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Swimming for Weight Loss : The Ultimate Guide

Is swimming good for weight loss? Discover everything you need to know about shaping up in the pool with our ultimate guide.

When most of us want to lose a few pounds, we often think about joining a gym or an exercise class.

And sure, spending time pounding the treadmill and pumping iron is a good way to lose weight. But what if there was a more enjoyable way to get in shape?

Yes, we’re talking about swimming for weight loss. Swimming is the perfect exercise to help you build a lean, toned physique.

In this post, we’ll cover everything you need to know about getting in the pool and getting the results you’re looking for.

By the end you’ll know:

  • How swimming can help you crush your weight loss goals
  • How much you’ll need to swim to lose weight
  • The best swimming strokes for weight loss
  • How to create an effective swimming training programme for weight loss
  • How to support your weight loss with good nutrition
  • Plus 3 ways to take your swimming weight loss plan to the next level

Without further ado let’s jump in and get in shape!

How Does Swimming Help You Lose Weight?

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Swimming helps you lose weight in just the same manner as any other form of exercise – it burns calories.

A calorie is simply a unit that represents the amount of energy in food and when we’re swimming laps our muscles require this energy (or calories) to power us through the water.

By expending calories in the pool, we’re able to help create what’s known as a calorie deficit.

A calorie deficit just means that you’re consuming fewer calories than your body requires to meet the demands being placed on it.

When that happens, your body draws on your fat stores (among other things) to keep everything running smoothly.

Another way of putting it: think of your excess weight like a savings account that your body’s built up over time. To deplete the account, you have to start overspending your energy – and swimming is a fantastic way to burn that energy quickly.

Lean Muscle, Better Hormones & Improved Mental Health

In addition to burning calories, swimming aids weight loss in a couple of other ways too. For example, the water provides resistance which helps you build lean muscle tissue.

And without boring you to death with a physiology lecture, essentially the more muscle tissue you have the more calories you can consume and the more efficiently you’ll burn fat.

Plus, regular swimming sets up a more favourable hormonal environment within your body. This means that the food you eat will be less likely to be stored as fat and more likely to be used as fuel in your muscles.

What’s more, swimming has been shown to seriously boost mental health. That matters because there’s heaps of research documenting how it’s easier to reach your weight loss goals when you’re not contending with the symptoms like low motivation, anxiety and depression.

Swim-England

Lastly, swimming is a low-impact sport. The low level of stress it places on your joints means it’s particularly suited to participants who’re carrying a few extra pounds.

Healthy weight loss is a marathon, not a sprint. Swimming is an activity that you’ll be able to do for months and years without exposing yourself to a high risk of injury. This matters because the longer you can maintain your exercise program, the more benefits you’ll get.

How Many Calories Does Swimming Burn?

Many-Calories-Does-Swimming-Burn

The number of calories that your body burns while swimming depends on several factors such as your:

  • Gender
  • Weight
  • Body composition
  • Level of exertion

Let’s look at some general examples to see how swimming stacks up compared to running.

How Your Weight Affects The Number of Calories Burned

Your weight has a massive influence on how many calories you burn while swimming. Which makes sense when you think about it – heavier objects require more energy to move them.

Below are estimated figures from the American College of Sports Medicine. These are based on research and are based on time – 60 minutes of swimming – as opposed to distance.

  • A 60kg individual swimming front crawl for one hour will burn approximately 590 calories if swimming quickly and 413 calories if swimming slower.
  • A 70kg individual swimming front crawl for one hour will burn 704 calories if swimming quickly 572 if swimming slower.
  • An 80kg individual swimming front crawl for one hour will burn 817 calories if swimming quickly 572 if swimming slower.
  • A 90kg individual swimming front crawl for one hour will burn 931 calories if swimming quickly 651 if swimming slower.

These are sizable numbers when you consider that the recommended daily calorie intake for women is between 1,600 to 2,400 calories per day and between 2,000 to 3,000 calories per day for men.

To get a good personal estimate of how many calories you’re burning, check out this handy swimming calorie calculator.

Which Stroke Burns Most Calories?

Each stroke uses different muscles and some are more efficient than others which means they don’t all burn calories equally.

According to Swim England, butterfly tops the list when it comes to burning calories with the average person using 921 calories per hour of swimming.

Freestyle isn’t far behind with 808 calories per hour. Breaststroke clocks in at 734, while backstroke comes in at 505 calories per hour.

But while butterfly might be the biggest burner, it’s probably not ideal for weight loss given how technical it is and how hard it is to sustain for more than a couple of lengths.

In reality, there is no one best stroke for weight loss. Instead, a well-balanced program will have a mix of all strokes to keep things interesting and develop your body symmetrically.

Having said that, if you want to choose just one stroke for swimming workouts, make it freestyle. Freestyle strikes the balance between being easy to master, easy to sustain for longer swims while also burning a decent amount of calories.

Which Exercise Burns Most Calories: Swimming or Running?

According to Harvard Health, jogging at 5mph and swimming backstroke both burn approximately 355 calories for 30 minutes of activity (for a person weighing 85kg).

The BBC found slightly different figures. But as you can see, most swimming activities clock in around 250-350 calories per 30 minutes.

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However, when comparing exercise types, a huge factor in determining how many calories you’ll burn is the level of intensity you’re training at.

Bump up your backstroke to a faster pace and you’ll start burning significantly more calories than if you’re swimming easy. Same goes for running.

Similarly, workout duration also plays a big role. If you train backstroke for 45 minutes but only run for 30 at the same level of difficulty, you’ll burn 25% more in the pool than on land.

Depending on your fitness level and experience, you may be able to sustain speedy swimming for longer than you can jog at an equivalent intensity or vice-versa.

Ultimately, the best exercise for burning calories is the one that you enjoy doing. If you’re dreading your workouts then it’s less likely that you’ll have the motivation to get them done.

Does Swimming Burn Belly Fat?

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Yes, but not directly. Swimming is a great way to get a leaner midsection. But with all weight loss – it’s impossible to lose fat in one specific place.

Despite what you might read online, no form of exercise preferentially sheds fat from your belly. Instead, it all comes down to calories in vs calories out over time. That’s just the science of it.

But if swimming is something you enjoy, that means you’ll find it easier to do it consistently. And when you exercise constantly and keep your diet in check, you’ll tone up all over, including around your midsection.

How Much Swimming Do You Need to Lose Weight?

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For all it’s complexity, at its core weight loss can be boiled down to simple mathematics.

For example, a pound of fat contains roughly 3500 calories. So, to burn a pound of fat, you need to expend 3500 calories more than you consume.

Now, according to the NHS, a safe rate of weight loss is to shoot for is to lose about 1-2lbs per week.

Therefore, since we know that a pound of fat has roughly 3500 calories – losing a pound per week would mean you need to be in a caloric deficit of ~500 kcal/day.

For a 70kg individual, that can be achieved by swimming front crawl for about 45 minutes per day or around about five hours in total per week.

If you’re just starting, that might seem like an awful lot of swimming. However, you don’t have to achieve such a deficit through exercise alone – your diet can play a huge role too.

For example, if you reduce your food intake by 250kcal/day at the same time, that means you can hit your weight loss goal by swimming for just 2.5 hours per week. That’s equivalent to just 3 sessions of ~45 minutes – something that most people could probably fit into their schedule.

If that seems like too much don’t worry. It’s important to remember that all swimming (and physical activity for that matter) counts. Some exercise is always better than none.

Even if you can’t commit to 3 sessions per week, just one will have a positive impact and keep you moving towards your goal. What matters most is that you set a goal that is achievable and sustainable for you.

How to Create a Swimming Training Program for Weight Loss

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Okay, so we know that swimming laps for weight loss is a great way to whip you into shape. So, let’s’ delve into how you can create a simple, but effective training routine that’ll get you the results you’re looking for.

Set a weight loss goal

A well-planned goal can help you convert your thoughts into actions. So, before you do anything let’s set a realistic goal that you can aim for.

Begin by deciding what your goal weight is. Then map out how many weeks it’ll take you to get there. As mentioned above, a good starting point is to aim to lose 1-2lbs per week.

To illustrate, suppose I currently weigh 180lbs, but my goal is to weigh 165bs. That means it’s going to take me approximately 15-16 weeks to get where I want to be.

Now go beyond that and set smaller goals for each week that support your overall goal – for example: “This week I will go swimming 4 times for 30 minutes”.

Once you start to quantify where you want to be and map out the path to get there, you’ll be able to stay focused, celebrate small wins along the way and arrive at your goal without feeling like your life has been turned upside down.

Note: Our weight naturally fluctuates from day-to-day. So, when tracking your weight loss, don’t get caught up in daily readings. Instead, log your weight every day at the same time and then at the end of the week, add your daily numbers together and divide it by 7. Tracking your weight week-to-week will give you a much more accurate picture of how you’re progressing.

Figure out how much time you’ve got to commit

We’re all super busy these days which is one of the reasons that so many struggle to maintain a regular exercise schedule.

But to reach your goal, you’re going to need to be consistent in your swimming habits. Review your diary and work out what’s the minimum amount of time you can dedicate to swimming laps.

Once you’ve done that, pencil it in and make it part of your routine. Ideally, choose a time of the day when unexpected events are less likely to emerge such as the early morning. Additionally, packing your bag and leaving it by the door will serve as a reminder to hit the pool while also removing the barrier of having to find all of your gear.

Design your warm-up

Planning your workouts is a good idea because it makes it easy to know what you need to do and also ensures that you’re staying consistent over time.

The first part of any swimming workout is the warm-up. The warm-up will get your blood pumping and your muscles ready for action. It’ll also work on any technical aspects of your stroke that need improvement.

Here are some warm-ups you can steal (rest for 10s between each repetition):

Beginner Intermediate Advanced
2 x 25m front crawl 2 x 50m front crawl 4 x 50m front crawl
50m own choice kick 100m own choice kick 200m own choice kick
2 x 25m own choice drill 4 x 25m own choice drill 6 x 25m own choice drill

Create your main set

Your main set will be the meat and potatoes of your swimming workout. Here are some ideas to inspire your own sessions: (rest 10-20s between repetitions)

Beginner Intermediate Advanced
12 x 25m front crawl (alternate 1 hard/1 easy) 8 x 50m front crawl
8 x 25m back crawl
8 x 100m individual medley
8 x 25m sprint front crawl

Keeping your main sets consistent for several weeks allows you to see improvements over time as you become a stronger swimmer.

Plan your cool down

By the end of your main set, you should be breathing hard and feeling warm. So, to wrap up your session it’s wise to bring your body gradually back to its resting state with a short cool-down.

Here are some ideas to inspire your own:

Beginner Intermediate Advanced
100m own choice stroke nice and easy 2 x 100m easy kick 300m front crawl (25 drill/25 swims)

While planning your sessions is a great way to keep you progressing, if you do want to just swim for total time or total distance – that can work too.

As a coach, I prefer a structured and measurable approach. But I also understand that some people just want to get in the water and work out. Sure, it’s not 100% optimal, but it is 100% better than staying at home on the couch.

As Michael Allon – a man who lost 100lbs while swimming – the important thing is to get started, once you get the ball rolling, everything falls into place:

The Importance of Your Diet For Weight Loss & Swimming

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As we touched on above, what you eat can have a huge impact on your ability to lose weight.

Swimming can help you burn excess calories, but it’s also very easy to add those calories back in by overeating.

While a full nutritional guide is beyond the scope of this article, here’s 3 easy steps to get you started on your journey:

  • Head over to TDEEcalculator.net, input your height, weight and age to figure out roughly how many calories you require daily.
  • Reduce whatever your TDEE is by 20% – this is your daily intake goal for weight loss.
  • Download an app called MyFitnessPal, and use it to log everything you eat for one week. It’s super easy and it’ll allow you to see how your eating habits line up with your goals.

Now, the point here isn’t to start obsessing over calories or the foods you eat. It’s simply to give you a ballpark figure of what you need to be eating vs how you’re currently doing.

Once you’ve got a handle on that, here’s sound advice from the NHS that’ll support your journey:

  • Eat regular meals
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Get lots of fruit and veggies in
  • Eat high fibre foods
  • Use a smaller plate
  • Don’t stock junk food
  • Cut down on alcohol
  • Plan your meals

It’s important to remember that if you’re currently overeating, that’s ok. If you’re not losing weight, that’s ok too. Everyone has to start somewhere and the fact that you’re making an effort means you’re on the right trajectory.

Similar to exercise, the best dietary program is the one you can stick to. So find something you enjoy and that you can sustain for months to come. Skip fad diets, quick fixes or anything else that promises unrealistic results. Instead, focus on nourishing your body with wholesome foods that you like (and the odd treat here and there is ok too!).

How to Step-up Your Swimming Weight Loss Plan

Now it’s time to kick things up a gear – here’s 3 tips to help you accelerate your results:

Increase the intensity, duration or frequency of training

Increase-the-intensity-duration-or-frequency-of-training

Once you’ve established a routine of swimming, it’s time to start increasing one or more of the training variables. That’s just a fancy way of saying you need to do one of the following:

Doing this will ensure your swimming training is always progressing and doesn’t become stagnant.

The best way to do this is to start small and consistently aim for small improvements; for example, you could aim to add an extra repetition to our main set per session every week. So, if you’re doing 6 x 50m this week, aim for 7 x 50m next week.

Alternatively, you could reduce the amount of rest time you’re taking between sets to make your training harder, or add an extra training session on the weekend.

It doesn’t really matter what increases you make, as long as you constantly challenge yourself to work hard in the water.

Get good sleep

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Proper sleep will give your body the chance to recover after hard training in the pool. Not only that, but sleep has also been shown to be instrumental in the fat loss process.

Without adequate rest, your hormones get thrown out of whack which causes a whole bunch of nasty stuff like increasing your appetite and pumping-up your stress levels.

So for better sleep and faster weight loss make sure that:

  • You’re not drinking caffeine after 3 pm
  • You’re going to bed and getting up at the same time each day
  • You turn in before 11 pm (if possible)
  • You’re not using your phone in bed
  • You’re not exercising hard within an hour of bedtime

Add resistance training

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Resistance training is a fantastic addition to any swimming weight loss plan. A well-designed resistance training routine can help you avoid developing any injuries in the pool.

But in addition, training with weights (or your bodyweight) signals to your body to retain muscle mass when you’re in a calorie deficit. This means your body will preferentially burn body fat for energy instead of muscle tissue allowing you to develop a more impressive body composition.

If you’re not sure where to get started with resistance training, check out our home workout guide and add 1-2 sessions per week alongside your swimming sessions.

Find Swimming Classes for Weight Loss

Putting everything in this article together yourself is certainly doable. But as with anything worth doing, it’s going to be challenging.

One way to make your weight loss journey easier is to find swimming classes or working with a coach who offers private swimming lessons.

Doing this keeps you accountable, focused and invested in the process. Plus there are lots of other benefits too like:

  • You’ll get valuable feedback about your swimming technique
  • You’ll build more confidence in the water
  • You’ll benefit from tailored learning
  • You won’t have to plan everything yourself

In other words, using a coach or swimming classes to your advantage will give you the best chance of reaching your weight loss goals and achieving lasting success. It’s not a requirement – but it certainly helps make the process less daunting.

Ready to get started?

Swim Now offers swimming lessons for people of all ages in luxury facilities across the UK. No matter what skill level or age you are, we can help you smash your fitness goals. Take the first step towards a healthier, happier you and request a callback now.

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by Alistair Mills

In 2016 I saw an opportunity for a new swimming company that did things a little bit differently and here we are almost 4 years later, having built a family of teachers and clients that we are all really proud of.

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