If the idea of taking your daily run in the midst of beautiful surroundings while listening to seagulls and the surf appeals to you, you might be a candidate for beach running. Aesthetics are only part of the equation. Running on wet sand has some physical benefits as a form of exercise, although there are some things you should be cautious of as well.
Lower Body Strength
When the sand moves beneath your feet it engages your ankles, arches and calves and causes them to become stronger. A 1998 study by Yigit and Tuncel, published in the "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research," followed 51 male students ages 15 to 21 for six weeks. There were three groups -- a control group, a group that ran on sand, and another on the road. Calf circumference increased significantly in the sand runners, both road running and sand running groups increased in vertical jumping ability, and both running groups increased thigh circumference. The sand running group resulted in the most physiological and performance changes.
Several studies have found that you burn more calories running on sand than running on asphalt. One such study by P. Zamparo, et al., was published in the "European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology" in 1992. The researchers found that people who walked or ran on sand burned between 1.2 and 1.8 times more calories per mile, which equates to between 20 and 80 extra calories. Runners sink into the loose sand and expend more energy to get out of it, although the impact of running on sand is softer.
Shoes vs. Barefoot
Most experts recommend starting wet sand running in shoes first. Invest in a pair of good running shoes. Stick to running on firm, wet sand close to the shoreline. In order to keep your weight balanced and land on your mid-foot, you may have to shorten your stride and lean forward, while at the same time lifting your knees and arms higher. One of the perks of running in sand is that it increases your coordination. Before running barefoot, do some trail running first, wearing shoes, to strengthen your ankles. Limit your first barefoot run to a few minutes in the firm wet sand, then add a few minutes each time.
Though the softness of sand can reduce the risk of injuries related to impact, it can actually cause other injuries. Because your Achilles tendon is stretched more than running on a hard surface, it can suffer. Running on soft sand is like running in a soft shoe, according to physical therapist Damien Howell. More muscle work is required to propel your body forward, making your Achilles tendon work harder. To lessen the risk of injury, run close to low tide when the wet sand is flatter and firmer. Watch closely for sharp objects such as rocks, seashells, metal and glass in your path.