Sports Conditioning with SAQ

Remember how quick and agile you were as a child?  You ran flat out on the playground, darting and dodging the other kids in games of tag.  You were having fun, but you were also building valuable sports skills.

Speed, agility and quickness (SAQ) are basic fundamentals for alpine sports performance, as well as the hallmarks of every top-notch athlete.  It’s true, some people are born with a natural ability to move swiftly and weave with precision and grace.  Everyone, though, has the potential to increase power and sharpen response time through training.  That’s because the body learns by doing… including your body!

What is SAQ?

SAQ workouts consist of short, intense drills that require you to accelerate or decelerate quickly, while moving backward, forward or side-to-side.  SAQ improves balance, power and neuromuscular firing patterns so that your movements become fast, dynamic and precise.  You’ll notice improvements in your response time and your ability to change direction lightning fast—as in skiing, snowboarding, or ice-skating.

Do You Need SAQ?

If you do alpine sports, or if like to play golf, tennis, or even table tennis, you’ll want to listen up.  These and many other sports are explosive—and explosive sports must be trained explosively.  Whether you are ripping down a mogul run, or skinny skiing across a snowfield, there is always a critical moment where you need extra power between the waist and the knees.

What’s more, SAQ training helps protect you from injury when you are trying new sports or adding new challenges to your routine.  If you teach your muscles to fire contrary to what they are used to, you will prepare your tendons, ligaments, muscles and joints for the unexpected.  SAQ will bulletproof you for the future, so you’ll be less likely to break.  Oh, and did I mention SAQ is a whole lot of fun too?

Train Your Brain

SAQ training enhances spatial awareness and reinforces the movements and connectivity not only in your muscles, but in your brain too.

The central nervous system (CNS) sends messages to a muscle’s individual motor units to team up and recruit more muscle fiber –and that’s a good thing.  The only thing to be cautious about is too much CNS activity, because when you go 90% or faster, it puts a tremendous amount of stress on your CNS and muscles, which makes you stronger, but which also can cause deep fatigue in your body.  So make sure that you recover between SAQ workouts—it takes about 72-96 hours to recover.

Create a Schedule

Weeks 1-3 | Mind Your Movement Skills

Lace multi-directional movement patterns into your routine. These are fundamental skills that move you up, down, forward, backward, laterally, and diagonally—on flats, hills and stairs. Do them two or 3 times a week for three weeks, BEFORE moving onto SAQ drills.

Tina Vindum

Weeks 4+ | Time for SAQ!

Add SAQ drills 2-3 times per week (best to begin 6-8 weeks before hitting the slopes).

SAQ Drills

Four Corner Drill. Take four cones and make a square 10 yards apart, and place a ball in the middle. Run from the corner to the ball on the inside, back to the same corner, then up to the next corner. Repeat. Time yourself, or do the drill with a friend.

Big “T” Drill. Make a “T” as big as you’d like with cones; then, facing the “T” shuffle laterally to the right across the top of the “T,” when you get to the end, take a step forward, and shuffle left, to the middle, run forward to the bottom of the “T,” then, shuffle backward up, along the base of the “T,” and finish by shuffling left, back to the start. Repeat 5-10 times.

Zigzag Hops. Line cones up in a zigzag formation. Hop diagonally over the cones, up the line. Vary your hops—single leg, double leg, height, and distance—placing emphasis on landing softly and absorbing with your muscles.


Time / Reps

  • Beginner/Intermediate:  30 seconds for each drill, with 30 second active recovery of walking  (1-3 sets)
  • Intermediate/Advanced: 30-60 seconds for each drill, with 30-60 second active recovery of walking or light jogging. (5-10 sets)


  • Before you start your SAQ program, it’s important to have a solid athletic base of strength, cardiovascular endurance, balance and flexibility.
  • Warm-up is a must. It takes a minimum of 10 minutes to properly warm up muscles, ligaments and joints. Try light jogging or spinning on a bike.
  • Quality of shoes cannot be overemphasized. Be sure that your footwear fits well, is supportive and made for multi-directional movement.
  • Quality of the movement is paramount. Maintain proper form and muscle control at all times.
  • Less is more. Shorten the duration of your workouts to 20-30 minutes, with full recovery between sets.
  • Remember–the emphasis is on going fast!

Jens Baltrusch

September 24, 2011 at 12:57 am

Nice input, Tina. And right in time to start preparation for the ski season. Thx!

anita bondi

September 25, 2011 at 6:09 am

So make sure that you recover between SAQ workouts—it takes about 72-96 hours to recover.

tina, please let us know how to do this 3 times a week and still get the 72-96 hours of rest in between workouts?
thanks. this seems awesome and i want to make sure not to injure myself or anyone i share it with.


September 25, 2011 at 8:26 am

Hi Anita,

Great question! You can do SAQ every 3rd day–Monday, Thursday, Sunday, etc. If you experience a super intense session that causes deep fatigue and muscle soreness, back off another day. Let your body be your guide and key off of how you feel.

Have a blast with it, Anita!



September 25, 2011 at 3:26 pm

While recovering from a SAQ workout, can I do my regular exercise activities on th off days? Like run, or pilates, ot TRX?? Want to try this…



Tina Vindum

September 25, 2011 at 5:53 pm

Hi Laura,

Yes. You can lace your regular activities in between. My recommendation is to take your normal rest day(s) following an SAQ day. Or, do pilates or an aerobic (avoid anaerobic) run the following day. The most important thing is to monitor how you are feeling. We want to avoid deep fatigue.

Have fun with it!


Denise Roe

September 26, 2011 at 4:13 am

Can you give examples of what to do weeks 1 through 3?
Denise Roe

Kathleen McDonough, MA, PT

September 26, 2011 at 12:02 pm

love these drills and have been using them with dryland training for swim and soccer teams for years. Good to remember to stay soft and low on the cuts/changes in direction and landings to avoid any strain to the knees (protect your ACL).

Tina Vindum

September 26, 2011 at 2:42 pm

Hi Denise,

For the first few weeks before getting into SAQ training, I’d work on my base – Cardio, muscular strength & endurance, balance, agility (non-linear motion) and flexibility – preferably outdoors on a variety of terrain. May sound like a lot, however, it really isn’t. It’s simply a matter of lacing the elements together. I have quite a few sample workouts on the website (keywords: workouts, quick workouts, terrain training, kinesthetic awareness, etc).

Here are a few links below to help get you started:

The most important part is to have fun with it!


Tina Vindum

September 26, 2011 at 2:43 pm

Hi Kathleen,

All excellent tips!



September 28, 2011 at 1:20 pm

This is great! I always just called this kind of stuff “sports conditioning style workout” or drills, but now have a term to use! Funny, in Canada the SAQ is the liquor store…haha!


September 28, 2011 at 3:34 pm

Thanks so much for this helpful article! I’m printing this now 🙂

Gabrielle Miller

October 16, 2011 at 9:45 pm

As a personal trainer and run coach, I think SAQ workouts are great for my clients who like to do trail runs. It’s important to have agility, quickness, and sharp proprioceptive reflexes to adjust to technical terrain while out on the trails. Plus, hill & stair training are great for for all runners to improve their strength and stamina.


October 30, 2011 at 6:59 pm

This looks fun and engaging! Would love to incorporate this in a format for kids. I am in the planning phase of starting an after-school kids running club, and I want to incorporate this type of training into their workouts. Any suggestions/modifications of this type of work out geared towards kids (ages 6 and up).


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