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Beach training in Southern California: one of the great underutilized fitness experiences


Sprinting on the beach

Part 1 of a 3 part beach training series:

The beaches of the South Bay offer many obstacles that can provide benefits of increased speed, strength, power, and cardiovascular fitness; moreover an anaerobic and aerobic benefit can be achieved depending on your intensity. 

We’ll use a more restrictive portion of the South Bay beaches, such as Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach, Redondo Beach and Torrance because of the variety of training obstacles such as sand dunes, ramps, steep steps, and less debris in the sand (just an observation).

In the first part of this tri part series, we’ll focus on running and jumping in the sand as a workout.

Benefits
Running in the sand provides excellent cardiovascular fitness, builds strength and can offer strength to the lower body stabilizer muscles. Moreover, it has been proven to burn 1.6 times more calories per mile than running on asphalt or track surfaces. When you run in the sand, you are forced to expend more energy in the sinking surface to gain ground. Many physical fitness experts have proclaimed that running barefoot in the sand adds an additional benefit to strengthen the feet, which are often neglected in training because of our dependency on shoes. And if you have experienced knee ligament or cartilage injuries, plantar fasciitis, or other foot ailments, barefoot running in the sand can offer that soft, low impact surface that can be therapeutic to recovery and strength development in the late stages of injury rehabilitation.

Furthermore, plyometric training, often associated with jumping on firm surfaces, was included in sand training for positive results. Impelizzeri’s (January 2008) study on the “Effect of plyometric training on sand versus grass on muscle soreness and jumping and sprinters ability in soccer players” revealed that the sand training group (19 athletes) improved in both jumping and sprinting ability and induced less muscle soreness. The grass group (18 athletes), however, was superior in enhancing counter movement jump performance while the sand group showed greater improvement in the squat jump (vertical).                                                                                  

And for athletes that play outdoors, you will eventually encounter playing in muddy or uneven surfaces; therefore, running in the sand will prepare your feet, ankles and stabilizer muscles to handle those surfaces.

Training progression

If you have never run in the sand before, it would be suggested that you run closer to the shore where the wet sand provides a firmer and thus faster surface; therefore, you will initially expend less energy, move faster while you are adjusting to the sand surface. Furthermore, if you are running barefoot, which is recommended, you will also enable your feet to adjust by gradually hardening the soles. Also, keep your eyes peeled on sharp objects that occasionally work their way on the shore.

As your feet and ankles strengthen, you can work your way to the thicker sand where the level of difficulty will be greater. Moreover, on hot days in the South Bay (above 80 degrees), the sand will be hot and possibly burn your feet creating blisters. After that initial burn, however, your newly developed calluses will give you an added cushion on the balls of your feet; as a result, your feet will gradually become less sensitive to the heat, and the small sea shells or debris that is washed on to the beach.

Once you hit the advanced stage of beach running, you will be able to do interval sprints using as landmarks either the volleyball court posts or trash cans, which are aligned anywhere from 5 to 50 yards apart, depending on which South Bay beach you run or the time of year (more trash cans added near boardwalk in the summer). Interval sprints are an excellent way of developing muscle, increasing cardiovascular fitness, and losing fat. And if you are an athlete, preparing for a sport, plyometrics (jumping exercises) and change of direction (shuttles) exercises can be done with low impact.

Proper form

It is important that you keep your toes up when running barefoot. In the strike phase of the run, your ball of your foot should hit as you drive through with force. If your toes are down, you are susceptible to spraining a toe. Work on your stride. In deeper sand you will be forced to create a faster stride rate to keep up. This offers the benefit to your fast twitch muscle fibers.

Enjoy

Whatever your training level or method, the comfortable summer temperatures and pleasant atmosphere in the South Bay offer a great outdoor environment to train. By running in the sand once a week, you will break the monotony of weight training or street jogging. So take the advice of Sheryl Crow and “Soak Up The Sun” on the beach while doing 20 minutes of intense sand running. It is a fun and challenging fitness benefit that will strengthen and build your muscles while eating fat away.

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