With the summer sun beating down and temperatures soaring from morning until late afternoon, you might be tempted to take your workout into an air conditioned gym. The height of summer can be tough on outdoor workouts like running and cycling, but that doesn’t mean you need to take it inside. You can actually get an intense and effective workout, while staying cool, if you’re open to hitting the water.

Water sports are one of the best parts of summer and even if you might not realize it at the time, these activities are putting you through a killer workout.

Whether you’re surfing, swimming or wakeboarding, the resistance of the water is building strength—often more efficiently than lifting weights in the gym. Water sports with boards require balance, which is great for building core strength and agility in general and practically any activity on or in the water can be turned into a great cardio workout. Add to that the rising temperatures on land and who wouldn’t want to get in a workout on the water?

In celebration of summer and the awesome strength-building powers of water, we’ve highlighted some of the water sports that are probably better—and definitely more fun—than your current workout.

1. Surfing



Some have said that surfing is the original total-body workout and, frankly, it’s hard to disagree. From the upper body strength it takes to paddle out to the balance it takes to ride waves, every aspect of surfing tests your whole body in strength, agility and stamina. Pro surfer Tia Blanco, fresh off the podium at the ISA World Surfing Games says it best, “Surfing promotes a very healthy and active lifestyle. When you’re surfing you are engaging your full body. The stronger your arms, core and legs are, the better it is for surfing. When I’m not surfing I’m always training to stay fit, I have a personal trainer who helps me focus on strength, flexibility and endurance.”

2. Rafting



If you’re looking for an adrenaline-fueled workout that you can enjoy with a few friends, rafting is the way to go. Paddling is great for building strength in your arms, back and shoulders with each stroke and core strength comes in for stability too. The best part is that thrill of taking on rough waters will drive you to work even harder.

3. Stand-Up Paddle Boarding



Balance and stability is the key to mastering this incredibly popular water sport, which means your core is working hard the whole time. “SUP can improve balance, increase cardiovascular endurance and is a full-body workout,” said paddler and Physical Therapist at Tidewater Physical Therapy, Elena Black. “SUP is considered a low-impact workout as well…It also works the core stabilizers such as the muscles in the trunk, hips and shoulders that work to keep everything in place as the body moves.”

4. Deep Water Running

Underwater sprinter

Underwater sprinter in a swimming pool lane. Wide angle, polarization filter, post processed, fine grain added (iStock)

Deep water running is exactly what it sounds like—it’s a training technique that involves the motion of running, while you’re suspended in the water using a flotation belt. “We simulate land running minus the impact, you will move your arms and legs as though you're running on land…the water adds another layer of challenge to the workout,” said Robert Valentin, an ASCA Certified Level 3 Coach and founder of Blue Ocean Swimming. These challenging workouts are great for everybody—any age or fitness level—but are especially helpful for those training for marathons or triathlons, he said.

5. Swimming



Swimming will always be a favorite summer activity and one of the most efficient total-body workouts around. The resistance of the water is great for building strength and picking up the pace makes for fantastic cardio. If you needed just one more benefit, it’s virtually impact-free, meaning the risk for stress injury is far less than that of frequent runners or weight lifters.

6. Windsurfing



Windsurfing is not your typical sport and the physical benefits are exceptional, too. Balancing on the board improves core strength and directing the sail targets muscles in the upper body from forearms down into the lower back. As you improve on the board, windsurfing becomes a great cardio workout. But even if you’re a beginner spending most of the time falling off the board, repeatedly pulling yourself out of the water and back onto the board is a workout in itself.

Check out more water sports for an intense summer workout.

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