The beach is a great workout location; fresh air, lots of space, plenty of free vitamin D, unstable and constantly shifting sand to make your workout more demanding and the sea for yet more workout opportunities and somewhere to cool off when you’re done.
Follow these tips to make your beach workout as safe and effective as possible.
Check tide times and sea conditions
It’s tempting to skip the simple stuff, but check out what time the tide is coming in and sea conditions before you head out. It’ll not just save you the hassle of setting up your circuit workout markers too close to the water, but it’s the safe and sensible thing to do.
A fast outgoing tide can mean that water-based activities are not a good idea as there is a danger of being washed out to sea. Even if you are a strong swimmer, make sure you consult local tide times and any on-duty lifeguards so that you know exactly what the sea is going to be doing during your workout.
What’s more, after your workout you’re likely to be pretty tired, so don’t take any risks in your post-workout swim.
Wear the right clothes
Wear your old beaten up workout gear. Beach workout gear is exposed to heaps more wear and tear than regular workout clothes. Sand can stain light colored clothing a yellow. Sun and salt water can bleach your clothes and leave them hard and rough. Not cool.
As for your kicks, shock-absorbing running shoes aren’t ideal because the yielding sand is already massively shock-absorbing – it’s partly what makes exercising on sand so challenging.
Working out barefoot at the beach is seriously effective – it activates more muscles in your feet and improves proprioception. However, if you’re not 100-percent certain that the sand is clear of potentially injurious hazards, or you need extra support, wear shoes.
Read more: How to choose the right workout shoes
Watch out for the sun
Working out on the beach usually means that you’ll be exposed to a bucket load of sun from a variety of angles. While getting enough sun is important for good health, too much sun can lead to sunburn.1
Take extra care and give your sunscreen a little more attention, because you’ll probably be too into your workout to realize that you are getting burnt. Once you have sunburn it’s too late to do much about it – the damage is done. Sunburn isn’t just uncomfortable; it can also increase the risk of skin cancer.2
To prevent sunburn, make sure you:
- cover up as much skin as is practical
- wear sunglasses to protect your eyes
- wear a hat to keep the sun off your head
- apply a good layer of waterproof high factor sun block
How to apply sunscreen:
- When: 30-minutes or so before going into the sun
- Type: broad-spectrum sunscreen that affords protection against UVA and UVB rays
- Strength: SPF 30 or higher
- Amount: Adults should use about 1 ounce of sunscreen on face and body, which is equivalent to about 6 teaspoons or a full shot glass.
- Where: Face and body, including back of the neck, ears and any exposed skin on the head.
- How often: Sweating and going in the water will wash away some of your sun block so look for products made specifically for exercisers that are sweat- or water-resistant. Reapply sunscreen when washed away or every hour.
- Don’t forget: to protect your lips. Apply a lip stick or lip balm that comes with an SPF protection of 30 or higher.
Read more: Tips for exercising in sun
Hydrate and avoid overheating
Working out on the beach in the sunshine and fresh air can make you dehydrated. Again, you might not notice because you’re working out hard and the sea breeze is keeping you cool.
Exercising in the sun also means you risk becoming overheated.
If you can:
- base your workout in a spot with some shade
- take periodic breaks from the sun so you can rehydrate
- keep a supply of chilled hydrating fluids in a cooler and out of the sun
Avoid the midday sun
Beaches can get very busy so if you need plenty of space or just prefer a more peaceful workout, make sure you exercise before or after the crowds turn up. The time of day also plays a role in the risk of suffering sunburn or heat stroke.
Steer clear of exercising between 10am and 4pm, especially on sand as it is a UV-reflective surface, to avoid the hottest part of the day when ultraviolet light is at its peak.3
Look for hazards in the sand
Before you start your workout, do some beach combing and look for any potential dangers. Look for hazards such as sharp shells, broken glass, tin cans, driftwood.
If you are in any doubt, move to a different part of the beach and keep your shoes on.
Take extra care
Some activities work better on the beach than others. Because the sand shifts as you walk or run on it, very technical movements can become difficult and even potentially dangerous, so keep your workout relatively simple.
If you’re running on the sand, remember that the camber of the beach. Running on a left to right slope places a lot of stress on the body, so be sure to pick a stretch of beach that is as flat as possible. Running on sand is far more challenging than running on a firmer surface, so when you return to running on roads or a treadmill it will feel seriously easy.
If you want to include some exercise equipment such as weights in your workout remember that you need to carry it from your car to the beach and back again. Schlepping all that heavy equipment under the glare of the sun might just leave you tired and demotivated before you even start working out.
Also, salt water, sand and ultraviolet light can play havoc with the condition of exercise equipment that was designed to be used indoors; weights can get rusty, medicine balls can become brittle and split, and resistance bands can degrade and break.
Instead of risking your exercise equipment, utilize nature’s bounty where safe and feasible. Rather than weights, take a couple of buckets and fill them with sand or water. Rather than use a gym mat, lie on a towel; the sand should be soft enough. By using resources that are naturally available, you can save yourself a lot of effort carrying heavy kit to and from the beach to your car.
- Holick MF. Biological Effects of Sunlight, Ultraviolet Radiation, Visible Light, Infrared Radiation and Vitamin D for Health. Anticancer Res. 2016;36(3):1345-56. PMID: 26977036.
- Dennis LK, Vanbeek MJ, Beane Freeman LE, Smith BJ, Dawson DV, Coughlin JA. Sunburns and risk of cutaneous melanoma: does age matter? A comprehensive meta-analysis. Ann Epidemiol. 2008;18(8):614-27. DOI: 10.1016/j.annepidem.2008.04.006. PMID: 18652979.
- Gonzaga ER. Role of UV light in photodamage, skin aging, and skin cancer: importance of photoprotection. Am J Clin Dermatol. 2009;10 Suppl 1:19-24. DOI: 10.2165/0128071-200910001-00004. PMID: 19209950.