Not only is a walk on the beach an enjoyable way to spend time outdoors, but the extra resistance from the sand can help you burn more calories compared to harder surfaces. It’s also a great way to improve your endurance and strength. But while the ocean breeze, bright sunshine and beautiful views make it well worth the extra effort, you’ll need to take a few additional precautions to adapt to the less stable terrain.
Here, seven tips to help you stay injury-free and get the most from your next beach walking workout:
Walking in loose sand causes your feet to sink, forcing you to expend a significant amount of energy to lift your foot with each step. Because of this, keeping a similar pace to what you’re used to on the road isn’t possible. To avoid tiring too quickly or overexerting yourself, make sure you pace yourself. Start your workout at a slow pace you know you can maintain for the duration of your walk. If you’re feeling good, you can always speed up during the second half for a negative split. A good way to track your pace regardless of terrain is to use an app like MapMyRun along with a heart rate monitor. If your heart rate begins to rise outside of the zone you normally walk in you’ll know you need to slow down.
Like interval training or other high-intensity workouts, you’ll want to avoid doing too much. Limit your beach walking workouts to 1–2 times per week and space these workouts a few days apart to give your body a chance to recover between sessions. It’s also a good idea to decrease the total distance or duration of the workout instead of sticking to the same plan you use for your road or treadmill walks. Once your muscles and tendons adapt to the activity, you may be able to increase the duration or add an extra day into your schedule.
When most people think of walking along the beach, being barefoot is the image that comes to mind. However, walking in the sand for long distances without shoes might not be such a good idea. Hot sand, glass and sea shells are just a few of the obstacles that could potentially cause an injury. Also, consider that being barefoot for the entire walk puts more tension on your tendons and provides less overall support to your joints, which is why a pair of good walking shoes can help you cover a greater distance.
If you’d still like to feel the sand between your toes, you can take off your shoes during the latter part of your walk. In limited amounts, walking barefoot in the sand can help build strength in your feet and ankles while improving balance.
Walking in loose sand gives you the best workout, but doing it for long periods of time can be hard on the body. Instead of sticking to the back part of the beach, mix it up and head down toward the water where the sand is packed and easier to walk in. This gives your muscles and tendons a chance to recover, and when you’re feeling good again you can always head back up to the loose sand for another interval. A 50-50 split is a good rule of thumb, but start out with more time near the shore if you’re worried about injury or soreness.
Most beaches will be sloped, which means more strain placed on one leg than the other, making the potential for a muscle pull or other injury more likely. While walking in both directions can help balance things, walking in a zig-zag pattern is something you can try if the slopes are especially pronounced. Simply walk at an angle up the slope for a couple minutes before angling down the slope for the same distance.
While it takes a little extra effort to monitor tides, heading out during low tide provides you with the most packed sand to walk on. If you opt for high tide instead, you’ll likely be forced to walk in the water or spend most of your time in the loose sand, which will be far more difficult. Keep in mind that you don’t need to walk exactly at low tide — an hour or two in either direction should provide you with plenty of packed sand to walk on.
To minimize recovery time and reduce inflammation in the body, follow your beach walk with a slow cooldown on the road. This helps flush lactic acid from your legs and keeps you from feeling stiff. Once your cooldown is complete, a stretching routine for your legs and back can help, too. If you’ve got sore knees or an aching back later in the day, icing these trouble spots for 20 minutes can help keep injuries at bay.