Before you pop open that beer and soak up the sun, take 15 minutes and choose one of these quick bodyweight workouts. The soft, uneven surface works more muscles for a better workout in less time.
“Sand is a slightly unstable surface, which means your core muscles work harder to help you maintain your balance,” says Robin M. Gillespie, a personal trainer based in Philadelphia. And, because sand is soft, it absorbs your energy and you have to work much harder to propel yourself forward when you run or jump on it—it’s also easier on your joints.
From running to strength work, if it’s hard in the gym, it’s even harder on the beach. Here are 10 beach workouts you need to try the next time you hit the sand.
Those yogis you see on the beach aren’t just trying to get a good shot for Instagram. “Bodily movement starts from the base up, so when you change the pattern of the ground, you’re bound to challenge balance and stability,” explains Alexis Novak, a Los Angeles–based yoga instructor. Novak takes her practice to the beach as often as she can, saying that the random peaks and valleys in the sand keep her thinking about how she’s planting her hands and feet. Plus, the way the sand gives beneath you will really challenge your core. Novak is known for her sweat-producing routines, and this yoga practice doubles as strength work.
Child’s Pose: Begin by sitting on your shins with your forehead resting on the ground and your arms stretched out in front of you. Hold for 30 seconds.
Table Top Position: Move up so that you’re on your hands and knees and your back is flat. Move your back and sides around in circular motions to wake up the core muscles. Repeat for 10 circles in each direction.
Bird-Dog Balance Position: Raise your right leg and left arm. Engage your core and draw the right knee to the left elbow under your torso. Repeat 15 times and switch sides.
Toe Taps With Oblique Work: Move back to the table top position. Move your right heel to the back of the mat and draw circles with the ankle, stretching the muscles in the feet. Next, draw an arc with the toes behind the body, using the hamstrings, gluteus maximus, and core to guide the leg. Repeat 10 times and switch sides.
Plank Position: Push up onto your toes and palms and, maintaining straight body alignment, gently tap your knees to the ground and back up. Repeat for 30 seconds.
Tricep Push-up: Lift the body into a plank position again, but keep the arms narrow. Lower your chest to the mat, hugging the elbows close to the body. Repeat 10 times.
Downward Facing Dog: Push your butt up to the sky and stretch back to engage the hamstrings. Then, bend your knees and walk your hands toward your feet so you’re folded into a “rag doll” position. Find a gentle sway in your upper and lower body, stretch through your lower back and relax your neck.
Squats and Plyo Squats: Slowly roll your body up until you’re standing upright. Push your butt back and squat. Alternate from standing to squat for 10 rounds. Next, move into a plyometric squat jump, jumping at the top of the squat movement. Ideally you should take a giant leap off of the mat, and land lightly back in the squat position. Repeat for 30 seconds, then rest.
Horse Pose: Widen your squat and turn your heels in and your toes out. Lower your hands to the back side of where your butt meets your thighs. Engage your core and shift your body right to left, engaging your back muscles. Repeat 15 times.
Take a five-minute cool down savasana (yoga nap) on your mat, allowing all your hard work to soak into the body.
Sand Bucket Power
Your kids’ sand bucket is basically a perfect kettlebell, says Gillespie. You can alter the weight by packing the bucket with dry or wet sand — or a combo of both. The wetter the sand, the heavier the bucket is going to be. Like all kettlebell workouts, focus on keeping your core tight and the movements explosive.
Do each exercise for one minute, with a minute of rest between them. Repeat the whole circuit 2–3 times.
Plank: Lay on your stomach on a beach towel. Drawing in your core, move onto your forearms and lift your lower body up. Hold keeping your core engaged, head in line with the spine and glutes contracted. Avoid sagging in the middle or lifting the hips up.
Kettlebell Deadlift: Hold the pail with both hands. Position your feet shoulder-width apart, feet pointed toward the ocean. Keeping your shoulders back, lean forward slightly and bend your knees to touch the pail to the ground, then quickly stand up. Make sure the movement comes from the hips, not your back.
Push-ups: Start on your toes, but don’t be surprised if you have to switch to your knees halfway through. The softness of sand makes push-ups harder.
Kettlebell Swing: Hold the handle of the pail with both hands. With your feet slightly beyond shoulder-width apart, lean forward slightly and sit back. Using your core and glutes, quickly stand up and swing the pail up to shoulder level.
Single Leg Balance With Row: Step onto your left foot, hold the pail in your right hand and lift the right foot a few inches off the ground behind you. Bend the left knee slightly as you lean forward from the hips until your torso is just above parallel. Make sure to keep your back flat. The pail should hang straight down in front of you. Pull the pail up toward your hip using a rowing motion. Repeat for one minute on each side.
The Water Running Workout
On really hot days, Matthew Reedy, head running coach at Leapfrog Athletics in Southwest Florida, sends his athletes out to run thigh-deep in the Gulf of Mexico. He says running through water simulates tired legs and makes you focus on your form. Wear old running shoes for this — you want this to be as close to regular running as possible, so don’t go barefoot. “You do not point or reach your toes forward, this is overstriding and it will fatigue your quads,” he says. “You move forward through the water by pushing, not by reaching out. The stride is short and powerful.”
Reedy plants PVC poles in quad-high water to mark the entry and exit points for his runners, but you can simply choose two landmarks about 60-yards apart. As you enter the water, focus on running with high knees and lifting your legs above the water. As the water reaches mid-thigh, shift your focus to using your arms and core to drive your stride. When you meet your designated exit point, leave the water and use the run back to the entry point as recovery. Repeat, trying to make it through 10 full laps. For a more advanced version, hold 16-ounce water bottles in each hand to further tax the arms, or tack on a 100-meter sprint through the sand to the end of each circuit.
Sand Sprints With Strength
We get it. No one wants to spend a lot of time working out on vacation. “This workout includes everything you need for a complete workout,” says Franklin Antoian, a personal trainer and founder of ibodyfit.com. “The sprints cover your anaerobic zone, the body weight exercises work every major muscle group, and the fast pace keeps your heart rate up throughout,” Plus, a growing body of research is showing that short, intense workouts like this may even be more effective than an hour of low-intensity work. Do each activity as fast as possible with as little rest between exercises as possible. Then, Antoian recommends you jump straight into the ocean to cool off.
Sprint 50 yards: Pick two points that you’ll do this workout between, with room for you to do push-ups and sit ups on either end. The exact distance doesn’t have to be perfect, but 50-yards is half of a football field.
50 Sit-ups: This should be full sit-ups, and make sure you’re pulling up with your core — not using your hip flexors to do the work.
Sprint Back 50 Yards: You should still be feeling pretty good, so push as hard as you can for this sprint.
40 Squats: Get as low as you can while keeping proper form.
Sprint 50 Yards: As you begin to fatigue, focus on your form during the sprints. Pull your core in, keep your shoulders tall and make sure your arms are engaged. Don’t let your upper body start to flop around.
30 Push-ups: Focusing on keeping your back flat and dropping your chest to the ground on each rep.
Sprint 50 Yards: You’ve only got two more sprints left, so you should start really gunning it.
20 Mountain Climbers: Keep your form crisp and your breath under control.
Sprint 50 Yards: Focus on increasing your turnover versus lengthening your stride, and push through the very end of the sprint.
10 Push-ups: Don’t let your form fail just because you’re seeing stars.
Designed by Matt Tanneberg, a certified strength and conditioning coach and sports chiropractor, this eight-move workout will build functional strength with minimal equipment and time. While you could easily also do this workout in a gym or at the park, it’s especially effective on the beach, says Tanneberg. “You can see better gains with your training by switching your exercises to the beach. Especially if you are hitting a plateau,” he says. The softness of the sand adds just enough challenge to really deliver improvement. This is an AMRAP (as many reps as possible) workout with each move done for one minute with a minute of rest in between.
Squat Jumps: With your feet shoulder-width apart, lower into a deep squat. Push yourself up and out of the squat and into the air, landing softly back in the squat position.
Push-Ups: Although you’re trying to do as many as possible in a minute, don’t let your form go all wet-noodle.
Jumping Lunges: Bring your right leg back and lower into a lunge position. Push off the ground and jump into the air, switching legs and landing with the opposite leg back. Lower down and repeat.
Pull-Ups: Do these either on nearby monkey bars or with a set of TRX straps.
Pulse Squats: Lower down into a full squat and stay there, pulsing up and down for the full minute.
Lizard Crawl: Start in a push-up position. Keeping your back straight, bend your elbows so you’re close to the ground and slowly “walk” like a lizard. The lower you are to the ground, the harder you’re working.
Pulse Lunges: Bring your right leg back and lower into lunge position. Stay low and pulse for 30 seconds. Switch to the left leg for the remaining 30 seconds.
Burpees: As you do this staple, make sure to get a full push-up in and to finish with a forceful jump.
The Barefoot Beach Workout
By kicking off your shoes and exercising in the sand, your workouts reap more payoffs, says Andia Winslow, a NYC-based personal trainer. “It helps reestablish natural signature of the foot, thereby strengthening the legs.” Plus, she says that sand reduces the force of impact, so those who struggle with high-impact exercises can generally do things on sand that they couldn’t do on pavement. Winslow likes teaching on sand so much that she regularly holds classes at indoor beach volleyball courts in New York City.
Barefoot Jogging: Winslow says it’s important to warm up on the sand. Start with slow jogging, then switch to some backwards jogging, which will help make sure everything is loose before getting into the meaty bits of the workout. Spend 8–15 minutes jogging both forwards and backwards.
Lateral Shuffles: With your feet shoulder-width apart, lower into a shallow squat position. Step out quickly with your left leg, then bring your right leg over to finish the movement. Do two sets of 25 yards in each direction.
High Knees: Run in place but bring your knees up as high as you can with each step. Do five sets of 30 seconds on and 30 seconds off.
Broad Jumps: Start in a squat position, then launch yourself forward, jumping as far as you possibly can. Winslow likes to have her athletes do these in quick succession, so as soon as you land from one jump you’re preparing to take off for another. Go 15 yards, then walk back to your starting point and begin another set. Do five sets total.
Bear Crawls: From plank position, leave one leg long while bringing the other up to your elbow. You want to keep your body low, so bring your leg around your torso, not under it. At the same time, move your opposite arm forward. Repeat with the other side, so you’re crawling slowly forward. Do three sets of 10 yards forward and backwards.
Plank: Winslow has her athletes switch between a traditional plank and lateral planks. Do one minute of regular planking and one minute on each side in a lateral plank. Repeat two more times.
Barefoot Jogging: Cool down with 5–8 more minutes of barefoot running in the sand.
Nonstop Sandbag Workout
Master SoulCycle trainer, bike racer, and Amazing Race contestant Kym “Nonstop” Perfetto always totes a duffle bag full of empty plastic bags with her to the beach. Once she arrives, she fills the plastic bags with sand, ties them up and places them in the duffle. The result is an instant, variable-weight sandbag. “By repurposing the plastic bags as sand containers, you have a lot of control over how heavy make your bag for various workouts, and it keeps your bag clean,” she says. Stuff four plastic grocery bags with sand, tie them off so they don’t leak, and place them into an empty gym bag. You can add or remove bags of sand to customize the weight to your workout.
Bicep Curls: Keep your feet hip-width apart, engage your core, and curl your sand-filled bag with both arms. This will help you get used to the weight and how the sand feels when it moves around. If it feels too easy, add more sandbags. Perform until failure.
Squat Switch-Up: Start with the sandbag on your right shoulder and your feet together. Step out to the right side and squat. Bring your legs back together, switch sandbag to the left shoulder and step out to the left side and squat. Repeat until you’ve squatted 10 times on each leg.
Around the World: Hold the bag with both hands in front of you. Bring the bag up and around your shoulders, making a circle around your head. Perform five reps in both directions.
Row with Press: Bend forward with your weight back on your heels. With both hands, bring the bag up into a row, repeat for a second row, then bring it to your chest, stand up, and press it overhead. Keep doing this for a total of 20 rows and 10 overhead presses.
Sandbag Drag: This move will work every muscle in your body. Start with the bag a couple of feet in front of you. Get into a plank position on your palms and grab the bag with your right hand. Pull it under your hip and take two bear crawl strides back so that it’s just in front of your shoulder. Then push it forward and take another two bear-crawl strides forward. Do this back-and-forth motion until you have completed 10 with each arm. (Watch the move here).
SUP Core Workout
If you want to make your abs cry, do your next core workout on top of a SUP board. The fact that you have to keep the board steady creates an incredible challenge. This workout, provided by Jessica Bellofatto, a New York–based yoga teacher who specializes in SUP yoga, will force you to focus on balance and strength through every move — otherwise you’ll end up splashing in the surf. If you can, repeat the sequence for three rounds total.
Plank: Just like a plank on land, start on an all fours. Spread the fingers and press evenly down through the hands. Move onto your toes and into a plank pose, keeping the body in an even line from head to heels. Breathe slowly and deeply through your nose, and every time you exhale, pull your navel in toward your spine. Hold for one minute, or longer if you can.
Twisting Plank: From the plank pose described above, roll your hips from side to side. Make sure to keep the hips level — meaning they shouldn’t sag or lift up — whenever you return to the neutral plank position. Continue the rolling motion for one minute.
Cross Patterning: On all fours, extend your right leg straight back and up so it’s level with your hip. Focus on bringing your navel in toward your spine. As you inhale, extend the left arm in front of your head, so it’s also parallel to the board. This is a fairly simple move on land that becomes much more challenging on the unstable surface of the board. As you exhale, lower your arm and leg down, then repeat on the other side. Do eight reps on each side, coordinating the breath with the movement. As it gets easier and you feel more stable, try lifting the arm and leg simultaneously.
Bridge Pose: Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet pressing down into the board and your arms at your sides. As you inhale, press your hips up toward the sky. Interlace your hands underneath you, and roll the shoulders into the board for a nice shoulder and chest opening. Hold up to one minute.
The Sandbox Fitness Quickie
Minna Herskowitz, owner of Los Angeles–based Sandbox Fitness, says that this combo of high-intensity aerobic exercise plus sand-specific strength moves burns calories and builds muscle fast. Be sure to really drag your feet through the sand during the strength moves to add resistance.
Do each of the following moves for 30 seconds, with no rest between moves. Repeat the sequence four times.
Sprint: Run all-out and perform the next move wherever you stop.
Squat Jumps: Get down into a squat, then explode upwards using both legs and using arms for momentum.
Sand Drag Mountain Climbers: This time keep your feet in the sand, dragging a bit of it with your foot as you go through the motion.
Sand Drag Side Shuffles: Start in a half squat. Keeping your feet in contact with the sand, shuffle your right foot to the right side followed by your left foot to the right side. Do four one direction, then go back the other way, keeping your feet in the sand the whole time.
Super Sand Sprints
Nothing will suck the wind out of you like running sprints on the beach. Chris Cooper, a certified strength and conditioning coach who runs the Long Island–based Active Movement & Performance training facility, says this workout boosts cardiovascular fitness. On the sand, Cooper likes to stick to short efforts, since these allow you to go all-out without losing your form. The efforts may be short, but if you do them at an all-out pace, you’ll be surprised at how tired you are for the last few.
Warm Up: Begin with at least 10 minutes of easy running on the beach.
Sprint: Set your watch for 20 seconds. Go hard, really pumping your arms and trying to cover as much ground as possible in the short amount of time.
Recover: Cooper gives his athletes up to three minutes of recovery, which “ensures almost full recovery so you can put max effort into each sprint.”
Repeat: Try to get through 10 sprints, or 15 if you’re feeling like a masochist.
Cool Down: Spend 10 minutes jogging or walking slowly on the beach as you bring your heart rate back down.