Beach Barefoot Running
Sand running is an awesome cross training leg workout for bodybuilders and athletes alike! Here is a 20min HIIT beach workout and how to get started with barefoot sand running. I was asked how to get started with barefoot running. I got my start in barefoot running three decades ago when I started beach volleyball because its a natural thing for warming up and for training. When indoor volleyball players move to playing in the sand they are attacked by what is affectionately known as the “sand monster”. They cannot run, they cannot jump – every time they try the “sand monster” grabs their legs. Best cure? Back then nobody had foot-gloves/toed-shoes so we did it the cheap way – we ran on the sand! Nothing makes you run and jump better than running and jumping!
Some hints about running on sand, especially if you are new to barefoot running. First, where and when. The best place is along the beach of an ocean two hours before low tide. Why not a lake? Because the sand is way too soft along the shoreline. As the tide goes out, the sand in the beach slowly packs and turns into a perfect running surface – almost as hard as pavement but it gives about 1/4″ as you run along. You can “run” in soft sand too but its really not running, its a calves workout because you end up having to run on the balls of your feet without the heels ever touching. I have found that starting my run about 2hrs before low tide is optimal for an hour long run. Once the tide starts coming up, it turns into a calves workout and not much running.
It is very important to start slowly with beach running, in fact, I would recommend a month of beach walking before starting running. I would also recommend you run on pavement with good shoes till you can do a 5km run without stopping before moving onto the sand. Your ankles need time to strengthen so they can handle the sloping beach and your calves need time to get more flexible to handle the fact that the ankle needs to flex more. After your month of walking, start with hybrid runs. Start out with a 20 minute shoe run on pavement to warm up then run 10 minutes of barefoot running each direction on the beach. Each month, run a bit more on the beach and a bit less on the pavement till you are running the whole 5k on the beach. Then work on speed or endurance on the beach as meets your goals.
Now lets talk about form. When you are running on hard-pack sand without shoes, you need to change your form. This is the whole concept behind the toed shoes, the lack of cushioning makes you run differently – or it should. You can run straight-legged and pound the pavement like a jackhammer if you have good cushioned shoes but run like that barefoot and you will destroy your knees in short order. If the ground shakes when you run, your form is bad! I have been at the gym and heard what sounded like a herd of clydesdales on the treadmills only to find it was a group of four sub 100lb women running like jack hammers. You might get away with running this way awhile if you are really light but the heavier you are, the more quickly you will destroy your knees with this horrible form. So, how to combat this? The way I explain this on my efficient running page is to “float your head”. When you are running, look at the horizon and don’t let your head bounce up and down but rather try to make it float over the ground at a constant height. Look carefully at the horizon, if it jiggles when your feet hit the ground then you are still running like a jackhammer. When you concentrate on “floating your head” what happens is that you are using your muscles to absorb the impact of the footfall rather than the knee joint. Not only is this better for your knees but its a much better workout!
So far all the barefoot running I have been talking about is on hard-pack beach sand, now lets talk about soft sand. In every city, no matter how far from water, you can find some sand. A beach volleyball court, a playground, or whatever. As I mentioned, running in soft sand is really hard work – very hard. Here is a great 20 minute HIIT cross-training workout that is both cardio and leg strength, try it!
- 5 minutes: 5 reps of sprint 40s, walk 20s
- 5 minutes: 5 reps of 40s sand burpees, 20s rest
- 5 minutes: burp-jogs, do three burpees then jog 20s
- 5 minutes: sand jogging
There you go, my beach workout!