Woman Stretching on Beach
Guido Mieth/Getty Images

Guido Mieth/Getty Images

Is there a beach vacation on your calendar? If you’re lucky enough to have time near the sand and surf this season, you’ll have a unique opportunity to boost your fitness performance. It turns out that sand is a fantastic athletic tool.

Beach workout benefits

Experts are finding that sand-based training provides unique challenges that can help you improve core strength, functional balance, cardiovascular endurance, and strength. A study published in the International Journal of Sports and Physical Therapy found that plyometric training on sand can improve your ability to perform power moves, and may even help reduce post-workout muscle soreness. And another study published in the The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that training on an unstable surface, like sand, can help to boost core strength.

But the best thing about training on the beach is “the gorgeousness of being outside,” says Gerry Haeger. “When you’re on vacation, you don’t want to be inside…you just don’t.” Haeger and Bruce Camp are top group fitness trainers at Life Time Fitness. Each year they run the Haeger Beach Bootcamp, a week-long, sand-based boot camp at surfside destinations like Puerto Vallarta, Isla Mujeres, or Puerto Morelos. They say that training in the sand can be humbling because you can’t prepare for it.

“People think that they’re fit when they’re in their own gym at home,” says Camp. “But this workout really tests your athleticism. You have to overcome heat, wind, soft sand, hard sand, water, and waves.” And Haeger adds that a beach workout pushes you to develop strong balance skills. “Working out on the sand is like doing every single exercise on a Bosu ball.”

The sand challenge workout

This workout was developed by Camp and Haeger, and is typical of the workouts they deliver to the athletes who attend their camp. It is performed using sand bags, but you don’t need the bags to perform the exercises. Doing the workout without the bags still provides a solid workout because you’re exercising on an unstable surface. Or you can use a medicine ball if you have access to that equipment.

If you do choose to use bags, Camp recommends getting a package of empty bags at the hardware store before you depart for your beach destination. The bags are inexpensive and easy to pack, he says. And Haeger adds that it’s helpful to bring your own zip ties to secure the bags.

When you arrive at your destination, fill the bags in different sizes. At the Haeger Beach Bootcamp, athletes use 30- to 50-lb bags. But you can fill them to meet your needs. New exercisers might want to start with bags that are 8, 10, or 15lbs. Or fill several bags in different sizes. Then, pick the sand bag that feels challenging (but doable) for each exercise.

Lastly, don’t worry about hauling the bags back to your hotel room. “Just find a spot on the beach that is tucked away and store them there,” says Camp, “no one will take them.”

1. Full body warm-up. Do a one-minute set of mountain climbers, followed by a one-minute set of a pushups into down dog (do a full pushup and flow into down dog for one breath). Repeat the sequence three times.

2. Beach run. Run out along the surf for 30 seconds, jog back slowly. Repeat three times.

3. Lunge set. Walking lunges with no sandbag (60 seconds). Walking lunges with sandbag (60 seconds). Split jumps (60 seconds). Repeat the series three times.

4. Squat set. Deep squats into an overhead press with sandbag (60 seconds). Jumping jacks to recover (60 seconds). Repeat three times. Variation: if you are working out with a partner, turn the overhead press into a sandbag toss

5. Frog leap. Place the bag on the sand in front of you and jump over and back for 60 seconds. Jog for 60 seconds to recover. For an added challenge, build a sand mound underneath your sandbag to add height so you have to jump higher.

6. Sandbag sprints. Sprint with a sandbag for 15 seconds, then drop the bag and run without it to recover. Repeat five times.

7. Tread water. You may be covered in sand by the end of the workout, so finishing in the water is a great way to clean up and cool off. If you have a small sandbag, challenge yourself to hold the bag over your head while you tread. Otherwise simply tread water holding your arms up for 60 seconds and recover with arms by your sides. Repeat five times.

Sand challenge workout tips

Before you head to the surf, keep a few tips in mind to optimize your experience.

  • Work out early to avoid crowds, sun, and heat
  • Cover your face with a hat
  • Wear sunscreen
  • Bring a towel
  • Drink plenty of water
  • If you want to increase intensity, shorten the recovery time between intervals or add more reps to each set.

Lastly, be prepared to get messy. Sand bags can leak and you may end up covered in sweaty grit. The Sand Bag Challenge Workout is not for your ordinary exerciser. But if you do this workout on vacation, you can expect to return home fitter and stronger than when you left.