You Asked For It: Sand Training to Build Speed and Strengthen Feet and Ankles

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STACK recently received a tweet asking for our thoughts on speed training on sand. [Hit us up on Twitter if you have performance-related questions!] We went to one of our experts, University of Georgia's assistant strength and conditioning coach Michael Schweigert, who has his volleyball team perform sand training.

Schweigert incorporates sand work into Georgia Volleyball's off-season training because, he says, "sand training gives us another medium in which we can do our conditioning," adding that the softness of the sand is more forgiving on the joints during agility and plyometric exercises.

He concludes, "Probably the main reason we use it, though, is because it's an unstable surface." This is where proprioception [ability to sense position] comes into play. Running and working out in the shifting sand heightens your ability to feel the ground, and the more you can feel the ground, the better. It leads to increases in speed and lowers your chance of injury.

Athletes with poor proprioception in their feet and ankles are frequently victims of a rolled ankle. [STACK's past work with Ravens Pro Bowl running back Willis McGahee shows that sand training is a great way to increase proprioception and build strength in the feet and ankles.]

Schweigert notes that athletes will see strength gains in the ankle and foot, because the unstable sand "requires you to work that much harder and produce more force to get the same distance." So once you go back to a stable surface, like a field or court, you'll be able push through even harder.

Since your feet are accustomed to running in protective shoes on a stable surface, they're susceptible to fatigue when training barefoot on sand. Limit your sand training to once or twice per week. If you don't have sand to train on in your area, try using a field of soft grass that you know is free of any harmful variables [broken glass, hidden holes, etc.]. Be cautious since grass still isn't quite as soft or forgiving as sand.

Watch the videos above on exercises for sand training inspiration.

Video playlist includes:

Georgia Volleyball Sand-Pit Training

Georgia Volleyball Sand-Pit Shuttle Runs

  • Place three cones in a straight line, 10 yards apart
  • Spring to the first cone and back; rest and then spring to the second cone and back; rest and then spring to the third cone and back, rest
  • Perform drill at game-like intensity but no more than twice a week
  • Use a 1:5 work-to-rest ratio
  • 3x shuttle

Willis McGahee: NFL Off-Seasoning Training at the U

McGahee talks about sand training at the "world-famous" Miami sand pit.

NFL Sand Training: Willis McGahee Bag Reaction

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Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock