It’s summertime, and warmer temperatures inspire many people to look for ways to exercise outside. If you’ve got a beach or another sandy expanse nearby you might consider using it for your next workout.
Anyone who’s ever gone for a walk on the beach knows it requires a bit more effort than walking on pavement or grass, especially if the sand is soft. That added effort means running or walking in the sand results in burning more calories than the doing same activity on a more traditional surface. One study hypothesized this was because of greater involvement of the mostly large muscles around the hips, knees, and ankles that is required to stabilize your joints on an unstable surface. Additionally, soft sand absorbs energy so you don’t get the “rebound” effect of running or exercising on a hard surface. Muscles are required to engage longer and harder to push out of sand as opposed to bouncing off pavement or grass.
If you’re not a runner, you can still take advantage of the destabilizing effects of sand to ramp up the intensity of your workout. Consider another study in which a group of 25-year-old, amateur soccer players was divided into two subgroups. Soccer is a high-intensity activity in which players run, sprint, turn, and jump, placing significant demands on the neuromuscular system. Techniques to improve lower-limb performance and whole body coordination during play could provide a significant advantage. Plyometrics, also called plyos or jump training, uses explosive movements that improve power and control, so it’s a good approach for improving athletic performance, but it comes at a cost — namely muscle soreness and temporarily diminished physical capacity. Participants performed a plyometric training regime three days a week for four weeks in either sand or on grass, in addition to their regular training. At the end of the study period, the authors found that both groups showed similar improvements but that “muscle soreness experienced by the sand group was systematically lower than that of the grass group.”
If you’re someone who struggles with sore or arthritic joints in your hips, legs, or feet, you may be able to perform a workout more comfortably in the sand. Or, if you’re recovering from an injury, the low-impact nature of walking or working out in the sand might provide you with an opportunity to get beneficial exercise with less risk of re-injury during your recovery.
If you’re a runner, consider taking your workout to the beach occasionally to get some variety. Alternate 10- to 20-second intervals of all-out sprints with 2 to 3 minutes of medium-effort running, or some similar combination.
If your beach has hills or dunes, consider an all-out-effort sprint up a dune and jog back down and around the dune until you catch your breath then do it again several times to complete your workout.
If you’re not a runner you can still do many body-weight exercises in the sand, such as squats, lunges, reverse lunges, and planks. Try interspersing those moves with long jumps, hops, tuck jumps, side shuffles, donkey kicks, and mountain climbers to incorporate some plyometric moves into your routine.
If you’re thinking about giving a sand workout a try, take the time to check out the “facility.” Not everyone has access to a soft sand beach, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go to a lake shore or even a playground with a sandy bottom. The quality of the sand may, however, determine whether you wear shoes.
If you can go without shoes, you may realize some additional benefits or experience added strain on your feet, depending on your particular physical make up and issues. Running barefoot gives you a fuller range of motion in your feet and ankles, but you may need to strengthen them first. Start out slowly completing just a portion of your run or workout in bare feet until your body has had a chance to adjust to the new surface. If you have especially weak ankles or arches, approach barefoot workouts with caution to avoid injuries.
Finally, check out whether there are any gyms in your area that offer sand workouts. Baja Body Athletic Club and Sandbox Fitness in California offer sand-based classes that incorporate yoga, TRX, and surfboards on a platform to increase balance, strength, and overall fitness.
Best of all, if you are lucky enough to have access to a swim beach for your workout, when you’re done you can jump into the water and cool down with a swim.
July 20, 2016
Janet O’Dell, RN