Speed kills. All things equal, the faster athlete will win. Or, is it greater strength that wins the day. All things equal, the stronger athlete will come out on top. Fast or strong, which one is the key to athletic supremacy? Neither, the key to athletic supremacy is when an athlete can apply his greater strength more quickly than his competition. That athlete separates himself from the competition in a massive way. Creating a power advantage is the Holy Grail for every athlete and the primary goal of every coach designing a strength program for sport.
Since the benefits of plyometric training got out from the Eastern Bloc and Soviets, any advanced athlete wanting to improve explosive power has integrated some form of plyo into their programming. Plyometric training, however, is an advanced form of training that is extremely taxing on the joints and central nervous system. Its not for beginners that haven’t developed a moderate level of strength and been exposed to other forms of explosive training. In Supertraining Mel Siff is credited with the following quote:
“It must be stressed that depth-jumping is not a basic type of training to be indulged in lightly by athletes who are relatively unused to explosive or strongly resisted movements. For anyone who is not accustomed to movements such as weightlifting cleans, jerks, squats, or hurdling, it is highly advisable that a preparatory program using sub-maximal plyometrics, non-impact and non-plyometrics be followed before the above recommendations are implemented. “
The issue with plyometrics is the eccentric loading phase of the movement (landing). Absorbing the shock of hitting the ground is tough on joints and the intensity level of the neural signal required to instantaneously activate musculature over your entire body to affectively stabilize, and then redirect force in another direction, is extremely taxing on your central nervous system (CNS). Even experienced athletes need to be mindful of the intensity and overall volume of their plyometric work because it can quickly have a negative affect on skill development, game day performance and lead to overtraining.
The forgiving nature of sand is easier on your body during the eccentric phase of the movement. Sand absorbs your force much better than a hard surface making it easier on the joints.
Training power movements in the sand is a way for you to mitigate the high risk that goes with the high reward of plyometric training like Mel Siff suggests. The forgiving nature of sand is easier on your body during the eccentric phase of the movement. Sand absorbs your force much better than a hard surface making it easier on the joints. Because sand absorbs more of your force, sinking in when you land, both the rate and strength of the of the signal from your CNS needed to decelerate, stabilize and then transition force in another direction are not as great, therefore not as taxing on the CNS.
The paradox of training in the sand is that it is forgiving while also being very unstable. The force you create during the concentric phase (taking off) of a movement does not translate as well in sand as it does on a hard surface so it requires you to generate more force to move explosively. It is the next best thing to increasing gravity. That unstable platform is also great for improving joint stability and resiliency, particularly in the ankles and knees where most non-contact sports injuries occur.
Sand training is both a bridge and a safety net to work into sub-maximal plyometrics, such as jumping, hopping, and bounding, on hard surfaces.
The issues for beginner athletes that want to add plyometrics is that they have not yet developed proper movement patterns to safely do explosive movements or built the strength to withstand the pounding. Sand training is both a bridge and a safety net to work into sub-maximal plyometrics, such as jumping, hopping, and bounding, on hard surfaces. Once an athlete has some experience under their belt with sub-maximal plyometrics he or she can progress to maximal plyometrics, by which I am referring to depth jumps.
When an athlete progresses to an advanced trainee ready for regular plyometric training the issues are the risk of overtraining that plyometrics pose and the constant quest for methods that continue to produce positive training adaptations. Occasionally training in the sand rather than a hard surface builds both a safety buffer and variety into your program. The eccentric phase is easier by design, but the concentric phase is actually harder. It affords you the opportunity to train explosively without as much wear and tear on the body.
Before you hit the sand for your first training session, keep the following rules in mind:
- Never do depth jumps into sand. Save those for a solid surface off of a stable box.
- Make sure the sand you are working in is clear of rocks, debris and hard objects that could injury you. Sand volleyball courts and the beach are your best bet.
- Double leg broad jumping is one of the best movements for developing explosive posterior chain power. They are a great choice for the sand because it is the only time you can truly cut loose with them without slamming heels first onto a hard surface.
- Keep specificity in mind. If you are primarily concerned with improving sprint speed then you should focus on plyometric movements with a horizontal displacement, like broad jumps and single leg bounding. If your goals are on generating more vertical power spend more time on movements with vertical displacement. There is still carryover from one to the other, but it is worth noting.
- When you are training for power your goal is to jump as high, or as far as possible, on every rep. Pick a set/rep scheme that lends itself to maximum power output rather than a metabolic conditioning adaptation. Sets of 3 to 5 reps are generally best for maximum power development. Sets of 8 to 10 reps for more advanced trainees are the highest I would recommend going.
- High volume does not lend itself to explosive power adaptations.
- Advanced trainees should be doing about three to five total working sets.
- Beginners should be doing two to three sets per workout.
Simply changing the platform on which you do your power training can create a bridge for new trainees to more traditional plyometrics and a new stimulus for advanced trainees to create greater training adaptations without risking overtraining. Be quick, be strong and move beautifully!
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Tanner Martty is a strength, nutrition and body transformation coach in Santa Monica, CA. Tanner has a passion for challenges and creating systems that best overcome them. This applies to his students and his own training, nutrition and lifestyle. There are always new goals to chase, but his love is for the journey they create. You can contact Tanner and find out more about his training and nutrition system at www.tannermartty.com.