When you’re at the beach, all you usually want to do is soak up the sun. We get that. But getting in a workout on the sand is not only fun, it also challenges your body in ways you can’t in the gym — and it’ll make you feel great.
“Your body craves daily movement someway, somehow. And it doesn’t have to be all-out, balls-to-the-wall,” says certified functional strength coach Samantha Ciaccia, who leads beach workouts for Ketanga Fitness Retreats. “Whether you do a hard workout or simple bodyweight or mobility exercises, your brain releases the feel-good chemical serotonin, which makes you feel more awake and alive to fully enjoy your vacation.”
Since most Americans only take half their vacation days, we should maximize those days! So grab a water bottle, slather on the sunscreen and try some of these fun ways to get in a workout on the beach.
1. COMBINE LOUNGING WITH TONING
If you are the type who just wants to relax, try Ciaccia’s tip to get an added workout while lounging. “At some point, you have to change position. Every time you shift or get up, do a set of 10–12 pushups or situps, alternating between the two,” she suggests. By the end of the day, you will have some color and a good number of exercises under your belt.
2. GET MOBILE
Another low-intensity option is to do some mobility work on your towel, opening your joints and loosening your muscles. Ciaccia suggests making sure to hit your ankles, hips, thoracic spine, shoulders and lumbar to cervical spine. Here is one suggested move for each of these:
- Ankles: Lunge one foot forward and place back knee on the ground. Place hands on both sides of front foot and lean into your front ankle. Switch sides and repeat.
- Hips: Drop into a low squat with feet wide and butt close to the ground. Bring palms together in front of chest and place elbows inside thighs, pushing them open. Then, begin to draw figure eights with knees and focus on opening your hips.
- Thoracic spine: Lie on your side with your bottom leg straight and top knee bent at 90 degrees in line with your hip. Extend arms out in front of you, palms touching. On an exhale, slide your top hand past your bottom, opening your upper back. Return to start on an inhale. Take 3 breaths on each side.
- Shoulders: From the same position as above, flip your top hand to palm up. On an exhale, keeping your top arm straight, drag your fingertips above your head and behind you, drawing a rainbow. Only go until your bent knee begins to come off the ground. Return to start on an inhale. Perform 3 breaths on each side.
- Lumbar to cervical spine: Perform slow, intentional cat-cow movements.
3. DO A MINI BOOTCAMP WITH A PARTNER
Workouts are more fun when you do them with someone, so grab a friend and do this workout from Christianne Phillips, director of mind and movement at 1 Hotel South Beach. You will alternate moves: Person A runs into the water and, once it’s deep enough to swim, swims 20 strokes out. Then, they turn around and swim 20 strokes back toward the sand and run out of the water.
While they do this, Person B is on the shore doing one bodyweight exercise the entire time. Once Person A is back to shore, you’ll switch and Person B swims while Person A does the bodyweight move.
The bodyweight movements can include the following exercises, ending with burpees as the last round: plank with shoulder taps, air squats, situps with your head toward (but never in!) the water, reverse lunges and burpees.
4. PRACTICE HEADSTANDS
Calling all yogis: If you are scared to practice inversions on a hard floor or away from a wall, try doing so on the forgiving soft sand. If you fall, it won’t hurt nearly as much — if at all. Put down a towel and pat down a space that’s as level as possible to put your head and hands or forearms on, recommends Phillips, who learned headstands by practicing on the beach. Then follow our step-by-step guide to master headstands!
5. PLAY PADDLEBALL
Although this game will never win the title of ultimate calorie burner, it does get you moving. The more you have to reach for the ball, the better. “Paddleball, football, Frisbee — all of those games are better than sitting there, for sure,” Phillips says. She likes to throw a football in the water with her sons. “It’s refreshing and it’s fun to dive for the ball and end up in the water,” she says. “We purposely throw it to the side so we can jump for it and throw ourselves in the water.”
6. PLAY VOLLEYBALL
If you want a sport that will burn more calories, get your Kerri Walsh Jennings on! Volleyball helps improve your agility, speed and hand-eye coordination, plus it counts as both metabolic training and strength training, Ciaccia says. This all keeps your brain sharp, boosts heart health, builds muscle from head to toe and helps you strengthen your neuromuscular response. This can help you to catch yourself from falling if you trip on that pesky living room rug.
7. GO FOR A RUN
When you combine bare feet and unstable sand, you quickly find running on the beach is hard! “Your shoes provide a cushion, and when you take that away, ligaments and muscles that aren’t typically used are being activated,” Ciaccia explains.
Beach running helps stabilize your foot and ankle joints and strengthen different leg muscles than a run on a treadmill or pavement does. However, both Ciaccia and Phillips caution that you will probably be able to run for less time and shorter distances on the beach than you normally do on other surfaces. Listen to your body because if you push it too hard, you could end up injured.
8. CHALLENGE SOMEONE TO SUICIDE SPRINTS
To amp up your run, grab some friends and pick a few landmarks to do suicide sprints with. You might run to the lifeguard stand and back, then to a rock and back and then to someone’s towel and back. Either way, you’ll be sweaty and breathless at the end.
9. TAKE A WALK
Meandering along the water’s edge can be more than just a stroll. Pick up the pace a bit or, if you are with a friend, have them jump on your back and take turns piggybacking each other, Ciaccia suggests. You can also alternate: One of you does 10 walking lunges while the other walks, then you switch. Try lateral lunges to work your body in more planes of motion.
10. DO A WATER WORKOUT
Water aerobics aren’t just for the seniors in your gym’s pool. Phillips recommends trying squats, lateral lunges, skaters and the bottom part of a jumping jack in the ocean. Be sure the water comes up to at least your waist so you get the added resistance of the water, which will make you work your inner and outer thighs more. To do water “crunches,” perform high knees while standing or, while treading water, pull your knees up to your chest like a hanging leg raise.
11. TRY STAND-UP PADDLEBOARDING
There are two big benefits of SUP. The first is balance. “While you are standing on the board, your brain muscles are in overdrive trying to not let you fall. This translates into helping you prevent falls in everyday life,” Ciaccia says.
The second benefit is strength. “Your muscles are contracting as you grip your feet on the board, squeeze your glutes and activate your core. You’re increasing isometric strength all around,” she adds.
12. GO KAYAKING
If you’ve never been in a kayak, you know that it’s a LOT of work. “It’s a perfect upper-body and core workout,” Phillips says. You’ll work your back, chest, shoulders, arms and even your legs some, as they help you balance. Plus, it’s great cardio.
13. DIY A BODYWEIGHT WORKOUT
To get your strength training on, create your own total-body beach circuit. Simply pick one upper body, one lower body, one core and one dynamic exercise (such as skaters or burpees). Do each exercise for 7–10 reps. Repeat that circuit twice.
Then, pick four new exercises and repeat that circuit twice. “Within half an hour, you will be done, but you won’t be dying,” Ciaccia says. “That’s key because you don’t want to be exhausted the rest of day — you want to feel refreshed and alive.”