Is It Healthy Beach Running Barefoot?

Barefoot beach running

When I was sitting on the beach, people watching a bit, I saw some joggers pass by and noticed they were barefoot.  I wondered if it was really safe to run without shoes on the sand. So, I did some research to check with orthopedic doctors, running instructors and barefoot enthusiasts to find out.

Is it actually healthy beach running barefoot?  Yes, if you follow these tips: Run on packed sand by the shore, and maintain a good hip alignment. Land on the balls of your feet.

Many runners have been training on hard surfaces, many with years of experience, who jump into barefoot running on the beach and try to follow the same principles.  It really is not the same thing at all and could be a big injury risk.  With some training adjustments and preparations, most runners can easily make the transition and reap the benefits of this exercise.

Related Topics

Learning Tips For Beach Running Barefoot Safely

Running has many physical and mental health benefits.  The time outdoors produces vital vitamin D and cardio fitness are some of these.  Some of us enjoy spending much of our time on the beach. We’ll discuss how we take advantage of the health benefits while enjoying our time at the beach

There are several things we can do to both enjoy running barefoot on the beach and doing it safely and without injury.

First, begin slowly by walking a few minutes barefoot,  then put your shoes back on and continue your running on a hard surface.  Work into this slowly over a period of weeks to months as you become stronger in the foot and calf.

Increase calf and achilles heel stretching and warm-up exercises to help prevent cramps and muscle tears.  Soft step in short strides and slowly build up to soft, medium strides. Apply message and heat before and after runs.

Nate from the Run Experience shares an introduction to running barefoot on the beach

Toe Shoes And Minimal Shoes

Barefoot running makes your feet tired faster than running with shoes.  This is because running with shoes provides stiff support and your feet don’t have to work as hard.

The difference between running barefoot and with shoes is comparable to running on concrete and sand. Running on the sand, especially soft sand, will make your leg muscles work harder and get tired quicker. Your muscles are not as strong in this way, so it will actually raise the risk of injury.

There are new shoe innovations such as toe shoes and minimal shoes allow the benefits of walking or running with bare feet with semi-hard foot protection.   They mimic your bare feet by providing a thin, flexible sole and do away with arch support.

The benefit here is helping sore arches and tired feet.  Harder feet really mean stronger feet.  

One of the best minimal shoes on the market is Vibram’s Five Finger line. This is optimal for the beach and water activities while providing maximum support.

Barefoot Running Orthopedic Health Concerns 

Beach running barefoot has become increasingly popular in the last 8 years. Many runners are working with orthopedic doctors to address injuries to the feet, arches, calves, knees, and hips. Some of these injuries have occurred while sand running barefoot.  But most can directly be attributed to running techniques, conditioning, and overuse. Two common foot injuries are plantar fasciitis and achilles tendonitis.

The Mayo Clinic describes plantar fasciitis as a stabbing pain in the bottom of your foot near the heel caused by activities that place lots of strain on your heel and attached tissue. Certain foot mechanics are seen as one of the major causes such as jumping and long-distance running.

According to the Mayo Clinic “achilles tendinitis is caused by repetitive or intense strain on the Achilles tendon, the band of tissue that connects your calf muscles to your heel bone. This tendon is used when you walk, run, jump or push up on your toes.

Heal Landing Versus Ball Landing

When deciding to run and how to run as safely and injury-free as possible, it is important to understand some of the principles involved between shoe running and barefoot running. When done properly, running barefoot on a hard sand surface can be beneficial.

With running shoes, we are naturally land on our the feet from heel to toe in a rocking motion and a harder landing.  This allows for long strides on hard surfaces. This causes the runner to have a forward posture that causes several physical issues including knee and hip injuries.

When we run barefooted, we land on the balls of our feet with a softer landing. This tends to raise your posture to a more upright position.  The benefit is less back and hip strain and reduces stress on the plantar fascia tissue.  By reducing the upward movement of the toes when running can also reduce the strain and impact on the Achilles heel.

Reasons For Arch Injuries

Although barefoot running is more of natural motion, most runners today have tremendously more experience running with shoes. After years of running with the heel to toe stride, that is what has become natural for us.

This has caused poor running habits for when we run barefooted in general.  We want to land on our arches to compensate.   The arches are supported by tendons, not muscle.  After miles of running in this manner, the tendons start to stretch and lose the flexibility and thickness of a normal arch.  This will cause chronic pain as the arch starts to collapse to a more unsupported, flat arch.  Running shoes give firm arch support that avoids this injury with this heel to toe stride.

What Causes Calf Injuries

Calf injuries occur for a different reason. When we run with shoes, our calves have support around the ankle, over the heel and across the top of the foot. This reduces stress on the calves when landing on the heel.  The foot natural pivots from heel and rocks forward to the toe.

Calf muscles develop the strength to support landing in a stretched manner due to the toes pointing upward during the landing.  Due to this hard landing, it stiffens and relaxes when the foot is released.  Running on the balls of your foot causes a different set of calf muscles to fire.  The calves are in a flex position that lands with power, not flex.  Without training, this can cause cramps and at worse, muscle tears.

Causes of Knee And Hip Injuries

There is also stress on the knees changing from running with shoes to barefoot.  Runners are used to a long stride on the roads in an attempt to smooth out their gait.  On the beach, the tension of running in the sand, especially soft sand, causes this stress.  When running barefoot and a long street running stride causes the body to lean forward and will naturally use the knee as a shock absorber.

The slope of the beach along from the dunes to the waterline causes a hip misalignment for both shoe-wearing and barefoot runners.  The hip acting like a balance scale has one the outer leg higher than the inner leg in relation to the waterline.  The longer the stride, the more strain that is put on the hips.

barefoot running

Changing How And Where You Run

Work on changes in your stride.  Practice short strides, with your torso as upright as possible.  Work on landing on the balls of your feet as softly as possible.  Imagine your head floating in one place as you soft-pedal across the sand.  This will reduce the choppiness and stress on your hips.

For the best results, work to hardening your feet.  Running on the balls of your feet will strengthen your arches and bring the curvature back to the soles.  You may want to invest in some minimal shoes to help with this until your feet have responded.  This will help to reduce flat arches, tired feet, and calf and hips soreness.

One of the most helpful things you can do is to reduce the side-to-side slope as your running surface.  This means hard surfaces too like the slope in the street for water drainage and the slope in the beach from high dunes area to the shoreline.

On the street, run towards the center as possible.  Avoiding cars, of course.  Or stick to a flat running track.  On the beach, run or walk during low tide. This is when the surf is drawn back and the sand along the waterline is drier and packed.  This part of the beach is flatter and allows for a level surface and with less stress.

Conclusion

We have discussed the health concerns of beach running barefoot and the proper precautions to prevent injury.  You can wear minimal or toe shoes to reduce the strain of running barefoot.  We introduce stretches that will reduce injury.  We also provide a few tips for making running more beneficial.

Related Questions

Will walking barefoot on the beach burn the bottom of your feet?  Yes, at first.  Over time, your feet will harden and calluses will form and prevent future burns.

What is the best time of day to run or walk on the beach?  Early morning.   The beach surface is much cooler and your body tends to be more limber from a night’s rest.

Tracy Villarreal

I'm the owner of Active At The Beach. I grew up in a beach town in which I was fortunate enough to spend tons of time around the sea and the beach.

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