It sounds pretty idyllic. Sun, a nice ocean breeze, and the melodic sound of waves – the perfect backdrop for a run, yes? But maybe not if you’re actually running on the beach.
As soon as your strip off your shoes and start striding on the sand, you realize one thing right away. Running on the soft sand isn’t as easy as the Baywatch lifeguards make it look!
However, don’t let that stop you from taking your workout to the beach. Running on sand offers many benefits that can ultimately help you become a stronger and faster runner off the beach as well.
When you run on the beach, your foot lands on a surface that shifts beneath you. As a result, this creates a “softer” surface for your foot compared to pavement. That means your lower body (think ankles, knees, and hips) is subject to less pounding and stress when you run.
Sand creates an unstable surface for your foot. In order to stabilize yourself during your beach run, your body is forced to use the smaller muscles in your lower body, particularly in your foot and ankle. For most runners, these muscles tend to be weak because we don’t have to use them as much when we run on paved roads. By strengthening these stabilizing muscles on the beach, you guard yourself against potential muscle imbalances and injury.
If you’ve ever walked, let alone run in the sand, you know that it takes a lot more effort to firmly plant your foot and then to propel your legs forward. That’s because your foot is working against a soft surface with more “give” than a harder surface. This forces you to engage the muscles in your lower body more. Next time you’re due for a lower body strength training session, head to the beach and tackle the sand dunes!
If you haven’t guessed by now, the extra effort and muscle engagement required to run on the beach means that it burns more calories compared to running on pavement. In fact, studies have shown that running on sand requires about one-and-a-half times more energy compared to running on a hard surface.
Change is a good thing. Changing training surfaces, running routes and routines is not only good for you physically, but it’s also good for you mentally.
While beach running can help to make you a stronger runner, don’t dive in too quickly. As with anything new, it’s best to ease your way into running by the ocean if you aren’t accustomed to it. There is a risk of injury, especially ankle sprains, Achilles injuries and aggravating your plantar fascia.
Take it slowly, starting with a light 10-15 minutes at a time. Start by running at low tide on the hard, packed sand by the water’s edge. This will give your leg muscles a chance to get acclimated to the extra work required. And wear shoes. Not only can there be lots of different debris lying on the beach, but shoes will also help your feet get used to the new surface.