Today Daniel and I left our running shoes at home and went for a walk on the beach instead. After 57 minutes I was depressed to learn we’d only gone 3 miles. What?! Our glutes were on fire, we were sweating bullets, and I swear we had been moving at super human sand speed. At least I thought so – I guess the new “fast” is a 19 minutes/mile.
The change in workout environment got me thinking. How do our bodies react and adapt to different terrain, and how does walking on the beach compare to walking on the treadmill or sidewalk?
As you likely know, we have sensory receptors all over our bodies, including a whole bunch in our feet. It turns out changing your terrain often is an excellent muscle toning trick. Proprioception is the fancy term for the neural process and muscular response to sensory information – particularly changes in environment. Unfamiliar territory produces the benefits of enhanced muscle control, better balance (which, unless you’ve experienced any type of inner-ear problems, is easy to take for granted), and in many cases, increased calories expenditure because more muscles need to be recruited for stabilization. Without proprioception, we’d be face planting left and right. To walk on the beach, I would have to focus entirely on the precise movement of my feet.
Proprioception, though, is not reserved just for sensory receptors in our feet. It’s extends to all of our limbs and body parts. As a training technique you can easily incorporate a variety of “proprioceptively enriched” environments in your workout. All it really means is that you change something in your workout to challenge the balance and stabilization mechanisms of your body. For example, you could stand on one leg while doing a shoulder press exercise, close your eyes while doing side lunges, or use a stability ball instead of a bench for chest press sets.
I did some other research and found an article that suggests walking on sand requires 1.6-2.5 times more muscle mechanics, and 2.1-2.7 times more energy than walking on hard surfaces. This is great news. The article also mentions that sand-walking has been studied to burn up to TWICE as many calories as sidewalk-ing. Another site explains that sand absorbs most of the shock of exercise, making the sand great terrain for those of us with joint pain. I guess I don’t feel as bad that we only trekked 3 miles today. In fact, I probably burned enough extra calories to indulge in some more gingerbread Peeps.