Agility, meaning the ability to quickly change speed and/or direction, decreases with age. That, in turn, increases the odds of falling—for instance, when someone darts out in front of you unexpectedly—setting the stage for the bone fractures that can rob you of your mobility, your independence and even your life.
Self-defense: Safeguard your agility with an easy and fun workout that you can do at home using an inexpensive type of exercise equipment called agility cones. And if you think you’re too young or too fit to benefit from agility cones, think again. Pro football players do versions of this workout all the time—and they know what works!
Agility cones look like those orange traffic cones you see on the highway, but smaller. They are typically six to 12 inches high and can be purchased at sporting-goods stores or online for as little as $2 apiece. You’ll need four cones—but if you want to give this agility workout a try right now, you can start out by using overturned plastic drinking cups or empty plastic jugs. Then if you like the workout and want to stick with it, go ahead and invest a few dollars in the cones—with their bright color and stabilizing base, they’ll be easier to see and less likely to topple than a cup or jug.
The workout below was suggested by Michelle Gray, PhD, assistant professor of kinesiology at the University of Arkansas. The movements promote agility because they require the vestibular (balance) system of the inner ear to work in concert with the muscular systems, especially the very fast-twitch “type IIx” muscle fibers that allow you to move suddenly, Dr. Gray explained.
Do the following workout at least twice a week. Use a long hallway or large room indoors…or go outdoors. Make sure that you’re on a surface free of any objects you could trip over. Throughout: Move as quickly as you can while still maintaining control—don’t push any faster than you can safely go. Try not to knock over any cones, since object avoidance is part of being agile. For each exercise, complete two or three sets, taking a brief rest between sets. If you have a history of falls: Stick with just the first easy exercise until your agility improves and you feel confident about moving on to the intermediate and advanced exercises…and check with your doctor each step of the way.
Easy: Up-and-Go. Setup: Place one agility cone eight feet in front of a sturdy chair. Sit in the chair. Move: Rise from your seated position, walk quickly to the cone, maneuver around it in a clockwise direction, return to the chair and sit back down. Repeat 10 to 15 times—that’s one set. For the next set, maneuver around the cone in a counterclockwise direction.
Intermediate: Weave In/Weave Out. Setup: Arrange four cones in a straight line, each about eight feet apart. Stand next to the first cone in the line. Move: Walking quickly, weave in a zigzag pattern between the cones. When you reach the last cone in the line, walk around it and return, again weaving between the cones, to your starting position. Repeat two or three times—that’s one set.
Advanced: Square Drill. Setup: Arrange four cones in a square, with each side of the square measuring 10 to 15 feet. Stand to the outside of any cone, with the cone next to your right foot (we’ll call this cone number one). Move: Facing forward and moving around the square clockwise, walk quickly toward the outside of cone number two. When you reach it, switch to a sideways walk or shuffle, moving to your right toward cone number three. When you reach it, turn your body and walk or shuffle sideways to your left toward cone number four. When you reach it, turn your body and carefully walk backwards toward cone number one. Repeat two or three times—that’s one set. For the next set, start with your left foot at the outside of cone number one and move around the square counterclockwise.
After you’ve mastered these moves: Work on safely increasing your speed…try the drills with one eye closed, then the other…get creative and invent your own agility exercises…or watch a football team practice to learn some new agility drills you can try.