January 8, 2018

The Proper Use of Ladders During a Workout

We are probably all way too familiar with ladder drills. Most of us may recall doing countless rounds of them during high school or college practices back in the day. In the modern world of workouts are these drills still relevant?

I have many coaches ask me how they can properly incorporate ladders into their workouts and question what benefits they have for their athletes. 

The first thought that comes to many people’s minds with ladder drills is the fact they develop speed. Is it true that ladders develop speed? Let’s dive into the proper use of ladders during a workout session. 

The Proper Use of Ladders During a Workout, Athletes' Training Center

Ladder drills can be broken down into a few simple categories.

  • Is the movement linear or lateral?
  • Does the movement involve hops (jumps) or taps (one foot touching at a time).

Other drills can certainly become more complex, especially if a stimulus is added, but the basic drills will mostly all fall into these categories.

Do ladder drills develop speed?

The answer is no. Speed is defined as ‘distance traveled per unit of time’, so when talking in sports performance terms about increasing one’s speed a person must increase the force produced with the ground that propels the body forward.

To develop force production, it will be wise to look into explosive exercises such as deadlifts, hang cleans, snatches, or broad jumps. All of these exercise will help develop a person into a more explosive athlete.

With the ladder a person’s feet are certainly moving quickly, but power isn’t necessarily being developed. Without a stimulus, it can be fairly easy for an experienced athlete to memorize the patterns of ladder drills.

This does not mean we should all throw our ladders away and let them become a thing of the past. Ladders can serve an important purpose for a great workout.

When to use a ladder drill

They are great tools to use during a warm-up. They can be used to elevate a person’s heart rate and activate the central nervous system. They can also be good tools for cardio. If a person is able to move quickly enough through the ropes there is no doubt the person’s heart-rate will increase, thus improving his or her cardiovascular endurance.

In closing, be careful when using the ladder. Use it the correct way during a workout, such as in the warmups or post-session cardio burns. Avoid teaching ladder drills as a method of developing speed because more explosive lower body exercises will prove to be much more efficient.

Written By: Gus Thiel, BS, FMS-L1SP Performance Coach

4 Comments on “The Proper Use of Ladders During a Workout

January 8, 2018 at 5:39 pm

Nice article Gus!

What do is the benefits from hops vs taps?

Do you recommend mixing the two when doing a drill?

Athletes' Training Center
January 8, 2018 at 7:48 pm

Thanks for the question Dennis!
Hops can be utilized to test balance, coordination and landing technique. Generally people can utilize the taps taps during a ladder workout to challenge their footwork and to increase their heart rate, as they are moving their body more quickly. Both have countless benefits. We suggest mixing the two just to add variety!

Kellan Asher
September 24, 2021 at 12:45 pm

I’ve recently incorporated agility ladders into my 9 year old son’s football training in additional body weight exercises(he’s too young for weights). This is the first article I’ve come across that has stated it wont help with speed and agility. It may not increase your overall speed, but I dont understand how it wont make your footwork quicker and help with coordination in sports. I’m sure you know about training athletes much better than I do,but I cant help but think this article downplays agility ladders and fails to acknowledge all the benefits of doing agility ladder drills. Yes, it’s a good cardio but that’s cant be the only benefits gained, nor is it the best cardio. I’ve already noticed significant improvement in my son’s athletic performance using these.

January 24, 2022 at 6:33 pm

Kellan, Thank you so much for your response! While there may be some benefit to athletes to use ladders, for us the juice isn’t worth the squeeze, so to speak. We have used ladders in very specific instances, or for warm-ups to help prime the central nervous system. It is by no means a central part of our training. If we’re looking to develop speed, ladders aren’t very effective because the drill doesn’t allow us to put as much force into the ground – which is one of the biggest factors of speed. If we’re looking to develop agility or the ability to change direction quickly and effectively, ladders aren’t the most effective tool because of the predictable nature of the drill. If I rehearse the ladder drill enough, I can remember the drill and do it quite well.

That being said, sport is very chaotic and unpredictable. We practice the fundamental movement patterns, such as crossing over, deceleration, cuts, etc. and then incorporate them into more dynamic and unpredictable drills. If we look at the movement patterns typically associated with ladders we’re not certain they directly transfer to many sports. Let’s say we’re going forward, 2-feet in each box, or laterally 2-feet in each box. These short, choppy movements aren’t often seen in sport. In fact, almost all ladder drills promote short, choppy steps. The only time I see similar quick steps is in deceleration. Even in that instance, it’s only a few quick steps vs. a full ladder length of choppy steps. That’s where we choose a more specific drill to work on decelerating, and accelerating. Even a fun game of red light-green light can be an effective drill to teach that specific movement pattern.

We are excited to see that you’ve seen improvement in your son’s performance. That could have been a good tool for his early athletic development, but we believe as he gets older he may need more specific drills to continue building on his progress. If you’d like, we can steer you to other articles that support our findings. Thanks!


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