Crunches, planks and bicycles are all effective at working your core. But so do some way-more-fun summer activities (think hula-hooping and stand-up paddle boarding) that just so happen to tone your abs in a similar way. Both routes to a six-pack can be effective, but personally, I’d rather get some serious enjoyment out of the process too, especially when it’s nice out.
Check out these sports that secretly strengthen your core—chances are, you won’t even realize you’re getting an ab workout as you’re doing them (though the burn the next day will probably clue you in).
You’ve got to really move your middle to keep the hoop spinning, so it makes total sense that this seemingly silly activity might seriously target your tummy. And a new, small study in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research proves just that. Thirteen women were asked to use a weighted hula hoop for five days a week for six weeks, for two minutes on the first day and then for longer and longer stints until they were hooping for 15 minutes a day starting in week three. The result: The women lost 3.4 centimeters from their midsections and 1.4 centimeters from their hips, on average.
“All you have to do is get on a board and you will understand how your core is involved—it’s all about balance, and to stay upright your core is engaged the entire time,” says Chris Freytag, a fitness instructor in Minneapolis and founder of gethealthyu.com. If you’re a newbie, Freytag suggests starting on your knees, which lowers your center of gravity and still works your middle, and then moving up to standing when you feel comfortable for maximum perks.
Just because you’re sitting doesn’t mean you’re not working your stomach. “The majority of your body’s strength while paddling comes from the core, so while it feels like an upper-body exercise, it begins in your abdominals and lower back,” says Ramona Braganza, celebrity fitness trainer and creator of the 321 Training Method. Plus, your body rotation when paddling targets your obliques, too.
This classic summer sport is all about moving side-to-side and up-and-down to get the ball. All that quick lateral movement works your middle like crazy. On top of that, “the unstable surface of the sand gets your stabilizing muscles activated,” Braganza notes. Try playing with only a few people, rather than seven or eight folks on each side, which will force you to move more—and burn more.
“Treading water, or really doing any water sport in general such as swimming or snorkeling without fins, can improve your core and provides a lot of cardiovascular benefits,” says Braganza. And that’s important, she says, because it’ll burn off any fat hiding sculpted muscles underneath.
To stay balanced, you have to rely on a strong midsection to keep you upright. You’re also burning lots of calories as you roll, which is great for fat-melting purposes, Braganza says.
This article originally appeared on Health.com.
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