loose my balance. If I jump with the legs in parallel then I can get the most inches off two legs - 25. This is logic.

The point in all this is - how can the right leg come at least close to my left leg's explosive ability if there is such a HUGE difference between them? And what time to you predict it will take?

Thanks again for your time and keep up with such quality info!

Hey that's another good question. That's pretty common too especially when it comes to the one legged jump. I am not sure how explosive a half dead old womans right leg is supposed to be but here's the cure! For each and every set in the gym always do your weak leg first and do no more reps on your strong leg then you do with your weak leg. Also for explosive exercises do drop jumps where you step off a 25 inch box and land in a split squat lunge position with your right leg forward. Do split squat jumps where you get in a lunge position with your right leg forward and jump as high as possible. (see videos in the link above) You can do these explosive exercises throughout the day every day (all except the weight training) on a 5 days on 2 days off schedule for 2 weeks followed by once every 4 days for 2 weeks. By then you should have made substantial inroads into this deficit.

Also try this to verify what's going on. Stand on a box about 18 inches high and do a depth jump to the left....step off to the left, hit the ground, and as soon as you hit the ground jump up as high as possible. Next, do the same thing to the right and jump as high as possible. You will probably find yourself much more proficient when stepping off to the left. That's because the effect of gravity at impact requires more out of the outside leg when performing lateral depth jumps.