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Jumping exercises build lower-body power for quickness.
Unless you're a sprinter, most athletes require the ability to react in a blink, change direction on a dime, and accelerate and decelerate in a flash. The key components of quickness -- agility, speed and acceleration -- can be trained. You can also condition your lower body for rapid explosive movements. Perform a variety of drills to improve your reflex speed, first-step quickness and lower-body power as well as to become faster on your feet.
Learn, Imprint and Repeat
When you learn movement patterns, you use the motor-control, sensory and sensory-association regions of your brain to remember the pattern, according to "Training for Speed, Agility, and Quickness" by Lee Brown and Vance Ferrigno. This memory, known as a sensory engram, captures the various components of the pattern, such as your body position and angles, the position of your feet on the ground and the control of your center of mass. While you begin by slowly going through a movement pattern and allowing your brain to register sensory feedback, you can speed up your movements via repetition until the pattern becomes almost automatic for your body. To boost reactive demands, quickness drills can incorporate more complicated choices or introduce an unpredictable element, such as a visual or auditory cue.
Sprint, Skip and Change Direction
Locomotion drills in which you sprint or skip in different directions will improve your quickness and flexibility. For example, perform a drill in which you sprint backwards, maintaining your center of gravity over your lower body. Increase your stride length as you grow comfortable moving backwards. Boost the intensity of the exercise by placing cones in a zigzag pattern and sprinting backward to each cone. Another exercise is multidirectional skipping, in which you respond to a partner or coach's cues to change direction -- forward, backward, left or right. To progress the exercise, increase the height of your skips or add a sprint on each change of direction.
First and Fast Step
You can perform exercises to improve your first-step quickness and the ability to accelerate and decelerate. For example, place two cones at a distance of 20 yards apart, and have a coach or partner give a go signal. Start jogging between the cones, which is your first-gear speed. When your partner calls out second gear, immediately speed up to three-quarters of your maximum speed and continue to race back and forth from cone to cone. Upon the command of third gear, run at full speed. Your partner should call out the gears in a random order to keep you on your toes and listening to auditory cues. Continue the drill for 25 to 30 seconds.
Empower Your Lower Body
When you quickly change direction, you leverage the power from your ankles, knees and hips -- the triple extension -- to push off the ground. By doing certain weight-lifting exercises, such as hang cleans or rack cleans, you can build the explosive power of your triple extension, according to "The Path to Athletic Power: The Model Conditioning Program for Championship Performance" by Boyd Epley. In addition, various plyometric jumps -- squat jumps, tuck jumps, depth jumps, one-legged hops and box jumps -- use the stretch-shortening property of your muscle fibers and build the explosive power of your lower body. For example, begin a tuck jump by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and knees bent. Explode up and draw your knees to your chest. Quickly grasp your hands around your knees before you descend. Land gently on the balls of your feet with your knees bent, and then immediately spring back up to the next jump. Perform five reps for three sets.