Summer’s here! It’s time to take advantage of the long days and warm temperatures to break out of your winter workout habits and take it to the lake, river, or sandy beach of your choice. Summer is, after all, about having fun and enjoying time with your family and friends. But there’s no reason that has to mean spending all day in a lawn chair eating barbecued pork and drinking Bud Light. Why not cut loose and try one of these fun summer sports?
5 Summer Sports for Fun and Fitness
They’re all excellent workouts, and great fun to share with other people. Just keep in mind that whenever you’re planning on spending time in both sun and water, a good waterproof sunblock is a must.
Whether you have access to an ocean, a lake, or a pool, water exercise is easy on your joints and bones while still excellent for muscle tone and aerobic conditioning. Water offers a whole different kind of resistance to a body that’s accustomed to moving on land. While impact is pretty much nonexistent with water exercise, every move takes a lot more energy, and consequently burns a lot more calories. Even at a leisurely pace, you use twice as many calories swimming as you do walking. Swimming is also one of the best summer sports for feeling refreshed after a hot day outside.
Swimming is fun and a great workout that became popular in the U.S. at the end of the 19th century. At ocean or lake beaches with swim buoys, try swimming out to the buoy line, then following it parallel to the beach. Alternate your pace, switching from fast to slow every other buoy. After you’ve swum far enough, swim back in and jog back up the beach to your towel. It’s also really fun to pick a challenging distance swim and do it with a group of friends.
When I was a kid, we used to swim from my grandparents’ pier to an island about a quarter of a mile away. All of us, from Grandma to little kids, would take our time swimming across, then rest on the island before swimming back. You can do this at an ocean beach by swimming out to a distant buoy, around a pier, or any other point that’s a workable distance away. For safety, I recommend having a friend paddle along with you on a kayak or paddleboard, both to be there if anyone poops out, and also to make your presence more obvious to boat traffic. Here’s how to avoid the aches and pains swimming can sometimes cause in your shoulders.
I do a lot of ocean sports, including surfing, but bodysurfing brings me closer to my amphibious ideal than any other summer sports. Bodysurfing is also great because it’s got a low learning curve but never ceases to be fun. There’s always some new or challenging variation to enjoy. Choose a stretch of beach with waves that break cleanly, and without any big rocks or other hazards. You’ll want a good pair of bodysurfing fins (most snorkeling fins are too big and tend to come off) to give you the acceleration and power to get into the waves. If you’ve never done it before, here are the basics:
- Swim out to the peak—the area where the waves stand up and break.
- Tread water to get a good view of what’s coming and choose a wave that’s about to break, not one that already has.
- As it begins to roll under you, put your head down, kick like crazy and do a few crawl strokes with your arms. You’ll feel your body begin to accelerate until suddenly you’re flying through the water.
- At this point, you can use your palms as a planing surface and get your head up to see where you’re going. The wave will either poop out or spit you out.
- Repeat until you’ve had enough fun.
Backyard water polo
Next time you’re at a pool party, organize a casual game of backyard water polo between friends. If you don’t have an actual water polo ball, and most of us don’t, a kids’ rubber foursquare ball is the next best thing, or a slightly deflated volleyball. Set up goals at both ends of the pool, using patio chairs or a couple of empty coolers tipped sideways. The rules of real water polo are overly complicated, but for our summer sports purposes just think soccer in the water. You’re not allowed to stand on the bottom, and once you pick up the ball with a hand you have to either pass or shoot. Between treading water and sprinting up and down the pool, your muscles and aerobic capacity will get worked much harder than just swimming a few laps. Play to 20 and switch ends when the first team gets to 10.
Let’s go back to the beach and look at another unfamiliar environment that offers a great workout opportunity: deep, soft sand. Whether you run, walk, or play soccer, doing any athletic activity in deep sand enormously increases your level of exertion. If you normally run four miles on hard ground, two miles of soft sand will have you panting. At my local beach in California, I work out by doing an alternating interval jog/sprint at each lifeguard tower. On this beach, they’re spaced about every 200 yards. Each soft sand sprint gets my heart rate and breathing way up. If getting into a breathing pattern is difficult for you when you run, this post may help. The next 200-yard easy segment cools me off a bit, and my heart rate slows back down. My usual course is about a two-mile round trip.
4. Beach volleyball
Professional beach volleyball players all seem to be ripped, tan, and about seven feet tall. Now I can’t help you with the tall part, but play beach volleyball regularly and the ripped and tan part comes with the territory. The key here is constant dynamic motion, which builds balance and core strength, combined with vertical jumps and leaps that give your legs and glutes explosive strength. If you don’t have a net handy, just volley with a friend for 15 or 20 minutes, trying to keep the ball in the air as long as possible while constantly increasing the distance between the two of you. When the ball falls, step closer together and start over again.
5. Dune running
About 40 minutes from my house is a gorgeous sand dune that rises at least 250 feet in a steep incline behind the beach. Every time we’re near it, my 5-year-old daughter insists we stop and do a little dune running. She sprints straight up the thing and waits for me at the top. Then she turns around and goes first, running down the dune at warp speed, taking giant leaping steps. It feels like flying, or like what running on the moon would feel like if you could wear surf trunks on the moon and survive. With the muscle and aerobic workout going up and the sheer joy of bounding down, there’s just nothing better.
We’ve also been known to somersault the whole way down, but for a few days afterward, you’d better be prepared to find sand in places you never imagined it would go. Oh, and you’ll feel like you just rode the Scrambler 10 times back to back. My daughter usually does about five circuits up and down. I’m only good for maybe three. What can I say? She’s a lot tougher than me. Want to see how you stack up? There are dunes all over the world’s coastlines and deserts—what are you waiting for?