The beach may seem like an inviting place to run on a cool summer morning, but is running on the sand good for your body?
It can be, but be aware of the challenges and potential injuries that some beach runners experience, said Kelton Vasileff, an orthopedic surgeon at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center.
For starters, sand can be a challenge because it has an uneven surface and constantly shifts under your feet. “As you push off, you’re going to lose some of your push as the sand moves,” Vasileff said. “So, you’re not going to be able to propel yourself forward as you would on a track or pavement.”
But this unevenness has an upside: It gives your body an extra workout, forcing you to engage muscles that don’t get as much use during runs on firm surfaces. For instance, your feet, ankles, core abdominal muscles, lower back and the muscles around your hips might feel sorer and more tired than usual after a beach run “just because that surface is constantly moving and changing step to step,” Vasileff said.
You also may feel sore afterward because beaches tend to slope downward, toward the water. If you’re going for a long run on the beach, you might notice that one side of your body — including your ankle, leg or knee — might feel sore because you’re putting more pressure on it because of the slope, Vasileff said.
Some beach runners opt to go barefoot. However, if you’re not used to barefoot running, Vasileff advises starting slowly and avoid running long distances at first. That’s because running barefoot uses different muscles than running with shoes does, and it’s important to strengthen these muscles and adapt your feet.
Moreover, because sand can be abrasive, “you can get blisters pretty easily from running barefoot,” Vasileff said. “If you want to run barefoot, great, but ease into it.”
Despite these challenges, running on sand can be a smart choice for athletes. Because sand has “high shock-absorptive qualities,” running on it can decrease the impact on your body during high-intensity workouts, according to a 2013 review on sand training published in the Journal of Sports Sciences. This could potentially lead to “reduced muscle damage and [less] soreness,” the researchers wrote in the review.
In another study, published in 2017 in the European Journal of Sport Science, researchers found that women had less myoglobin — a protein that can be a sign of muscle inflammation — in their blood after running on sand than they did after running on grass. This finding suggests that running on softer surfaces, such as sand, may reduce muscle damage, the researchers said.