Tips for running on sand

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This blog post is provided by the Swiss magazine FIT for LIFE. If you’re interested in reading informative articles about running and endurance sports on a regular basis, click here (Website and content in German)

What is seldom found in everyday life, is often available in abundance during the holidays: a grainy, fine sandy beach and the desire to run on it. Let us show you the best tips for injury-free running training on sand.

When the sun bathes the beach in a golden light at dawn and the waves slosh gently over the sand, endurance athletes feel the urge to run. For enthusiastic runners, beach runs are just as much a part of a perfect holiday by the sea as homemade gelato on the piazza in the evening. But what applies to ice cream also applies to running training on sand: high quantities are rarely digestible. It is therefore worth planning your training carefully and moderately to prevent injuries.

Quite the workout

Important note: Not all sand is the same. It plays a decisive role whether you walk on soft sand or close to the water on solid (and sloping) sand. The soft sandy soil absorbs the forces actively developed during running. For a similar propulsion as on asphalt, almost twice as much energy is needed. Anyone who almost exclusively runs on tar in damped shoes in everyday life will suddenly feel his foot and calf muscles considerably when running on ankle-deep sand. All the more so when doing it barefoot, as the running style naturally shifts to the forefoot or midfoot.

The other side of the coin: Frequent running in the sand quickly leads to overloading of the locomotor system if the foot and calf muscles are insufficiently trained. Heel spur, shin split or hamstring problems can be the result of an excessive training on sand.

Hard sand is harder than expected and therefore similar to running on asphalt in terms of its effect on the muscles. Whoever euphorically completes an hour-long barefoot run on hard sand at the beginning of the holiday will certainly be punished the next day with sore muscles in the calves. The most important rules of thumb for sand running are, in brief:

  • Start with short units and carefully increase.
  • The looser the ground, the shorter (but more qualitative!) the running unit.
  • The longer the training, the more compellingly, shoes have to be worn.

With running shoes on the beach

For those who do their running training on sand with shoes many possibilities for training design will open up:

  • Warm-up: To train your coordination skills, walk and trot alternately through loose sand at a slow pace for about 10-15 minutes. The deeper the shoes sink into the sand, the more demanding. Experts can also run sideways or backwards as they like, incorporate small jumps or butt kickers.
  • Strength training: Run through the sand for 5-20 minutes to strengthen the ankle joints and leg muscles. Start on firmer sand at a slow pace, then vary the surface and duration. Do not exaggerate, slowly approach the harder intensity!
  • Endurance run: A relaxed endurance run of 45-70 minutes (depending on your training condition!) should ideally be carried out along the waterline. This means where the damp sand is firm and the sinking in is reduced to a minimum. If the beach slopes steeply, do without longer units and change the running direction regularly. In an inclined position the risk of injury and overstraining is high!

Barefoot in the sand

If you walk through the sand with bare feet, you not only do something good for your muscles, you also treat your soles with a soothing massage. Barefoot is the most comfortable way to walk on soft sand.

It should be noted that, depending on the walking speed and the nature of the sand, the skin of the soles of the feet is stressed and coarse-grained sand can quickly cause chafing. It is therefore advisable to incorporate the following exercises into a “sand programme”:

  • Walking exercises: Walk either on the tips of your toes or on your heels, focusing on or crossing the inner and outer edges. In between, draw shapes or letters in the sand.
  • Strength training: Run through the sand for 5-20 minutes to strengthen the hocks and leg muscles. Start on firmer sand at a slow pace, then vary the surface and duration. Do not exaggerate, slowly approach greater intensity! Also install skippers or long jumps and walk a few meters to relieve the strain. Stop immediately in case of pain.
  • Foot gymnastics: These are done best before running training for 5-15 minutes. Dig your feet loosely into the sand and rotate against the resistance to the outside and inside as well as take flex and point positions. Pick up small stones, shells or branches lying around on the beach with your toes. Run in a straight line, one foot in front of the other. The are no limits to your imagination.

 

Translated by: Denise Kaufmann

 

Stair climbing for runners

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Do you want to spice up your training? All you need is a staircase. With different staircase climbing variations you can train your leg strength specific to running and set a new stimulus. So, let’s go and say hello to your staircase challenge!

Benefits of stair climbing

  • You train your running-specific strength endurance.
  • Your impression (plyometrics) becomes more powerful. You will not only benefit from this when running uphill, but also on a flat surface, a space-filling step is of advantage. In addition, active footwork helps to stay injury-free.
  • It’s a very effective training and there is a new stimulus for the cardiovascular system.
  • The playful training brings variety to your winter workout and is also an ideal option concerning safety, as you can look for a lighted or even an inside staircase when it’s dark outside. Stair climbing as a training can of course also be included in summer workouts.

General tips for stair climbing:

  • Stair climbing should only be carried out when warmed up.
  • Caution in wet conditions: You might want to switch to an indoor option.
  • Stair climbing can be a good substitute for a short interval training unit.
  • Quality before quantity always applies to stair climbing, as a clean and dynamic execution is important to avoid injury.
  • During each execution, the body remains stable: Special attention applies to the torso, which should always be tightened during the training.
  • A cool down should be carried out afterwards. Nevertheless, you may feel the staircase training the next day with sore muscles, especially at the beginning.

Possible sequence of a staircase training unit

  • 10 to 15 minutes of warm up
  • Mobilize joints, 3 interval runs
  • 10 to 15 minutes of stair climbs in a row (more than one passage possible) – usually at full speed up and down. Choose your favorites of the exercise collection below (or try all of them!):
    • Skipping and coordinative climbing down the stairs (don’t forget to include a short break at the bottom of the stairs as this is intense, too)
    • Ankle jumps
    • Frequency runs sideways (both sides)
    • Squat jumps (if the downhill jumps are also included, again, take the break at the bottom of the stairs)
    • Sideway jumps
    • One-legged jumps (both legs)
  • 10 to 15 minutes of cool-down, then stretching

Collection of exercises: Stair climbing

The exercises will be shown by Judith Wyder, 5 times OL World Champion and one of the fastest runners of Switzerland.

Skipping and coordinative climbing down the stairs

In skipping, every step is done explosively, and the knee is pulled up. A good coordinative exercise is the staircase-downhill, but beware: start slowly!

Ankle jumps

The toes are actively pulled upwards, jumping off with your forefoot. The knees always point forward to ensure a good leg axis.

Frequency runs sideways

The movement is carried out at a 90° angle to the staircase. The leg frequency is high, and a coordinated arm work is key for this exercise.

Squat jumps

Squat jumps, also called frog jumps, can be varied depending on the level: Try to take 1, 2, 3 or 4 steps in one. The jumps can be dynamic or static, depending on the goal. A good leg axis is important for both. The downhill jumps should be approached carefully – Attention: We warned you about the potential of muscle soreness!

Sideway jumps

Power and coordination in one, no matter whether you exercise them statically or dynamically. This exercise is especially recommended for trail runners and cross-country skiers.

One-legged jumps

There’s more to these one-legged jumps than one might think, no matter if you take every step or jump over some of them. Also, the jumps should be carried out in an explosive way.

These videos have been kindly provided by indurance and Judith Wyder.

Author of this blog entry: Stefanie Meyer