The agility ladder has been another tool used during workouts. Unlike the agility hurdles, the ladder doesn’t focus on moving over something. The ladder tends to focus on footwork and balance. Movement through the agility ladder seems to happen at an increased pace, with smaller movements. It also challenges my balance, hampered by cerebral palsy, but in different ways from the hurdles. It feels like when feet are making movements more quickly, our balance point seems to shift. The legs are moving more independently from the upper body, so my upper body isn’t always directly over my legs and feet. When beginning the agility ladder, we worked through it moving from side to side. After getting the hang of that pattern, we have worked on the ladder moving forward, then backing through the agility ladder. The varied methods help me understand foot positioning. The ladder also seems to help me understand the timing of my movement. When working through the agility ladder, each step has been required to land in specific areas. This translates to improving not only balance, but body control, which has also been challenged by cerebral palsy effects on the body. The agility ladder has helped improve my footwork and balance.
The agility ladder is made up of small square boxes. As it spreads across the floor, the boxes connect to each other. There seem to be about eight to ten boxes, or rungs, that make up one ladder. Standing on one end of the ladder, it sits flat on the floor moving straight forward about ten feet. For our purposes, we began by using one of these ladders. Something I didn’t know when we began working with the ladder was, they could be strung together. Bernard told me at one point that he had three of these agility ladders that he could attach together. At this point, he only has two ladders he can place together. So, my first challenge was to work through one of the agility ladders. After doing some work on the hurdles, my footwork and endurance had been slowly improving. It didn’t take too long for me to get used to the movement pattern of the ladder drill. Once the footwork pattern was understood, it took me a couple weeks to conquer the single ladder formation. After those first couple weeks, Bernard added on the second agility ladder, doubling the length of my challenge. The double ladder helps increase my endurance and concentration.
My first movement pattern through the agility ladder was lateral. It was actually mixing a lateral movement with a forward movement pattern. With the single agility ladder spread flatly down the floor, I would begin on one end, standing to the side of the first box, facing parallel to the ladder. The first movement was placing my near foot into the first rung, or box of the ladder. Then, my trail foot would come into the first box of the agility ladder. Next was to move the lead foot out on the opposite side and forward. Keeping balance on that foot, which would be forward of the first rung, my trail foot would be placed inside the second box of the ladder. The lead foot would come back into the second ladder box and out the opposite side my trail foot would be planted. It would be placed slightly forward, then my trail foot, still inside the second box would move up to the third box, or rung of the agility ladder. The pattern would repeat, moving my body side to side, and forward, up the ladder. We began slowly to learn the pattern, but with practice the pace has increased.
As we began working with the agility ladder, there were similarities to beginning my work on the hurdles. We started the ladder by working through the movement pattern slowly. It was easier because my legs didn’t have to be lifting in an effort to clear any height. On the contrast, there was a more complicated movement pattern to learn. Moving through the hurdles was a pretty straight forward process. We were going through forward, then turning and working through them laterally. The agility ladder turned out to be different, because moving through it combined lateral and forward movements. Learning the pattern of the ladder seemed to require more concentration on body position. My tendency seemed to drive me to want to stand up straight, when the key was to stay crouched in an athletic position. That crouched athletic position would help me stay on balance. It was also tough to learn balancing on the foot that arrived outside the ladder. That would act as the plant foot, moving me forward, positioning me for the next box, or rung of the ladder. The pattern slowly became more routine, allowing me to quicken my speed.
The agility ladder helps with many things when thinking about body movements hampered by cerebral palsy symptoms. The footwork required by the pattern has been all about foot timing. When I walk each day, most times the placement of my feet enters into my mind. The challenges of my balance dictate that closer attention be paid to where my steps land. However, cerebral palsy also seems to cause challenges when my brain attempts telling my feet where to be placed. The result can be frustration on my part, when walking becomes challenging. Enter the agility ladder, attempting to strengthen the brain to foot connection. If that connection from the brain can improve while my feet move quickly in a specific pattern, then maybe my walk can become more natural and balanced. Just as with walking down the street, there becomes frustration with missteps on the ladder. Cerebral palsy gets blamed, with a wish things could be easier. But, those are the moments when strength can be gained. When we look frustrating missteps in the eye, take a minute to regroup, understand things are more difficult, and try again. Eventually growth finds us, we get better, and become stronger.
Working on improving cerebral palsy can take creativity. In the case of an agility ladder and hurtles, it took the creativity of Bernard. Bernard has been the trainer coming up with new ways to help work on cerebral palsy symptoms. His creative thoughts about exercise have been new and exciting for me, since we began working together. Bernard has come up with some really cool stuff that has felt valuable to share. Improving cerebral palsy doesn’t seem to require a trainer, but knowledge seems to help. For me, that knowledge has been continuing each week. If we can pass it on to help someone else, it feels positive on many levels. The agility hurdles and ladder can be used by anyone. They seem to help cerebral palsy movement. Even stepping over blocks can help someone with CP improve movement, something that would have begun helping me at younger ages. It has been both frustrating and exciting to work on these things that are helping movement. Hopefully we continue working these tools, as we add more interesting ways to help my battle with cerebral palsy symptoms. Hopefully it helps someone out there too!