The hows and whys of running on sand

The next time you head out to the beach to catch some rays, pack some running shoes.

"You won't find a better workout," says Jeff Bullock, a personal trainer who runs in the sand every chance he gets. "It will make your whole body stronger, not just your legs."

The same goes for walking on the beach. While not quite the calorie blaster that running is, it is a great fitness activity for all ages.

Taking your workout to the beach has many advantages. For starters, there's the scenery.

Recent studies have established what many know instinctively: It feels good to get outdoors and enjoy the beauty of nature. The sights and sounds of the beach are effective stress-busters.

That's just the start of the health benefits. Running on the sand will burn up to 50 per cent more calories than running on footpath.

But before you rush out and start pounding the sand, you will need to know a few things.

Here are some guidelines.

HARD V SOFT

Running event organiser Skip Rogers tries to schedule his races when the tide is low and there is more room to run along the hard-packed, wet sand. The impact on the bones and joints is still significantly less than asphalt or concrete, but it's not as hard on the muscles as running on soft sand.

"You want to start out on the hard stuff," he says. "It is a lot more work running in the sugar sand."

The best running beaches are wide and flat. Avoid steep inclines. "If you are running along an incline, one leg is going to be doing more work than the other," says Bullock. "That is a good way to get injured."

Running in hard or soft sand will take pressure off joints. But it can also stretch your calf muscles and Achilles tendons, leading to soreness and serious injury if you try too much too soon.

"I like to start off with a nice, long run along the wet sand," says Bullock. "I usually finish off with sprints in the soft sand."

But high-intensity sprints, on the road or on the beach, should not be part of a beginner's workout.

BARE V SHOD

Running without shoes will strengthen your feet, ankles and, ultimately, your entire legs.

But if you are running to try to shed weight, you may need to stick with shoes, which will lessen the impact on your bones and joints. Once you're leaner, ditch the shoes gradually for short runs.

Shoes do however protect your feet from glass and seashells.

Many companies capitalising on the barefoot-running craze have introduced minimalist running shoes that may prove ideal. But like most athletic gear, shoe type is a matter of your build, running experience and personal choice. Visit a reputable running store, get properly fitted and try on several types of shoe before you decide.

And remember that early morning or evening are the best times to be outside in the summer , whether you're running, walking or just kicking back and enjoying the scenery.

Follow the same precautions on the beach as you would inland:

■ Start slow and gradually build distance and speed.

■ Stay well-hydrated.

■ Wear sweat-wicking clothing, preferably with a built-in SPF.

■ Use lots of sunblock

■ Wear sunglasses and a brimmed hat to ward off the glare. AAP

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