By Jason Shea M.S., PICP Level IV
Did you know that training in the sand can improve your speed, agility, and upright stability? From increasing one’s horsepower to improving muscular balance and elasticity there are many effective approaches to speed and agility development. Let’s look at increasing speed and agility through the eyes of car manufacturer. You can’t make a fast car without a powerful engine. Next come the quality parts aimed at maximizing the efficiency of the engine. Then the frame, body, and tires. Once these are all in place, and then the fun stuff including ground effects, spoilers, nitric oxide and more can be added.
This engine and structure first order also holds true for developing speed and agility. You can practice all the cone, ladder, and dot drills, but if the engine and structural foundation are weak, an athlete may never get quality returns on their investment of time, energy, and finances. For quality gains in speed and agility, focusing on creating a functionally strong and structurally balanced foundation may provide better bang for the buck.
Methods used for improving the “engine and foundation” include:
- · Conventional Weight Training: Deadlifts, Squats, Bench Press, Overhead Press, etc
- · Olympic Lifts: Clean Variations, Snatch Variations, Jerk Variations
- · Structural Balance: Unilateral Strength Training, antagonistic muscle group training
- · Functional Strength Training: Modified Strongman training including tire flips, farmer carries, prowler pushes, super yoke carries, sled dragging, atlas stone work
- · Plyometric training methods
Speed and Agility Drills:
- · Cone Drills
- · Low hurdle drills
- · Resisted sprint drills
- · Assisted sprint drills
One often -overlooked method of improving speed and agility is sandpit training. Sports legends like Walter Payton, Ray Lewis, Marvin Hagler, and Andre Agassi to modern day physical specimens like Blake Griffin, Troy Polamalu, and Kobe Bryant all had one training element in common. They all performed acceleration and hill sprint drills in the sand.
From Soviet research on Olympic sprinters, it was theorized that sprinting in the sand was one of the best ways to develop the hamstrings (1). According to a 1991 article from The National Strength and Conditioning Association Journal “sprinting in sand exaggerates the various stride components. In order to propel oneself forward through an unstable substance such as sand, hip flexion must reflect a higher knee/thigh action. Such kinesiological demands tax not only hip flexor involvement but also the hamstring braking function in knee extension (1)”.
The authors drew the analogy of spinning tires in mud with regard to the amplified hamstring recruitment during hip, knee, and ankle extension). Just like tires spinning in the mud, as an athlete accelerates in the sand their foot will dig into the sand and slide until it gains traction to propel the body forward. This only takes milliseconds. The resulting exaggerated hip and knee extension and plantar flexion increases the demands on the hamstrings and plantar flexors during acceleration (1). For this amplified effect on sprint and agility drills, try doing them in the sand! Below are a few examples of print, acceleration, and agility drills in the sand:
- · 10-20 yard sand hill accelerations
- · 20-40 yard hill sprints
- · Cone agility drills in the sand
- · Complex: Back squat X 3 @ 3010 rest 30s 10-15 yard sprint in the sand
- · 20 yard sandàgrass sprint: accelerate first 5 yards in the sand then yards 5-20 continue accelerating in the grass
Jump training in the sand
Jump training is another way to take advantage of this “spinning the tires” amplified hamstring and plantar flexor effect in the sand. As an athlete jumps out of the sand, similar mechanical actions occur in the hips, knees, and ankles to those found in sprinting. As the athlete drives down into the sand and immediately reverses direction, the balls of the feet will dig into the sand until they gain enough traction to propel the athlete into the air.
Though it can improve speed and vertical power, jump training in the sand is not by definition, true plyometric. This is due to the dispersion of the ground contact forces in the sand. In true plyometric exercises, there is forceful and immediate reaction to the ground contact forces, while in sand jumping, some of the ground contact forces are absorbed and lost in the sand. The amoritization phase (immediate switch from eccentric to concentric) is too long and the desired reactive forces can be slightly diminished. For true plyometric training (depth drops and depth jumps) more solid surfaces may be better suited, but for amplified hamstring and plantar flexor training, try jump training in the sand. Below are a few examples:
- · Vertec vertical jump test in the sand
- · Jump Squats
- · Complex: Back squat or Deadlift X 3 reps overhead goal jumping in the sand
- · Split jump variations
- · Lateral hurdle hops
- · High hurdle jumps
- · Broad jumps
- · Single or double legged bounding drills
Modified Strongman training in the sand
Strongman training can be a great method for improving functional strength and hypertrophy. Though many strongman exercises may not be appropriate in the sand, carrying and horizontal based methods may be effective for speed development and upright stability. For example the farmer carry is a great exercise for strengthening the muscles about the ankles, knees, and hips, It also strengthens knee stability through the eccentric load it places on the VMO muscle with each foot strike.
Taking this exercise into the sand can dramatically increase to the stability requirements of the entire kinetic chain from the ankles up through the shoulders. Adding slalom style directional changes can increase these demands even more.
The core training demands during carrying exercises including keg, farmer, sandbag/heavy bag, suitcase carries, and wheelbarrow loading can also be amplified by performing these in the sand. Slosh stick training is difficult enough, but when done in the sand is just plain evil. Digging into the sand during tire and sled dragging adds difficulty to an already difficult movement.
An excellent, but unconventional exercise for athletes is the hand over hand atlas stone push in the sand (2 arm atlas stone pulls are quite challenging as well). If possible try performing in slalom fashion, as the constant changes of direction increases the difficulty of this exercise. For more on these and other great sand training methods, check out our website or if you are in the area, stop by to try out our 40X100 foot private sandpit!
Enjoy, Work, and …….Succeed!
1. Oviatt R, Hemba G. Oregon State: Sandblasting through the PAC. National Strength and Conditioning Association Journal. 13(4); 1991. Pp 40-46.