Striding at the beach can be a highly rewarding experience. What with sunshine cascading over you, salty wind brushing against you to refresh and challenge you, and a cadence of crashing waves splashing alongside, sand running is a powerful sensory-overloading workout. More than offering new sights and sensations, though, running on sand provides vigorous exercise and a method for strengthening your stride. It works unique muscles, boosts stamina and blasts fat -- all while protecting you from injuries common to running on hard surfaces. Starting out, aim to stick to wet sand close to the water, which is firmer and harder-packed.
In general, running is a high-impact exercise. Running on sand is a lower-impact form than running on other, harder terrains. "Sand, even wet sand, is typically smooth and a softer surface than asphalt, treadmills or trails," says James Sferra, M.D., director of Cleveland Clinic's Center for Foot and Ankle Surgery. Since sand running involves striking the ground against less force, it's less strenuous on joints, involving a lower risk of running-related stress and impact injuries. "Running closer to the water is more advantageous than farther from the water on dry sand," says Sferra. That's because coasting on soft, deep sand is highly challenging. Stick to wet, firmer sand when starting out, which is easier and more enjoyable.
Running on sand is tough, requiring more energy exertion. One study in Belgium found that running on sand used 1.6 times more energy compared to running on a harder surface. Keep in mind this study looked at soft-sand running, so running on wet sand offers a slightly firmer surface and may require less energy. Still, a large advantage to trudging along is that beach runs can result in double the fat burn. That said, do not lace up expecting to run at your typical pace and distance.
Sand striding requires the use of more muscle groups, says Sferra, and allows you to strengthen more lower-extremities muscles such as your calves and those in the feet. One Turkish study of 60 men ages 15 to 21 found that running on sand led to a bigger increase in calf muscles than running on asphalt, as a result of what is known as the muscle overload effect, the "Washington Post" reported. Sand running also requires a communion between the upper and lower body that is uncommon in running, and also strengthens hip flexors and quadriceps, reports "Runner's World."
Low tides are ideal for running because they offer the hardest-packed, most level surface, reports "Runner's World." Aim to run at the day's lowest tide. Beach surfaces can also be slanted, overly stressing knees in hips, so be sure to run one direction, turn around, then run back, so both sides of the body experience an uneven terrain equally. Always slather sunscreen over all skin, even under clothing, before braving the elements. Drink water throughout the day, especially 30 minutes to an hour before your run, and bring water to avoid dehydration. Lastly, to avoid heat exhaustion, don't overdue it. Stick to about half your typical running distance and time. End your workout with a replenishing dip!
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