Sand v Grass Training - What you need to know

Judith Beckedorf catches a disc at Sandslash 2015. Photo by Agnieszka Skorupka. See more of her work at agaskorupka.com

As my athletes in the UAP transition from off season to preseason I encourage doing at least some conditioning in cleats on grass. This is because indoor and track surfaces will be slightly different than cleats on grass.

Switching from grass to sand is even more dramatic. We all know from experience that running and even walking on sand is more difficult than doing the same on grass. We also know that change of direction is more difficult.

So how should you prepare for beach tournaments? Because things are more difficult on sand, would training on sand make performance on grass feel easier?

If you play only beach ultimate, most of your agility and conditioning should be done on sand. If you play only grass, most of your agility and conditioning work should be done on grass.

If you play on  a mix of sand and grass, here’s what you need to know about how training transfers from one surface to another.

Vertical Jumping

Vertical jump results from the same study on soccer players were mixed. Non countermovement squat jumps, which are a measure of concentric power, were improved on sand. But countermovement jumps, which are the type you naturally do in sport, were not improved. (See a demonstration of the difference here.)

Vertical jumping ability is less important on sand. So if you are training for beach ultimate, you can forget about the need for jumping type plyometrics. If you are training for a mix of grass and beach ultimate, you will l need to do vertical jump training on surfaces other than sand.

Does it Transfer?

Sand to grass? No. Training on sand does not adequately prepare the body to make use of the plyometric nature of the type of jump you’re most likely to execute when going to a high disc on the move.

Grass to sand? No. Too much difference in surface and ability to put force into the ground.

Conditioning

Conditioning on sand can be useful for both beach and grass athletes. Sand, being a soft surface absorbs some of the force put into the ground with every step. Running on sand is naturally less efficient than running on solid surfaces.

However, work by Pinnington and Dawson shows that the difference in energy consumption on sand versus grass is different for those who have adapted to sand training versus those who have not. This means that the energy costs that come from the difference in surface can be mitigated by surface-specific training.

Because sand is an unstable as well as a soft surface, the body must adapt to generating more activation of the small stabilizing muscles. Additionally the brain will learn to use different muscle activation patterns on sand versus grass.

If you play primarily on sand, you should do most of your conditioning work on sand in order to adapt to these different muscle recruitment needs.

Conditioning on sand can be useful for grass athletes too. Because of the softer surface and absorption of energy by the ground, there are less impact forces on the body while training on a sand surface. You may suspect that this is an attractive advantage for older athletes and you would be correct. But sand training is useful for all athletes because it allows you to train at a higher heart rate and do more anaerobic threshold training with a shorter recovery time.

Does it Transfer?

Sand to grass? Yes. Conditioning on sand allows for greater effort and faster recovery. However, some conditioning should still be done on grass to help the body adapt t o impact forces.

Grass to sand? Yes, but not as much. The body will develop muscle recruitment patterns specific to greater running economy on sand that cannot be achieved by training only on grass.

Acceleration

Acceleration training on sand is a form of resisted running. In some ways feels similar to uphill sprints in that you can add resistance without significantly changing running mechanics.

So is sand training superior? Not exactly. This study on soccer players for example shows that training on sand does transfer to better 10-20 meter sprint times. Gains are equivalent to training on grass, but not superior. Going in the other direction, those who trained on grass did not see improved performance on sand.

Does it Transfer?

Sand to grass? Yes. Acceleration work in sand will transfer to better acceleration on grass. It is equivalent to training on grass.

Grass to sand? No. To accelerate in sand, your body needs to adapt for increased ground contact time and a different muscle recruitment strategy.

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 So that’s what the science says. What do you think?

Have you transitioned between grass and sand? What have you noticed about how your training does or doesn’t transfer?

Tell us in the comments!

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