Wellness Wednesday: Training Concept Series, Pt. 6 – Speed, Agility, and Quickness

Published 1:43 pm Wednesday, May 24, 2023

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The words “speed, agility, and quickness,” may immediately bring your mind to a whistling football practice, the NFL combine, or a physically demanding military training. However, Speed, Agility, and Quickness training (referred to as SAQ) benefits a large span of physical training participants, including, but not limited to: those training for weight loss, youth participants, and even older adults. 

“Speed” refers to the ability to move the body in a single direction as fast as possible, otherwise determined as distance divided by time (distance / time), and is the overall product of stride length (distance covered within each stride) and stride rate (the number of strides taken in a certain amount of time or distance covered). Although some type of genetic predisposition may favor many elite athletes, speed can increase in any individual as a result of speed-specific exercises. Certain speed drills, such as short-distance sprints or hill sprints, stimulate muscle tissues in a unique way, thus leading to favorable health and performance adaptations as a result of training. Maintaining proper frontside and backside mechanics improves the body’s ability to utilize the ground reaction force while running, helping the participant propel forward. These mechanics include flexion of the ankle, knee, and hip among the lead leg, and extension of the ankle, knee, and hip on the back leg, with each driving as forward as possible directly into the sagittal plane. 

“Agility” refers to one’s ability to accelerate (start), decelerate (stop), or change direction quickly in response to a certain stimulus. During this process, ability increases as the speed of response and proper maintenance of postural control also increases. Requiring high levels of coordination, agility exercises contribute to enhanced dynamic flexibility, core strength, acceleration and deceleration capabilities, postural control, and proprioception. Agility training also aids in injury prevention by improving the structural integrity of tendons and ligaments surrounding joints and increasing effective eccentric control in all planes of motion. Musculoskeletal injury often occurs when the body part extends beyond its optimal range of motion, thus, enhanced eccentric control (aka deceleration) may help prevent this type of injury. 

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“Quickness” is the ability to quickly react and change the position of the body while producing maximal force in all planes of motion and from all positions of the body, while experiencing dynamic activity. More simply – it is the body’s ability to quickly change position as a reaction to a visual, auditory, or kinesthetic stimulus. Examples of quickness include hitting a baseball or swerving to avoid an object in the road while driving. 

Now that we know how to define each element of SAQ training, we can focus on this question: why SAQ training, and how does this affect multiple populations? As briefly mentioned above, SAQ training enhances coordination, utilizes multiple biological systems, stimulates unique health and performance adaptations, and aids in injury prevention through the increase in proprioceptive and reactive properties. SAQ training for youth, specifically, optimizes essential development for physical ability beyond typical developmental patterns (crawling, walking, jumping), by exposing youth to a variety of biomechanical and neuromuscular demands. Fun group games that resemble SAQ training, often played in Gym/PE classes, include Red Light Green Light and Follow the Snake. 

Research shows improved effectiveness for weight loss through SAQ participation. SAQ exercises include short bouts of high intensity movement, which has been found to match (and in some cases, surpass) other common modes of training as it applies to metabolic adaptations. This type of training often provides additional mental simulation, possibly making it a little more enjoyable and engaging than a typical steady-state workout. When training SAQ for those with goals to lose weight, longer, circuit-style workouts often yield the best results. Also worth noting: high-intensity interval training can actually burn more subcutaneous fat (the fat beneath the layer of the skin) than longer duration, lower intensity training. Appropriate levels of intensity, as well as the frequency of training per week, according to each individual remains important for safety purposes. 

Finally, SAQ training proves highly necessary for older adult populations, as its benefits are essential in improving functional capacity for common activities of daily living, preventing acute injury from falls, and slowing and reversing the onset and effects of chronic bone and muscle degenerative diseases, such as osteopenia and sarcopenia.  Exercises involving stepping over hurdles or cones and/or stand-up to walking complex figures, like a figure 8 path, provide a simple, yet effective way to help maintain overall balance, functional movement (walking up stairs, squatting, stepping into the bath-tub, etc.), flexibility, and strength. 

Speed, Agility, and Quickness training undoubtedly improves performance in all kinds of athletic events; however, this training concept should be included in fitness programs across all populations. Specific exercises in this category tailor to unique individuals and their abilities. An array of exercise variables (sets, reps, frequency of training, etc.) exists for careful, intentional implementation. Contact a personal trainer and/or your Physical Therapist for help and guidance with SAQ programming in your training.