Beach Workouts Worthy of Gabby Reece and Laird Hamilton

By PJ Nestler | Tue Feb 26 2019

In one of the most famous training montages in sports movie history, Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed race along a beach, every muscle and sinew straining as the two boxers push each other so they’re ready for combat in the ring. The Navy SEALs carry logs through the breakers and undergo “surf torture” as part of the notorious “Hell Week” selection process. And, NBA All Stars like Blake Griffin sprint up and walk down dune after dune to get ready for the rigors of the pro basketball season.

As grueling as all of these are, you can still do much more with beach workouts—and they don’t have to be as arduous, either. XPT co-founders Laird Hamilton and Gabby Reece forged their fitness results over many years on the sand. In Gabby’s case, it was leaping high above the volleyball net that made her the first female athlete to earn a signature shoe. And while Laird’s most famous exploits take place offshore on the towering faces of Peahi (AKA Jaws), he has always honed his strength, power, and speed with sled drags, boulder carries, and other exercises on the sand.

Why Beach Workouts?

When thinking about “fitness” in the modern, commercialized sense of the word, many of us think only about what goes on inside a gym. But for the majority of human history, people weren’t physically active in such a formalized, restrictive way. 

As National Geographic writer Dan Buettner explores in his bestselling book Blue Zones, one of the key commonalities among cultures that not only live the longest but also have the greatest vitality (like in Okinawa and Sardinia) is continual daily movement. This includes walking between six and nine miles a day in natural settings like along beaches, up and down mountains, and through forests. This isn’t like trying to reach the modern movement RDA of 10,000 steps (which merely attempts to create the kind of activity baseline that sedentary lifestyles have removed) at the mall. Walking, hiking, and running on natural surfaces have greater physiological requirements due to the subtle variations in landscape when you’re moving through terrain.

Being physically active outdoors instead of defaulting to another strength session in the gym or cardio crush at your cycling studio also provides a profound change in environment. We know from behavior-focused books like Atomic Habits by James Clear that simply altering where you do something can not only challenge you but also help you break out of a rut. In another seminal work, Blue Mind, author Wallace J. Nichols cites multiple studies that show the physical and psychological benefits of regularly being by the ocean, lakes, and rivers (much of which Nichols kindly shared on his website). And, flow expert Steven Kotler shares in The Rise of Superman that outdoor sports are capable of triggering the deepest states of embodiment due to the novelty and complexity that nature always presents and the total focus it demands.

Monotony can quickly become the enemy of progress. Even if you’re showing up to train consistently and there’s a fair amount of variety in your program, it’s likely that, eventually, you’re going to yearn for a different kind of challenge. Fortunately, sand workouts can provide this without asking you to master any radically different movement patterns. 

Simply putting sand under your feet (or, for that matter, another natural surface like grass in a park or dirt on a trail) changes the physical demands of the session, since you’re asking your body to stabilize and make minute corrections in milliseconds. Speaking of feet—freeing them from the constraints of shoes, many of which have restrictive soles and coddling features like air cushioning and big arch supports, can help remedy conditions like plantar fasciitis and restore the strength and dexterity that we’re slowly robbed of as we pad along on flat surfaces all day.

Another benefit of taking your training to the beach is that it introduces a sense of fun and spontaneity not often found at your local 24-Hour Fitness. Between sets, you can take a dip in the ocean with your friends or bring some surfboards or paddleboards along to catch a few waves afterward.

AT XPT, we focus our beach sessions on six elemental movements: jumping and landing, skipping, shuffling, throwing, and—just like Rocky and Apollo Creed—sprinting. Then, we add in things like bear crawling and, appropriately for the setting, crab walking. Each of these engages the brain as the body expresses primal motor patterns on an ever-shifting surface. 

Such exercises can help to re-groove the kind of motions we performed so naturally as kids (see any family having fun at the beach—we don’t always need the “training” label) but let go dormant as adults. Our main movements also require you to explore every plane of motion, whether it’s bounding diagonally across the sand, doing goblet squats with a rock, or twisting to throw the same stone off to one side.

Another thing about beach exercises people seem to enjoy so much is being out in the elements. This engages every single one of your senses. You hear seagulls’ cries, see the soothing motion of waves breaking, inhale the fishy brine, taste the salty sea spray, and feel the wind on your skin. 

Moving on and through the sand also challenges your proprioception and somatic senses as your body provides constant feedback about where it is and what it’s doing in three-dimensional space. You can amplify this by switching between the harder, compacted ground nearer the water and the soft, fluffy stuff further inland. We can also introduce some of the other key XPT practices, such as contrast therapy, by switching between moving with intensity in the heat of the day and cooling off in the surf—not to mention that ice-cold beach shower that feels so good afterward.

There are an almost infinite number of sand circuit training workouts you can do on the beach. To get you started, here are a couple that we used at recent XPT Experiences. Why don’t you join us for the next one to see for yourself?

IMPORTANT: Start every session with a dynamic warm-up, including some light movement to get the heart rate up and blood flowing, followed by a few exercises to move the joints through optimal ranges of motion. This will help prevent injuries from the unpredictable surface.

Beach Workout 1: Tower Run

Choose a long beach with obstacles along it, like lifeguard towers, trash cans, jetties, or groups of people.

1.     Jog to the first marker

2.     Perform 15 pushups

3.     Perform 15 mountain climbers

4.     Perform 15 squats

5.     Perform 15 reps of a core exercise of your choice

6.     Sprint to the next marker and repeat steps 2-5

7.     Walk to next marker and repeat steps 2-5

8.     Repeat, alternating between jogging, sprinting, and walking every 3 markers

If the markers are close together, alternate by jogging, sprinting, walking, shuffling, and backpedaling between them.

Beach Workout 2: Athletic Movement Continuous Ladder

Set 4 markers in a line approximately 10 yards apart from each other. Starting at the 1st marker, perform each movement below at full speed to the 2nd marker (10 yards) and slowly jog or walk back to the 1st marker (this is your rest period).

1.     Shuffle Right

2.     Shuffle Left

3.     Skip

4.     Backpedal

5.     Bear Crawl

6.     Sprint

Once you complete the full circuit from marker 1 to 2, rest 60-90 seconds. Then, repeat the circuit from marker 1 to 3 (20 yards) and rest another 60-90 seconds. Finally, repeat the circuit from marker 1 to 4 (30 yards).

Once all four circuits are complete, lie down on your back and perform a slow recovery breathing protocol. Breathe in through the nose for 5 seconds and leak it slowly out through your lips for 10 seconds. Follow this pattern for 5 minutes.

Beach Workout 3: 3 Rounds

Set up 2 markers approximately 15 yards apart. Complete the full round as fast as possible (resting as needed during the round but keeping the clock running). Rest for 1-2 minutes between rounds.

Round 1

1.     Lunge walk from marker 1 to marker 2

2.     Perform 10 close-grip pushups

3.     Sprint back

4.     Repeat 3-4 times

Round 2

1.     Bear crawl from marker 1 to marker 2

2.     Perform 10 sumo squats

3.     Backpedal back to the start

4.     Repeat 3-4 times

Round 4

1.     Broad jump from marker 1 to marker 2

2.     Perform 5 burpees and 10 regular pushups

3.     Sprint back

4.     Repeat 3-4 times

Finish by lying down and completing 3 minutes of slow box breathing through the nose. Inhale for a count of 4, hold for 4, exhale for 4, and hold for 4.

Written by PJ Nestler

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