There are loads of ways to step up your training to improve your running fitness and results. Fartlek, interval or tempo sessions are used by many coaches to increase intensity and quicken pace. But there's one type of exercise that can boost your performance and lower the odds of injury - soft sand running.
While the backdrop may be picturesque, sand running is one of the most gruelling types of running you can do. Director of the 440 run club, Todd Liubinskas regularly punches out two-hours of sand running drills on Sydney's northern beaches with the Sandhill Warrior - Rob Rowland Smith. He says sand running is arguably one of the toughest sessions he's ever done.
More energy, better results
"The uneven, soft sand surface is unstable and provides no rebound, so the body - especially the lower limbs have to work a lot harder than they would on a hard surface like road to maintain momentum," says Liubinskas. Research backs that up. A Belgium study found that running on sand requires 1.6 times as much energy as running on hard surfaces and research from the Western Australian Institute of Sport found that running on sand forces your body to work at least 10 percent harder than it does on grass.
Given the higher work rate sand running demands, it's normal to experience fatigue earlier that road running. However, running on the beach - especially on soft, dry sand can lower your odds of impact-associated overuse injuries like stress fractures. In one study, women who ran on sand experienced less muscle damage and inflammation than those who ran on grass. And further research from Western Australian Institute of Sport found that with every foot strike, there is almost four times less impact force on soft sand compared to a firm surface like grass.
Liubinskas warns people against running on the hard-packed sand at the water's edge.
"While it might be easier to run on, it's often on an incline, causing variance in your technique, which can lead to injury," he says. "Choose a beach that has flat, even soft sand, but not too deep, and take your shoes off."
"The great thing about sand running is you don't have to train for as long. Start your training with a gentle 15-20 minute sand run and gradually build from there. Do one session a week for a month and then add in another session, but don't increase the time. After another month you can increase the time a little or build in some sand dune running to increase the intensity."
How to run strong on sand
Liubinskas says the dense and unstable surface means runners have to change their form to run well or for any length of time on sand. Follow these three simple tips:
Point your feet down into the sand
Dig your feet into the sand to get purchase and grip to help you push off. This requires a 'pointed foot' technique that puts a lot more stress on your calf muscles as well as the skin of your toes and feet. If your calves get sore or start cramping run for a minute with more of a flat footed technique to allow them rest before resuming the pointed foot technique.
Scrunch your toes
Another part of getting good grip on the sand is scrunching your toes a bit to make a stronger platform for pushing off. This technique also helps to avoid abrasion underneath your toes or pain in your feet from having your toes splayed by soft sand running.
Tighten your abs and lean a little
Without curving your're spine too much, switch on your abs and lean into the run a little to help your body drive through the sand. Run with more of a mid-knee lift to reduce fatigue. Use a shorter stride, quicker turnover and more arm pumping to stay balanced.
The high of crossing the finish line inspires running fanatic Laura Hill to clock up the kilometres each week. Whether you're a newbie to the running scene or a seasoned athlete, Laura brings the latest running trends and gear to readers across Australia. With a day job in the corporate world and a busy toddler, Laura loves nothing more than lacing up her runners and hitting the pavement to sharpen her mind and challenge her body.
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