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How Many Calories Do Watersports Really Burn?

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All you need is a body of water and a little sunshine and you've got the makings of a fun workout. Whether you're hitting the pool, ocean, river, or lake, one of these watersports is sure to spike your interest—and your calorie burn. We tapped Jacque Crockford, C.S.C.S., exercise physiology content manager at ACE, to give us the lowdown on the key muscles you work in the water. [All calories are estimated for a 145-lb. woman.]

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Stand-Up Paddleboarding

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The new study from ACE and a team at the University of California found that novice SUP'ers burned between 370-500 calories during a 30-minute session, while experienced paddlers moving more vigorously burned around 540-600 calories. At first glance, it may look like an upper body workout, but SUP actually primarily works the muscles of the back (erector spinae) and abdominals (rectus abdominis), the research discovered. (We went searching for answers too, asking Does SUP Really Count As a Workout?)

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You'll burn 346 calories during a leisurely hour-long kayaking adventure—pick up speed and really dig your paddle into the water if you want to get even more of a burn. Kayaking hits your shoulders (deltoids), back (rhomboids, trapezius, latissimus dorsi), and core (rectus abdominus, transverse abdominus, obliques) says Crockford, and if you want to make the workout even harder, try going against the current.

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Freestyle and breaststroke will help you burn 692 calories per hour if you're moving fast, while freestyle at a more relaxed pace and backstroke at an average pace burns 484 calories for the same amount of time in the pool. It's a great full body workout, hitting your shoulders (deltoids), back (rhomboids, trapezius, latissimus dorsi), core (rectus abdominus, transverse abdominus, obliques), glutes, and chest, says Crockford. (Try this 60-Minute Interval Swimming Workout.)

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While the pros probably burn more with their fancy tricks and big-wave surfing, newbies can count on shredding around 208 calories an hour catching waves. (Get started with our 14 Surfing Tips for First-Timers.) Paddling out into the ocean and then to catch waves will hit your shoulders and back while popping up on the board and riding the waves will get at your core and legs (quads, hamstrings, glutes). So even if you don't manage to stand your first time, you'll still get a great challenging workout.

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If you thought sailing was all about relaxing in a bikini, you've probably never tried to control the boat yourself. It can burn 208 calories an hour, working your shoulders and back, and chest (pectoralis) as you raise, lower, and adjust the sail. You'll also work your core and legs as you move around the boat, explains Crockford.

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If you're feeling adventurous, water-skiing will slash 415 calories an hour, hitting your back, core, and legs, says Crockford. Even if you struggle with getting up, the opposition of pulling with your upper body and pushing with your lower body will activate your abdominals, giving your core a nice workout.

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Snorkeling is definitely on the low-intensity side as far as watersports go, but because you're mostly working your glutes (the largest muscle in the body) to flutterkick around the big blue sea, you'll still get a decent calorie burn at 346 calories an hour. You'll also work your quads and hamstrings, says Crockford. And the more you dive under and use your arms to propel you through the water, the better your overall burn. Plus, you'll be so entranced by the scenery it won't even feel like exercise.

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