Speed Ladder and Cone drills: Are they really effective?
In part 1 https://www.graysacademy.net/post/speed-ladder-and-cone-drills-are-they-really-effective-pt-1 of this series, I explained the origins of the speed ladder and cone drills and why they were originally used. In part 2, I will go into more depth on the use of the speed ladder and if it transfers to athletic performance.
Is the speed ladder effective? The answer to this depends on what you’re trying to improve and how you use it. If you are using it to optimize stride length for different phases of the sprint, it can be very effective and have higher degrees of transfer to sprint speed. Unfortunately, 99% of the people using the ladder aren’t doing it for this reason. It is most commonly used to improve footwork by doing a variety of different tap dancing drills in between the rungs of the ladder, with the hope of increasing speed and agility qualities.
To the dismay or ignorance of many, there is no transfer of speed ladder ability to sprint speed, agility, and/or overall athleticism, but it can make for a great social media video. FAST FEET DON’T EQUAL FASTER RUNNING SPEEDS.
So why isn’t the speed ladder effective for improving speed or sport performance?
Sprint speed depends on multiple factors, but the main two factors would be ground reaction forces (applied in the correct direction), and ground contact times. Theoretically, faster sprinters will produce more force, in less time with each step compared to their slower counterparts. Projection of the hips (hip extension) is also required to move the body forward or any direction for that matter.
Footwork drills through the speed ladder require very little force production, if any at all, as the athlete is coached to stay on their toes and have “quiet feet”. Anyone who has spent any time around fast sprinters in track and field or team sports can attest that there is nothing quiet about these athletes’ steps. Sprinting can produce forces three to five times bodyweight (even more with very powerful sprinters) in tenths of a second. Although ground contact times are very fast with ladder, this is meaningless since there is no force being produced, so the athlete is essentially going nowhere fast.
There is also no projection of the hips during ladder drills. In fact, the hips are in flexed position (athlete in a squatted position) with the athlete’s head down watching the feet, neither of which is advantageous for sport performance.
Lastly, you will never observe an athlete in competition doing most of the fancy footwork they do through the speed ladder. What coach wants to see their athletes take 4-10 steps without advancing down the field, court, or track? Since no footwork drill remotely mimics the posture, timing, force, and ground contacts as a sprint, they will have little to no carryover and can even have negative effects on speed.
In part 3, I will discuss cone drills, change of direction, and agility.
To read pt. 1 Click below
Josh Gray BS, CSCS, NASM CES, USATF 1
Owner of Gray's Academy