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Work Out on the Water

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

With a sailboat, canoe, kayak, windsurfing outfit 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, so just reaching the water can be taxing.

Best advice: Canoes can hold several people and gear, making 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 one or two people, rides below the waterline.

Best advice: Generally lighter and more maneuverable 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.


Benefit: Piloting a small craft (8 to 24 feet) through waves will keep you active, but sailing doesn't provide an intense workout.

Fast fact: America's waterways are getting congested.

Best advice: Safety instruction is important for all boaters. All boaters should know how to navigate and learn the "rules of the road," according to the National Safe Boating Council (NSBC).

Water skiing

Benefit: Especially for beginners, water skiing is a physically demanding activity that particularly taxes the upper body.

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

Best advice: It may seem like a daredevil sport, but U.S.A. 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 really a workout.

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 two to six 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. And 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 Web sites 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 essential for these activities, although windsurfers may opt instead to wear a wet suit that adds buoyancy. In approximately 90 percent 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 abdomen and back, not your arms, according to the American Council on Exercise. Water skiing, and to some extent windsurfing, works muscles in the legs, abdomen, upper arms and back. Look for exercises that strengthen the muscles you'll use on the water, such as 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 ply inland lakes.