5 Heart-Pumping Exercises You Can Do on the Beach with a Warning About Sand and Motion Control

Striving for a Safe Beach Body Workout

A relaxing vacation isn’t an excuse to skip out on your exercise routine. In fact, the beach is the perfect location for you to work on your cardio. Research from the Journal of Experimental Biology has found that running on sand requires more energy than running on a hard surface. However, there’s one very important thing to understand about running on the beach — Motion Control. You would think, “Oh great, sand involves less impact than hard concrete and asphalt.” That is somewhat true, except the yielding sand surface comes with a price. The sand allows greater motion at the foot and ankle as the foot sinks in the sand. Sand puts more stabilization stress on the feet, ankles, knees and hips — especially the feet and ankles. If the the muscles that control foot and ankle stability aren’t in good condition or you are an individual with extra foot and ankle motion issues, a long first run on sand can cause problems, a nasty bout with shin splints like you’ve never had before, such as plantar fasciitis, and calf muscle tears.

People have a variety of anatomical structures that result in varying degrees of motion or stability problems at the foot and ankle. Foremost is the problem of pronation, which is the inward rolling of the foot and ankle as each foot lands on the ground during running. When a runner’s foot lands in soft sand, especially if the runner has already had pronation problems on grass or pavement surfaces, the foot will roll inward even more when it plants in the sand. There are basically two types of pronation — rearfoot pronation and forefoot pronation. Distance running usually involves landing more toward the heel of the foot (rearfoot), while sprinting involves landing more towards the front of the foot (forefoot). Either landing can involve pronation, and some people are more vulnerable to forefoot pronation, and some people are more vulnerable to rear foot pronation. Some people are subject to both types of pronation, and some people are lucky to have very few issues with pronation.

When pronation occurs, the muscles in the front and back of the lower leg have to work harder to keep the ankle and foot stable. In other words, the muscles have to stay contracted harder and longer to prevent over-pronation. The extra contractions that occur during a first run on sand could strain those muscles and tendons, resulting in painful shin splints for the rest of the vacation, and into the return home.

Plantar fasciitis is injury to the the plantar fascia, which is a thick band of tissue at the bottom of the foot that connects from the heel to the base of the toes. Plantar fascia is a non-muscular connective tissue that acts like a stabilizing spring and/or cable at the bottom of the foot. Sudden extra stress from extra motion on sand can injure the plantar fascia — cause a tear or inflammation. Also, keep in mind that the entire bottom of the foot mirrors the shape of the sand when the foot lands in the sand — conforming to the dynamic shape of the sand. This can also put extra stress on the plantar fascia beyond the stress of pronation.

Tight calves can also cause problems when running in sand because the heel will sink lower when running on sand, compared to running on concrete or grass. The extra sinking of the heel can put more stress on the plantar fascia and can cause a tear in either the soleus or the gastrocnemius — the two muscles at the back of the lower leg that are involved in “plantar flexion” which is the anatomical term for lifting of the heel (and body weight) while running (It’s also the term for pointing your toes down when you’re not running and your foot is free in the air or water).

The best way to prevent damaging mechanical stress during running on sandy beaches is to …

1) begin by running on harder, compacted wet sand,

2) being by running only short distances on sand to give the foot-and-ankle stability muscles a chance to become conditioned and strengthened for the extra motion caused by the sand, and

3) be careful about stretching because inadequate stretching can cause problems due to tight calves, but too much stretching can cause loose, overstretched calves, which will cause too much motion of the heel, allowing the heel to sink more deeply in the sand (The best stretches might be short, dynamic stretches rather than prolonged full-range of motion stretches — just don’t go over-ballistic).

A good running shoe with anti-pronation motion control will probably not provide the protection needed when running in sand, so don’t think you are entirely OK because you’re wearing your good running shoes. Also, if you run barefoot, you might have even greater motion control issues, and you must also watch out for sharp seashells, glass and stingrays.

That being said about foot and ankle motion issues on the sand, working out on the beach can still be a fantastic experience.


Get your heart rate racing with these fiery exercises you can do on the beach.

5 Heart-Pumping Beach Exercises

Make sure to start with a good warm-up—diving right into intense movement can be harmful for your body. Try to warm up for five to ten minutes before starting your workout. Mix and match these exercises to get a full-body workout or to target specific muscles.

1.      HIIT Beach Runs

High-intensity interval training is something you can do for a good workout no matter where you are. Beach runs are a wonderful way to fit a quick workout into your day. Take in the views of the beach as you run for two, five, or ten minutes. Then take a break from running by either resting or completing another one of the exercises below. Do this at least three times to feel the burn.

2.      Sand or Water Lunges

First, decide whether you want to start this leg-burning exercise on or off the sand. It’s simple enough: step forward with one foot and squat down, keeping your knee in line with your ankle. As your back knee brushes the sand, push back up through the front foot and use your back foot to stride into the second lunge. To make this exercise more difficult in the sand, lunge up an incline. You can also complete your lunges in knee-deep water for another challenge.

3.      Cross-Under Planks

For this exercise, you’ll need to get into an upright plank position—your legs should be straight out behind you, your core should be engaged, and your hands should be under your shoulders. Then, simply cross your right leg underneath your body toward the opposite arm. Cross-under planks will work your core, and if you tighten your leg muscles, you’ll get a good workout there as well.

4.      Beach Crawl

If you’re looking for a killer leg day exercise, beach crawls are the perfect option. Start out in the forearm planking position, then crawl your way forward for at least 30 seconds. Move backwards and side-to-side to activate different muscles in your legs and abs. To get a more intense, full-body workout, do this on dry, soft sand.

5.      Surfer Get-Ups

Mimic the surfers in the water and practice your surfer get-ups. Surfing itself is an incredible full-body workout, and the pop-up from the surfboard targets abdominal muscles. Start on the ground in a plank position with hands beneath your shoulders and your stomach touching the sand. In an instant, try to thrust yourself upward into a squatting position. Vary which leg you lead with as you stand to activate different muscles in both legs.