boss information for running on the beach

You have probably seen plenty of glorious pictures of beautiful men and women galloping through the sand. They run along as if they are floating through air.

Running on the beach, however, is way harder than the stock motivational photos on the Internet make it out to be.

Sand is a difficult surface to run on in the best of times.  When you combine that with uneven dunes and a usually blazing hot sun on the beach, you are signing up for a tough one.

Running on the Beach Benefits

There are benefits if you can tough the heat and uneven surfaces.  Sand is a low impact surface, so there is little risk for impact injuries like shin splints.

The unevenness and the way the sand shifts under your feet also strengthens a lot of muscles that you do not use much on the road. These especially include your lower extremity muscles that kick into high gear to keep you stable on the sand.

Because of that increased muscle use, you will also burn more calories.  Up to a 150% increase while running on the sand has been shown in some studies. Keep in mind, however, that this number implies that running on sand is about 150% harder as well.

Running in Sand for Speed

Some studies have shown that running on sand is effective for building power too. 

You must use more muscle power to explode off sand than asphalt or other hard surfaces. Therefore, those explosive muscles that give you your speed get more of a workout on sand. But, no matter what purpose you have for running in the sand, there are many downsides to keep in mind too.

The Grass is Always Greener…

While running on the beach may seem like a great idea at first, you’ll quickly find there are many difficulties as well. While you decrease your chance of sustaining impact injuries on the soft surface of sand, you increase your risk for many other injuries.

As mentioned above, the muscles and tendons in your knees, ankles, shins, and feet all have to kick into overdrive to stabilize your body on the sand. This can do serious damage to parts of your body that are not used to being worked. Causing ankle, knee and shin pain, and plantar fasciitis among other injuries.

This is especially relevant on the soft sand further from the ocean. Being harder to stabilize on. But, if you move closer to the water and run on the hard sand there, you are running on a steady transverse incline.

Short version: not good. 

Possibly causing other issues due to one leg being consistently higher up than the other.

Running on Sand vs. Road

Sand itself is not an awful surface to run on, but it becomes much more difficult and risky when you speak of sand on the beach. There are plenty of great sand trails (We just ran a sand trail in Point Washington State Forest in Florida that was great) that are packed in and level. These help to avoid many of the consequences listed above.

Overall, however, running on the beach won’t kill you if you take it easy. But if you are not used to it, do not go out and decide to complete your weekly long run on the beach.

Start with something shorter and easier than you are used to until your muscles and feet adjust.

The same goes for sand trails. If you are already used to running trails on dirt or similar surfaces though, you will not have to adjust much if the trail is packed in and level.

Exercising on the sand offers a solid alternative to running on the roads, but remember that the body needs time to adjust. If you have been running on roads nonstop for the last few weeks, your body will need time to adapt to the sand. 

Tips for Running on the Beach

There are some soft sand running techniques that may make your jaunt around the beach a little easier.

 - Your first step, similar to trail running, is to shorten your cadence.

This means quicker, shorter strides instead of the longer slower cadence you are likely used to on the roads. Taking shorter faster steps improves your stability and allows you to run more efficiently on a surface that often slides out underneath you.

 - Next, start with the packed in sand close to the water.

Your body will adjust to that quicker than the softer sand further away. However, be aware that the tilt in the sand can create issues. So, make sure you even out the run by going in both directions and start with a very short run.

 - Going off that, begin with a very short run and slowly build up as your body gets used to it.

Don’t attempt a marathon on day one or you are asking for a host of problems.

 - Lastly, choose the right equipment.  

Make sure you put on sunscreen and are wearing running clothes that protect you from the sun and keep you cool.

Bringing us to, shoes…

Best Shoes for Running on the Beach

Because the surface is already soft, you do not need a built up trainer like the Ghost, Ride, or Pegasus.

Refer to our article “The Best Minimalist Running Shoes” for a good start. (The Brooks PureGrit 6 mentioned in the article, or a similar lightweight trail shoe, will be a good choice to protect your feet. This offers a little extra support, grips well, and keeps you nimble on the sand).

Running on the beach is certainly not as easy as they make it out to be on television and stock photos. It is a tough surface to run on and without the proper preparation, your run can turn ugly very fast. But, if you ease into beach running slowly, there is no reason you cannot work beach running into your weekly running routine.

Try it out, add in a dip 😉 and let us know how it went! 

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About the Author

Hayden Cox is a former NCAA DI athlete in Cross Country and Track. He has had the opportunity to work with 2x U.S. Olympian, Robert Gary, and a host of elite athletes at the collegiate and professional level. Hayden's ideal day consists of an early morning long run on a mountain trail followed by a giant bowl of pasta and a chocolate milkshake (just don't tell anyone about the milkshake!)

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