Agility ladders, a staple of sports training when victory can hang on the athlete's ability to turn quickly, have moved into mainstream gyms where fitness experts say they are helping everyday exercisers be nimble and quick.
Jumping, running, marching and hopscotching through the grids on the floor have become an added feature in personal training and group fitness classes.
Will Elson, personal training manager at New York Health and Racquet Club in New York City, said the ladders also make a great addition to circuit training and can help to strengthen joints, ligaments and tendons while elevating the heart rate.
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"It boosts cardio with fast foot strikes and knee lifts, while incorporating balance and joint stability," said Elson. "It also has the benefits of working on co-ordination. And it's fun in a confined space."
Agility is the ability to change the body's position quickly, efficiently and with control. A study in the December 2013 issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that agility training can also enhance cognitive skills, such as memory and vigilance.
Elson likens agility training to learning a new language.
"It's a great exercise to force someone to focus, to learn a movement pattern and be able to execute it without looking down," he said. "The body is learning something new."
Jonathan Ross, spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise, believes agility training is also a valuable skill for non-athletes.
"It actually develops eye-foot coordination where you're able to move through a discretely defined space," explained the Washington DC-based trainer and author of "Abs Revealed."
"Most people don't target foot placement," he added. "Most people will look down but in sports you can't be looking down. You have to focus upward."
Foot drills on agility ladders can range from simple walking between rungs to complex skipping of spaces and sideways shuffles. But Ross suggests conquering two or three basic drills before tackling new ones.
"A common mistake is going too quick too soon," he said. "It's like riding a bike. People get nervous about making a mistake but it's not that difficult to learn as long as they don't get too stuck in their own head."
Elson also warned that all agility ladders are not same and there is no standard size.
"One needs to take into account the height of the person and the size of the boxes," he said.
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