Running along a beach offers a tough workout, burning up to 30 % more calories! Plus, there is the added advantage of psychological benefits of exercising by the sea.
Leaving your footprints along a wet sandy beach is one of the purest experiences of all. It also happens to be one of the best workouts. Even just a few beach runs strengthen your ankles, arches and all other below-the-knee muscles more than running on harder surfaces. Running on sand develops power throughout your lower body. It requires you to generate more force and work through a fuller range of motion, from your ankles to your hip flexors and arms.
That extra effort pays off: Several studies have found that running on sand consumes more energy than running on asphalt-burning 1.6 times more calories per mile. There’s also much less impact force when you run on sand. The dry soft stuff is the kindest to the legs. But it is also much harder to run in, making 10-minute miles feel like speedwork. Because of the added difficulty, your first beach runs should be done in running shoes in the hard, wet sand next to the water.
On the harder-packed surface, the rules of road-running apply – keep your head up and your back comfortably straight, and land mid foot. But poor traction of soft sand forces you to run more on the balls of your feet, lean your body farther forward, and drive your knees and arms higher.
Yet, for many of us, the experience of running on the beach isn’t complete unless we lose the shoes entirely. Admittedly there are pitfalls to running shoe-less on the beach. A broken shell can cause a nasty cut, for example. But running barefoot on the sand allows your feet to move through their natural range of motion – without the restrictions imposed by running shoes – which helps strengthen your feet and ankles even more.
Before you ditch the shoes at the beach, however, it is recommended that you do some trail running (in shoes) to strengthen your ankles. Then limit your first barefoot run to just 20 minutes to firmer wet sand to build strength in your lower legs, ankles and feet. You can add five minutes at a time as you get used to the new surface. Veteran beach runners, who’ve built up their lower body strength, can try the soft sand for short speed workouts.
While the softness of the sand reduces the risk of impact-related injuries, other injuries may be more likely. Achilles tendons or calves since they’re stretched farther than when running on a hard surface. And when barefoot, you can develop ankle sprains because you don’t have the support of shoes.
To lessen the strain on your Achilles and calves, try running near low tide when the wet sand is flatter and firmer. And you can literally sidestep other sand-running hazards by keeping an eye out for sharp objects such as rocks, seashells, pop-tops and glass as you run and steering clear of anything that glints in the sun.
To build speed and power, try one of these workouts the next time you are at the beach.
Warmup: Run 10 minutes on the wet, hard-packed sand, gradually accelerating from a slow jog to training pace.
Workout 1: (The Zigzag)
Head to the dry soft sand for a one-minute hard run (less than one minute if your breathing gets out of control).
Cut back to the firm sand for one minute of slow recovery running.
Keep this zigzag pattern going until you’ve done five to 10 one-minute spurts.
Workout 2: (Sand-Hill Ascents)
Find a tall sand hill that’s open to runners. Run to the top, or until your breathing gets too hard to continue.
Jog back down. Keep jogging around the hill until you’ve caught your breath.
Do five to 15 ascents, depending on the height of the hill.
Cooldown: Run 10 minutes easy on the hard-packed sand.