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SAQ: Speed, Agility and Quickness Training

In this age of inactivity and specialization, it is has become a rather common occurrence to find individuals of all types lacking fundamental biomotor skills. The lack of basic movement skills in our society can be attributed to such factors as the advent of video technology and lack of government support for physical education. Other factors also lend themselves to the lack of activity we see in our children’s lives, including the lack of public parks and the time to take our children there. This means less play for our children and for the parents. These factors have increased the need for more structured activity in society’s physical development.

Many of the developmental and conditioning programs offered today focus on activities geared towards the development of the basic biomotor skills children naturally develop during play. This type of training is also marketed to athletes for the enhancement of athletic performance and injury prevention. The components traditionally targeted for improvement have been speed, agility, and quickness (SAQ). Randy Smithe popularized the acronym SAQ, back in the 80s. He developed equipment and programs geared to the athlete and the enhancement of these important athletic components. For the last 15 years, SAQ training has become the catchword for biomotor skill training and sport specific conditioning.

SAQ drills focus on running mechanics, movement efficiency, coordination and reaction training. Obviously, this type of training enhances muscle strength, endurance and motor skills. However, another main benefit of SAQ training is injury prevention, or “pre-habilitation.” This applies to the athlete and non-athlete alike.

Traditionally, strength has been emphasized as the primary element in conditioning programs designed to protect the joints of the lower extremities, especially the knee. Basic SAQ programs have been successfully incorporated in several clinical studies. These protocols have consistently shown favorable results in increasing joint stability over other training modalities, including machine dominated resistance training. The mechanism of actions appears to be a reduction in muscle reaction time and time needed to reach peak torque (i.e. rate of force production). Strength in the quadriceps, hamstrings and gastrocnemius can protect the knee only when they are contracted in a timely fashion, allowing the knee joint to stabilize and protect itself against rotational and shear forces. Therefore, the ability of this musculature to react and contract quickly would be an important quality to consider in injury prevention. The musculature can determine how fast dynamic control can be activated to stabilize the knee against detrimental forces.

Research data also shows injury rates have been less evident in the SAQ protocols when compared to the other training modalities studied. However, one should not jump to the erroneous conclusion that performing SAQ drills exclusively will automatically lead to optimal athletic development or “injury free status.” Optimum performance is best achieved by combining various training components, including proper recovery, nutrition, functional strength training and SAQ drills.

Before we discuss SAQ training, let’s address preparation and precautions. First, it is important to have an adequate strength base before partaking in any explosive SAQ work. A strong strength base means different things for different people. The amount of strength base necessary for safe participation in an SAQ program will depend on the initial fitness level of the individual. For a healthy youth, a proper strength base may be achieved by regular good old fashion “kid’s play,” or sports participation. For a sedentary adult, completing a 4-8 week, well-organized resistance training program may be necessary to develop the strength base needed for an entry-level SAQ program. Obviously, a check with your primary care provider is always a good idea, especially if you have been inactive for a long period of time or have experienced symptoms that concern you.

There are also various levels of entry into an SAQ program. Proper progression is the most important factor in safe and effective exercise programming. Your athletes and clients should be progressed based on successful execution of drills, not strength or training age (i.e. training experience). A beginner, or even our senior population, can always start with the basic jumping jacks, easy cone runs, medicine ball throws. These are all low-level exercises that make a great starting point for anyone. If in doubt start with the simplest progression – you can always use it as a warm-up or teaching cue on your way to more intense exercises. Remember, even the simplest SAQ exercises can provide significant training adaptations.

Now let’s take a look at a sample SAQ program that I have used in the past with great success, and more importantly, no injuries. The program outlined consists of four drills. The workout takes about 30 minutes and can be performed three times per week for 4-6 weeks. All drills should be performed as fast as possible, while maintaining good form and with proper execution. Ample time for recovery between exercises should be provided. Remember, your primary focus with these drills is to develop SAQ – not condition. Take your time, start slow and gradually pick up your pace over the 4-6 weeks of the program. For simplicity, I have tailored the program so that no equipment is necessary. Some of the protocols used in research studies have used slideboards, boxes, and other pieces of equipment. If you have this equipment available, by all means use it. It will make the program interesting and fun.

Before performing these drills in an explosive fashion, complete a comprehensive warm-up. A nice biomotor skill warm up (see warm up protocol below ) can serve as a dynamic flexibility session 5-6 minutes. Then go slowly through the 4 drills listed below, to prepare the body for the strenuous work that follows. We have included some substitute exercises in parenthesis in case you do have equipment available. The four drills, with a brief explanation, are as follows:

Warm –up protocol – 5-7 minutes. Perform each exercise 3 times (1 easy, 1 medium, I fast ) over 25 yards

  1. Hot coal runs – Low amplitude ankle runs, fast legs and arms, perfect posture, stay on balls of feet.
  2. Butt kicks – Keep upper leg perpendicular to the ground.
  3. Straight leg shuffle – Run with straight legs. Concentrate on pulling the foot under the hips, Stay on balls of feet.
  4. Skip - forward, backward, sideways.
  5. Side shuffle – Step laterally and slide the rear foot to the leading foot. Repeat. Perform to both sides.
  6. Bear walks – Put the palm of both hands in front of each foot in accordance with your flexibility (hands should be close enough to your feet so that your hamstring are stretched). Keeping your legs straight – walk using your hands and feet. Perform forward, backward, sideways.
  7. Hamstring/pick-up – Take a step and reach for the shoelaces of the front foot, while kicking up the rear leg. Repeat with other leg.

SAQ Drills

  1. Skaters Fig 1 (Slide board Fig 2 )– Start balancing on your left foot, then jump to the right and land on your right foot, stick the landings. Jump back to the left foot and repeat. Use a distance that will allow you to complete the drill but that presents a challenge. Perform 5 sets of 12 round trips (24 total foot contacts). Can be done in or outdoors.
  2. Power skipping Fig 3 (heavy rope skipping Fig 4 )- Execute long and high skips. Go for distance and height on each one. Try to increase total distance each week, but keep good form. Perform 3 sets of 10 total skips (5 per leg). If done indoor, perform in a stationary fashion and go for height. If using a large aerobics room perform as many skips as the room length allows
  3. Modified T-drill Fig 5 – set up 4 cones (or marks) in a T formation, each 10 yards apart; one at the base (cone 1), one at the crossing (cone 2), one at upper left corner (cone 3) and one at the upper right corner (cone 4). Execute a forward run from cone 1 to cone 2, then carrioca left (i.e. foot crossover drill) to cone 3, then carrioca right to cone 4, carrioca left back to cone 2 and finish with a backward run to cone 1. Perform 6-8 T-drills. If done indoors, perform in an area that allows at least 4 yards between cones. Make the drill work with the space you have.
  1. Figure 8 runs Fig 6 – Lay out 2 - 10 foot circles side by side so that they look like a number 8. Run a complete figure 8, starting and finishing at the bottom. Perform 5 sets of 3 circuits in both directions. As with previous drills, indoor modifications can be made to cover shorter distances and still perform the drill.

Try using these exercises as part of your regular exercise program. Regardless of your age, you will see dramatic improvements in your movement capability. You will also see excellent results in your cardiovascular conditioning. Everyone in the family can perform this program, so make it a “family thing.” A public park or the back yard can serve as the training ground. Perform this program with your family clients or friends, you’ll have fun, spend quality time together and get in great shape.


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