Beach Running Guide: How To Run On The Beach Like A Movie Star

Photographed by Caroline Tompkins.
If you’re tangentially aware of the Baywatch franchise, you know that it involves beautiful humans running elegantly on the beach despite the Malibu Beach heat. But if you’ve actually attempted to run on a beach before, you know it’s hard as hell and not glamorous at all. It's tricky, and involves different muscle movements than running on pavement or trails.
But just because something is difficult, doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. Here’s the ultimate guide to running on the beach like a movie star — while being safe and effective.
Does running on the beach burn more calories?
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The answer is technically yes. “Running on the beach yields a higher caloric output because it requires a higher energy expenditure,” says Rebecca Kennedy, master tread instructor at Peloton. “You typically have to work harder to keep your normal pace, and stabilize every step you take.”
A study in The Journal of Experimental Biology noted that running in sand takes 1.6 times the energy expenditure of running on firmer surfaces. Yet another more recent study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research said there was an increase of about 10 percent.
But there’s another caveat to this, according to Dr. Emily Splichal, DPM, a podiatrist, human movement specialist, and global leader in barefoot science and rehabilitation. “Running on the beach is not very efficient, which means the individual may get tired faster or feel foot fatigue faster,” Splichal says. “Because of this, I recommend limiting the time and distance to shorter runs only when on sand.”
So, you might burn more fat than you would if you were running the same distance on pavement. But, because it's tougher to achieve that distance, you might not run as far.
Should you run the same amount of miles in sand as you would on pavement?
The sand can slow you down and impact your mile time, so it’s often best to run for time instead of distance, says Kennedy. Try 20 minutes instead of two miles, and don't be alarmed if you don't go as far mile-wise as you expect. According to the European Journal of Applied Physiology, the sand actually makes the muscles that help stabilize your hips and knees work twice as hard. Because different muscles are working harder in the sand, you shouldn’t expect your body to perform the way it does on firmer surfaces.
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“If you don't regularly run on the beach, I suggest going for time and seeing how your body feels,” she says. “Feel free to incorporate some walking intervals into your run, or cut your mileage a bit.”
Do you run with shoes on the beach?
Going barefoot can be fun, and make you feel like a kid again. It also makes it easier to take a post-run dip in the ocean. “I love to take full opportunity to run barefoot and strengthen the muscles of my feet on plush sand,” says Kennedy.
With that said, Splichal warns that people with flat feet or an over-pronated foot should wear shoes for added on an unstable surface. “Beach running or sand running can potentially be hard on the muscles of the foot and ankle,” she notes. “Depending on the foot type, it can actually increase the chance of injury. I recommend that most beach running be done on the wetter, harder sand that's closer to the water. This provides a more stable surface for running."
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