You Should Be Running On The Beach More: Here’s Why And How

We explain the benefits of beach running and give you our top tips for running on sand.

I have been running competitively since I was 12 years old, and some of my fondest memories of my early days as a beginner runner are running on the beach at low tide in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where my grandparents lived.

Now that I work as a running coach and certified personal trainer (CPT), I often think back on my sand running workouts when athletes I coach ask if they should go running on the beach where they are traveling to the seashore for vacation.

Running on soft sand or even wet firm sand provides a softer surface than road running, treadmill running, and even some trail running, which can reduce joint impact and feel great for those who have shin splints or knee pain.

However, running on the beach also poses its own risk of injury and can lead to significant muscle soreness due to the give in loose sand at push-off relative to harder surfaces like asphalt.

In this guide, we will discuss the benefits of running on the beach, the potential risks and challenges of beach workouts versus running on firm surfaces, and tips for running on the sand for beginners to reduce the risk of injury and give you a great sand workout.

A person running on the beach.

What Are the Benefits of Running On the Beach?

In addition to all the regular mental and physical benefits of running, the benefits of running on the beach include the following:

#1: Running On the Sand Activates More Muscle Groups

Running on a soft surface such as sand is more challenging for your muscles than running on a firm surface. When you run on the sand, the soft sand absorbs more energy when you try to push off. 

Your muscles have to work harder to generate enough force to overcome the give in the sand when your foot pushes against it in order to maintain forward movement.

For this reason, running on the sand requires greater activation of your quads,1Pinnington, H. C., Lloyd, D. G., Besier, T. F., & Dawson, B. (2005). Kinematic and electromyography analysis of submaximal differences running on a firm surface compared with soft, dry sand. European Journal of Applied Physiology94(3), 242–253. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-005-1323-6 hamstrings, glutes, and calves.

Additionally, when you land on an uneven surface such as dry sand, your core muscles and smaller stabilizing muscles in your ankles and hips have to work harder to balance, support, and stabilize your body.

For this reason, running on the beach can help strengthen your legs and core and may improve balance.

A person running on the beach at sunset.

#2: Running On the Beach Reduces Impact Stress

One of the risks of pounding the pavement with high mileage road running is that the accumulated impact stress of running on hard surfaces can increase the risk of stress fractures, joint pain, and other musculoskeletal injuries.

Like trail running,2Boey, H., Aeles, J., Schütte, K., & Vanwanseele, B. (2016). The effect of three surface conditions, speed and running experience on vertical acceleration of the tibia during running. Sports Biomechanics16(2), 166–176. https://doi.org/10.1080/14763141.2016.1212918 jogging on sand offers a much softer surface than running on asphalt or concrete roads so there is less impact stress on your bones and joints. 

Studies have confirmed3Jafarnezhadgero, A. A., Fatollahi, A., & Granacher, U. (2022). Eight Weeks of Exercising on Sand Has Positive Effects on Biomechanics of Walking and Muscle Activities in Individuals with Pronated Feet: A Randomized Double-Blinded Controlled Trial. Sports10(5), 70. https://doi.org/10.3390/sports10050070 that there’s significantly less vertical ground reaction force when walking on sand compared to walking on a firm surface. 

Therefore, running on the sand can potentially reduce the risk of injuries, such as stress fractures and shin splints.

A small study4Binnie, M. J., Dawson, B., Pinnington, H., Landers, G., & Peeling, P. (2014). Sand training: a review of current research and practical applications. Journal of Sports Sciences32(1), 8–15. https://doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2013.805239 found that running on soft sand resulted in less muscle damage and soreness compared to working out on grass.

Another study5Brown, H., Dawson, B., Binnie, M. J., Pinnington, H., Sim, M., Clemons, T. D., & Peeling, P. (2017). Sand training: Exercise-induced muscle damage and inflammatory responses to matched-intensity exercise. European Journal of Sport Science17(6), 741–747. https://doi.org/10.1080/17461391.2017.1304998 corroborated these results, again finding that running on sand elicited less post-exercise muscle damage than exercise of an equal intensity performed on grass. 

Researchers concluded that these results may suggest that running on sand can reduce the risk of running injuries.

Three people running on the beach.

#3: Running On the Beach Burns More Calories

As mentioned, running on a softer, more compliant surface like sand requires greater muscle activation to stabilize your body, and the sand absorbs some of the energy at ground contact and push off rather than being transferred back to your legs.

Therefore, your muscles and heart have to work much harder when you run on the sand, especially in deep dry sand. 

As a result, you burn more calories walking or running on the sand6Zamparo, P., Perini, R., Orizio, C., Sacher, M., & Ferretti, G. (1992). The energy cost of walking or running on sand. European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology65(2), 183–187. https://doi.org/10.1007/bf00705078 than on a hard surface, which may help support weight loss.

#4: Running On the Beach Can Help Correct Overpronation 

There’s evidence to suggest7Jafarnezhadgero, A., Fatollahi, A., Sheykholeslami, A., Dionisio, V. C., & Akrami, M. (2021). Long-term training on sand changes lower limb muscle activities during running in runners with over-pronated feet. BioMedical Engineering OnLine20(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12938-021-00955-8 that sand running can be an effective way to reduce overpronation, which is when your feet roll inward excessively when you land. 

Long-term running on sand was found to reduce pronation, increase activation of the calves, and improve lateral pelvic stability by increasing activity in the gluteus medius.

A person running on the beach.

#5: Running On the Beach Can Improve Your Athletic Performance 

The added difficulty of balancing, stabilizing, and overcoming the energy cost of pushing against a soft, movable surface when running on the sand can improve your athletic performance.

One study8Hammami, M., Bragazzi, N. L., Hermassi, S., Gaamouri, N., Aouadi, R., Shephard, R. J., & Chelly, M. S. (2020). The effect of a sand surface on physical performance responses of junior male handball players to plyometric training. BMC Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation12(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13102-020-00176- found compared the fitness and athletic performance benefits between plyometric training on the sand versus a normal gym floor. 

Athletes who did sand workouts demonstrated significant improvements in sprint speed and agility compared to those who did the same workouts on the gym floor.

Another study9Singh, G., Kushwah, G. S., Singh, T., Thapa, R. K., Granacher, U., & Ramirez-Campillo, R. (2022). Effects of Sand-Based Plyometric-Jump Training in Combination with Endurance Running on Outdoor or Treadmill Surface on Physical Fitness in Young Adult Males. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, 277–286. https://doi.org/10.52082/jssm.2022.277 found that sand training improved markers of athletic performance more than treadmill training.

How Many Calories Do You Burn Running on the Sand?

Even though it’s pretty conclusively known that running on the sand burns more calories than running on a firm surface such as a road or treadmill, exactly how many more calories you burn running on the sand is less clear.

Some studies10Lejeune, T. M., Willems, P. A., & Heglund, N. C. (1998). Mechanics and energetics of human locomotion on sand. Journal of Experimental Biology201(13), 2071–2080. https://doi.org/10.1242/jeb.201.13.2071 suggest that the metabolic cost of running on the sand can be as much as 1.6 times that of running on the road. 

For example, if you burn 100 calories per mile running on the road, you would burn 160 calories per mile running on the sand.

However, if you are running for time, you might not burn more calories in a beach running workout than a road running workout because most people run slower on sand, as distance covered plays a significant role in the calories burned in a running workout.

If you are running for weight loss, wearing a heart rate monitor can give you a better estimate of the number of calories you burn running on sand.

A person running on the beach.

10 Tips for Running On the Beach

Running on the beach can provide a picturesque location for your run and make for a very enjoyable workout. However, jogging on the beach is not easy, especially for beginners. 

Here are some tips for running on the beach:

#1: Start With Short Runs

Sand running requires different muscles and a greater range of motion in the ankle and foot than running on harder surfaces, so it’s very important that you start with just short runs on sand.

Gradually build up your distance and running speed with sand workouts over several weeks as you get used to the differences between running on softer sand versus hard surfaces.

#2: Space Out Your Beach Workouts

Beginners who are new to sand running should start with only 1-2 runs on the beach per week, with plenty of days off in between.

You can run on the road or other surfaces on alternative days, so long as you aren’t experiencing significant muscle soreness.

Gradually increase the frequency of sand running workouts if you enjoy the softer surfaces.

A person running on the beach.

#3: Warm Up

It’s always important to warm up before your runs, but this is especially true when running on the beach because the muscular demand is higher.

Start with brisk walking and jogging on the beach before you increase your running pace.

#4: Start On Wet Sand

The firm, wet sand near the water’s edge will be easier to run on than running on dry, soft sand. 

As you get stronger, you can start doing more of your run in dry sand or trying intervals in the dry sand.

#5: Run By Effort

Because sand running is so much more challenging than road running, you will run slower on the sand. 

Run by effort rather than trying to hit a certain pace.

#6: Wear Shoes

Barefoot running on sand can strengthen your feet, but there are often sharp objects or areas of hot sand that can burn your feet, so you should at least wear barefoot running shoes.

Supportive shoes are better when running on loose sand or soft sand, especially if you overpronate or normally wear supportive shoes when running on roads or hard surfaces.

two people running on the beach.

#7: Switch Directions

Beaches are often sloped down from the loose sand at the dunes to the wet firm sand at the water’s edge.

Like running on a cambered road, this uneven slope can aggravate your hips and knees and lead to overuse injuries on the side bearing more weight.

One of the key running tips for running in sand is to switch directions periodically to alternate the imposed leg length discrepancy.

#8: Hydrate

It’s always important to hydrate when you run, but it’s often especially hot on the beach. Wear a hydration pack or carry a water bottle to ensure you have access to enough water.

#9: Wear Sunscreen

Protect your skin by wearing sunscreen with at least SPF 30, even on cloudy days. 

Wear sunglasses and a visor to protect your eyes from the glare of the sun reflecting on the water.

You Should Be Running On The Beach More: Here's Why And How 1

#10: Mind the Tides

Pay attention to the tide schedule to plan when to go running on the beach. 

It’s best to run at low tide because you’ll have more real estate to run on, and you can enjoy the wet, packed sand.

Running on the beach can be a fun and effective way to improve your fitness. However, if you have plantar fasciitis or are prone to ankle sprains, the uneven surface of sand may increase the risk of injury and may not be the best choice for your training. 

If you’re going to try running on the beach, ease into it gradually and adjust your expectations in terms of pace and distance.

Enjoy the seashore!

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References

  • 1
    Pinnington, H. C., Lloyd, D. G., Besier, T. F., & Dawson, B. (2005). Kinematic and electromyography analysis of submaximal differences running on a firm surface compared with soft, dry sand. European Journal of Applied Physiology94(3), 242–253. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-005-1323-6
  • 2
    Boey, H., Aeles, J., Schütte, K., & Vanwanseele, B. (2016). The effect of three surface conditions, speed and running experience on vertical acceleration of the tibia during running. Sports Biomechanics16(2), 166–176. https://doi.org/10.1080/14763141.2016.1212918
  • 3
    Jafarnezhadgero, A. A., Fatollahi, A., & Granacher, U. (2022). Eight Weeks of Exercising on Sand Has Positive Effects on Biomechanics of Walking and Muscle Activities in Individuals with Pronated Feet: A Randomized Double-Blinded Controlled Trial. Sports10(5), 70. https://doi.org/10.3390/sports10050070
  • 4
    Binnie, M. J., Dawson, B., Pinnington, H., Landers, G., & Peeling, P. (2014). Sand training: a review of current research and practical applications. Journal of Sports Sciences32(1), 8–15. https://doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2013.805239
  • 5
    Brown, H., Dawson, B., Binnie, M. J., Pinnington, H., Sim, M., Clemons, T. D., & Peeling, P. (2017). Sand training: Exercise-induced muscle damage and inflammatory responses to matched-intensity exercise. European Journal of Sport Science17(6), 741–747. https://doi.org/10.1080/17461391.2017.1304998
  • 6
    Zamparo, P., Perini, R., Orizio, C., Sacher, M., & Ferretti, G. (1992). The energy cost of walking or running on sand. European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology65(2), 183–187. https://doi.org/10.1007/bf00705078
  • 7
    Jafarnezhadgero, A., Fatollahi, A., Sheykholeslami, A., Dionisio, V. C., & Akrami, M. (2021). Long-term training on sand changes lower limb muscle activities during running in runners with over-pronated feet. BioMedical Engineering OnLine20(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12938-021-00955-8
  • 8
    Hammami, M., Bragazzi, N. L., Hermassi, S., Gaamouri, N., Aouadi, R., Shephard, R. J., & Chelly, M. S. (2020). The effect of a sand surface on physical performance responses of junior male handball players to plyometric training. BMC Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation12(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13102-020-00176-
  • 9
    Singh, G., Kushwah, G. S., Singh, T., Thapa, R. K., Granacher, U., & Ramirez-Campillo, R. (2022). Effects of Sand-Based Plyometric-Jump Training in Combination with Endurance Running on Outdoor or Treadmill Surface on Physical Fitness in Young Adult Males. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, 277–286. https://doi.org/10.52082/jssm.2022.277
  • 10
    Lejeune, T. M., Willems, P. A., & Heglund, N. C. (1998). Mechanics and energetics of human locomotion on sand. Journal of Experimental Biology201(13), 2071–2080. https://doi.org/10.1242/jeb.201.13.2071
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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