Whether you are taking a vacation to a beautiful beach destination or you are fortunate enough to live by the shore of a lake or an ocean, running on the sand can be not only a picturesque experience but also a fantastic workout.
Running on the sand is definitely more challenging than running on a hard surface like asphalt or concrete. Therefore, if you’re not accustomed to running on the beach, it’s important to know what to expect and to gradually ease into running on the sand.
In this article, we will discuss running on the beach, and will share sand running benefits and tips for running on the beach.
We will look at:
- What Are the Benefits of Running On the Beach?
- How Many Calories Do You Burn Running on the Sand?
- 10 Tips for Running On the Beach
Let’s get started!
What Are the Benefits of Running On the Beach?
In addition to all the normal, wonderful mental and physical benefits of running, the benefits of running on the beach include the following:
Running On the Beach Activates More Muscles
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 some of your 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.
Additionally, when you land with each stride, your core and smaller stabilizing muscles in your ankles and hips have to work harder to balance, support, and stabilize your body on an uneven surface.
Essentially, sand has a lot of give and sinks underneath your weight, so your muscles have to work harder when you run on the beach compared to running on a road, track, or treadmill.
For this reason, running on the beach can help strengthen your legs and core and may improve balance.
Running On the Beach Reduces Impact Stress
One of the risks of running high mileage, particularly on roads or other hard surfaces, is that the accumulated impact stress of running can increase the risk of stress fractures, joint pain, and other musculoskeletal injuries.
Running is a high-impact activity, so the harder the surface you’re running on, the more stress that is transferred to your body upon landing.
Running on sand provides a much softer surface than running on the roads. Dry, soft sand has more give than even grass or trails, and even firm, wet, packed sand is softer than most other running surfaces.
Studies have confirmed 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 running injuries, such as stress fractures.
Researchers concluded that these results may suggest that running on sand can reduce the risk of running injuries.
Running On the Beach Burns More Calories
Running is a metabolically-demanding activity because it’s a total-body, weight bearing exercise.
As mentioned, running on a softer, more compliant surface like sand requires greater muscle activity to stabilize your body. In addition, some of the energy you put into the sand when you land is absorbed and lost in the moving sand rather than being transferred back to your legs when you go to push off for the next stride.
Therefore, your muscles and heart have to work much harder when you run on the sand, even at slower speeds. As a result, you burn more calories walking or running on the sand than on a hard surface.
Running On the Beach Can Help Correct Overpronation
There’s evidence to suggest that sand running can be an effective way to reduce overpronation, which is when your feet roll inward excessively when you land. Overpronation is particularly common among runners with flat feet, and it can increase the risk of injuries like shin splints, plantar fasciitis, and posterior tibial tendonitis.
Long-term running on sand was found to reduce pronation, increase activation of the calves, and improve side to side pelvic stability to increase activity in the gluteus medius.
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 study compared the fitness and athletic performance benefits between training on the sand versus a normal gym floor.
Handball athletes were split into two groups and completed seven weeks of plyometric training on one of the two surfaces.
Although performance markers improved in both groups, training on the sand resulted in more significant and numerous athletic performance improvements.
For example, athletes who worked out on the sand demonstrated significant improvements in sprint speed and change of direction scores compared to those who did the same workouts on the gym floor.
All athletes increased vertical jump height and dynamic balance ability.
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 studies 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, this means that if you run 30 minutes on the road and burn 400 calories, you would burn 640 calories on the sand.
Another way to consider this increase in the energy cost of running on the sand is that if you burn 100 calories running one mile on the road, you would burn 160 calories running a mile at the same pace on the sand.
Other studies have measured a less significant increase in the metabolic cost and calories burned running on the sand.
The differences may be attributable to differences in running speed between running on the sand versus a hard surface. Most people run slower on the sand.
The best way to get a decent estimation of the calories you burn running on the sand is to wear a heart rate monitor during your workout.
10 Tips for Running On the Beach
Running on the beach can provide a super scenic backdrop for your run and make for a very enjoyable workout. However, running on the beach is not easy.
Here are some tips for running on the beach:
#1: Ease Into It
Sand running requires different muscles and a greater range of motion in the ankle and foot than running on the road, so if you’re not accustomed to running on the beach, it’s very important that you build up your distance and intensity of sand running gradually.
Start with walking and short bouts of running. Progress your distance and speed over several weeks as you get stronger.
#2: Space Out Your Beach Workouts
Especially when you are new to sand running, make sure you give your body enough time off between runs on the beach. Start with 1-2 runs on the beach per week and progress to 2-3 as you get stronger.
You can run on the road or other surfaces on alternative days, so long as your legs feel okay.
#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 walking and dynamic stretches before running. This will activate your muscles and increase circulation and oxygenation to your muscles.
#4: Start On Wet Sand
The firm, wet sand nearer to the water 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 wet sand.
#5: Run For Time, Not Distance
Because sand running is so much more challenging than road running, you’re going to be running slower on the sand.
Switch your approach to your workout by focusing on time rather than distance and effort rather than pace. Listen to your body and don’t stress about how fast you are running.
#6: Wear Shoes
Many people like to run barefoot on the beach, but there are often sharp objects or areas of hot sand that can burn your feet.
#7: Switch Directions
The sand is often sloped on the shore, which can aggravate your hips and knees. You can lessen this risk by switching directions during your run to alter the stresses of the cambered sand running.
#9: Wear Sunscreen
#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 firm-packed wet sand.
Running on the beach can be fun and a great way to improve your fitness. However, if you have foot or ankle injuries, it might not be the best choice.
If you’re going to try running on the beach, ease into it gradually and adjust your expectations in terms of pace and distance.
For help choosing your gear for running in the sand, you can check out our gear guides here: