A recent study compared the effect of sand and grass training surfaces during sport-specific conditioning sessions in team sport athletes. The characteristics of a sand training surface and a grass training surface are quite different. For the athlete there are distinct physiological as well as biomechanical differences when performing on one or the other. This study was performed to determine the effects of each surface on soccer players.
The participants of the study were ten elite athletes – eight male and two female. The athletes were required to complete five separate testing sessions, which included three performance trials and two training sessions (one on sand, one on grass). The training session used was designed to mimic the movement patterns that are most common to team sports, including acceleration, agility, and common game simulation drills. The sand training session was conducted on soft, dry beach sand on a level area of beach removed from the water’s edge. The grass session was conducted on a well-maintained sporting ground of Kikuyu grass. Athletes were barefoot during the sand trial, compared to the grass trial where they wore shoes. The same training session was completed on both sand and grass surfaces, and 24 hours later, each session was proceeded by a performance trial consisting of vertical jump, repeated sprint ability test, and a 3 kilometer running time trial. These measures were then compared to baseline measures acquired prior to the study.1
Both physiological and perceptual variables such as blood lactate, heart rate, and ratings of perceived exertion were measured during each session. Additionally, throughout the 24 hour post-exercise period, measures such as muscle damage, inflammation, and hemolysis (the breakdown of red blood cells) were measured. GPS units were used to monitor sport-specific conditioning sessions, and distance and speed were calculated from the data collected on the units. Blood samples were taken pre-, post-, and 24 hours after exercise.2
The results of the research showed a significantly higher heart rate and rating of perceived exertion in the sand training sessions. There were no differences in 24-hour post-exercise performance, no indications of muscle damage, and rates of inflammation and hemolysis were similar between each surface. These results suggest that performing a sport-specific conditioning session on sand as opposed to grass can result in a greater physiological response, without inflicting any additional damage to next day performance.3
Based on this research, athletes can use sand surfaces to improve performance without worrying about recovery or performance issues. Sand training requires less stability and energy returned during exercise, which results in a greater workload for the muscles to achieve the same output. The fact that it won’t affect recovery is promising, since it can be an effective training method.4
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