For decades, performance coaches have used speed ladders to “develop” speed and quickness. The speed ladder (and its associated patterns) is easy for an athlete to learn and even easier for a coach to teach. It is also a great way to elevate HR prior to a lift and can be somewhat useful in helping an injured athlete re-learn spacial awareness.
Unfortunately, the positive aspects of using a speed ladder stop there…
Below are three reasons why using a speed ladder (for more than what was mentioned previously) is a poor choice:
1. It won’t prepare the athlete for open environment activity
Nearly all team sports are conducted in an open environment. An open environment consists of unpredictable activity and requires each athlete to react to a ball or an opponent. Therefore, developing first step quickness and agility comes from an athlete’s ability to react and subsequently put force in the ground. The speed ladder is a closed environment tool due to the steps being predictable and planned (2 in 2 out, Ickey Shuffle etc.). This does not prepare an athlete for open environment activity. This may come as a shock, but the best way to prepare for open environment activity is by PLAYING OR PRACTICING YOUR SPORT!
2. It doesn’t enhance an athlete’s ability to accelerate
To enhance acceleration, you need to improve stride frequency and length. Simply put, frequency is a product of training the nervous system to fire rapidly and limit contact time with the ground. In theory, the speed ladder trains this quality, but it’s all for naught if you don’t have stride length. For example, when you put a car in neutral and rev the engine, it sounds cool and your dashboard lights up. The only problem is you’re not going anywhere! This is like trying to improve acceleration without first addressing the concept of stride length. Unfortunately, at no point during ANY speed ladder drills does stride length get trained and therefore, does not improve an athletes ability to accelerate.
3. It’s hard to measure
Using subjective measures seems to be the only way to determine if the implementation of a speed ladder is working. Therefore, making it a staple in a training program is risky. It coincides with the age old saying “ignorance is bliss”. By not measuring anything, it can help mask any short comings of a program. A coach loses credibility if they only use statements like “He looks faster” or “She is moving much better” instead of presenting data that has been measured and tracked.