The foundation of all exercise is movement and this is most evident in a sport like squash where rapid changes in direction are at the sports core.
A system of training that could improve this ability would provide huge benefits for the player. Enter speed, agility and quickness (SAQ) training.
The benefits of speed, agility and quickness training for squash include: injury reduction, the ability to move more efficiently, faster and better recovery when faced with the sudden directional changes which are constantly occurring within our sport.
This can be greatly enhanced with correct SAQ training, in addition to adjusting exercise selection and techniques.
Speed is defined as the ability to move the body in one direction as fast as possible.
Agility is the ability to accelerate, decelerate, stabilize, and quickly change directions with proper posture.
Quickness is the ability to react and change body position with a maximum rate of force production.
Improving all three components will enhance a player’s match experience, satisfy the need for effective cardiorespiratory work, and provide variety in movement direction and position.
All standards of players can benefit from improved balance, quicker feet, and a faster reaction times, and this is precisely what Speed, Agility, and Quickness (SAQ) drills can 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.
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.
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.
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.
SAQ Drills Do Provide Tangible Benefits
As an athlete, speed, agility, and quickness training was introduced at a young age. In a sport like squash 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.
As I matured as an athlete, the importance of speed, agility, and quickness took on more significance as the games became longer and faster. When quick reactions and effective footwork can be the difference between picking up a drop shot or changing direction and creating an opening in which to counter-attack. Being able to change direction in a split-second is massively important and successful players will learn to move in all directions early in their training and still remaining light on their feet yet incredibly explosive.
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Learning to Move Efficiently
Below are a few basic movement drills that can help prepare an athlete for a variety of situations.
6 Basic Locomotion Drills
3. Side Shuffle
5. Butt Kickers
6. High Knees
Medicine Ball Drills
Medicine balls are an invaluable tool for fighters and grapplers to develop upper body power. They can be used in a variety of exercises, but for the purposes of this article, we are going to focus on throwing.
We can throw them against a wall, the ground or with a partner.
Medicine ball exercises can be performed on the ground, kneeling (both knees down), half kneeling (one knee down), standing, or w/ movement.
Basic medicine ball throws include:
• Chest pass
• Overhead throw (soccer throw in)
• Rotational Throws
• Shot Put
• Hinge for height
• Hinge for distance
We typically use ladder drills after our warm up and locomotion drills. They are a great way to build strength, coordination and to fire up the nervous system before more intense work. These can become incredibly complex, but don’t need to be. Start slow, focus on technique and increase the speed as you become more proficient.
Here are some ladder basics that you can add to your arsenal:
• 1 foot per square running
• 2 feet per square running
• In, In, out (Icki Shuffle)
• Ali Shuffle
• Rotational Switch
• Cross Overs
Jump Rope Drills
Jumping rope has been a staple for combat athletes for a long, long time. Be sure to spring off of your toes and propel your body up, as this will help improve your quickness and explosiveness.
Below are some jump rope drills to try:
• Two feet
• Move right and left
• Move forward and back
• Circle right and left
• Side to side bounding
• Front to back bounding
• 1 foot hops
• High knees
• Double unders
Agility is defined as our ability to change direction. Reacting to our opponent, setting up an attack and defending requires us to move quickly and change directions quickly.
The sky is the limit on these drills, but here are a few of our favorites.
• 2 cone shuffle – set up two cones, 5 yards apart and shuffle as quickly as possible back and forth. These can be done of reps or time, but should be short and quick.
• 3 cone drill – You have seen this one in the NFL combine. Its also called 5-10-5 drill. 3 cones, five yards apart, start in the middle and sprint to one side, back to far side and then thru the middle to finish.
• Box drill – 4 cones, 5 yards apart, set up in a square. Sprint forward, side shuffle over, back pedal, side shuffle and repeat back the other way.
• Reaction drills – light or color. You can get creative with these. Setting up cones, colored dots or similar in a variety of patterns (half circle, circle, or other). The athlete must respond to their partner or coach’s command. So, if you are using colored dots, the coach my call out ‘red’ and the athlete has to find red and get there as quickly as possible.
Plyometrics can best be described as “reactive power” training, as plyometrics involve powerful contractions in response to a rapid stretching (eccentric action) of the same muscle and connective tissue. Just like any exercise, we should always lay a solid foundation and progress into more intense exercises.
Here’s a progression for plyometrics:
Level 1 – to box or step, no gravity
Level 2 – movement to stick or hold…introduce gravity and land well.
Level 3 – movement to bounce or studder, then progress
Level 4 – True plyometric, repeated jumping or bounding.
Speed, agility and quickness training can make a massive improvement to a players game. Developing these characteristics will take some time, but an effectively thought out plan coupled with consistent practice will yield great results.