MMA Success - Part Five!

What does agility and balance have to do with your MMA success? Find out here ...


Agility - The ability to accelerate decelerate and rapidly change direction while maintaining balance.

One of the first questions I ask coaches are what type of agility training do you have your athletes perform? They usually reply with we run around some cones or perform some wind sprints. Then they will skip straight through the question and start talking about 40 times and bench press numbers. What is wrong with this picture? They are de-emphasizing a key motor quality.

Key terms to familiarize yourself with as they form the groundwork for quality agility.

Balance - Ability to maintain center of body mass over a base of support.

This is an underlying component of all movement skills. Center of mass is the hypothetical balance point of the body, which is located at 55% of height in women and approximately 57% in men. Center of mass is constant. Center of gravity in a static erect position is the same as the center of mass. The difference in the two is the center of gravity changes with movements. The shift of the center of gravity away from the center of mass creates movement.

    Static Balance - Maintaining balance while holding a stationary position.

    Dynamic Balance - Maintaining balance while moving.

    Positive Angles - Proper positioning of the ankles, knees and hips in relation to the torso.
    This creates a positive environment for efficient movement.

    Coordination - Synergists effect of various muscle groups for the production of a specific movement.

Every athlete I have worked with on a proper agility program has reported enhanced movement ability while playing their sport. Proper agility training - will aid in enhancing sports performance. Some coaches will say they get all of the agility training they need form their sport. This is not the proper way to maximize development of motor qualities.

In your given sport numerous motor qualities are involved at any one instant. As Zatsiorsky and Siff have often pointed out it is impossible to maximize the development of numerous motor qualities at the same time. Therefore at specific times qualities are trained in quasi-isolation. Do boxers just spar? Do sprinters just sprint, no. Same analogy.

Performing various movements with scheduled timing will enhance that specific motor quality. This is not a debatable issue as there are mounds of evidence supporting the benefits of a proper agility program.

Quick Story

    I had a Combat athlete come to me about a year ago and he was a very good striker, but his foot movement was not that good. After a couple of months of incorporating some agility work into his program he was like a new fighter.

    People who had not seen him in two months were amazed with his ability to move in the ring. They all asked what has this guy been doing. I think the agility ladder as well as some other tools played a key role in enhancing his movement in the ring.

Factors That Limit Agility:

  • Lack of balance (dynamic balance)
  • Lack of quickness (rapid reaction and movement time in response to a given stimulus)
  • Lack of hip mobility
  • Lack of coordination
  • Lack or reactive strength
    (The ability to utilize the positive concentric force production benefits of the stretch shortening cycle.)
    Reactive strength or reversible strength. Refers to the body's ability to store potential kinetic energy in the eccentric phase, and convert it to actual kinetic energy in the concentric phase. This action is frequent with agility training.

The key element in agility training is exposing the athlete to a wide array of different movement patterns. Agility training should be treated as a quality nervous system type of training. Not an endurance event. The nervous system needs to be fresh to maximize its ability to learn. My athletes perform agility training anywhere from 1-4 times per week.

This depends on the individual athlete. If the trainee shows great movement in his or her sport, minimal time is spent training this quality. On the other hand if the guy cannot box without falling over his feet, a considerable amount of time will be spent working on his ability to move.

In most cases agility training is performed before strength and endurance training if performed on the same day. In MaxCondition Agility Training I use a variety of training modes. Keep in mind my agility programs are heavily influence by Coach John Davies. I have used some of his methods in combination with my own to form the structure of my programs.

Agility Training Modes

  • Tumbling Drills:
    (Enhances body awareness, agility, quickness, coordination, range of motion, explosive strength)

  • Non-Equipped Wide Range Drills:
    (Backpedal, side shuffle, carioca)

  • Cones:
    (Arranged with various boundaries to simulate movement patterns)

  • Jump Rope Drills:
    (Promotes quick hands, quick feet, reactive strength, increased work threshold, concentration, balance, coordination, agility, restoration).
    Also included jump rope line drills - these are movement performed while moving down a 15-20 yard line.

  • Agility Ladder:
    (Benefits include quick feet, proper foot positioning, quick hips, movement economy, coordination, balance, various movement patterns)

  • Bag Or Barrier Drills:
    (Movements performed over and around barriers)

I would like to make special mention of the agility ladder. This tool has been particularly effective in my training programs for MMA athletes. The athlete I mentioned earlier who improved his movement skills significantly in two months owes a great deal of his improved movement to the ladder.

We performed ladder work 2-3 times per week and really did little to alter his previous program. This is not an isolated incident as I have had many athletes who have seen these types of improvements when adding the ladder to their programs.

In the field of competition the body is constantly asked to perform movements from unfamiliar joint positions. The main objective for agility ladder programs is to promote a wide range of different foot and movement patterns. These skilled movements become second nature and the body is able to quickly respond to various angles that are experienced in sporting events.

Combat athletes are constantly asked to alter their direction of movement when competing. Foot patterns are constantly changing. Proper use of the agility ladder makes these movements instinctual.

With the formation of neural engrams (movement patterns that are burnt into the brain after repetitive exposure) athletes are able to react to constant changes of direction with minimal delay. Bottom line, athletes need to be exposed to numerous movement patterns and there is no better tool than the ladder for this.

Sample Agility Drills

Below I have provided a few sample agility drills:

Tumbling Drills

Forward Rolls - From a standing position slowly squat down and place the hands on the floor. Tuck the chin and tuck the knees as you roll forward. This requires little effort as the momentum from your bodyweight will carry you forward. Accelerate the hips throughout the roll. As your hips and feet roll through, quickly stand up once the feet contact the ground.

    Variation - Add explosive jumps at the end of the roll. I often incorporate tuck jumps and standing long jumps at the end of the roll. Perform backward rills, backward extension rolls, shoulder rolls and dive rolls in addition to the forward rolls.

Agility Ladder

In And Outs - Begin by standing to the side of the ladder. Place your inside foot (foot closest to the ladder) into the first square. Next, place the trailing foot in the square. Now, step with your lead foot outside the ladder, followed by your trailing foot. Your trailing foot now becomes the lead foot as you step into the next square. Repeat the sequence throughout the ladder.

Lateral In And Outs - Begin by standing sideways to the ladder. Moving in a lateral fashion to your right. Step in the first square with the right foot. Next, step in with the left. Now back out with the right and back out with the left. Repeat sequence through out the ladder.

Quarter Turns - Start straddling one side of the ladder. Perform a series of quarter jumps straddling the outside of the ladder and the rungs. The jump should be quick with a low ground clearance.

Tire Hop - The movement is performed on top of a big tire. The athlete begins by bouncing with two feet on the tire. Then the athlete begins moving around the tire in a circular fashion. The athlete changes directions while moving. The change of directions are indicated by the coach. Once the athlete becomes good with two feet the movement is performed with one foot. This movement greatly challenges the balance threshold.

The above mentioned agility drills are only a few that were taken form Coach Hale's new book MaxCondition (

About Coach Hale

Coach Hale is the owner of Total Body Fitness, Winchester Golden Gloves Boxing and MaxCondition Sports Conditioning. He designs comprehensive training programs for coaches and athletes worldwide. He is the author of Optimum Physique and contributor to numerous exercise and sports publications. Coach Hale is an official member of The World Martial Arts Hall of Fame in recognition of his strength and conditioning work with martial artists. He also serves as vice-chairman for the World Martial Arts Hall of Fame. To learn more about coach Hale visit his website at