Summer is just around the corner which means so are our beach vacations! And many of us will be looking forward to running on the beach.
Beach running has a lot of benefits, but it can also be risky. Too much of a good thing can lead to injury, and we don’t want that!
During college, I had the opportunity to live one summer on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. I did a ton of beach running and as a result, I irritated my hip. The culprit was likely running too close to the water’s edge where it’s uneven and putting undue stress on my joint. Luckily, I was young and able to rebound quickly—no physical therapy or time off required!
When we’re young, we can often get by making such mistakes but not when we are older OR chasing goals.
In this article, I’m going to review common questions about running on sand plus share the main benefits of beach running and tips to do it safely.
So, let’s roll!
Is it good to run on the beach?
Yes, running on the beach in the sand can be good for you. It’s a great workout and lessens the impact running can have on your body. Thus, it’s a great activity to develop your cardiovascular fitness without stressing the body too much.
It also works different muscle groups including smaller, stabilizing muscles which can aid in injury prevention and power.
Does running on sand burn more calories?
Yes, running on the sand does burn more calories because you’re using more energy to move forward. You have less energy return when you hit the soft surface, which means your body must work harder to keep propelling forward.
In fact, research shows running on the sand requires about one and a half times more energy than running on smooth pavement.
Also, you are using smaller muscle groups in addition to the typical larger muscle groups used when running which also requires more energy expenditure. Plus, you’re expending mental energy when running on unstable ground.
All this means running on the beach burns more calories and provides a great workout.
Is it harder to run on a beach?
Because you lose elastic energy when your foot strikes the sand, it is harder to run on the sand than on pavement or concrete. Your foot must work hard to displace the sand and the muscles can’t move efficiently so they recruit more to help. All this makes running on sand harder and more tiring.
Also, you’re focusing more on staying upright which can also lead to fatigue faster.
There’s a good chance you will be running against the wind (in the heat) adding extra resistance to your run. All this can make running on the beach more challenging.
How much slower do you run on sand?
The extra work your body must do to displace the sand and stay balanced with each footfall means you will run slower on sand than on the flat ground. As noted, you will use more than 1.5 times the energy you use running on a flat, hard surface when running on the beach.
Therefore, expect to run significantly slower on sand. The softer the sand, the slower your pace will be. Therefore, run by perceived effort and time when running on the sand rather than by pace and mileage.
Should I run on the beach barefoot or with shoes?
You can run barefoot or with shoes on the beach. If you run barefoot, keep in mind that this will put more stress on your body and recruit even more muscles, particularly in your feet. Therefore, it’s best to introduce barefoot beach running starting with a 20-minute session, and gradually increasing from there.
If you run with shoes on, embrace that you may get sand in your shoes! Wear socks and apply anti-chafing balm in case some grains get into your socks and cause friction.
Running barefoot in sand is an excellent foot and ankle strengthening exercise, so I suggest getting the best of both worlds by doing the bulk of your run with shoes on. Then, kick off your kicks and run the remaining five minutes or so barefoot.
Celebrate with a dip in the ocean!
Does running on sand make you faster?
Regularly running on sand can improve running performance. Despite running at slower speeds, you’ll be stressing your cardiovascular system and strengthening your muscles with lower impact. This can translate into faster running times.
4 Benefits of Running on the Beach
Beach running can be beneficial to runners for four main reasons:
It’s a low-impact workout.
What makes running a high-impact sport is the repetitive hard pounding. When your foot strikes the ground, it can exert force up to 7 times your body weight. And this happens repetitively (2,000 times per mile).
Running on soft (and hard!) sand literally cushions the blow, lessening the impact of running. This can help prevent injuries.
It can prevent injuries.
Running on sand is similar to trail running in that the uneven surface will call upon different muscles in different ways to keep you stable and still moving forward. Over time you will become stronger which will also help prevent injuries and potentially increase running performance.
It can improve running performance.
Due to the resistance of the sand (and wind AND heat), there’s less return of elastic energy with each foot strike. That means your body must work harder to pick your foot back up with each movement.
This makes running in sand more challenging for both your cardiovascular system and your muscles than running on a smooth road or paved path.
Thus, it’s a great workout and important to note that pace and distance on the pavement should not be compared to pace and distance on sand. They are not apples to apples. You will run slower on sand!
It’s good for the mind.
Mother runners everywhere need peace and quiet. What’s better than admiring the sunrise as the sunlight spills an array of beautiful colors onto the clear, calm waters. This scenery and experience are good for the soul—and probably will boost the runner’s high and your patience later in the day.
So, I encourage mother runners to take the time to run on the beach in the morning to amplify the good vacation vibes.
But like any introduction of a new stimulus, you must do so cautiously.
Here are 7 tips to do it safely.
7 Beach Running Tips to Stay Injury-Free
Ease into it.
If you’re a runner on spring break at the beach, don’t plan on jumping right into beach running for the week.
Start with an easy 30-minute jog and assess how you feel during and the next day. While running on sand is less of an impact, it can still lead to other types of injuries such as inflammation and irritation of soft tissue and joints.
Don’t run consecutive runs on the sand.
Do your next run on pavement and then if your body feels good (maybe just some normal soreness from working different muscles), try a longer beach run 2 days after your initial 30-minute trial run. Increase time gradually by five or ten minutes.
Run for time, not distance.
Running on the sand will make you slower so run for time rather than distance and effort rather than pace. Keep it easy! Take your eyes off the watch and enjoy the scenery!
Select your sand.
Running on soft sand will be more challenging than running on the harder sand near the water’s edge. If you choose to run on the harder sand, it will still be less of an impact (and more challenging!) than running on the road.
However, beware of the slope which will make your body uneven, and increase stress in certain areas like your hip or knee. This can lead to injury. If there is a distinct slope on the beach, do not run on it. Head for flatter sand.
Expect your muscles to be sore from the new work.
Warm-up and cool-down.
Even if you plan on running slower and shorter on the sand, don’t skimp the warm-up and cool-down. Remember, you are stressing your body in a different way. Be kind to it by prepping it for the work and allowing it to recover!
Decide on shoes.
Some people like to run without shoes on the beach. This adds an extra layer of new stress to your body, so do barefoot running cautiously (ease into it, be sure to start slow, etc.).
If you choose to run with shoes, wear socks, apply an anti-chafing stick, and own the fact that you may get some sand in your shoes.
That’s okay! You’re at the beach!
Take a dip.
Every beach run should end with a dip in the ocean. It’s mandatory.
If you’d like help with your running goals, please check out my run coaching services!