Whether you’re on summer vacation or escaping snowy winter weather, a trip to the beach doesn’t mean you need to miss out on your training runs. In fact, running in the sand can actually take your running to a new level.
Before your toes even hit the sand, you’ll want to do a bit of conditioning to avoid injury. Adding some ankle exercises to your usual strength-training routine is a great way to prepare your legs for the change in terrain.
“Ankle strengthening and balance exercises would be a good idea to avoid any injury or huge discomfort,” proposes Jessica Rinehart, founder and coach at Sugar Runs Coaching. “Ankle stretches with a therapy band, calf raises, heel walks, single-leg squats or deadlifts are great ways to build ankle strength. Core work is also helpful for stabilizing your midsection and keeping your form in good shape while running on the uneven, unstable sand.”
As you are prepping your legs for the new challenge, read on to learn the benefits you’ll get from the sand and what you need to consider before your first run down the beach.
BENEFITS OF RUNNING IN SAND
While you will want to ease your way into running on the sand — just as you would any new surface — you will reap a lot of benefits from the change in terrain. In addition to livening up your run thanks to new scenery, you’ll also gain strength and stability along the way.
“Sand is obviously lower impact than pavement or concrete and therefore provides a better alternative for an outdoor running surface for those with past joint problems,” shares Rob Gomez, an RRCA-certified running coach and founder of Eastern Shore Training. “Sand running can also provide great strength training for your quads and calves if done properly and will also trigger some of the stabilizer muscles that are not commonly utilized during running on flat pavement. It can be a great supplement to all those road miles.”
Just as you’d find when adding trail running into your road-running routine, running on the sand helps you work muscles you don’t often utilize. Though it depends on whether you are running on wet or dry sand, there is a lower chance of knee injury thanks to the softer terrain (though your chance of ankle injury may increase). You will find, however, an increase in ankle strength as you work to stabilize your body.
HOW TO PREP FOR YOUR RUN
When it comes to running on sand, you will want to do a bit more planning than just stepping out onto the beach. First, you’ll want to do a bit of research, according to Doug Butler, a sports psychologist and coach at Set Goals Not Limits, who suggests running during low tide so you have more access to firmer, flatter sand.
“Try to do a little bit of research on the beach or area you plan to run on prior to heading there for some sand running,” adds Gomez. “The beach could be too busy due to visitors or sunbathers, off-limits to the public or simply underwater due to the tides or the weather. Do your homework before you head out!”
Once you’ve taken into account the tide and accessibility of the beach, you’ll want to figure out if you’re running barefoot or with shoes. There are benefits to both and it may be wise to do both. Once you’ve acclimated, try a few barefoot runs to help strengthen hard-to-reach muscles in your feet and lower legs.
“Barefoot running can be great for you and strengthening calf muscles, but can get you hurt if you don’t ease into it,” notes Butler. “I suggest using shoes and then doing just a little barefoot running at the end to get used to it.”
Finally, you’ll want to decide if you’re running on soft or firm sand. Of course it doesn’t have to be all or nothing, but depending on your goals and experience, most runners still get enough benefit from wet sand.
“Wet sand more closely mimics the firmness of pavement and can therefore be used for longer runs,” explains Gomez. “Dry sand is obviously much less stable underfoot and is therefore best for short strides that engage a lot of the different muscle groups that running on firm surfaces does not.”
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SAMPLE WORKOUTS TO TRY
Gomez has provided two workouts for runners to try on wet and dry sand. Try these next time you hit the beach for a workout:
Do a short, easy-paced run on the wet sand with 5, 10-second strides near the end of the run (with plenty of easy jogging in-between). Build the pace during the strides gradually to 5K pace by the end of them.
Do a short, easy-paced run on solid terrain and then 5, 10-second strides in the dry sand with a minute of standing rest in between. Build the pace during the strides gradually to 5K pace by the end of them.