What to Know About Swimming for Weight Loss

Medically Reviewed by Dany Paul Baby, MD on August 12, 2022
4 min read

Swimming for weight loss is a fun summertime activity that is refreshing and has many other health benefits. For those of us who struggle to work out in hot conditions, deal with aching joints, or have sustained injuries to our back, knees, or ankles, swimming is a great way to increase fitness levels. 

So, how does swimming burn calories to help you lose weight? 

Well, water provides a lot of resistance. When you’re swimming, you’re using all of your body to fight against that resistance in an effort to swim.

Since swimming is classified as a total body workout, it allows your upper body and lower body to be fully engaged and benefit from the exercise that swimming provides, raising your heart rate and allowing you to burn calories.

What makes swimming a good alternative to other exercises, such as walking or jogging, is that swimming is low-impact.  Low-impact exercises are useful if you’re out-of-shape, getting older, or are prone to pain in certain areas of your body such as your joints or back.

In addition to these benefits that make swimming a more viable option for some people, swimming also increases the rate of your  metabolism. A higher metabolism means that you’ll have an increased energy level and burn more calories during periods of rest and activity.

The calories you burn, and the subsequent weight you lose while swimming, will depend on several different factors such as: 

  • Your current weight 
  • Your metabolism 
  • The intensity of the workout and/or the strokes the workout includes

If you’re curious to see an estimate on how many calories you’ll burn during your swimming workout, there are many calorie-counter apps, calculators, and gadgets that can help in your quest to track your weight loss. 

If you’re working toward losing weight by swimming, then you’ll need to find a good workout routine. It’s important to note, however, that even if you have a good workout routine in place, having a bad diet can cause your workout routine to fail when it comes to losing weight. While having a good exercise routine is crucial for weight loss, so is having a good diet.

Since swimming allows your whole body to work harder than what it would on land, 30 minutes in the pool is equal to 45 minutes of working out outside of the pool. As long as you maintain a healthy diet alongside your swimming regime, spending just 30 minutes 3 times a week in the pool will help you stay fit.  

For the best results, it’s important to stay consistent with your swimming routine. With a consistent water workout, you should begin seeing weight loss within 30 days.

Luckily, there are a variety of water aerobics and low-impact workouts that can be done in the pool. With so many different workouts to choose from, you’re less likely to get bored. 

Before we get into some popular exercise techniques, let’s go over some important tips to keep in mind during your workout routine:

  • Consider consulting with your physician first
  • Start with warming up
  • Start slow and work your way up
  • Use pool accessories like noodles and floats 

Swimming laps is a vigorous exercise that will increase your heart rate and breathing significantly.  

The stroke you do when swimming is an important part of losing weight. There are four types of popular swimming strokes that are beneficial for losing weight. These strokes include:

  • Breaststroke: Slow-burning cardiovascular workout. Average of 250 calories burned during a 30-minute workout. Assists in strengthening the heart and lungs and toning the thighs, triceps, upper back, lower legs, and hamstrings. 
  • Backstroke: Slow-burning posture-improving workout. Average of 250 calories burned during a 30-minute workout. Assists in lengthening your spine and helping with your posture while toning the stomach, shoulders, arms, legs, and buttocks, and also developing the flexibility of your hips. 
  • Freestyle: A faster workout with a high-calorie burning potential. Average of 300 calories burned during a 30-minute workout. Assists in toning your shoulders, buttocks, and stomach and has the best impact of these four strokes in toning the muscles in your back.
  • Butterfly: The butterfly stroke is difficult to learn and master and, as such, is not recommended for beginners. Average of 450 calories burned during a 30-minute workout. Effective in building and toning muscles, increasing upper body strength, and improving flexibility. 

Other types of water-based workouts fall into the low-intensity, moderate-intensity, and high-intensity categories. For the best balance and the best results, it’s recommended that a mix of intensities be used. The basics of these three types of workouts are as follows: 

  • Low-intensity: These exercises are great if you have a good chunk of time to spend working out or if you’re looking to improve your stroke or need a recovery day. With low-intensity workouts, you’ll be able to maintain correct techniques for a longer period of time. This helps increase your heart rate and get your body moving. It is perfect for weight loss. You’ll be working at intervals and an effort level of 4 or 5 on a scale of 1 to 10.
  • Moderate-intensity: Moderate-intensity workouts are the most popular workouts amongst swimmers. These workouts are mainly aerobic and will require you to work anywhere from 70% to 80% of your maximum effort, or a level of 7 to 8 or a 1 to 10 scale.
  • High-intensity: These workouts are not for the faint of heart and should not be attempted by beginners. All-out swimming is alternated with periods of rest or recovery swims. With high-intensity workouts, you’ll be swimming more yards in less time, which will require either a 9-or-10-level effort.

No matter what workout you choose to follow, you’ll be able to lose weight while swimming as long as you maintain a healthy diet, too. Remember to mix it up once you get too comfortable.