The Good and Bad of Beach Running

As a semi-professional netballer I love to keep fit but like all, sometimes you start to lose motivation. Changing the type of training or location can be a great way of reigniting your fitness motivation levels and keeping you inspired.  The beach is a great location change for this giving a different type of surface and much better scenery than a treadmill or training track can provide.

It’s also perfect when you are on holidays to help keep your fitness on track and sometimes you will see sights of a town you never would have. My recent runs during my Western Australia Road trip are a perfect example of this having ran along some of the most beautiful beaches at sunrise and sunset or running alongside emus and kangaroos on some Aussie outback roads.

However, as a sports physiotherapist there are few things you should be aware of if you’re not a regular beach runner to avoid injury or injury flare ups.  I’ve outlined below a summary of the good benefits from running on a beach but also the common injuries to be wary of and who is more susceptible.

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The GOOD:

  • Low Impact: Running on sand is in fact lower in impact and ground reaction forces for your bodies joints.  This means it can be a better training track for anyone with bony impact related injuries and good for people pounding a hard track daily to mix up the training to a lighter impact area. However, you need to be aware it is more load for muscles and tendons due to the instability of the sand.

 

  • Muscle Power and Strength: The effort required to run in sand is much higher and the amount of force required from your muscles is considerably more. Your quads, glutes and calves in particular get a much bigger work out especially in the soft sand to be able to power you into each step.

 

  • Relaxing Scenery: The often picturesque sunrises, sunsets or sun gleaming on the water is enough to put anyone in a good mood especially when you’re out exercising. The change in scenery can help with motivation levels as well as the added benefit of creating a peaceful place to be in your own thoughts.

 

  • Beach sprints: These are great for building speed as the extra strength and power required will help in creating better speed when you are on flat ground. Perfect idea for a short sharp high intensity session or pre-season group training. Flag races or relays are always good for team training in this setting. Another great way to build speed and power into your fitness is sand dune hill sprints as long as they are not protected areas of course.

 

  • Stair Running at the Beach – There are always a set of wooden stairs at most Australian beaches which are perfect for an intense training session by the seaside. The quick footwork required for this is great for many sports such as soccer, netball and basketball. It’s also great for runners in perfecting their technique to have their foot landing under their body. Aside from the benefits to quick footwork stair running is also great for building strength and endurance in your calves, quad’s and hamstrings as well as improving the hip drive needed for sprinting.

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The BAD:

  • Muscle Overload: Although the overall impact forces are lowered on the body when running on sand, the instability created from the sand means your smaller intrinsic muscles especially around the foot and ankle work a lot harder than normal.  These muscles are responsible for proprioception (knowing where your joints are in space) and balance.  If your body is not used to running on sand you may be more susceptible to these muscles being overloaded especially if you go from no beach running to running everyday whilst on a holiday for example.    It’s Important to keep this in mind especially if you are a coach planning a pre-season to try and avoid injuries and flare ups of old injuries.

Any players with a past history of the following should be careful with beach running:

  • Plantarfascitis
  • Peroneal tendinopathy
  • Achillies tendinopathy
  • Tibilalis posterior tendinopathy
  • Ankle sprains
  • Recent or recurrent calf strains
  • Acute back sprains or lower back disc injuries (See below for more detail)
  • PFJ patella mal-tracking knee pain (See below for more detail)

 

Back Flare ups:  Again due to the instability and uneven surface of the sand a higher level of pelvic and core stability is required to help protect your back.  The combination of poor core strength with the uneven surface can lead to increased torsion on the spine and an overload on your back muscles. If you already have a history of back spasm or flare ups you would want to ensure you improve your core stability before adding in beach running or be wary if your back has already been a bit niggly.

 

Patella Femoral Joint (PFJ) Mal-tracking/ ITB Friction Syndrome:

These knee conditions are quite common in runners and both tend to be related to weak gluteal muscles and the inner quad muscle called VMO being weak. This can lead to the knee rotating inwards each time the foot strikes which can either tug on the Ilio-tibial band’s (ITB’s) insertion on the outside of the knee or pull the knee cap towards the outside causing often vague knee pain around the inside part of the kneecap.  Running on sand for these athletes is probably not the best idea as the angle from the hip to the outside of the knee will most likely increase due to the uneven surface creating more tension on the ITB and therefore more knee pain.

Definitely something to keep in mind if you are a regular runner that has known PFJ maltracking or “runners knee” and or a coach planning preseason in a sport with a high prevalence in these types of injuries such as netball.

 

 

Practical Tips:

–       If away on holidays don’t get too excited and jump straight into a running routine of beach runs every day. Start with a run on a track alongside the beach and smaller components of beach running within this. Then check how you pull up the next day before doing more beach running straight away.

–       Wear shoes if you are new to beach running so that your smaller intrinsic muscles of the foot are not overloaded. As you become more experienced you can play around running barefoot on sand.

–       Same as shoe wearing it is best to start your beach running on the slightly wetter sand that is firmly packed rather than the soft mounds.  This is definitely best for longer distance running on sand where as if you are completely short sharp sprints the softer areas will most likely be okay and create a more intense workout.

–  If you are new to beach running especially beach sprints definitely expect to be sore the next day.  Calf and quad stretching are going to be even more important than ever and doing some ocean recovery after an intense session is also a good idea to help quicken the recovery.

About the author

Julia Allan
Julia Allan

I'm a physiotherapist working majority in the sports field. I'm based in Melbourne working with a variety of different athletes which is currently predominantly with the Victorian Under 19 netball side and the Victorian Fury netball side through Eltham Physio Centre. I also play high level netball myself in the State League competition (VNL) here in Melbourne and I want to share my knowledge to help all athletes prevent injury and improve performance.

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