21 Top Water Sports for the Best Workout
Whether you’re an adrenaline junkie or prefer something a little more relaxed, you can enjoy an awesome workout on the water. Through water sports, you can target specific muscle groups, work on cardio and more. Plus, they get you involved in the great outdoors and provide something a little more exciting than your standard morning run.
With so many options, you can easily find one that fits your budget, too. While some might require a boat, others just call for your swimming gear. If you’re looking to burn some calories in the water, we’ve got you covered — we’ll go over some of the top water sports for full-body workouts, what you need to get started with them and what kind of workout you can expect.
Keep in mind that when we talk about how many calories each workout can burn, your weight will make a difference. Below, we’ll use calorie estimates close to the average weights of men and women in the United States, but the more you weigh, the more calories you’ll burn. With that out of the way, let’s dive in!
Swimming is one of the most accessible water sports — all you need is a swimsuit, a body of water and maybe some goggles. This sport is well-known for being one of the best full-body workouts, perfect for toning strength all over and getting your heart pumping.
Swimming is also excellent for people who need low-impact exercises. High-impact workouts like running can be harder on the joints, and you may want to opt for a low-impact activity like swimming if you’re older, recovering from an injury or haven’t worked out in a long time.
As for the calorie-burning power of swimming, you can expect different results from different types of strokes:
- Breaststroke: 817-931 calories per hour
- Butterfly: 899-1024 calories per hour
- Slow freestyle: 572-651 calories per hour
- Fast freestyle: 817-931 calories per hour
If you’re not familiar with swimming outside of a pool, be sure to read up on the safety basics. You’ll need to know about avoiding rip currents in the ocean and looking out for dangerous water conditions.
Kayaking might not seem like it would do much for your lower half, but it’s actually a great whole-body workout. You need to keep yourself balanced and shift your body to support rowing, which engages your core and legs. Of course, it works your upper body hard, too. You can expect your biceps, triceps, upper back, shoulders and cardiovascular system to get a great workout.
You can turn kayaking into whatever you want it to be. You might burn about 409-465 calories per hour kayaking, but rougher waters and higher intensity can help you boost that number. Kayaking is also perfect for catching new sights, watching wildlife and exploring the waters around you.
Canoeing is similar to kayaking, but it uses a different paddling method. Instead of using a double-sided paddle, you use a single-sided paddle and move it from side to side. Kayaks tend to be better for beginners, but canoeing is a good group sport since more people can fit in one. They’re larger than kayaks and may be a little more challenging to maneuver and launch on your own — an easy-access dock can help immensely.
Like kayaking, canoeing works your whole body but is especially good for your upper body and core. You can expect to burn about 572-651 calories an hour at a moderate intensity.
Rowing looks similar to both kayaking and canoeing, but it engages the body in an entirely different way. It’s generally more intense than either option, which is why it can be such a competitive sport. Rowers start with their knees bent and need to straighten them out to start their stroke.
The movement puts pressure on the oars and engages quads, glutes and thigh muscles. Rowers also work their biceps, deltoids and back muscles. The movements are slightly different from kayaking and canoeing, so you might find yourself with a new kind of soreness after a rowing session.
This sport is also great for cardiovascular health and uses a wide range of motion. It’s the most intense sport on our list, with an average calorie burn of 981-1117 calories per hour.
If you want to start rowing, start by looking for a rowing club or program in your area. Of course, you can also buy a rowing boat, called a shell, and find a calm body of water to row on. This sport is a little more complex than some of the others we’re talking about, so be sure to read up on rowing 101 before you start.
5. Stand-Up Paddleboarding
Stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) engages your core as you stand on a long board and row your way around calm water. It’s perfect for improving your balance and stability and getting an ab workout at the same time.
SUP is another great low-impact option if you’re avoiding joint stress. SUP is one of the more relaxed water sport workouts on this list and is an excellent opportunity for catching some sights while you burn calories.
Novice paddlers at about 150 pounds can burn 370-500 calories an hour, while more advanced paddlers might burn 540-600 calories an hour. Along with exercising your core, you can expect a nice upper body workout from propelling yourself through the water.
We’ll start talking adrenaline with rafting, which offers a great all-around workout. It’s a dynamic activity that keeps you on your toes as you guide your raft through exciting landscapes. It’s also a fun sport to do with friends since you need to work together. You can look for rougher or smoother rapids that match your ability level.
At all intensity levels, you’ll work your core, including your abs and obliques. Getting your heart rate up also makes it a powerful cardio workout. You can burn about 360-420 calories per hour whitewater rafting.
You don’t need to be a pro to get in an impactful surfing workout — just learning the basics is an intense yet low-impact workout. You’ll work your core, lower body and shoulders. You’ll also improve your balance and cardiovascular health. It isn’t the most calorie-intense workout, but you can still expend about 245-279 calories per hour.
To get started with this sport, look for lessons in your area or learn the basics of surfing and surfer etiquette before hitting the water. Surfing is a bit more challenging than some other water sports, so you’ll want to be prepared before buying a board and catching the waves.
In wakeboarding, your feet are attached to a board, and you’re pulled behind a motorboat. As you ride the water, you hone your balance and can learn some impressive tricks. Wakeboarding doesn’t usually take too long to pick up on, so it’s a terrific option for beginners.
Like many water sports, you can often rent wakeboarding equipment and find lessons to get started. If you already have a personal watercraft (PWC) like a Jet Ski or a Sea-Doo to tow you around, you just need the wakeboard, bindings, a device for buoyancy and a rope. Some wakeboarders like to use wetsuits when perusing cold water.
As far as the workout goes, wakeboarding works almost everything, including your core, legs and arms. It burns around 490 calories per hour for a 180-pound man.
Kiteboarding or kitesurfing is similar to wakeboarding but uses a kite to power you through the water. It can be a little more challenging without the steadiness of a boat pulling you along. It also requires certain weather conditions.
Kites and boards can come in several different styles, but all offer access to this intense water sport and allow you to have a blast while you learn tricks. If you’re kiteboarding, you can burn a lot of calories — typically over 700 an hour, making it one of the higher calorie-burning activities on our list. The sport offers whole-body strength training and helps you build stamina.
Consider looking for lessons or rentals near you to try it out before purchasing your own equipment. If you decide to invest in your own gear, you’ll need a kite, bar and lines, board and harness. You’ll also want to get a buoyancy aid, a helmet and a wetsuit.
Kneeboarding is also similar to wakeboarding. Essentially, you do the same things but kneeling instead of standing. You can learn tricks, too. You’ll need the same materials to get started, minus the bindings. These items include a boat, board, ropes, wetsuit and buoyancy aid.
Since kneeboarding is like wakeboarding, you can expect a similar calorie burn. As a refresher, wakeboarding burns about 412 calories per hour.
Bodyboarding, or boogie boarding, is a more budget-friendly water sport workout. You can make it as challenging as you want. It’s a good lead-in to surfing if you want to try something a little simpler.
In bodyboarding, you lie down on the board while you ride the waves. It looks similar to surfing, but it’s a little easier to balance. Bodyboards are very affordable, and you can find them for under $30.
As for the fitness benefits, bodyboarding is another effective full-body workout. You’ll work your arms and legs by paddling and getting your heart rate up for cardio. Bodyboarding burns calories similarly to surfing, with about 245-279 calories per hour, but the condition of the water will make a big difference.
Skimboarding is also similar to surfing, except it has a thinner board and occurs in shallow water on the shoreline. You can perform tricks and work your core while balancing on the water. More advanced skimboarders can head into deeper water.
Skimboarding is an ideal water sport for beginners, and you can get the boards at very affordable prices. Along with the board, you’ll need a good place to use it. The best beach for skimboarding has a large, flat slope.
You can typically burn a couple hundred calories while skimboarding. Although it’s a full-body workout, much of it happens in your core as you balance to cut through the waves lapping onto the shore.
Snorkeling might not strike you as a workout at first, but it’s actually a great way to burn some calories — about 409-465 an hour — while taking in beautiful sights. You’ll use your back and your legs to propel through the water, so you’re sure to get a wonderful lower-body workout. To snorkel, you’ll just need the snorkel itself, your trusty swimming gear and some clear water.
14. Scuba Diving
Another activity that might not be considered a traditional workout is scuba diving. You can enjoy otherworldly views while expending calories. You’ll be powering yourself through the water with heavy equipment and can expect to burn about 572-651 calories an hour.
You’ll need to get a certification and license before you scuba dive. You can rent equipment or buy it yourself. Scuba equipment includes:
- Scuba mask
- Buoyancy compensator (BCD)
- Air tanks
- Dive computer
15. Free Diving
Free diving, also called skin diving, calls for good lung capacity. It has elements of snorkeling and scuba diving. When you free dive, you use breath-holding strategies to dive deep into the water.
Free diving is a great way to work out and see the underwater world without bulky equipment. This sport burns around the same calories as scuba diving, 572-651 calories per hour. It also works similar muscles and will require most of the same equipment, except for the air tanks and BCD.
16. Water Skiing
Water skiing is like snow skiing but on the water. It’s similar to wakeboarding and kiteboarding, too. A boat pulls you along and you skim the surface of the water on a set of skis. You can also use a one-ski variation.
This water sport workout requires good balance and will give you a terrific core workout. It’s also beneficial for your arms and legs, making it a whole-body exercise that burns around 432-502 calories.
17. Driving Watercraft
Driving a PWC engages your core and the rest of your body as you stand and crouch while driving. The water’s condition can give you a more or less intense workout, with choppy waves and high wind making it more challenging. Estimates put the calorie burn somewhere between 200-475 calories for a 150-pound person.
Keep in mind that you might need a license to drive one depending on your location, so check your state’s laws or talk with the rental provider to see if you’ll need one.
18. Water Polo
Water polo looks a lot like soccer, with two goals on either end of the “field” and teams trying to score points with a ball. Players move the ball by throwing it or pushing it while they swim, and everyone except the goalie can only use one hand to hold the ball.
Players can’t touch the bottom of the pool and need to tread water or swim in short bursts for the entire game, which helps make it an excellent workout. It’s especially useful for working your legs and core and can burn 720-840 calories per hour.
This full-body workout is a competitive, team-based sport, so you’ll need to find some people to join you. Look for water polo clubs and intramural teams in your area to get started.
19. Water Aerobics
Here’s another water sport that’s ideal for beginners. Water aerobics is a low-impact water sport that gets your heart rate up and works your whole body. The buoyancy that keeps you afloat makes it gentler on your joints.
You might do activities like water walking, kickboard moves and bicep curls from the comfort of shallow water. Advanced water aerobics classes can ramp up the difficulty with more intense movements. You can burn around 288-336 calories per hour through aerobics, with different exercises targeting different muscles.
You’ll find water aerobics classes offered by many organizations, like fitness clubs and tourism companies.
20. Water Yoga
Water yoga is similar to aerobics in that it works like a regular yoga class — just in the water. It can give you a boost during challenging poses and offer a peaceful setting for the session. You’ll feel relaxed while burning about 288-336 calories per hour.
Usually, water yoga is done in warmer water to loosen you up and make the class more comfortable. Many people do yoga in the water because it’s easier on joints, and the warm water can help alleviate aches, too. Plus, you reap all the typical benefits of yoga, like calmness, self-awareness and improved energy and flexibility.
21. Deep Water Running
Deep water running is a training and recovery method in which you simulate running in water. Despite the name, the water doesn’t need to be very deep — just deep enough that your feet don’t touch the bottom.
As a recovery method, you take on more of a jog to get moving and exercise without the stress on your joints. For a training strategy, you move more quickly and use the resistance of the water to increase the intensity of the workout. You might use a buoyancy belt to keep yourself afloat and a tether to keep yourself in place.
This workout is excellent for cardiovascular health and works your legs, core, shoulders and arms. You can expect to burn a hefty 654-745 calories per hour with water jogging.
Accomplish a Fun, Effective Workout With Water Sports
Water sports offer some of the best forms of exercise. From low-impact activities to adrenaline-filled sports, water-based fitness can help people of all abilities burn calories in new and exciting ways.
Whichever sport you choose to get into shape, EZ Dock makes it simple to get on the water. Our durable, low-maintenance docks offer easy access and can withstand weather and wear. Whether you’re looking to add a dock to your home or install one for customers and tourists, EZ Dock comes in a variety of configurations, including floating docks, and has many accessories available.