HIIT and Agility in One App. A Perfect Match!

On November 9, 2012, Zigyt 2.0 was released. The whole idea behind Zigyt 2.0 was to combine High Intensity Interval Training with Zigyt’s already gut busting agility drills. This post will tell you more about the new release.

HIIT is all the rage right now. Take a look at the Google trend for HIIT:

Just a fad? Maybe. But research indicates that there are good reasons to include HIIT in your workout regime (more on this in later post).

Me? I just happen to like workouts that take less time and really push me to the max. I call it ‘blowing out the pipes’.

Now when I came across HIIT a couple of years ago, I quickly discovered that it doesn’t matter what you do in the High Intensity Interval phase just as long as it gets you working as hard as possible; to your max! Perfect for agility drills, I thought, as many of them already get one’s lungs and heart pumping. So, I set about adding intervals to Zigyt.

In Zigyt 2.0, all the drills can be done in intervals. You can set a High Intensity Interval duration, a Low Intensity Interval duration, and the number of intervals to do. In doing HIIT, I’ve found that it’s handy to have a countdown timer so I can see how much time is left in any interval. So back on the run screen, if you tap the elapsed timer window, it will change to a countdown timer. Next to the lower right corner of the timer window, you also get a counter of the number of intervals.

So what drills make the best HIIT workouts? It’s up to you to experiment and find out. If you’re training for a sport then it makes sense to train with a drill that mimics the activity of that sport. For general fitness I like the 5 Star drill and the Box drill. For squash and tennis, obviously the squash and tennis specific drills are perfect.

Have fun playing with your new Zigyt and happy training!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Warm Up with Dynamic Flexibility Exercises

The question is how best to warm up for dynamic sports and for the challenging nature of agility training? What I’ve been doing until now is some static stretches for the ham strings, calf muscles and groin, and a jog around the playing field to warm up my muscles and joints. Turns out that static stretching may not be the best thing to be doing before engaging in a vigorous activity. Dynamic flexibility exercises may be better.

I came across dynamic flexibility exercises while researching a blog post on agility training for tennis. Here’s what the authors of “Development of Speed, Agility and Quickness for Tennis Athletes” (1) had to say:

Dynamic flexibility refers to active range of motion within a full range of motion in a joint or joints.

What?

The authors continue:

It has several benefits such as improved coordination, balance, proprioception and movement speed.

Sounded good, so I did a bit more digging. Paul Roetert, PhD writes in “Dynamic Flexibility and Strength Training in Tennis” (2):

Dynamic Flexibility Training – A series of activities or exercises designed to increase body temperature and heart rate while stretching muscles through normal movement patterns.

Sounding even better.  Roetert goes on to explain that dynamic flexibility exercises differ from static flexibility exercises such that with static exercises one is typically “stretching a muscle or muscle group until [the athlete] feels a slight tension and then holding that position for 15-30 seconds” (2).

Roetert provides a great list of the benefits of dynamic flexibility exercises which I’m just going to paste in here:

  1. The gradual and progressive warming of the body’s temperature and increase in heart rate.
  2. A gradual increase in the elasticity of muscles and tendons by actively stretching the muscle, using movement.
  3. The incorporation of balance, coordination and strength components.
  4. The incorporation of movement techniques that might otherwise require a specialized practice session.
  5. Developing coordination and readying the player mentally by focusing on specific movement patterns and body control.
  6. Using muscles in “patterns” that players might find themselves in during a match.

Turns out there are dozens of different kinds of dynamic flexibility exercises. These are really just simple warm up routines that prepare the joints and muscles for the main event. Here are some examples of such exercises taken from “Dynamic Flexibility Part 1: What is it?” (3) :

Lunge - Step forward with one leg keeping your upper body straight and diving your knee into the ground. There should be about 2 and a half feet between your feet and you should feel the burn in your hamstrings and quads.

Side Bend – Bend at the waist from one side to the other keeping your torso straight and using only your obliques to pull you up. Best when done with an exercise ball for added mobility.

Frankenstein Walk - Just as they sound, put your arms straight out and kick your toes up to your hands as far as you can trying not to bend at the knee. This gets your hip more flexible and works your legs at the same time.

High Knees – While trying to run kick your heels up to your butt or around your waistline if you can while pumping the opposite arm. Great mobility enhancer for all the joints in your lower body. These are not about distance so do not try and cover the 15-20 yards quickly.

Jumping Jacks – Ah how we all love this arcane exercise. Try some variation to keep things new by having your arms in front of you instead of above or crossing your legs instead of just spreading them. Anything you can think of.

Back Pedaling – Run backwards making sure you are not dragging your heels or toes on the ground. Great for your calves and the muscle that wraps in front of your shins.

Scorpion – Lie face down on the ground with arms extended to your sides, palms facing down, so your body forms a mock T shape. Keeping this facedown position and keeping your shoulders flat on the ground, bring your left heel and swing it back towards your right hand. Repeat for the other leg.

High Knee Skipping – Just as we did when we were little go and skip! Only difference is with each skip try and bring your knee up as high as you can exploding of your toes with each skip.

Side Lunges - Get in a low athletic position, like a wide squat almost. Step to the side with one leg maintaining the same athletic position and not getting any taller. Much like I envision a ninja looks like. Yes you are the NINJA! Now step together with the other leg. Switch sides and repeat for the distance. These mega burn the glute and quads!

Of course a picture is worth a thousand words so here is a link to a great video that demonstrates a dynamic flexibility warm up: Dynamic Stretches for Runners.

Lastly, what about static stretching? It’s purpose, according to Roetert, is to keep muscles from tightening up, keep them working through their proper range of motion. There is a time for static stretching but apparently it is NOT right before your game or workout. Get this: Research has shown that static stretching can lead to a decrease in muscle strength that can last up to 2 hours!

I plan on trying out some dynamic flexibility exercises before my agility training sessions. I’ll let you know in a future blog post which ones I like. Until then…

Happy training!

References for this Post:

  1. Parsons, Lori S. and Jones, Margaret T., Development of Speed, Agility and Quickness for Tennis Athletes, Strength and Conditioning, June 1998, pp.14-19.
  2. Roetert, Paul E., PhD, Dynamic Flexibility and Strength Training in Tennis, 14th ITF Worldwide Coaches Workshop, Turkey, 2005
  3. Alex, Dynamic Flexibility Part 1: What is it?, AITank: Fitness Explained, Blog Post, December 8, 2009.
Posted in Fitness, Training for Tennis | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Agility, Plyometrics and Preventing Injury in Soccer (Football)

Agility

The need for an effective soccer player to possess a high degree of agility would seem to

Comment on Agility in Football Apearing in FC Business Magazine

go without saying. However, for the record, we shall say it.

From Science and Soccer: “The dynamic nature of soccer requires the possession of not only speed but agility” (1).

Or “A look at any football game, at any level, clearly demonstrates the importance of quality movement” (2).

And in a recent press release, “Agility is everything. Football is only agility. The aim of any training programme in football should have the end aim of improving agility. In fact it should be the beginning and the end of all fitness programmes. In a game that depends so heavily on agility (in the form of players changing direction at high speed) developing the areas that contribute to agility (strength, flexibility and speed) is key to the overall development of agility in players” (3).

Enough said.

Plyometrics

Plyometrics is a type of exercise designed to produce fast, powerful movement. In soccer, power comes from the legs. So one would expect that plyometric drills designed to improve leg power would improve one’s soccer performance. Thomas et al. demonstrated that this indeed seems to be the case (4).

Their study looked at the effect of plyometric training on the agility of 12 young male soccer players of approximately 17 years of age. The group was divided into two, each group doing a different type of plyometric training over a 6 week period. One group did depth jumps and the other trained in countermovement jumps. In both cases, agility improved significantly when compared to the player’s initial agility test scores.

This result would seem to support what was reported in the blog post Agility is its Own Skill. Namely, that improving leg muscle strength and power will have an impact on agility.

[Shameless Plug Alert! Zigyt features a number of versions of the Dot Drill, which is a form of plyometric exercise.]

Preventing Injury

One study looked at the effect of preseason conditioning on reducing the level of injuries in female soccer players (5). Three hundred girls between the ages of 14 and 18 were studied. The preseason training program comprised sport-specific cardiovascular conditioning, plyometric work, sport cord drills, strength training, and flexibility exercises to improve one’s speed and agility. The study showed that the preseason training had a significant impact on the prevention of injuries. The incidence of injury in the group that received training was 57% smaller than in the group that received no preseason training!

Happy Training!

References for this Post:

  1. Reilly,T and Doran, D. Fitness assessment.In: Science and Soccer (2nd ed.). Reilly T. and Williams, M.A. eds. Routledge, 2003. p39.
  2. Jeffreys, Ian,  Movement Training in Football,  for the UK Strength and Conditioning Assoc.
  3. Kolokythas, Nico, Press release appearing in FC Business Magazine, Issue 51, March/April 2011, p.68.
  4. Thomas, Kevin, French, Duncan and Hayes, Philip. The Effect of Two Plyometric Techniques on Muscular Power and Agility in Youth Soccer Players, The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 23(1), January 2009.
  5. Heidt, Robert S. Jr., Sweeterman, Lisa M., Carlonas, Richelle L., Traub, Jeff A. and Tekulve, Francis X. Avoidance of Soccer Injuries with Preseason Conditioning, Am J Sports Med 2000 28: 659.
Posted in General Agility, Training for Soccer | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Agility is its own Skill

Research has determined that athletic agility is something that needs to be specifically trained in order to improve upon. In other words, you don’t get agility for free when training for something else like sprinting. That’s the subject of this post.

Before getting into the meat of the post, I need to elaborate a bit on the definition of athletic agility that I’m using here. From blog post # 2, athletic agility is:

“a rapid whole-body movement with change of  speed or direction in response to a stimulus”

So there are really two parts to agility: 1) The brain’s ability to figure out how to respond to the stimulus and 2) The reaction itself, a  quick change of movement. Researchers measure one’s ability to execute the movement in terms of Change of Direction Speed or CODS. The research I’ll be reporting on relates CODS to different training modalities.

Straight Speed

The research shows that there is no correlation between the speed one can run at (sprint) and the speed with which one can change direction (CODS) (1). Furthermore, the research shows that training for sprinting speed does not improve your agility in terms of CODS.

Strength and Power in Leg Muscles

It seems reasonable to expect that strong, powerful legs would have a significant impact on one’s agility. However, the studies don’t entirely bear this out. In terms of shear power (strict definition of power is energy output per interval of time), the research reports a low to moderate correlation to CODS (1). This means that training for muscle strength and power will provide some improvement in agility but it’s not the whole story.

Technique

Can you think of any activity where technique doesn’t matter? Of course it matters. It’s just that the research into the best techniques to optimize one’s agility hasn’t been done. If I find some, I’ll let you know. For now, the experts reason that a low center of gravity and a forward lean is a good thing (2).

Perception and Decision Making

As I started out this post by saying, agility isn’t just about how fast you can change direction or speed. It’s also about how fast you can make a decision about what to do next. Ironically, most agility training exercises involve running around, through or between obstacles such as cones, ladders, lines, etc… in a planned, known pattern. This kind of exercise trains one’s CODS but not one’s reactive or anticipatory skills (1).

[Now, here is something that is my opinion (i.e.: not one of a fitness professional or researcher): The planned agility exercises don't train one's core or proprioceptor muscles for a quick response. Why? Because you know what's coming and so your body doesn't have to adjust to a quick change.]

The aspect of agility we are talking about here is the athlete’s ability to respond quickly to an unplanned requirement to change direction or speed. The research shows that this ability improves if the athlete can pick up cues (most likely visual information) from the field of play and use those to anticipate the change required in the next split second (3). For example, a cue could be the position of an opponents body which limits the opponents choices of action. This provides enough information that the more advanced athlete can anticipate what’s coming and has a fraction of a second to ready his/herself for the change required. Further, it is reasoned that the more closely the cues used in agility training resemble the cues of the actual athletic situation, the better will be the anticipatory response of the athlete (1).

Conclusion

The research shows that to improve on one’s agility, one has to train for agility specifically. This means training with exercises that challenge one’s ability to change direction and speed quickly and preferably when the change can’t be planned by the athlete. The training would be better still if it incorporated cues specific to the sport that the athlete could then use to quickly anticipate the required change.

Happy training!

References for this Post:

  1. Young, Warren and Farrow, Damian. A Review of Agility: Practical Applications for Strength and Conditioning, Strength and Conditioning Journal, October 2006, 28(5), 24-29.
  2. Sheppard, J.M. and Young, W.B. Agility literature review: Classifications, training and testing, Journal of Sports Sciences, September 2006; 24(9): 919 – 932.
  3. Abernethy, B., Wann, J., and Parks, S., Training perceptual motor skills for sport. In: Training for Sport: Applying Sport Science. B. Elliott, ed., Chichester: John Wiley, 1998. pp. 1–68.
Posted in General Agility | Leave a comment

Athletic Agility Defined

I don’t know if the world of fitness professionals, academics, sports psychologists, etc… agree on a definition of agility in the field of sports and athletics. I briefly mentioned a few in my first blog post. But since the majority of subsequent posts will be on the subject of athletic agility, I thought I should go for a more complete definition. And since I don’t think the profession has a standard, agreed upon, definition, I’m going with what seems to be the most recent AND that makes good sense with me (it’s my blog, I’m allowed to do that!).

This definition comes from a pair of sports research scientists in Australia:

“a rapid whole-body movement with change of velocity or direction in response to a stimulus” (1)

Wow! So what does it mean? Let’s break it down. “Rapid whole-body movement”. “Rapid” means quick, got it. “Whole-body”. Interesting. One’s whole body is involved in getting the job done, not just the legs, torso, arms, feet, back, etc… but the whole body working in concert. This includes the brain, but we’ll get to that.

Let’s keep going. “Change of velocity or direction”. There is change involved: Change in speed means acceleration or deceleration: speeding up, slowing down rapidly. It can also mean a sudden change of direction, some evasive maneuver perhaps.

Now the really interesting part: “in response to a stimulus”. What does that mean? It means that something has to happen to cause you to change your movement. There’s a reason to zig, cut, sprint, etc… and the movement is executed in response to something that has happened around you. Can the reason (stimulus) be anything? No it can’t, according to the research scientists. It needs to be something you couldn’t have specifically rehearsed before hand. That is, you couldn’t have anticipated with 100% accuracy what the stimulus was going to be.

Let’s pretend we’re playing tennis. The stimulus (the thing we need to react to) is a shot coming our way. If we are lucky, we are in a ready position and not scrambling to get back into position. We don’t know before hand where the shot is going. However, experience tells us where it might go because we have been in this situation before, because we’ve played this person before, because our opponent’s body position limits the possibilities, etc… but we can’t know for certain. Then the shot comes. We need to quickly change direction (assuming the shot wasn’t right to us) and execute our own return strategy.

This scenario is one executed everyday by millions of people around the world and one that requires agility: A rapid change of direction or speed in response to a stimulus. And one other thing: we had to use our brains to assess the situation and make a decision. Our brains are involved.

If I was to change slightly the definition of agility presented above it would be as follows (and this is just my opinion):

“a rapid whole-body movement with change of speed or direction in response to a non-deterministic stimulus”

“Non-deterministic stimulus” is just a fancy way of saying that there are a range of possibilities for the thing we need to react to. [Aside: I used speed instead of velocity because, strictly speaking, velocity means the speed and direction of something, but never mind that.]

So now that we have a definition of agility, we can apply it to things to say what does and doesn’t involve agility. The research scientists that devised the definition of agility I’m discussing here used this example: The reaction of a sprinter to a starters pistol, while an  important task that needs to be trained, it is not a task requiring agility. Why? Because the sprinter knows exactly what is required when the pistol goes off.

By contrast, a soccer player who quickly changes his speed or direction in order to evade an attacking player(s) is engaging in movement requiring agility because there is uncertainty in the stimulus (where and when the attack will come from) and a quick decision required as to what the response (movement) will be.

I’ll end this post with a couple more definitions. A skill that can be pre-planned (rehearsed) and/or does not involve a response to a stimulus is called a closed skill. On the other hand, open skills require a reaction to some uncertain range of events in the athletes environment.

Happy training!

References for this Post:

  1. Sheppard, J.M and Young, W.B, Agility Literature Review: Classifications, Training and Testing, Journal of Sports Sciences 2006, 24(9), pp 919-932.
Posted in General Agility | 1 Comment

Launching into Agility

Hello everyone and welcome to the Zigyt Blog – A Voice for Agility Training.

If you are reading this first blog entry, then you’re probably wondering a number of things. So, this first post will be about answering some imagined questions.

What is Zigyt?

Zigyt is an iPhone app for training a person to improve their athletic agility. If you click on ‘Home‘ you can learn more about the app.

OK, so what is ‘agility’ exactly?

Well, that’s a loaded question, and a good one. There isn’t a standard scientific definition of agility, but here is what the experts generally say:

“the ability to change direction and start and stop quickly”. (1)

“the ability to change direction rapidly and accurately”. (2)

“total body movement in response to the motion of a ball, opposition players, or teammates.” (3)

I think if you play, or have ever played, a dynamic sport you get the idea. You have to react to what’s happening all around you and before you react, all you can do is be ready to act because you don’t know in advance what’s going to happen. IMO (in my opinion), agility is that ability to react quickly and efficiently.

Why should I read your blog?

If you have an interest in agility specifically or in improving your athletic performance or your overall fitness through agility training, then you may want to follow this blog. Here’s what I hope to cover in subsequent posts:

  • Tell you what I’ve learned from what experts have written on the subject of agility and related subjects.
  • Tell you what I learn from talking to trainers, coaches, scientists on the subject. Maybe even some interviews.
  • Tips and suggestions for using the Zigyt app. Maybe we can even have a dialog on what improvements to make.
  • My own tales pertaining to agility training (if they seem useful).

Are you some kind of fitness expert?

No, absolutely not. I became interested in how agility training could help me when I was rehabilitating from back trouble (but that will be the subject of a different post). So, I will generally act as a reporter telling you what the specialists are saying. But of course I have my own opinions and experiences. I will try to make sure these are clearly called out in the posts with statements like “I believe…”, “I think…”, “In my opinion (IMO)”, etc…, so that you can tell the difference.

At the bottom of posts, I will indicate the articles or books, etc… that I have used in writing the post. Don’t let these scare you off. This blog is not meant to be some scientific journal type thing. But not being the expert, I feel I need to let you know where ideas are coming from.

References for this Post:

  1. Little, Thomas. and Williams, Alun. The Specificity of Acceleration, Maximum Speed, and Agility in Professional Soccer Players, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2005, 19(1), 76–78.
  2. Sheppard, J.M. and Young, W.B. Agility literature review: Classifications, training and testing, Journal of Sports Sciences, September 2006; 24(9): 919 – 932.
  3. Young, Warren and Farrow, Damian. A Review of Agility: Practical Applications for Strength and Conditioning, Strength and Conditioning Journal, October 2006, 28(5), 24-29.

Posted in General Agility | Leave a comment