The Benefits of Speed, Agility and Quickness (SAQ) Drills for Strength and Conditioning Athletes

By Andrew Raines, RHN on June 24, 2015 , categorized in Strength + Conditioning

Whether you’re training for strength, endurance, or a combination of both (rec league soccer, hockey, football, rugby, volleyball, or even ultimate Frisbee), the benefit of adding speed, agility, and quickness drills to your fitness routine can take your game to the next level. All athletes can benefit from improved balance, quicker feet, and a faster reaction time, and this is exactly what Speed, Agility, and Quickness (SAQ) drills help you achieve. While SAQ drills are often thought of as interchangeable, it is important to recognize how these components are related, as well as how they differ.

Speed

General refers to the speed of which you’re able to move your arms and legs, in a way that allows you to move as fast as possible in a straight line. This is often referred to as linear speed. If you notice you have difficulty keeping up with or breaking away from your teammates and competitors, you will likely benefit from adding speed drills.

Agility

While speed refers to moving in a straight line, agility is the ability to change direction quickly and effectively. If you struggle moving side-to-side, or find yourself off balance a lot, agility training will help improve your performance.

Quickness

While speed and agility rely on a combination of core and lower-body strength, quickness refers to your body’s reflexive reactions. Quickness measures your instant and rapid responses, and drills to improve these abilities usually only last several seconds. If you have trouble getting your body into position quickly or lack explosiveness in your first few steps, adding quickness drills to increase your reaction time will help you be a quicker athlete.

Examples of SAQ Drills and the Components They Target:

  • T-Drill: Agility, Speed
  • Zig Zag Drill: Agility, Speed
  • Tennis Ball Drop: Quickness, Agility
  • Chase Drills: Speed, Agility, Quickness

SAQ Drills Provide Tangible Benefits for Multiple Disciplines

As a multi-sport athlete in my youth, I was fortunate enough to learn of the benefits of SAQ training early in my athletic career. As a youth soccer player, speed, agility, and quickness training was introduced at a young age. In a sport where being faster than your opponent can make a huge difference, I quickly learned how to use a speed ladder and training cones to gain an advantage over my opponents. I spent many training sessions going through the T-Drill to improve my agility, eventually adding a soccer ball to improve ball skills. Zig-zag drills are common on the soccer pitch for players of all ages, and much like the T-Drill, a ball can be added to improve skill development as well as agility. The Chase Drill is always a favorite of athletes of varying sports as it combines SAQ training with some good light-hearted competition.

As I transitioned from competitive soccer to mixed martial arts, the importance of speed, agility, and quickness took on a whole new meaning. When evading an opponent with quick reactions and effective footwork can be the difference between getting hit and creating an opening in which to counter-strike, all martial artists happily embrace the benefits of SAQ training. Martial artists not only rely on hand and head reactions to block and slip their opponents strike, they also use footwork in order defend and attack. Being able to change direction in a split-second is important when sparring, and fighters will learn to move in all directions early in their training. Many martial artists learn to be light on their feet by using a speed (skipping) rope, and there are many drills that help a fighter develop quickness and reaction time, including the Tennis Ball Drop, a favorite in my gym.

While soccer and martial arts require a combination or strength, speed, and endurance, I was happily surprised to learn how well my SAQ training translated to my most recent sport of choice: trail running. As I began training for my first trail ultra-marathon, one of the first things I realized was how important downhill running was in order to improve your time. I quickly found that it was an elite trail runner’s ability to navigate technical terrain downhill at a fast pace that separated them from the rest of the pack. As I began to improve my skill of downhill trail running, I soon realized that my background as a soccer player, and then many hours of training dedicated to foot speed, agility, and reaction time was an advantage as I navigated rocks, roots, and other hazardous obstacles at top speed. While trail running is a sport that does require a mixture of endurance and strength, SAQ training can make the difference as you attempt to achieve your next PR!

Regardless of whether you consider yourself a strength, endurance, or combination athlete, focusing on improving your speed, agility, and quickness will help you improve your performance and lead to better results. As with any type of training, repetition and consistency are key. Try several types of drills and focus on the ones you find most enjoyable. Many SAQ drills are more effective with a training partner, so don’t be afraid of a little friendly competition.

Andrew Raines, RHN

Andrew Raines works at Vega as the Education Manager. He is an advocate for clean, plant based sports nutrition, and is a former competitive kickboxer and soccer player turned ultra-marathon runner. As a coach and trainer, Andrew thrives on seeing people boost their performance with plant-based power. He’s a Registered Holistic Nutritionist, Certified Plant-Based Culinary Professional and has a Certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition from eCornell and the T. Colin Campbell Foundation.

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