SAQ Drills Part I
Speed, agility and quickness (SAQ) drills tend to become a topic of heated discussion. Many coaches feel that the effort put forth during sport is sufficient to improve these elements of performance.
Their thought is that you cannot get any more sport specific than performing the sport itself. With this being said, by training those sports skills you develope the set of athletic skills specifically related to that sport. Many of these coaches produce exceptional athletes who can compete on any level.
The other school of coaching tends to believe that component training, or breaking skills down into pieces, is the best way to go about athletic enhancement. These individuals have been known to produce exceptional athletes as well.
I have a tendency to subscribe to the latter school of thought, and I will tell you why. I feel that human movement can be complex. The simple act of walking involves in-depth motor programming, most of (if not all) tends to run on the reflexive level.
By reflexive I mean that you do not have to think to walk. If you had to think about every muscle action while you walked, it would take you days to get from the couch to the refrigerator.
This programming starts to develop in infants. You learn to do basic skills, and as you mature, the programming becomes more complex, as does the movement.
Motor learning research tells us that you go through different stages of learning as you acquire new skill. Some skills are similar to others, so we are able to skip some initial stages, while others must start from the beginning. Some skills may take years to develop while others may take only weeks.
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When we ask our body to perform an unfamiliar or poorly developed skill, it tends to do so very inefficiently. We typically lack the motor programming necessary to effectively coordinate the skill. How many hours of practice have we put into shooting a free throw, throwing a baseball, kicking a football, etc. We start training for these sports as 3-4-year olds, and are still improving when we go to college.
Many athletes tend to go through rather limited development. They have spent little time working on proper movement mechanics, coordination and perceived exertion skills. This gets complicated by the fact that most individuals like to work on skills they are already comfortable performing. They never develop their weakness.
I feel that SAQ drills can help program or reprogram these deficiencies. I think breaking down gross movement skills into components allows us to cognitively address issues that tend to be reflexive. By decreasing the scope of your training we can work on individual issues that would be to overwhelming as a whole.
I don't feel like the human brain has the capacity to multi-task and efficiently refine individual skill. I would have to ask how many individuals were thinking about improving their SAQ while they were in a confrontation situation such as being guarded during a lay-up.
If you asked most athletes what they were thinking during confrontational activity (which is the essence sport) they would say, I don't really remember thinking of anything. I just did what was natural.
They just functioned on pre-programmed information. They functioned reflexively, maybe not efficiently, but definitely reflexively. I would have to ask, did this athlete develop any mechanical skill during this situation? He may have developed some psychological skill. He may have learned how to deal better with the psychological stresses involved in confrontation, but I really doubt much else.
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By using SAQ drills, we can try to fine tune this preprogrammed information. I like to tell my athletes that I want their motor programming to be able to handle any and all footwork that is humanly possible.
If they never find their feet in unfamiliar territory, they are running on adequate programming. If they lack the coordination to perform certain footwork drills as an isolated component, they lack the ability to perform them when they are integrated into chaotic confrontation. It will be during these instances that the individual will not perform at an optimal level.
Part II of this series will deal with the actual neural acceleration (quickness) elements I utilize in my Developing the Multidimensional Athlete protocol. I will discus how and why I utilize the specific drills within each section.
SAQ Drills Part II
Part II of the SAQ Drills article includes 3 out of 7 different quickness components I utilize during my workouts. All components should not be utilized in the same workout, rather should be cycled into several different sessions.
If you find that certain components do not fit into your program, yet others do, focus on the ones that work best for you.
Start with a 3-4 inch tall box. The taller the box the more plyometric in nature the drill becomes. The shorter the box the quicker the motions become. More-experienced athletes can utilize a little taller box.
Maintain a tall spine during all drills. Good posture is always important. Sustain a constant rhythm throughout the entire drill and push for maximal speed. Stay relaxed from head to toe. Any tension within the body will waste energy and slow the potential maximal speed. Tap the box lightly and react quickly off the ground during all drills.
- Linear - Start with one foot on a 3-4 inch tall box and the other directly behind on the floor. Moving both feet at the same time, rapidly switch so the floor side foot is on the box and the box side foot is on the floor. Repeat using a rhythmically constant tempo. Stay loose and use an opposing arm action.
- Lateral - Start with one foot on the box and the other beside it on the ground. Moving laterally with both feet at the same time, replace the foot that is on the box with the foot that is on the ground. Take the foot that was on the box to the ground on the opposite side. Repeat using a rhythmically constant tempo.
- Down Ups - Start with both feet on the box. rop down (with both feet) and rapidly rebound to the top. Keep a slight static bend at the knee and use the ankle joint as the primary joint of action. React quickly upon contact to minimize contact time. Repeat using a rhythmically constant tempo.
- Down Ups Lateral - Start with both feet on the box, drop down to one side and rebound back onto the box. Repeat on that side for the entire set. Utilize the same technique as the Down Ups.
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Assume an athletic stance. Rapidly "chop" your feet in place during all drills. Try to keep your stance width consistant (many times individuals will narrow their stance. Keep your head up, breath normal and your upper body relaxed.
- Still - Feet chop in place.
- Same - Have your partner stand directly in front of you with their hands on their hips. Have them rapidly present a hand at random to waist height (like a gun slinger). Reacting quickly, reach with the same hand (mirror image) as your partner and step forward with the same foot. Try to tap your partner's hand before they return it to their hip. Rapidly return to back and continue to chop your feet.
- Across - Have your partner stand directly in front of your with their hands on their hips. Have them rapidly present a hand at random to waist height (like a gun slinger). Reacting quickly, step across your body and tap your partner's hand with you opposite hand. Rapidly return to back and continue to chop your feet.
Ladders can be purchased or made using tape. Your typical ladder is made up of 18-inch squares that cover a 16-foot distance. You can make your ladder any length you like.
I prefer to use ladders that present a little more physical presence than tape. I find that athletes tend to be a little more accurate when using something that creates a physical barrier.
Many times athletes will cheat and step directly on the tape which minimizes movement distance. With a ladder they can feel when they are not accurately stepping and adjust accordingly.
I try to incorporate 3 different types of drills. The first type of drills are steady state drills. These drills focus on quickness endurance and utilize a constant rhythm throughout the ladder.
The second type of drills are burst drills. These drills focus on the ability to turn on rapid burst of foot movement. The third type of drills are elastic response drills. These drills focus on improving the reactive speed components of the lower leg.
As with all movement drills, stay relaxed and focused during each drill. Try to use a normal arm action (which will change according to the nature of the drill) and avoid the frozen arm syndrome that often accompanies these drills.
Minimize foot contact time (do not let your feet squeak on the floor as this is a sign of increased contact time). Start slow, work on accuracy and learn the drills before you speed them up
- Z-Drill - Start beside the ladder with your shoulders and hips perpendicular to its long axis. Step into the first square with the closest foot (lead) followed by the other foot (trail). Step out to the opposite side of the ladder with the lead foot followed by the trail. Tap the trail foot (front half of the foot) on the ground outside of the ladder and step it back into the second square (The trail leg is now going to become the lead and the lead the trail).
Now step into the second square with the trail foot. Step out to the same side of the ladder where you began the drill but beside the third square. Repeat this pattern down the ladder. Focus on maximal bursts of rapid foot action as you cross the ladder. Each burst should start and stop with the foot tap. Do not allow your shoes to squeak on the floor (this means that you are increasing contact time and not efficiently applying force to the ground).
- In In Out Out Lateral - Stand beside the ladder facing the side of the first square. Step in with the lead foot (this will be the foot on the long side of the ladder) followed by the trail foot. Step backward out of the first square with the lead foot followed by the trail foot. Repeat this action down the ladder. Maintain a constant rhythm throughout the drill.
- In In Out Out Linear - Face down the ladder and straddle the first square. Step into the first square with the lead foot immediately followed by the trail foot. (perform this entire drill with the right foot leading and another time with the left foot leading.) Step back out so you straddle the second square. Step back into the second square with both feet. Repeat this pattern down the ladder. Maintain a constant rhythm down the ladder.
- Skiers - Using an athletic stance face down the ladder and straddle the side (one foot in one foot out). Jump forward and across the ladder so you are straddling the opposite side of the second square. Continue the pattern down the ladder. Maintain a constant stance width and rhythm during the entire drill.
- Lateral Scissors - Start at the end of the ladder with your shoulders and hips running parallel to the long axis of the ladder and the closest foot in the first square. Jump laterally and cross the outside foot across the front so the lead foot stays in the first square and the trail foot lands in the second. Jump laterally again so the lead foot lands in the third square and the trail foot lands in the second square. Continue down the ladder. Repeat facing the other direction.