Running along the beach is one of the best ways to get moving this summer. With the sea breeze blowing against your skin and white sand under your feet, there is no better motivation to get out there and run.
However, running on sand is completely different from running on the pavement or the treadmill and preparation is key to avoid injuries while reaping the benefits that running on the beach provides.
The benefits of running on sand
The obvious upside of beach running is that you can enjoy a beautiful view whilst working up a sweat. But that’s not the only benefit that running on the sand provides.
Running on softer, uneven sand, improves stability, and strengthens the muscles of the lower body. One six-week study showed that runners who trained on sand saw a greater increase in calf size than those runners who ran on concrete (1). When running barefoot, the smaller muscles of the feet and ankles are also strengthened as the foot stabilizer muscles work to resist the shifting sand at each step.
Sand running is also an excellent way to improve cardio, with one study highlighting that for team-sport based athletes, running on sand increased aerobic capacity more than running on grass (2).
Running on softer surfaces such as sand has less overall impact on the body’s joints when compared to firm ground running. The soft sand cushions the impact of each step resulting in less stress through the knees and hips. A study published in the European Journal of Sport Science, found that female runners had reduced signs of inflammation after running on sand compared to when they ran on grass (5).
Aside from the physiological benefits that running on the beach provides, it is well known and scientifically proven that the beach has enormous psychological benefits (6). Breathing in the salty air and listening to the crashing waves as you run down the beach is one of the best ways to refresh the mind and it can be a truly meditative experience.
The challenges of running on sand
Despite all the benefits that running on the sand provides, it certainly poses some challenges too. The soft sand, uneven surface, and weather can sometimes make an easy jog feel like a grueling Ironman race.
The surface of a beach is always unpredictable and is generally exposed to the elements. Often a beach has a sloped angle, especially nearer to the water. A sloped surface can lead to one side of the body taking more of the impact. Uneven surfaces can also put extra strain on the muscles of the lower body. Running on these types of surfaces can heighten the risk of getting hurt and can quickly lead to overuse injuries. Without proper training, barefoot running on the beach can lead to plantar fasciitis or Achilles strains.
Beaches are often quite open and exposed, with little shelter from the sun and wind. This can lead to faster dehydration and sun or windburn.
How to Prepare for a Beach Run?
Barefoot or shoes?
It comes down to personal preference whether to run barefoot or wear shoes. However, beginners are strongly advised to start in shoes as they provide more stability and support on the sand. They also offer protection from shells and stones that could leave you with a nasty cut. When selecting shoes, comfort should be made a priority. Wear shoes that are lightweight yet provide rigid support that will help to minimize the risk of injury.
Running barefoot can have great benefits but jumping straight into it without proper technique or training can leave you with aching feet and sore muscles. Start by going for long walks along the beach in bare feet before building up slowly to shorter runs of 10 to 15 minutes. Make sure you mix up your running and avoid running on the sand every day.
Check the tide
Running on hard sand and soft sand is not the same. Hard sand is firmer and won’t give away as much beneath your feet. It is more similar to running on concrete. Soft sand, on the other hand, provides more resistance, making the run much harder.
Running at low tide will give you the option to run on hard or soft sand. Zig-zag running is a great beach workout to build up endurance for running on soft sand. Simply run 10 minutes on the hard sand before moving up to the soft sand for 1 minute, repeating this as many times as you want.
Running at low tide will also provide more hard sand running space if the beach is overcrowded.
Keep a steady breath
Running on the beach takes extra focus when it comes to the terrain and keeping a good balance. When your mind focuses primarily on your limbs and balance, your breathing can easily become strained and you might experience muscle fatigue quicker than usual. The lactic acid in your body builds in the muscles and overall you risk having an overall bad running experience. Do not let muscle fatigue get you down.
Combining beach runs with inspiratory and respiratory training programs helps your muscles to gain the oxygen needed for the energy production. With the breathing trainer from Airofit you can find programs designed to your specific need. Breathing training will help you to improve the oxygen flow supplying the locomotor muscles through aerobic energy production, avoiding the build-up of lactic acid in your muscles.
Make sure you are well-hydrated before running on the beach, especially during the summer. If you can’t take water with you as you run, make sure you replenish well afterward.
Applying sunscreen, especially to the face is important, as beaches are normally very exposed to the elements. Sunscreen can help protect the skin from the sun and windburn.
Running on the beach is a fun summer activity that is great for physical and mental health. By preparing well, you can avoid injury and keep running all summer long.