Are Speed Ladders Overrated?

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Within this article, I discuss;

  • My experiences with speed ladder training
  • 4 benefits of speed ladders
  • Arguments against speed ladder training
  • How speed ladders should be used

As a former soccer player, I’ve had my fair share of experiences with speed ladders. I was introduced to them at an early age during cold winter nights as an eleven or twelve year old. At the time, they were considered to be an advanced method of training. Speed ladders were met with some amusement, but they were there to stay.

During my time with speed ladders, I’ve noticed that there seems to be 3 distinct phases:

  • Use speed ladders for conditioning
  • Use speed ladders for speed (complete rest between reps, sets)¬†
  • Burn those speed ladders!

Over the past number of weeks, I’ve noticed a backlash on Twitter regarding speed/agility ladders from prominent strength and conditioning coaches. While arguments against speed ladders have their merits, it is worth asking how agility ladders got their coveted place in training programs among youth, recreation and professional level athletes.

4 Benefits of Speed Ladders

I’m certainly no expert regarding the history of speed ladders, but I have a number of thoughts about why speed ladders became so prominent in training programs:

  1. Speed ladders are inexpensive
  2. Speed ladders are portable
  3. Speed ladders can add variety to programs
  4. Speed ladders make athletes’ think, work hard

All four reasons for speed ladder usage are obvious when I think about my days of soccer training.

Volunteer based clubs could afford to buy a couple of speed ladders for their underage teams as they are much cheaper than other pieces of training equipment.

Coaches could easily transfer speed ladders among other coaches within their club, and could easily retrieve a couple of speed ladders from their car just a couple of minutes before training. They are lightweight and convenient as a coach doesn’t need to mark areas or distances like that they may need to do with cones.

The only limitation with speed ladders is a coach’s imagination. I’ve seen an unbelievable amount of variations for training with speed ladders. I thought I had seen it all at home in Ireland, but that until I moved to the US. American football players have been using speed ladders for years, and their variations are much different to what I had seen in previous years.

When compared to linear running speed ladder training is much more fatiguing. Having an athlete pivot, change direction and move through ladders is tough. During my time at Mercyhurst, we dreaded our interval sessions during pre-season much more than our longer, linear runs. If a coach wants to see their athletes working hard and breathing heavily speed ladders are a simple answer to achieve such means.

So, what’s changed?

Problems with Speed Ladders

Sport coaches and strength and conditioning coaches have began to realize that speed ladders are not training sport-specific qualities.

General physical preparedness is important within a sporting setting, but parents and coaches will always want their athletes’ training programs to reflect the qualities and strengths that are needed for success on the field, court, water, ice, etc.

Think about it: 

In soccer, does a player take steps that measure 6-8” inches in an attempt to create space and get open for for their teammates? Or do they cover as much ground as possible, change direction to evade opponents, and open their eyes to recognize where space may come available.

And that right, is the main argument against speed ladders. They are too simplistic in nature, and aren’t sport specific.

So what other training methods have coaches moved towards?

Many coaches now utilize body weight strength and plyometric based training with youth athletes. In addition, coaches have placed an importance on decision making. For example, some coaches will set up drills that contain an outside stimulus. This stimulus may be a word, dropping of a ball, or a certain movement by a coach, teammate.

Because much of team sport play is random and difficult to train for, coaches want to help teach their players’ how to make the best decision during the thousands of movements/scenarios within a game.

Stimulus > Recognition of Stimulus > Processing of Stimulus > Response 

 

The belief is that if you continue to put forth scenarios that require decision making to athletes in training..they will be better equipped to make important decisions during their game. Seems plausible.

Speed Ladders Still Have A Place

For young athletes (up to 10 years) I think speed ladders should have their place in training. The ladders can teach children balance and co-ordination- two necessary gross motor skills that are often underdeveloped in today’s youth.

Speed ladders may also help during return to play protocols for older youth and adult athletes. Speed ladders can be placed in a physical therapy setting..and an athlete can go through a couple of sets. These are particularly useful if an athlete is returning from a previous ankle injury as planting and changing of direction may prove difficult and painful. Therefore, an inexpensive speed ladder can be used a tool to recognize and evaluate tendon/ligament limitations.

 

 

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