I recently had the privilege to work with a client who had an unusual request, in comparison to my usual typical request, which would be to get fitter, lose weight, tone up, and become stronger. However this request spiked my interest as in my studies of strength and power conditioning I had covered this topic, Agility training.
My client Rich, had the task of passing the Illinois agility test for entry to the police force, he had managed to pass all the other fitness tests, and just missed out on the 17 second limit to run the course. He is a fit bloke, not overweight and capable of running 5K in under 23mins, to give you an indication of his fitness levels. He now had about 5 weeks until he repeated the test and was extremely motivated to achieve his goal as it was his chosen career. He was frustrated that he had missed the test requirement and was anxious as a failure of the retest would mean another 6 months of waiting and re-applying.
He had decided he needed assistance and advice on how to train for this very specific test. The dominant abilities required for Rich to excel in the Illinois agility test were much different from what he had been training previously, he had been just doing basic short distance running with a mix of fartlek included. We are focusing on triangle (B) – speed.
He required a specific focus of the complex combination of speed, coordination, flexibility and power, all these combine to form the product required – Agility. This area is the F -S side of the ‘biomotor ability’ triangle, (take off and starting power, acceleration, deceleration, reactive power)-Figure 1.5 above.
So we organised to meet up, discuss the training plan, arrange the sessions and begin to get to work.
The Training Plan: 5 weeks of following my tailored online training plans and 8 X 1 hour personal training sessions focussed totally on.
1) Running drills – to eliminate any impedance to his running economy. Promote good posture and strengthen lower legs. Drills also improve coordination, especially if done through agility ladder.
Drills: Quick Feet, High Knees, Soccer Drills, ‘In and Out’ (forward and reverse), Sideways high knees, Strides, Bounding. (Some were done through a 8 metre agility ladder) other over 20-30meters all on soft surface or grass.
2) Strength program to focus on lower body predominately, but also include some upper strength for powering take offs – the start of the test requires the cadet to start in lower phase of the press up position. We used resistance bands, hill repeats and lower body exercises (squat, lunges, lunge hops, single leg steps ups, box jumps) for majority conditioning. Running in itself acts as a strength conditioner as it taxes the musculature and causes a strengthening response at the ligaments and tendons.
3) Speed and power intervals – majority focus was on the course navigation at high speed, quick take offs, quick turns and sprints, these were the speed and power sessions, where the gains would be made and goals achieved.
4) Flexibility was also an integral part of this training, through stretching and recovery as the short time period of preparatory phase, Rich was now going to be pushing his muscles, joints and tendons harder than they had been used in a long time. So it was crucial to include stretching sessions and easy days of drills and a light run. This avoided niggling injuries that would have spoilt his training.
Over the course of the next few weeks Rich managed to reduce his baseline time from over 20 seconds to a consistent 18 seconds (mid), over time lowering it further to the low 18 second mark, as we approached 3 weeks until the retest, I could feel the frustration building as Rich could not quite get it under 17 seconds (the requirement to pass the test).
At this stage I decided a venue change was required, we had been training on grass, and I believed the surface absorption and lack of friction was impeding quicker times.
So off to a new venue we went for an early morning session and boy did it turn out to be a great decision, we found the perfect venue in a basketball court, using a measuring tape, an exact measure of course was assured, and a similar surface to the test surface was matched. After a standard warm up with run drills, stretches and short sprints we began.
First course interval, Rich cracked the 18 second mark and recorded a 17.24 seconds approx. Bingo, the goal was in sight, on second attempt Rich pushed harder, I yelled as much encouragement as possible, giving him splits of each turning cone, and the result….. 16.85 seconds approx., that was the icing on the cake. Armed with renewed confidence and the belief in himself all self-doubt was cast aside. The next few repeats completed, all registered under 17 seconds, until fatigue started to set in, and we called it Time, on the intervals.
Over the course of the remaining sessions and online program, we stayed at the new location as it mimicked the ideal test condition, we focused more on starting section, quick turns and sprints between turns. This would ensure every tenth of a second was being utilised in Rich’s favour.
On test day, Rich performed some run drills and short warm up outside the venue prior to the tests, once the other elements of the test (situps, press-ups, beep test etc.) were completed and passed he went through the agility test, which is the final test. On his first attempt, he did not quite achieve the target 17 second, the instructor does not reveal splits times, which is ridiculous in my opinion, his advise was “your so close mate, just stretch it out at the end”, with a short rest, Rich had enough waiting and repeated the test, pushing as hard as possible this time, and the result….”yes you passed”, again we will never know the time!, only it was sub 17 seconds.
I am extremely happy for Rich and his progress, this may not seem like a major event or fitness goal to others, but the importance of this test was never to achieve a time as such, it was about the end goal and the reason for the test in the first place, to achieve a desired outcome – in this case an occupation of choice that appealed to Rich, not every person can say they are really in their occupation of choice.
Key Learning Points: Being specific in your approach to your training, understanding the abilities you need to work on and how these relate to your specific goals. Sometimes a further examination and a ‘zoom out’ approach is required once you reach a plateau (in our case – a change of training surface conditions), and having faith in your ability by being determined to achieve you goals.
Images: Periodisation Training for Sports – Bompa, Carrera.