Whether you’re visiting the beach on vacation or live close enough to one to include the sun and sand in your regular exercise regimen, running on the beach is a great way to add variety to your fitness routine. It also gives you a chance to get outdoors and try something new.
However, there are some things to be aware of before you dig your toes into the sand.
If you’re ready to add beach running into your fitness lineup, read on to learn about the benefits, things to be aware of, risks, and tips to help you get started.
Taking your running routine to the beach can stave off boredom, improve running performance, and help you move past a training plateau. It can also challenge your body in ways you didn’t know possible.
While the list below isn’t exhaustive, below are some of the top benefits of running on the beach.
Requires more energy
Running on the sand provides added resistance for the large lower body muscles, requiring more effort and energy to propel your body forward. Greater energy requirements equate to greater calorie burn.
A 2014 review found that compared with a more traditional training venue like grass, sand surfaces offer a higher energy cost for team sports training
Provides a softer landing
Running on the sand allows for a softer landing than when running on pavement. As such, you’ll put less stress on your ankles, knees, and hips.
Lowering the impact on these weight-bearing joints may reduce your chance of impact-associated musculoskeletal injuries.
Research from a small 2017 study comparing the impact of running on soft sand versus grass surfaces found fewer markers of post-exercise muscle damage after participants ran on sand (2).
Strengthens the smaller muscles
Sand is an unstable surface. Each time you strike the ground, your smaller muscles, tendons, and ligaments need to stabilize for balance and to keep your ankle from rolling.
Unless you’ve been doing rehab-type exercises for the ankle or foot, there’s a good chance this area needs some work. Provided you don’t have any injuries, the sand offers an ideal surface to build strength and increase stability in the foot and ankle.
Improves athletic performance
Sand training challenges your muscles, joints, ligaments, tendons, and cardiovascular system in ways that stable surfaces like gym floors fail to.
One 2020 study in junior male handball players analyzed the effecs of 7 weeks of plyometric training on two surfaces: a stable surface (gym floor) and sand.
While the participants improved their repeated change of direction, static balance, and jump performances on both sand and the stable surface, training on the sand induced some additional gains in all areas, plus improved sprint performance (3).
Challenges the core
Anytime you exercise on a surface that shifts when you land, you recruit your core muscles to help with stability and balance.
Running recruits the muscles of your core during the gait cycle, and running on an unsteady surface challenges those muscles to do more.
One study found that core endurance training improved runners’ endurance and required less energy output over time, making their runs more efficient (
The benefits of running on the beach include greater calorie burn, increased athletic performance, and stronger smaller muscles in the lower body. Plus, it offers a softer landing for weight-bearing joints.
What could be better than the sun, sand, and surf? Well, despite all the benefits of running on the beach, there are some things to be aware of before you begin.
Some beaches may have shells or other sharp objects that could puncture your feet. If this is the case, always wear shoes when running.
Try to run on wet sand, as it’s more compact than soft sand. Wet sand creates a more stable surface than soft sand, which creates a higher level of instability.
If you’re up for a challenge, alternate between hard and soft sand. For example, try 3–5 minutes of running on the hard sand followed by 2–3 minutes of jogging or walking on the soft sand. Follow this pattern for the duration of your workout.
You may also want to consider wearing shoes, especially if you’re new to beach running. As your feet, ankles, and knees get stronger, transition to barefoot running. Still, begin with short runs to allow your body, and especially your feet, to transition from shoes to barefoot.
And finally, try to find a beach with a level surface. Many beaches have an angled surface, which can place added stress on the hips and knees.
If you have to run on a slanted surface, make sure to run half the distance in one direction, then turn around and run back. This strategy will place an even amount of stress on both sides of the body instead of one side taking the hit.
Make sure to check the beach for shells and sharp objects and look for a beach with a level surface. Also, start on wet sand and wear shoes until your body gets used to the sand.
Training outdoors is an excellent way to cross-train, get some vitamin D, breathe in the fresh air, and change up the scenery.
That said, it’s not always a perfect solution to your workout woes. And unfortunately, some people should avoid running on the beach.
If you have a knee or ankle injury, avoid running on the beach. You should also stick to a harder surface if your ankles are weak from a previous sprain or tear.
Plantar fasciitis, which is an inflammation of the fascia that connects the heel to the front of your foot, is another injury that could worsen when running on the beach.
If you’re dealing with plantar fasciitis but still want to give beach running a go, make sure to wear supportive shoes. You may also want to talk with a podiatrist or physical therapist before you start.
Ankle, knee, and hip injuries do not mix well with beach running. Neither does plantar fasciitis. If you have weakness or instability in these areas, consult your healthcare provider or a physical therapist before heading out.
Running on the beach does not require an expensive gym membership, fancy clothes, or specialized gear, but some tips can help you make the most out of your time on the beach.
- Make time to warm up. Spend at least 5 minutes doing a dynamic, whole-body warmup. Save time for your glutes, hamstrings, quads, calf muscles, and ankles. Include leg swings, high knees, forward lunges, butt kickers, calf raises, and seated ankle rotations.
- Walk before you run. Walk the beach first to acclimate to the surface while you survey the route. For your first outing, just walk. Next time, alternate between running and walking intervals. Continue interval training until you feel ready to run the entire time.
- Protect your skin from the sun. Wear sunscreen on any exposed skin, and consider wearing sunglasses and a brimmed hat or visor to protect your face from ultraviolet rays.
- Ease into beach running. To minimize injury, start with a 20-minute jog, 2–3 days a week. You can gradually add time as your body adjusts to the new surface. Remember, your pace will be slower than when running on a hard surface.
- Avoid the warmest part of the day. Running during the hottest part of the day can cause heat exhaustion and be quite challenging. It can also cook the bottom of your feet if you’re running barefoot. Ideally, try to run in the morning or evening hours.
- Stay hydrated. Drinking water before, during, and after exercise is good advice no matter what activity you’re doing. But if you’re heading outdoors in warmer temperatures, you must stay hydrated. Consider a hand-grip water bottle or wear a running belt.
To make the most out of your beach workout, remember to warm up, drink plenty of water, wear sunscreen, avoid the hottest part of the day, and walk before you run.
Beach running is an excellent way to boost your cardiovascular fitness, burn calories, and strengthen lower body muscles.
When starting, stick to wet sand and a level surface. Also, consider wearing shoes until your feet get used to the soft surface.
If you experience pain or discomfort while running on the sand, stop what you’re doing and walk the rest of the way. If the pain continues, make an appointment to see your healthcare provider or a physical therapist.
Keeping these tips in mind, you’ll be sure to get in an excellent workout while at the beach.