Sprinting on Sand: Good or Bad?

TAGS: sand, joint health, HITT cardio, Eric Martinez, Chris Martinez, sprinting

Calling all athletes! What kind of surfaces are you sprinting on these days?

We truly hope you aren't sprinting on concrete surfaces unless you're sprinting away from your girlfriend because you forgot her birthday. Otherwise, sprinting on concrete is a big no-no and could cause injury. It's also tough on your joints. When we were kids, we used to have sprint competitions against our friends on concrete surfaces. Boy, those were fun until one of us took a hard spill. After thinking about that hard spill, we realize that other surfaces are more optimal for sprinting.

All kidding aside, sand is one of the best surfaces to do some all-out sprints or HIIT cardio on. Yes, sand—as in beaches, beautiful weather, and hot babes all around. Now, we know everyone doesn’t have access to sand surfaces, but for those who do, it’s time to try doing your sprints on them. Sand surfaces are harder to walk and run on than other surfaces because the feet slip and sink, which requires the leg muscles to stabilize the feet during the application of force. We promise that you won't be disappointed with how grueling and tough sprinting on sand surfaces is. Oh, and your joints will thank you in the long run, along with the rest of your body.

"Where’s the proof in all this mumbo-jumbo sprinting in sand talk?" you ask. Before we discuss the study, we'd like to give researcher Chris Beardsley a round of applause for discovering this study. A 2012 study conducted in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport tested the biomechanics and predicted energetics of sprinting on sand surfaces. Previous researchers have observed that the energy cost of walking on sand is 1.8–2.7 times that of walking on firm ground, while the energy cost of running on sand is 1.2–1.6 times that of running on firm ground. If you think about it, that's a pretty significant difference and could really be beneficial in everyone’s favor, especially athletes training in pre-season or possibly for rehabilitation purposes.

So what did the researchers do? They wanted to compare short sprints with or without changes in direction on sand, grass, and artificial turf, so they recruited 29 male professional soccer players (seven defenders, fifteen mid-fielders, and seven forwards). After a standardized twelve-minute warm up, the researchers asked the athletes to perform a 12-meter maximum speed sprint and a 24-meter maximum speed shuttle sprint (with a 180-degree change of direction). The athletes performed both of these sprints on sand, grass, and artificial turf, not concrete surfaces as we mentioned earlier.

So what happened?

Measurement decreases on sand: The researchers observed significant decreases in average speed, maximum speed, average acceleration, maximum acceleration, average stride length, flight time, mechanical power, and stiffness on sand compared with grass or artificial turf.

Measurement increases on sand: The researchers also noted that average energy cost, average metabolic power, and contact time were highest during sprinting on sand.

Changes in efficiency in sand: The researchers found that efficiency values (i.e., the ratio between mechanical power and metabolic power) of the sprints were 0.17 on natural grass and artificial turf while the ratio was only 0.12 for sand.

Similarity in stride frequency across all surfaces: The researchers were surprised by the lack of variation in stride frequency between the various surfaces.

So what did the researchers conclude in all of this?

This can’t be a study if there isn't any conclusion, right? Well, the researchers concluded that running on sand could be a useful tool for training, injury prevention, and recovery. Pretty darn good benefits if you ask us. The main reasons they came to this conclusion was due to the stiffness values and how maximal speeds become lower on sand surfaces. Not to mention, as we said earlier, this could serve your body well over time from possible joint issues or even the famous “shin splints,” which can be pretty painful. The researchers also noted that “It is possible to carry out maximal intensity sprints on sand without reaching maximum speed with lower stiffness while also maintaining the same stride frequency but by reducing stride length, which represent less injury risk.” At the end of the day, we're pretty sure everyone wants to stay injury-free in order to maximize their full potential.

Wrapping this up

So we have some pretty cool data here to support the notion that sand is indeed a great and beneficial surface for sprinting. Now, we aren't saying that sprinting on grass, turf, or tracks is bad. We sprint on those surfaces all the time and have no pain whatsoever. We're simply saying that sprinting on sand has its valid benefits. It's very tough due to how your feet slip and sink in the sand, and it forces the leg muscles to stabilize the feet during the application of force. Oh, and why not take advantage of some awesome weather and do some sprints while flexing your guns and glutes if you have access to a beach. Overall, you can’t go wrong with sprinting on sand. It’s great on your body and great for rehabilitation and offers some great scenery. Whether you’re an athlete or not, just get out there and do some damn sprints!


  • Gaudino, Gaudino, Albertia, Minetti (2012) Biomechanics and predicted energetic of sprinting on sand. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport.
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