Top 5 Water Activities for Burning Calories

Five H2O activities you should add to your weekend itinerary.

The best thing about working out in water: No one can see just how much of a sweaty beast you become once your heart gets pumping. But seriously, some of the summer’s most fun water activities can actually be amazing workouts. (As long as you actually know how to keep your head above water.) Here, five activities you should add to your weekend itinerary.

Research finds that regular swimming is one of the best ways to build and preserve muscle mass, optimize cholesterol levels and lose fat. “Swimming is, hands down the best water workout for you,” raves Gunnar Peterson, CSCS, personal trainer based in Beverly Hills. “It’s low impact on your joints, works muscles on your lower and upper extremities and, depending duration, can count as cardiovascular.” But you can’t just bob around in the water on one of those floating, foam noodles and call it swimming. You actually have to work (paddle your arms and legs) to get from point A to point B. To increase your intensity level, turn your swim into sets: First, take 10 strokes with your arms. Then ten strokes with just your legs. Then 10 with your legs and arms. Take a breather and repeat.
Calories burned: Up to 450*

“Kayaking gives you that upper-body component that you don’t get in more traditional cardiovascular workouts,” Peterson points out. Rowing works your biceps, triceps, shoulders and upper back. (Try going backwards to mix it up and keep your muscles loose.) Every time your paddle hits the water or your kayak turns directions, your core gets activated. And, even though your legs aren’t necessarily moving, they’re used in turning and balancing the kayak. When the muscles in your legs tighten, you get an isometric exercise, which is good for increasing strength over time.
Calories burned: About 205

Stand-up Paddle-boarding
This sport—SUP, as it’s affectionately known—is just as good as kayaking and more so because the lower body component comes into play more consistently. “You have to balance yourself so your quads, hams and glutes are engaged the entire time,” says Peterson. (Trust us, you’ll feel the burn in arms, legs and core the next day.) SUP builds endurance and balance, giving your entire body a complete cardio workout—in fact, some experts say that 30 minutes of SUP is equivalent to running six miles.
Calories burned: At least 123 (The rougher the waves, the harder you work)

Getting out into the surf is as physically demanding, if not more, as the ride back into the sand. “Just paddling out gives you a huge upper back and shoulder workout,” Peterson says. Then, once you’re riding a wave, your lower body, core and shoulders take a beating: A wave hits the board with tons of force and your muscles instinctively contract. Factor in the instability of the water and your core muscles are getting a major workout.
Calories burned: At least 125 (Again, the rougher the waves, the harder you work)

“If you’re new to the sport, your heart rate is going to be elevated from she the sheer fear of it all,” Peterson jokes, implying you’ll get a decent dose of cardio. If you’re more accomplished (meaning, you can actually get up and going), it’s a great lower- and upper-body workout that also involves your core. It takes a good degree of arm strength just to pull your body out and onto the water. Then from there, your legs and core are constantly engaged throughout the entire ride. A successful water-ski run is basically a prolonged wall sit—but without the wall and with the resistance of the water.
Calories burned: About 245

* All calorie counts are based on a 180-pound person and 30 minutes of exercise.

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