Whether you’re moving to a beach location or just headed out for a vacation, running on sand can be fun, challenging, and totally different from running on hard surfaces.
If you’ve tried run training on the sand before, you’ll know you have to adapt to the soft, moving surface and that your pace will be slower.
While slower, running on the sand actually has several training benefits for strengthening your feet and legs – it’s a worthwhile workout to add to any runner’s training plan.
In this article, I’ll explain:
- 6 Benefits of Running On Sand,
- The Downside of Running On Sand,
- Discuss Whether Or Not You Should Run Barefoot On Sand,
- Share Our 7 Tips For Running On Sand,
Let’s jump in!
6 Benefits of Running on Sand
For most runners, the benefits of beach running far outweigh the cons.
Here are the top 6 reasons to run on the sand:
1. Running on Sand Adds Diversity to Your Training Plan
At Marathon Handbook, as running coaches we always recommend that runners diversify their training plans with cross-training and different paces/distances to get the best results from your training.
Because the body is so adaptable, it adapts very quickly to new routines.
So if you’re running 3 miles a day, your body will get used to the habit so well that it will no longer challenge your muscle memory and force the body to work harder.
When you mix up your training plan, with short, fast runs, longer, slower runs, and strength training and agility drills, you’re keeping your body “on its toes,” so to speak.
Every runner is different, and every runner leans toward different cross-training preferences. So if you really hate agility drills, you can try strides or sprints and still get great results.
Running on sand engages much more leg and foot muscles than regular road running, so is a great option to change up your routine.
2. Lower Impact
Since running is a high-impact activity, many people struggle with knee pain, shin splints, or problems with the hips or pelvic area.
These weight-bearing joints have to absorb a lot of the impact that happens when running, so running is always hardest on these parts of the body.
When you run on sand, the soft ground absorbs a lot of that impact, which eases the stress on your weight-bearing joints.
That reduces your chance of impact-related injuries like stress fractures.
3. Your Muscles Generate More Force
While the ground absorbs a lot of the impact, it does absorb less energy than hard ground absorbs.
That means your muscles have to generate more force to produce the energy you need to run. The Journal of Experimental Biology states that your body uses 1.6 times more energy to run on the sand than on hard ground.
So what you may see as ‘challenging’ is actually working to build muscles and make you stronger.
4. Overall Muscle Balance
Because of the shifting, soft ground underneath you, compensating by using other muscles means you’re getting a more well-rounded muscle balance.
Muscle balance is key to prevent injuries. Everything in the body needs to “pull equal weight.” If that doesn’t happen, the stronger areas in your body will hold more weight than they should, while the weaker ones just keep getting weaker.
When that happens, you end up with a whole host of injuries – pulled tendons and muscles, scoliosis or other issues with the spine, pinched nerves, or even more serious, long-term damage.
Running on sand can help strengthen those weak links.
Brown et al. even released a study stating that running on sand can actually reduce muscle damage and promote recovery more effectively than running on pavement or asphalt.
5. You’ll Burn More Calories
If you’re running to lose weight, you’ll be happy to know that since your body requires more energy to run on sand, you’ll burn more calories at a faster rate than running the same pace on hard ground.
If you’re running on vacation, you’ll be relieved that you can splurge at your favorite restaurant and still maintain healthy body levels.
6. The Views Alone Are Worth It
Very few things are more calming than waves at the beach…especially at sunrise or sunset. One of the many benefits of running is the positive effect it has on your mental health.
And much like trail running, beach running is worth doing just for the mind-clearing vistas.
Cons of Running on Sand
Unfortunately running on the beach is not such a great option for some people.
The sandy beach is, by it’s nature, an uneven surface.
And most beaches gradually slope downwards towards the water, meaning you can find yourself running along the slope, where one leg is always landing higher than the other.
This imbalance can be hard on your knees and hips by putting that excess weight on the side and forcing the other to compensate.
This can cause you to fatigue more quickly.
Running in the sand also causes your heels to sink deeper in the ground, which can be hard on your ankles. Some negative effects include plantar fasciitis or Achilles tendonitis.
So if you are prone to these negative effects of running, it may be best to opt for a walk or a very short, light run on the beach.
Should I Run Barefoot or with Shoes On Sand?
Even though sand sneaks its way inside your shoes and socks while running, there are many benefits of running with shoes on sand vs. running barefoot.
- Shoes protect your feet from getting stabbed or cut by sharp rocks, shells, and sticks.
- Shoes stabilize your ankle, to minimize the chance of spraining your ankle.
- Shoes can also help to prevent plantar fascitis or Achilles tendionitis, if you plan to run on the sand a lot.
Run barefoot for a very short period, then switch back to shoes and build up your tolerance that way.
Another great way to run with shoes is to make sure your beach running shoes are light and thin. This will offer your feet protection and your ankles stability, while still allowing you freedom of movement and keeping extra weight at a minimum.
7 Tips for Running on the Beach
Here are some of our best tips to make sure you’re running safely and getting the best performance out of your run.
- Stretch before and after you run: Sautter recommends “Standing calf stretches, ankle rolls, standing quadricep stretch, and bent-over hamstring stretch.”
- Work up to longer runs: Don’t be afraid to run less until you’re body gets used to the sand.
If you need to, you can always run on the hard ground first, then finish up the run with a burst of energy on the sand.
- Don’t worry about a slower pace: You most likely won’t be running a marathon on sandy ground. So consider your beach runs as cross-training, rather than your biggest training day of the week. Measure your workout intensity in terms of RPE, not speed.
- Start on the wet sand: The wet sand is harder and makes a great adjusting point for your body, before “graduating” to the soft sand. Running at low tide makes it easy to find plenty of wet sand to run on.
- Hydrate: Always be sure to carry water with you, in case you lose track of the distance you’ve run, and can’t get back to your beach quickly.
- Wear sunscreen: Remember that the sun reflects more strongly on light sand and water, so be sure you protect your skin with plenty of sunscreen.
- Adapt your running route: Because of the uneven surface of the beach and the wear and tear that can put on your hips and knees, Sautter says, “One trick is to run in a zig-zag pattern, both coming and going.”
Other Workouts to Do in the Sand
There are plenty of other workouts you can do on the sand to complement your training plan.
- Yoga: Some people love doing yoga on the beach because of the peaceful atmosphere and the ability to feel connected with nature. Yoga and running are great complimentary activities, with yoga addressing some of the muscular imbalances that running can cause.
- Strides: For those who prefer something more intense, strides can be a lot of fun on the beach, and really work your leg muscles and glutes. Plus, they’re a great way to get in some speed, while focusing on keeping up your running form.
- Train your lower body: Sautter suggests, “Once you’ve acclimated to running on the beach, throw in some lower body exercises during your run. I recommend walking lunges, bodyweight squats, and calf jumps.”
- Dune Hill Runs: If you love the challenge you get from hill running, try running up sand dunes. It’ll be a lot of work, but is well worth the effort.
Don’t take your beach runs too seriously.
As long as you’re practicing the safety tips we’ve included in this article, the main point of running on sand is to enjoy the ocean or the sea and just have fun on your run!