At this point in time, I think anyone worth a salt in the strength and conditioning industry knows that the 60-minute speed and agility (SAQ) class at the local sports complex is nothing more than a mesh of conditioning and babysitting. In my opinion, parents would be much better served signing their kids up for swimming classes at the YMCA. However, if you own a strength and conditioning facility like I do, you are receiving daily inquiries about your “speed and agility” programs. And of course my website says we offer speed and agility training - that’s what people are searching for! It would be a terrible marketing idea to downplay that god forsaken term.
I will admit that our program did have a heavy emphasis on speed and agility 10 years ago. That’s what people wanted, so that’s what we gave them: mindless amounts of ladder and cone drilling. However, I started to realize that the kids who were lifting with us were blowing away the kids who were not. So it was at that point that strength training became mandatory and speed and agility became optional. Currently, kids might spend less than five minutes a week on an agility ladder in our facility.
Like any other fitness trend, SAQ has gone from being a "must" to being something that only the worst trainers in the country are doing. Much like CrossFit, there are those who think you should never do it and those who think it is the end-all be-all to strength training. I don’t personally like absolutes when it comes to training. Saying never can limit you from doing a little bit of something that might pay off big time for your clients. In turn, and on the other end of the spectrum, living and dying by one concept can keep you from using other methods that might be exactly what your clients need.
Having spent the last three years around NFL scouts and former coaches, I can confidently tell you that there is a need for some SAQ work in year-round programs. If you are big and fast but move like Roboto in agility drills, college and NFL teams will not be interested in your services. Footwork, turning the hips, decelerating, and accelerating is preached at every combine at which I work. Sorry, dynamic box squats are great, but they are not the only answer to improving your ability to move on a football field (or any athletic field or court for that matter).
So, how do you incorporate SAQ into your weekly training schedule without overdoing it? There are many answers to that question, and the key is finding the proper dosage of linear and lateral work throughout the course of the week. Below are some ways that I have been able to successfully incorporate SAQ work into my facility's weekly plan:
1. Early in the week, our focus is on linear speed development. Each athlete that comes into the gym performs 6-10 sets of linear drills ranging from sleds, bands, or unresisted sprints from various positions. It is enough to get some quality work in, but not so much that it affects our strength and power development that takes place after. Every 6-8 weeks, we also laser time 15-yard sprints. Very seldom do we focus on old school track technique stuff.
2. The back half of our week is dedicated to multi-directional speed. This is when you will see some agility ladder work, quick feet plyos, and cone drills. There are a few ways that I program lateral plyos and agilities for my clients:
- Beginner athletes (ages 10-14) do some lateral hopping and jumping work based on our progressions. They will also do some cone drilling focusing on deceleration. To me, this is foundational work.
- My high school athletes that really suck at athletic movement will do some drills whenever I feel it works within their program. It might just be practicing pro-shuttle stops in each direction.
- I do very little agility work with my high school athletes that play a lot of indoor lacrosse/soccer or AAU basketball. If they have been with me long enough, they are good at it and doing any more is an unnecessary waste of energy. Plus, those sports serve as ample agility work.
- My four-times-per-week football guys might do agility ladder work and a low volume of lateral plyometrics on upper body days in the winter. These drills keep them moving on a daily basis without overtaxing them. A lot of lateral sled work is also built-in to the program.
3. As we get into summer and I need to run my football guys more, we lift upper body on Saturday and then warm up and hit some position-specific agility work. I like to have them perform a variety of shuttles and reaction-type drills for 4-8 seconds with 30-45 seconds of rest in between. At the end of the session, we spend some time working on their conditioning tests (300-yard shuttles for instance).
4. Sled sprints are great substitute for dynamic effort work if your facility has the space for it. I will have my athletes perform 6-12 sets of 15-yard sled sprints with 30-45 seconds in between.
5. Sled pushing or shuttle intervals at the end of sessions is no brainer. Go really hard for a few minutes and then call it a day.
6. If we add more running or more conditioning, strength training volume is definitely reduced. You can’t just keep adding without reducing some things.
This is just a brief summary of how I have made SAQ work for me within a model that focuses primarily on strength and power development. It's not the only way to do things, but it has worked for my clients for the last few years.
Mike Kozak earned his Master's Degree in Sport and Exercise Education from Ohio State in 2001 and his CSCS from the NSCA in 2004. He is the owner of Soar Fitness in Lewis Center Ohio and specializes in designing individualized programs for athletes ranging from 10 years old to college/pro. Mike also spent 4 years working with NFL Regional Combines as a National Field Director. For more information, check out www.soarofcolumbus.com.
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