Fact Check: Is Swimming Good for Weight Loss?

Swimming is a full-body, low-impact exercise because you use your upper and lower body muscles during this activity while also putting little strain on your joints. This type of sport has become a popular exercise that can be enjoyed by anyone who wants to stay fit and maybe lose a few pounds in the process. However, despite all its perks, the question remains: is swimming good for weight loss?

Is swimming good for weight loss?

Yes. Just like any form of physical activity, swimming can aid weight loss because it helps to burn calories. Like other aerobic exercises — such as running, jogging, or cycling — swimming also helps improve cardiovascular health and decreases the risk of developing several diseases.

Additionally, contrary to many other aerobic exercises, one of the perks of swimming is that it is a low-impact exercise, meaning it is gentle to the joints and, therefore, can be practiced by older people or people with joint problems.

Nevertheless, it is important to note that weight loss depends not only on how many calories you burn but on your diet as well. At the end of the day, you will only lose weight if you burn more calories than you consume on a regular basis. Therefore, having discipline and consistency is key to reducing weight effectively.

How many calories does swimming burn?

The exact amount of calories you burn during a swimming workout session depends on several factors:

  • The intensity and duration of the exercise
  • The number of strokes you take
  • Your fitness level
  • Your weight
  • Your age
  • Your basal metabolic rate (the amount of energy your body expends while at rest)

According to Harvard Health, the following table provides an approximate amount of calories burned from a 30-minute swimming routine:

Body weightModerate swimmingVigorous swimming
125 lbs (56.7 kg)180 kcal300 kcal
155 lbs (70.3 kg)216 kcal360 kcal
185 lbs (83.9 kg)252 kcal420 kcal

Calories burned in a 30-minute swimming session, dependig on a person's body weight.

It's important to note that this is just an average and can vary from person to person. To get a better estimate, you can wear a fitness tracker that will help you monitor your workout routine and the calories you burn in each swimming session.

How much swimming do I need to lose weight?

You may have heard about the 3,500-calorie deficit rule of thumb — also called Wishnofsky's rule — which states that you need a deficit of 500 calories per day to lose 1 pound (0.45 kg) in one week. Even though this rule has been proven inaccurate in predicting constant weight loss in the long term, you can still make a rough estimation of how much weight you can initially lose by increasing your energy expenditure by swimming.

For example, if you weigh 155 pounds, according to the provided table, you can burn 540 calories in a 45-minute vigorous swimming session. So, to lose 1 pound in a week without adjusting your diet, you'd need to engage in a 45-minute intense workout daily.

Another example is that if you weigh 185 pounds, you can also lose 1 pound of weight by the end of one week if you do a one-hour moderate swimming workout session every day.

How does swimming help you lose weight?

Swimming aids in weight loss due to its full-body engagement, calorie-burning effect, elevated heart rate, and muscle-toning benefits.

While doing aquatic exercises like swimming, you activate the muscles in your arms, shoulders, back, chest, abdomen, buttocks, and legs to be able to move against the resistance of the water. Such engagement works your whole body, increasing your muscle growth if you are consistent with your swimming routine.

The importance of muscle growth is that the more muscle mass you have, the more calories you will burn while not exercising (your basal metabolic rate), which will further help you achieve a more significant weight reduction in the long term.

Different swimming strokes for weight loss: an overview

There are several swimming strokes you can use, and depending on the stroke you choose, you can reap different benefits and burn more or fewer calories per session. However, you must remember that the amount of calories you burn per swimming session depends on several factors, not only the stroke type you choose.

Freestyle

The freestyle stroke involves using mostly the muscles of your shoulders, back, abdominals, and buttocks. By doing this stroke, you can burn around 300 calories in a 30-minute swimming workout.

Breaststroke

During the breaststroke, you mainly use the muscles of your arms, upper back, and legs. You can burn roughly 200–250 calories in a 30-minute swimming workout doing this stroke.

Butterfly

The butterfly stroke primarily targets the muscles of the chest, arms, abdominals, and back. It's known for its calorie-burning potential, averaging around 450 calories burned in a 30-minute session. However, due to its complexity, it's not recommended for beginners.

Backstroke

Backstroke primarily engages the back, aiding in posture improvement. Additionally, it involves the muscles of the shoulders, arms, legs, abdominals, and buttocks. On average, a 30-minute session of backstroke can burn around 250 calories.

What's the best swimming routine for weight loss?

If you are a beginner, it is best to start with low-intensity swimming workouts and gradually increase the pace and duration of your sessions until you can do high-intensity workouts without risking injuries.

Once you master the swimming strokes and feel comfortable enough to do high-intensity sessions, you can try switching between the different stroke types and adding a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workout to your swimming sessions to further increase your calorie expenditure.

A HIIT workout involves swimming at the maximum intensity you can take for 30 seconds, followed by a 15–30-second rest period, and repeating this routine as many times as possible.

Overall, swimming is a great workout that is good for weight loss and can provide a myriad of other health benefits for you, no matter your age, weight, or fitness level. So, take a dive and just keep swimming towards your fitness goals!

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