Beach running: here are the benefits and risks

If you’re heading to the coast this December, shooting to the beach for a few runs is probably on your agenda. Sure, a holiday is a time for rest, but you can’t simply abandon you running routine in favour of lazing about, can you?

Did you know that a quick running session on the beach could actually hold benefits far beyond your normal sessions on hard pavement or on the road? Some studies have found that beach running can burn up to one-and-a-half times more energy than is burnt when running on a hard surface.

Varying the surfaces that you run on come with a number of benefits.

  • It strengthens weaker muscles

Running on sand engages muscles in the lower part of the body that are not typically used as much when running on a hard surface like the road or pavement. The small muscles in your foot and ankle, as well as the hip flexors, quadriceps and gluteus muscles work harder when you run on sand, thereby strengthening these muscles and preventing muscle imbalances and injury.

  • It’s a low-impact exercise

Running on the beach provides a softer surface for your foot to land on due to the shifting sand that it strikes with every stride. Overall, running on the beach puts less impact and stress on your lower body than running on hard surfaces does.

  • It builds strength

Because your foot is working against a soft surface with more “give”, your entire body has to work a little harder when you run on the beach. This builds strength and endurance, and is an excellent lower-body workout.

  • A change of pace and atmosphere

A change is as good as a holiday, they say, and it’s all the more so when you are actually on holiday when mixing up your exercise routine. Changing the surface and route you run on has many physical benefits, but jogging along the especially scenic routes along the South African coast also holds many mental benefits. You’ll quickly realise that running on sand requires you to change the pace you normally keep when running on the road or other hard surfaces, and this change in pace is also a great variation on your normal running theme.

Keep these things in mind when running on the beach

While beach running can prevent some injuries, the uneven surface of the sand may also carry the risk of other injuries, like knee and ankle injuries. Plantar fasciitis and posterior shin pain are also potential risks, as are muscular imbalances due to the varied slopes along the beach.

To prevent these injuries, start out with short sessions of not longer than 15 minutes, and initially stick to the more stable surface of the wet sand next to the water. You can run barefoot if you prefer to, but it is recommended that you wear a lightweight trail running shoe to prevent cuts caused by shells and other sharp objects on the sand, and to stabilise your ankle while running.

Once you feel comfortable running on the wet sand, you can move to the dryer, looser sand on the beach for a more intense workout. Watch the pace you are running at and keep it relaxed, and you might just find yourself going home stronger than you were before you left.

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