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SAQ: Speed, Agility and Quickness Training

by Juan Carlos Santana | Date Released : 01 Aug 2002


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 childrens 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 societys 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 prehabilitation. 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

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, lets 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
kids 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 entrylevel 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

Now lets 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
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

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
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.

4. 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, youll have fun, spend quality time together
and get in great shape.