Work Out on the Water

Instead of getting in the water this summer, try getting on it.

With a canoe, kayak, stand-up paddle board, or pair of water skis, you can explore a whole new world of activities. Once you've embraced proper training and safety, you'll get a fine, fun workout.


Benefit. Canoeing can offer intense exercise. Even your legs can get a workout by helping you steer. You can push them against the sides and throw your hips one way or the other to nudge the canoe in the right direction. But you can also enjoy a relaxing float downstream.

Fast fact. Aluminum canoes weigh up to 90 pounds. Just reaching the water can be a good workout.

Best advice. Canoes can hold several people and gear. This makes them ideal for families.


Benefit. Like canoeing, kayaking offers strength-building and aerobic benefits. The sport uses your legs, torso, shoulders, and chest.

Fast fact. This enclosed craft, typically built for 1 or 2 people, rides below the waterline.

Best advice. Generally lighter and easier to steer than canoes, kayaks are made for either open water (sea kayaks) or rivers (whitewater kayaks). In considering which suits you, remember that white-water kayaking or rafting carries more risks.

Stand-up paddling (SUP)

Benefit. SUP gives a full-body workout and uses muscles all over the body. It also challenges balance and coordination.

Fast fact. You can SUP on any type of waterway, the ocean, lakes, and rivers.

Best advice. You will fall in the water no matter how talented you are. Always wear a life jacket.

Water skiing

Benefit. Especially for beginners, water skiing is a physically demanding activity that particularly relies on upper body strength.

Fast fact. Water skiing was first invented in the 1920s in Minnesota.

Best advice. It may seem like a daredevil sport, but USA Water Ski, the national governing group for water skiing in this country, says it's relatively safe.


Benefit. Repeatedly lifting the sail out of the water as you learn the sport may be the most vigorous workout you get while windsurfing. Once you learn how to windsurf, it's not as much of a workout. But it can help improve balance.

Fast fact. In recent years, manufacturers have designed wider boards that are easier to handle.

Best advice. With professional instruction, you can learn the basics in 2 to 6 hours. Enthusiasts see windsurfing—basically riding a surfboard while controlling a sail attached to the center—as the purest form of sailing. That's because it's just you and the wind, and very little between you and the water.

Set sail safely

Mulling over a water sport? Consider these beginner's tips:

  • Take a class. Trial and error isn't the best or safest teacher. Lessons help you avoid bad habits you'll have to correct later. Plus, by learning the right way, you're less likely to get frustrated and quit. To find a good school or instructor, check local colleges or learning centers. Ads in specialty magazines and the websites of national organizations devoted to the activity are good starting points, too.

  • Rent before you buy. New gear is costly. Renting cuts your initial cost and lets you test products and activities so you can make the best choice when you buy.

  • Dress for safety. A personal flotation device is necessary for these activities, although windsurfers may choose instead to wear a wet suit that helps you stay afloat. In approximately 90% of all drowning deaths, the victims were not wearing a life jacket, the NSBC says. It's important to wear your life jacket whenever you are on the water.

  • Get in shape. Different sports work different muscles. The chief muscles you use to paddle are in your belly and back, not your arms, according to the American Council on Exercise. Water skiing, and to some degree windsurfing, works muscles in the legs, belly, upper arms, and back. Look for exercises that strengthen the muscles you'll use on the water like sit-ups and back extensions for paddling activities.

  • Location, location, location. Resources are more plentiful on the coasts, but you don't have to live on the coast to join in. Canoeists can paddle inland rivers, and sailboats travel on inland lakes.

Online Medical Reviewer: Heather M Trevino BSN RNC
Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Susan K. Dempsey-Walls RN
Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2024
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