Whether you’re on holiday or lucky enough to live by the sea, there are many benefits to running on the beach.
Not only will you soak up that essential Vitamin D, running on sand offers a bigger challenge when compared to road or treadmill running, and is a great way to add some variety into your routine.
However, there are precautions to be aware of before hitting the beach, so we’ve put together some tips for running on the beach safely.
In this article, we will cover:
- What is Beach Running?
- What to Go Running on the Beach?
- Running on the Beach Barefoot vs Wearing Shoes
- Running on Soft Sand vs Running on Wet Sand
- Tips for Running on the Beach
- Benefits of Running on Sand
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What is Beach Running?
Beach running is a workout that challenges stability, fitness and strength, and is considered to be much harder than road running, running on a treadmill and even trail running!
This is because running on the beach requires muscle groups to work harder, in order to power through the ever-shifting surface of the sand.
Sand running training is often used by runners, including professional athletes, as a tool to supplement their usual training routine.
As well as increasing strength, running on sand helps to optimise performance and technique, so running on normal ground feels much easier in comparison.
When to Go Running on the Beach
If you’re hoping to go running at the beach, it’s important that you choose a time when you can run safely.
To ensure this, always check the tide schedule beforehand. Ideally, you want to run at low tide or within an hour or 2 of its lowest point.
During low tide the sand is harder packed, and the level surface is gentler on stabilising muscles and joints, meaning a lower risk of injury.
The soft, dry sand during high tide may be kinder on the legs, but is much harder to run through, which we’ll explore later on in this article.
Generally, you should avoid completing beach running training between the hours of 10am-4pm, when the sun is most intense. Training outside of these hours means that you are less prone to sunburn or dehydration, which can lead to heat-related illnesses such as heat stroke and cramping.
Running on the Beach Barefoot vs Wearing Shoes
If you’re wondering, do you wear shoes when running on the beach? Then you’re in the right place, as we’re about to answer that question!
Running barefoot in sand is not advised for beginners, so you should always start out wearing shoes.
As a new terrain for your feet to tackle, running barefoot on the beach could prove too much for your feet and ankles on the first go. You are much more likely to suffer from ankle sprains or Achilles injuries without the support of shoes, as the muscles in these areas will be stretched longer when making contact with the sand.
Like any new form of exercise, failing to make a slow, gradual transition from your typical routine can put your body under too much stress and therefore at more risk of becoming injured. Wearing shoes when running on sand ensures that your heels and arches are provided with the support that they’re used to when running on the road, as well as acting as ankle stabilisers to prevent injury.
We would advise you to wear trainers with a tight closed mesh to keep the sand out of your shoes as much as possible. You may even choose to dedicate a specific pair of shoes to beach running, as it is difficult to fully keep the sand out!
To prevent chafing and discomfort, be sure to wear socks that prevent blisters or cover your feet in a thin layer of Vaseline before running at the beach. You can find a full list of the best running socks for both men and women here.
Also, if you are running on wet sand close to the water, you should wear shoes to protect your feet from shells and other debris that has been washed in from the sea.
When considering whether running on the sand barefoot or in shoes is the best option for you, we would recommend gradually transitioning to barefoot running once you become used to the surface.
A huge benefit of running barefoot on the beach is that it allows your feet to go through their natural range of motion in comparison to wearing shoes, which helps to strengthen your feet and ankles. When running in shoes you are more likely to land on your heel, and the impact from this can lead to knee or shin injuries.
Also, when running barefoot in sand, you are automatically more wary of where your feet land, so you are more likely to land on your forefoot first. This encourages a better running stride and helps to improve technique. The technical term for how many steps in total you take per minute whilst running is 'running cadence'; if you'd like more information on how to work on your running cadence, then you're in luck as we have an entire guide on just that.
Finally, if you are considering whether running on the beach barefoot or in shoes is best, you should know that running barefoot allows your natural sense of balance to improve. This helps to improve posture, which benefits your running technique and can prevent back pain.
When you feel comfortable, begin running barefoot on the beach for 15 to 20 minutes at a time in order to build strength in your feet. As your body adapts, you can then gradually add 5 minutes to this time.
Running on Soft Sand vs Running on Wet Sand
When running at the beach, the wet sand provides more support than the softer, flatter sand towards the dunes.
This is because the hard-packed surface means that there is less impact on the joints, which is better for preventing injuries to the feet and ankles.
As a beginner, we would therefore advise you to begin by running on wet sand. This is so that you can gradually build up your tolerance to the higher resistance provided by the sand, in comparison to road running.
Another point to consider is that when running on wet sand, it is likely that you are running close to the water, where the surface is often slanted.
This can put more pressure on the joints, so make sure that you run the same distance in both directions to evenly work the muscles in both legs and prevent muscular imbalances. Better flexibility also plays a role in improving the health of the joints; you can find out how to improve flexibility here.
When compared with wet sand, running on soft sand requires a higher resistance, so is much harder and therefore offers more of a strength workout.
When running at the beach, you will need to lift your knees higher to propel you through the soft sand. Also, soft sand moves away quickly under your feet due to the uneven surface, so each foot placement will be different.
These factors put you at a greater risk of falling, so the stabiliser muscles in the legs must work harder to keep you balanced. In the long term, this can help to improve stability, balance and coordination, as well as to help build strength in these muscles.
Although it is harder on the muscles, soft sand running is actually kinder on the legs, as there is less muscle damage and inflammation than running on a harder surface.
A 2014 study in the Journal of Sports Sciences even found that the soft surface helped to reduce muscle soreness and fatigue for well-trained team sport athletes, when compared to training on grass!
If you are a beginner to running on soft sand, you could try interval training or fartlek training once you are comfortable with running on wet sand.
Do this by slowly adding a few short intervals of soft sand running, with longer recovery runs on wet sand. As you build up strength, you can then go running on soft sand for longer stretches of time.
Tips for Running on the Beach
If you’re looking for some beach running tips, then keep reading to find the best and safest ways to train alongside the sun, sea and sand!
#1 Don’t Overdo Beach Running
One of our most important running on the beach tips is to gradually transition from running on pavements, treadmills or trails, to the sand.
If you're interested in combining your beach running training with trail running, then be sure to c heck out our comprehensive guide on trail running first and foremost for optimal performance.
Going too hard during your first sand running session can lead to injuries in your calves and ankles, because your legs and feet are not yet accustomed to running on the softer surface.
Therefore, we would advise against running during your first few sessions, and instead just walk along the sand. You can then go for short runs lasting for 10 to 15 minutes, before gradually running for longer periods of time.
We will address how often you should go running on the beach in a later section, but the main thing to note is to listen to your body.
To avoid injury and encourage optimal performance, make sure to get the rest that you need after completing your sand running training, whether you are a beginner or more experienced!
#2 Run at a Slower Pace
When you see a long, clear stretch of beach ahead of you, it can be tempting to run as fast as possible, but remember that running on the beach is much tougher than you think!
Beach running puts much more strain on your core stabiliser muscles and makes your legs work harder than road running, so trying to keep up your typical pace will put unnecessary pressure on your body.
Rather than helping you to achieve a new personal record, running in sand for speed is therefore more likely to lead to injury and disappointment.
Also, if you’re running on the beach in high temperatures, the heat can cause your body to work overtime, which can lead to heat exhaustion and related illnesses. You can read more about the dangers of running in hot weather and the precautions to take when doing so here.
If you try to hit your usual pace, your heart rate is likely to spike. If it is too high, your heart may be unable to pump blood to the rest of your body, which can starve your organs of the vital oxygen that they need in order to function.
One of the best beach running tips is to therefore run slowly and steadily, rather than focusing on speed. Aim for a conversational pace and take in the beautiful scenery whilst you run!
#3 Be Realistic with Your Goals
Instead of running in sand for speed, why not set a different, more achievable goal?
For instance, you could aim to run for a certain amount of time, rather than a set distance or at a certain pace. When running on sand, 3 miles can often feel like 13, which could set you up for disappointment if you don’t meet the mileage that you are aiming for.
As a beginner, you shouldn’t expect to be able to run for long amounts of time, so we would advise you to add on time gradually as you build up your strength and endurance.
Due to the intense conditions, try shorter sessions of around 10 to 15 minutes when completing beach running training.
You could also make the most of this intensity by incorporating sprints and interval training into your workouts. Not only will this allow you to work on your cardiovascular health and improve running performance overall, but it also allows you to add an element of variety into your training to keep it interesting!
#4 Change the Direction that You Run
As already discussed, most beaches are slanted towards the sea, even at low tide. Running on a slant can put excessive pressure on the knees, ankles, and hips, so it is important that you run in both directions when running on the beach.
If you run in the same direction for your whole session, one leg won’t be as fully extended as the other, and your knee and hip on one side will take more impact than the other.
This can lead to muscular imbalances, which cause pain, limit mobility and can therefore lead to increased risk of injury.
You should therefore be sure to keep track of how far you run in one direction, to ensure that you run the same distance in the other.
Here at OriGym, we have a whole library of articles that all runners can benefit from reading. Why not check out the following posts when you're finished here:
- Running in the Rain: Tips, Precautions and Clothes Checklist
- The Best Running Gear of 2020: 31 Items You Need
- 21 Essential Personal Training Equipment Checklist
#5 Focus on Form
Keeping good form is important for any type of exercise, but it’s important to pay close attention to your form when running on sand, as its instability makes the risk of injury much higher.
One of the best beach running tips for good form is to concentrate on maintaining the largest surface area possible, to avoid tripping or sinking in sand.
To do this, try to avoid landing on your heels or running on your toes, and instead spread your weight by landing on the middle part of the foot.
It is also important to keep your posture tall and eyes looking ahead, as well as aiming to lift your knees high. Remember, sand can be harder to run through, so it’s important to keep a strong forward momentum going as you run.
Finally, you should focus on keeping your feet quick and light in order to help with running in sand for speed. You can do this by shortening your stride and increasing cadence, which is the number of steps you take per minute.
We cover form in more detail in our tips to improve running technique article.
#6 Always Warm Up
If you’re looking for good beach running tips, then make sure to pay close attention to this one!
Warming up is crucial to preparing the muscles, as they will be working much harder when running on sand.
As well as activating the muscles, warming up will increase the range of motion of your joints, reducing the risk of injury and ensuring that you run with correct form.
It’s important to complete a warm up consisting of dynamic stretches, which are active movements that get the blood flowing to your muscles. These stretches should focus on the posterior chain, which includes your calves, hamstrings and glutes, which are used more during sand running training.
Some good examples of dynamic stretches for sand running include forward lunges, hip circles, high knees and bodyweight squats. These exercises will help to improve the range of motion of your muscles, activate the glutes, and open up the hip flexors. There are a whole host of benefits of dynamic stretching that you can read all about here.
It’s also important to warm up your ankles when running on uneven terrain such as sand, as they are sprained easily if not prepared properly. For instance, try seated ankle rotations and calf raises to wake up the arches in your feet.
#7 Be Aware of the Sun
The wind can be deceiving when running at the beach, as it reduces the feeling of the sun on you as you run. This can cause you to underestimate the temperature and the impact of UV radiation.
It is therefore important to wear sunscreen when running on the beach, as well as sunglasses and a hat or visor to keep the sun out of your eyes. This will help to ensure that you remain comfortable and focused on the route ahead of you. If you need help collating the ultimate running attire for your beach running training, then be sure to check out our list of the best running sunglasses.
If you’re running on the beach, the chances are that it’s a nice warm day.
You are therefore likely to sweat more, so it is important to replace the fluids that you lose by drinking plenty of water. This is crucial for hydration and for keeping your core body temperature within its safe limits of 37 to 38°C.
Dehydration can lead to side effects such as headaches, heat stroke, nausea and cramping just to name a few, which are all detrimental to your health and running performance.
#8 Use Sand Dunes
When running on the beach, the likelihood is that you’ll be near some sand dunes, so why not incorporate them into your training?
Sand dune running is a great way to add another challenging element to your routine, as the incline provides extra resistance that will help you to build strength whilst you run.
Also, as your muscles are working harder to overcome the added resistance, your cardiovascular system will be working much harder.
This is because your heart has to pump faster to provide more oxygenated blood to your muscles, so sand dune running will help to improve your endurance levels. You’re sure to feel the benefits of this type of training when you go back to running on flatter ground!
For optimal results, the benefits of strength training also include improving the cardiovasclar system, therefore combining beach running with this form of resistance training could see you progression improve rapidly.
A great way to add sand dune running into your workouts is to use them for hill sprints, where you sprint up the dune, then walk or jog down the other side for recovery. You should then rest for a short period, ensuring that you take enough time to give it your all on the next dune!
#9 Make Sure Your Body is Recovered
As we have discussed, completing your running training on the beach is much more intense and puts extra stress on the body, so more recovery time is needed when compared to other forms of running.
Recovery time is important, as this is when the body repairs any small tears in your muscles. This is essential for avoiding injury, but is also the time when your muscles adapt and grow stronger.
Also, after running on the beach you’re likely to have delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, especially as a beginner.
It can sometimes be good to push through DOMS if you’re hoping to progress, but due to the intensity of beach running you’re at more risk of repetitive strain injuries if you run with sore muscles. You’re also more likely to be fatigued, which could lead to injury as a result of compromised form.
It is therefore crucial to ensure that you take sufficient time to rest after each sand running session. How many rest days you should take depends on your level of experience and other factors specific to the individual, but you should ensure to take at least one rest day after running on the beach, and more if you still feel fatigued.
If you want to know more, read our article on the importance of rest days and how many you need.
Benefits of Running on the Sand
Now that you know how, let’s consider why you should go running on the beach, and the benefits of doing so!
One of the key benefits of beach running is that it strengthens your arches, ankles, and other muscles below the knee, more than running on harder surfaces.
This is because the sand absorbs some of the energy from your foot instead of pushing you forward, which forces you to activate more muscles in the legs in order to stay upright.
Also, the sand is constantly shifting below your feet, which means that you have to work harder to maintain balance when running on the beach.
As a result, your hip and knee stabilising muscles have to work nearly twice as hard than when running on a firm surface, and your core muscles become more engaged.
This results in stronger core muscles, which protect and strengthen the spine and hips and is crucial for preventing injury.
Activities such as sand running that challenge stability also helps to build strength for runners in areas in which they would usually get muscular imbalances, such as the glutes, hamstrings, hips and ankles.
Lower Risk of Injury
Not only does running on the beach strengthen the larger muscles in your legs, but also the smaller stabiliser muscles which help you to maintain balance, meaning you are less likely to be injured.
For instance, beach running builds strength and increases stability in the feet and ankles, places which are highly susceptible to injury for runners.
One of the benefits of running on sand is that it is a softer surface, which has been found to have 4 times less impact on the joints when compared to running on firmer ground such as grass!
This reduces the risk of impact-associated and overuse injuries, such as stress fractures.
For example, a 2017 study in the European Journal of Sport Science found that women who ran on soft sand experienced less muscle damage and inflammation than those who ran on grass, whilst still incurring an equivalent cardiovascular training stimulus.
While sand is much softer, it is still worth being aware of ways to reduce the risk of injury when running on more inclines sandy surfaces. You can find out ways to do this in our tips for running downhill article.
Increased Cardiovascular Endurance
A 2013 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning found that running on sand forces the body to work at least 10% harder than it does on grass.
Further research has shown that sand running causes greater improvements in maximal oxygen consumption than when running on a normal surface.
During prolonged aerobic exercise such as running on the beach, the heart must pump enough oxygenated blood to the muscles in order to meet exercise demands and keep you moving. Therefore, the higher a person’s oxygen consumption, the higher their level of cardiovascular fitness.
For a more detailed overview on how cardio and aerobic exercise benefits our health, check out our guide.
One of the biggest benefits of beach running is that you can hence build levels of cardiovascular endurance, without the stress of having to run faster or further!
If you’re hoping to improve your road running time, then incorporating sand running training can help.
When running on sand, you tend to use a different technique and range of motion to combat the unstable surface, which can actually help to improve performance.
For instance, the joint angles around the hip, knee and ankle are similar to those seen during faster running speeds on firmer ground.
Also, running on sand benefits your running technique, as the sand is soft and gives way when you push off. This means that some elastic energy, that would usually be transferred to the next step, is lost.
Therefore, to gather the power for running in the sand for speed, you are likely to develop a smooth and efficient running technique, with a stable push off and a midfoot strike.
A recent study from the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine demonstrates how running on sand benefits the performance of athletes and sportspeople when incorporated into their training routine.
12 young, well-trained male basketball players took part in a 6-week plyometric training program, which was performed on both wooden and sand surfaces.
The results suggested that training on a sand surface was more effective in improving the agility and sport performance of the basketball players, when compared to training on a wooden surface.
How Often Should You Go Running on the Beach?
If you’ve finished reading our beach running tips and benefits, you’ve probably been convinced to give it a go!
However, it’s important that you don’t go ‘all in’ as a beginner when running on the beach. You should gradually build up the amount of time that you spend running on the sand until your body is more conditioned to it, in order to avoid injury.
You should also remember that you won’t be able to run on the beach as often as you would run on the road or treadmill, due to the added stress that this form of running puts onto your body.
As a beginner, we would advise you to incorporate one beach running training session per week into your routine, then add more as you build strength and endurance.
Like we’ve discussed previously, make sure that you take enough rest time between sessions to allow for proper muscle recovery.
Ultimately, how often you should go running on the beach depends on your personal goals and fitness level, but the main thing to take away from this article is to be cautious, and don’t push your body too far beyond its limits!
How Many Calories Does Running on the Beach Burn?
Research has shown that the calories burned when running in the sand are as many as 1.6 more per mile than when running on the road!
This is because the muscles have to work much harder to overcome the resistance provided by the sand, so the body requires more energy to do this.
Beach running training also increases excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, or the ‘afterburn’ effect. This is when the metabolic rate, which has increased during exercise, remains high once finished, so continues to burn calories.
For optimal results, you can combine this with some of the best metabolic boosting foods to assist in the calorie burning process further.
The metabolic rate remains high, because your muscles require more energy post-run in order to recover properly, and to help fuel processes such as removing lactic acid build up, restoring oxygen levels and repairing muscle tears.
Specifically, the number of calories burned when beach running depends on many factors, which vary from person to person. These include metabolic rate, weight, height, age, and gender, amongst others.
The number of calories burned whilst running in the sand also depends on how fast you are running. In layman’s terms, if you are running in sand for speed, you are likely to burn less calories, as your feet spend less time in contact with the ground.
Therefore, if you are hoping to burn more calories, you should prioritise running at slower speeds, which will also allow you to appreciate the beautiful scenery around you!
Who Should Avoid Running on the Beach?
Running on the beach is a great method of training for most people; there are many advantages to incorporating it into your training routine.
However, it is not recommended for everyone, as the risks may outweigh the benefits in these cases.
If you have been injured previously, particularly in areas such as the knees, ankles or hips, you should avoid completing your running training on the beach, as you are likely to inflict further damage on these areas through running on an unstable surface.
In particular, conditions such as plantar fasciitis, inflammation of the tissue connecting the heel to the front of the foot, can be worsened by beach running.
If you are unsure, or have particular concerns, always speak to a doctor before including beach running in your training programme.
Before You Go!
It may be a lot harder than road running, but the benefits of beach running make it a great method of training if you’re looking for a new challenge.
So next time you’re near the sea, we hope that our tips for running on the beach have convinced you to give it a go!
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Martyn Binnie et.al., ‘Effect of Sand Versus Grass Training Surfaces During an 8-week Pre-season Conditioning Programme in Team Sport Athletes’, in Journal of Sports Sciences (2014, Vol 32., No.11), pp.1001-1012
Henry Brown et.al., ‘Sand Training: Exercise-induced Muscle Damage and Inflammatory Responses to Matched-Intensity Exercise’, in European Journal of Sport Science, (Apr 2017, Vol. 17, No.6), pp.741-747
Martyn Binnie et.al., ‘Effect of Surface-specific Training on 20-m Sprint Performance on Sand and Grass Surfaces’, in Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, (Dec 2013, Vol 27, Issue 12), pp.3515-3520
Gokmen Ozen, Ozdemir Atar, Hurmuz Koc, ‘The Effects of a 6-week Plyometric Training Programme on Sand Versus Wooden Parquet Surfaces on the Physical Performance Parameters of Well-Trained Young Basketball Players’, in Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, (2020, Vol.9, No.1), pp.27-32