vertical jump training

Sand Training

Written by Jack Woodrup for VerticalJumping.com

Sand training is a gentle on the joints but murder on the muscles way of improving your vertical jump. In this article we examine the pros and cons of adding this type of training to your program.

How Does Sand Training Work

Have ever jumped on a trampoline and tried jumping up and down on the ground afterwards? Your legs are heavy and you have no spring at all.

The reason for this is that the trampoline not only absorbs and disperses all your impact forces thus negating the stretch-shorten reflex, but it also does all the work in propelling you into the air. Basically your muscles and CNS receive the message that no work is required and so it turns everything off.

Great you say, what has jumping on a trampoline got to do with jumping on the sand? Well jumping on sand has partially the opposite effect to jumping on a trampoline.

Firstly, the softness of the sand, like the trampoline mat, absorbs and disperses your downward force which takes away any plyometric advantages of the stretch shorten cycle.

Secondly, and this is the beneficial bit, unlike the trampoline, the sand makes your muscles work that much harder to actually get any height on your jump.

If you perform your vertical jump training on the sand you will quickly notice how tired your legs get. This is because they have to recruit so many more muscle fibers in order to jump. The upside to this is that regular training with this technique starts to grow accustomed to firing off all those extra fibers so that when you jump on a harder surface such as a basketball or volleyball court, you not only regain the benefit of the plyometric response, but also of the ability to recruit more fibers.

Below Jay performs jump squats on the beach using a 35kg sand bag. This is a great way to perform a great vertical jump exercise.

Sand Training Jump Squat Sand Training Jump Squat

So What are the Cons?

The downside to sand training is that prolonged use can reduce your rate of force development which is crucial to having a high vertical. Due to the way your foot sinks into the sand your contraction time is increased resulting in a less explosive upward movement.

How To Take Advantage of Sand Training

A recent Italian study showed that athletes who trained on sand showed a greater average improvement in their standing vertical jump than those athletes who trained on grass. However, the grass training athletes showed greater improvements on a counter movement jump.

This makes sense based on what we have explained about the pro's and cons of sand training. In the sand your muscles are required to do more work due to the absence of a stretch shorten response. So in a pure standing vertical jump test which also has a minimal stretch shorten component, the athletes who trained in the sand would naturally they would do better.

That study is all well and interesting, but given that very few athletes are training to improve just their vertical jump test, how then do we take advantage of this technique in a functional (i.e. sports and performance) based way?

As this type of training is a more muscle centric method of developing your vertical jump the best way to use it is if to focus on the joint friendly characteristics of the sand to train in a ballistic loaded manner. By this we mean sand is the ideal place to do sport specific activities of exercises such as weighted jump squats, or weighted running jumps.

And no, this doesn't mean carting your barbells down to the beach. As the sand absorbs a lot of your upward force you really do need to work extra hard to jump. As such, you don't need to use much weight to get a good workout. A medicine ball and/or a weighted vest are fine. Even better is something along the lines of a Powerbag (shown in action above by Jay). It is essentially a sand bag with handles. An awesome training device by the way. Great for core work, as well as nearly all ballistic weighted exercises.

Great Sand Exercises

When training in the sand we found that the most benefit is derived from those exercises that are normally very hard to do with some sort of weight. These are mostly your running jumps. The 1-2-3 drill, as well as power skipping really scorch your legs. As your feet sink into the sand on contact you don't need too much weight to amplify the degree of difficulty.

Other great sand exercises are the various forms of bounding and hopping. If you are jumping on sand at the beach even better as you can get out into the ocean to combine water based plyometrics with your sand work.

Conclusion

Sand training, like pool plyometrics and other low impact methods, is a great way to get an intense, sports specific workout without taxing your joints too much. By itself it is not a long term solution to achieving a large functional vertical due to the lack of a reactive element. However, in short 4-8 week bursts, the variety, the challenge, and the fun of this style of training make it something well worth your consideration.

Have you tried sand training to improve your vertical?

Have you tried sand training? If so what sort of things did you do, and what sort of results did you have?

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running and bounding on sand dunes 
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