People love training on the beach. You get to be outside in the sun, the sand makes everything harder, the scenery is beautiful, and you can get a tan at the same time, what’s not to love about that! Training in the sand can be great for a many reasons, but it can also be detrimental to your performance. It all comes down to one question; what is your goal? This article will highlight some of the pros and cons of sand training so you can make an educated decision next time you hit the beach.
Benefits of Sand Training
Change of Environment
The biggest perk of training in the sand is the environment. Getting out of your regular gym and being outside in the sun, with the ocean at your feet and the sea breeze blowing can be extremely therapeutic. This is an excellent way to break up the monotony of a rigorous training program. Recovery workouts on the beach are a perfect reset to get you physically and mentally prepared for your next workout.
The second reason training in the sand can be great is it makes everything more difficult. If your goal is metabolic conditioning, then putting the sand between your toes is going to make everything exponentially more taxing. Jumping, sprinting, shuffling, any type of movement will be more difficult in the sand since the sand gives out as you push into it, forcing you to exert more effort in order to move. Moving in the sand will also challenge your body in different ways forcing other muscles to work harder to move and stabilize your body when compared to a hard surface. If you are looking to burn calories and increase your metabolic demand, adding sand into the mix is going to be an extra kick in the butt!
Sand is a soft landing pad. Since the sand gives out as you land, the impact on your joints is minimized. This can be great if you are recovering from an injury or just need some lower impact movements. Many elite coaches use sand pits as a landing spot for various jumping drills. This allows you to still explode off the hard ground, but take advantage of the softer surface to reduce the high impacts during landing. The lower impact also makes running on the sand less stressful on your joints over time than the pounding of running on pavement.
The Downside of Being a Beach Bum
Train Slow to Be Slow
Speed training in the sand will make you slower. Yes you read that right. If you are an athlete and your goal is to improve speed and power, then extensive sand training will be detrimental to your performance. When training for speed and power, a major goal is to improve the elastic properties of muscles and tendons, making you more reactive off the ground. Since the sand gives out when you push on it, the ground reaction forces are much less, therefore slowing the rate of force development (RFD). Rapid utilization of the stretch shortening cycle and achieving a high RFD are some of the primary adaptations of any speed and power program. Therefore regularly training these qualities in the sand is actually going to be counterproductive to your end goal.
Reinforces Improper Mechanics
Sand training will also change your running mechanics. Newton’s 3rd Law of Motion states, “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Using this principle in reference to ground reaction forces, we know that proper acceleration mechanics require high levels of force to be exerted into the ground, resulting in a high ground reaction forces that push you forward. This exchange of force is also what allows you to maintain a proper 45 degree body and shin angle during the acceleration phase. With the lack of ground reaction forces, you will be forced to change your mechanics and run more upright. If you try to start and run with proper mechanics you will fall flat on your face. Running on the sand requires more top speed or upright running mechanics, as it is more beneficial to reduce the ground contact time and try to run on top of the sand. This breakdown of technique will reinforce the wrong motor patterns and lead to slower, less explosive athletes.
Increased Injury Risk
The sand is an uneven surface. The top layer of soft sand is very dynamic and moves every time you step or jump on it. This can be dangerous for anybody with a history of lower extremity injuries, or anyone with a lack of stability and joint control that are red flags for injury risk. This can challenge your stability and proprioception if used properly and under the right supervision, but can also be a substantial increase in injury risk without much (if any) extra reward. The hard sand by the water is less dynamic, but presents its own challenges. On most beaches around the world, the hard sand slopes down at various degrees of decline. Therefore running on this sand creates an uneven surface, allowing one foot to hit before the other like you were running with one longer leg. This type of uneven impact can wreak havoc on the joints over time, particularly into the hips and low back.
As with anything there are pros and cons that should be weighed. I am a huge fan of training in the sand for the reasons I shared above. The purpose of this article is only to shed some light on the drawbacks that sand training can have, so you can make an educated decision on the right strategy for you. With any type of training you take on, start with the end goal in mind. If your goal is to get a harder workout, burn more calories, and challenge your body in new ways in a different environment, then throw on some sun block and hit the beach. But if your goal is to improve sport performance through increased speed and explosive power, your best bet is to leave the beach for relaxing and recovery after a hard training session in the gym.