Written by Jack Boardman
With summer around the corner, the potential for outdoor exercise is just about here – even in the UK. For all the advantages of running outdoors instead of being confined to a treadmill or indoor track, the benefits of running on a sandy beach outweigh all the others.
Health gains aside, there are obvious bonuses. As well as the considerably improved surroundings that a sea front has to offer, there is also the fresh sea air and potential for a cool dip at the end of your finish line – perfect for recovery for your overheated muscles.
The beach itself will form an obstacle course or sorts. The various hurdles, the ground’s changes in consistency and likely lack of a straight line will serve as agility training and work in your favour for strengthening your legs and working your midriff. You can also utilise the obstacles and varieties in the terrain, which you wouldn’t get to the same degree with road running (and not at all with a treadmill). Save your sprints for the clear, flat straights and work different muscles, channelling your core, calf muscles and hamstrings for the explosive power of leaps and turns when avoiding an obstacle.
The sand is your greatest advantage when running on the beach. Whether wet or dry and loose, sand will create resistance, which Olympic sprinters favour in their training. You’ll exert far more energy running on sand than tarmac, so in order to run at your usual pace on a road, you’ll be putting your muscles to harder work in order to combat the sinking and weight you’ll experience from training on sand. Studies suggest that you can burn 30 percent more calories running on sand than on tarmac.
Because of the resistance and instability of beach running, the smaller, stabilising muscles surrounding your knees will be put to greater use than on a level surface, which will ultimately strengthen them in ways a treadmill could not.
Though the more unpredictable surface might sound more hazardous than a road or treadmill, impact injuries are reduced. A study by Griffith University, in Queensland, Australia, revealed that when you land on soft sand, the amount of time in which your feet sink into it is increased, therefore reducing the hits taken by your knees, ankles and hips upon impact.
Further rewards can be reaped from going barefoot. Your calf muscles will already get a harder workout from the sand (with less of the strain that it would get from weight lifting and running on roads). But by running barefoot your feet muscles, calf muscles and toes will be strengthened by being forced to grip as you balance in the sand.
Flat, wet sand is the best for reducing strains to your ligaments and joints, so if you’re recovering from an injury or looking to build your leg strength, you’ll greatly benefit from building up your pace here before scaling any dunes.
There are still a few negatives that you’d do well to bear in mind before going full steam ahead. Running on the sand will stretch and strain your Achilles tendon. It is put harder to work because more muscles are required to propel you forward. This is good news when you’re building strength, but not great when you’re initially not used to the extra work. To avoid a nasty Achilles injury, it’s recommended that, at first, you train with trainers on for the extra ankle support.
So that we don’t end on a negative, many beach runners believe that running barefoot also offers a natural acupressure for your feet, which otherwise can be left blistered and calloused by road running on shoes.