Considering the higher workload performed on the sand, it is normal to experience fatigue earlier than road racing. However, Watts says running on the beach – especially on soft, dry sand – can reduce the chances of overuse injuries associated with impacts, like stress fractures.
“The impact load on the body is much less from running on soft sand, so it can be gentler on the joints, muscles and tendons,” says Watts.
Research confirms this. In one study, women who ran on sand suffered less muscle damage and inflammation than those who ran on grass. And other research from the Western Australian Institute of Sport has found that with each kick, the force of impact on soft sand is almost four times that of a firm surface like grass.
Other benefits of running on sand include that it helps build calf and quadriceps strength, both of which are important for running on any surface, as well as the great view and lack of crowds.
While it may be easier to run, don’t opt to run on the compacted sand at the water’s edge as this sand is usually sloping, which can cause you to change technique and injure you. Instead, choose flat or even soft sand and remove your shoes to grip the ground.
Sand running sessions should be shorter than other training runs. Start your workout with a 10- or 15-minute jog on the sand and gradually increase the duration and number of sessions over the following weeks.
The ideal sand running technique
Point your feet down. Stick your feet in the sand to help you push off. This requires a “pointy foot” technique that puts a lot more pressure on the calf muscles. If your calf muscles tire or start to cramp, run for a minute with a flat foot technique to allow them to rest before resuming the pointy foot technique.
Rub your toes. Get a good grip on the sand by rubbing your toes. This technique also helps prevent abrasions under the toes or pain in the feet.
Stay big and activate your heart. Turn on your abdominal muscles and try to stay upright without leaning too far forward, as the instability of the sand makes it easier to tip over, especially once you start to get tired.
Shorten your stride. Stay light on your feet and shorten your stride to increase your pace (steps per minute). This will help you stay on top of the sand and not get bogged down. Run with more elevation to mid-knee to reduce fatigue, and pump your arms to stay balanced.
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