The ultimate reason why you want to improve your agility is to optimize your power because speed, distance over time, is one component of power (force x distance/time) and if we can increase the speed component then we will optimize power as well.
Find out more about agility training: how to improve tennis specific agility.
The other component of optimizing power (force x distance/time) is increasing force output, which we do in the strength room.
Chapter 6: Resistance Training for Athletes of Advanced Concepts of Strength & Conditioning for Tennis deals with optimizing the force output component and chapter 7 SAQ Training: Developing Speed, Agility and Quickness shows you how to enhance the speed component.
If you want more info on the force component then take a look at why weightlifting for tennis players makes sense or watch the video:
Why Developing Agility Via Speed Ladder Drills?
Many tennis players and coaches believe that agility, your ability to change direction explosively while controlling your body and minimizing any loss in overall speed, depends mainly on your genetic predisposition.
That thought process is simply incorrect because you can train your nervous system to handle synchronized tennis specific skill sets, such as hitting a forehand approach shot while looking at your opponent’s court positioning and attacking the net.
Every athlete has the ability or potential to improve their agility if they are training properly!
It’s certainly true that some athletes have better agility than others; same as there are some athletes who have better shots than others.
Either way, it doesn’t mean that you cannot improve the status quo with proper training.
Speed ladder drills can be used to work on footwork (speed), coordination and dynamic balance. Improvements in all three areas will lead to improved performance on the tennis court.
Volume of Speed Ladder Drills Matters
Now in order to cause neural adaptations, meaning training your nervous system so that you can perform better on the court, you have to teach your nervous system how to do it, which takes a lot of repetitions and hence time.
How much time is needed depends on your aptitude for change – some call it talent.
Generally speaking it takes athletes weeks to see agility improvements on the court. Therefore I recommend you implement agility training regularly into your training program!
In order to improve speed economy and footwork we can use various speed ladder drills.
They are great in teaching your nervous system how to move faster and you can also integrate them into your tennis training!
The following videos shows you how to do just that:
Should you improve footwork first or maybe something else?
Find out more and read Tennis Footwork: How Import Is It?
Since volume is a key factor in reaching neural adaptations I recommend that you use a long speed ladder, preferably as long as the sideline of the tennis court, so you can optimize neural rehearsal.
How to Develop Agility Via Speed Ladder Drills
First you want to teach the movement mechanics of each speed ladder drill so that the athlete becomes familiar with it.
The focus is on perfect execution, not speed!
Speed Ladder Drills: Stage 1
This means the athletes will look to the ground while moving through the speed ladder.
This way the nervous system can use visual data to learn and cause neural adaptations.
This is just stage 1 of the process because visual data processing in the brain takes time.
The information pathways are rather long, and it’s not tennis-specific yet since you don’t look to the ground while hitting shots and moving on the tennis court.
Stage 2: Look Forward
Once you master the movement mechanics and can move rapidly through the speed ladder it’s time to implement stage 2 of the speed ladder drills:
keep your head up and look forward.
Now we have no more visual data available, which means we have shorter neural pathways, which makes the neural transmission faster since the information are no longer moving to and processed by the brain.
Instead the information are sent to the spinal cord and the neural pathways are reflexive in nature, which is what we want.
Because a reflexive response is extremely fast, which means you can move your feet even faster!
Ensure that you move through the speed ladder in perfect form while gradually increasing the speed.
Stage 3: Track an Opponent or Object
Now this is the final tennis-specific phase of the speed ladder drills. Here we are moving through the sped ladder in perfect form, while tracking an object (e.g. tennis ball) or opponent.
For example, you can have the athlete catch and throw tennis balls while going through the speed ladder.
The main goal of the speed ladder drills and agility training is to control your body while moving at the fastest speed possible.
Doing so will optimize your athletic capabilities so that they translate into peak performance on the tennis court.