is swimming good for weight loss

Those of you who wish to lose weight naturally look for the best exercises that can give fast results, are fun, and also worth every minute you spend doing them.

When I first started my weight loss journey, I tried out different exercise routines but found that none of them held my interest for long. I tried running because I knew it was the best possible way to burn calories, but soon found out that it was taking a toll on my feet.

When I started my weight loss journey I was simply too heavy to jog. I also suffered from plantar fasciitis so running was definitely not for me.

That is when I decided to take up swimming for weight loss. Swimming is fun and an ideal activity for losing weight all year round. The best part about swimming is that you can incorporate numerous fun aquatic workouts and refreshing ways to burn calories.

But there has always been a debate surrounding swimming to lose weight: whether it really is one of the best exercises that can help one lose weight? Experts are also often divided on this question, simply because its answer is as complex as is the human body.

So read on to discover what swimming does to our body and whether it is indeed a great form of exercise to take up in order to build and tone muscles, burn fat and, most importantly, lose weight.

Does Swimming Help you Lose Weight?

Swimming is a great exercise that can help you lose weight and this has been stated for a fact by many physiologists including ones at the St. Luke’s New York Center for Obesity.

However, the answer to the question: ‘Is swimming good for weight loss?’ is not a straightforward one. Losing weight has always been about finding the right balance between nutrition and exercise. So, while swimming for losing weight will show you results, you must, ideally, also create an energy deficit. This means you must try to burn more calories than you consume in order to lose weight with swimming.

The best part about swimming for losing weight is that it is ideal for people who have knee issues or who cannot take up other forms of cardio like cycling or running for weight loss. All one needs is an access to a swimming pool, public or private, in order to take up this activity for good. Swimming is great in summers (and winters if you have a heated pool).

[pullquote align=”right”]Did you know? Swimming burns more calories than walking and as much calories as running. [/pullquote]

Not many people realise that on an average, swimming laps at a moderate pace can help you burn up to 270 calories in 30 minutes (of course there are many variables to be considered here-such as the speed at which you swim, your body weight and so on). If you step up this pace, you can even burn 300 calories or more in half an hour.

This is a lot more than walking which allows you to burn only around 140 calories during a half an hour walk.

Swimming vs. Running. Which Activity Burns More Calories? Does Swimming Burn Fat?

Swimming is much easier on your joints than running, which is beneficial for injury prevention but running increases bone-mineral density more than non-weight-bearing exercises, such as swimming, so both types of workouts have their pros and cons.

​Does swimming burn more calories than running?

You are likely to burn more calories running on a treadmill for 1 hour than you will swimming for 30 minutes. Harvard Health Publications reported that an average adult burns 744 calories running for 1 hour at a pace of 6 miles per hour, but only burns 372 calories swimming the breaststroke for 30 minutes. If you boost your swimming to the same duration (1 hour), you’ll burn the same amount of calories (744) as you would running at the same speed for the same amount of time.

If you make up your mind and swim for an hour, you are indeed in for some serious calorie burning. Here are some common swimming strokes along with approximate calorie burn in 10 minutes:

  • Breast stroke - 60 calories
  • Back stroke - 80 calories
  • Butterfly stroke - 150 calories
  • Freestyle - 100 calories

I feel that the main reason why swimming and weight loss go hand in hand is the fact that it is a great stress busting activity. Most swimmers report feeling a kind of ‘peace washing over them while they swim’; this beautiful meditative exercise actually stops the mind’s endless chatter and induces a feeling of calm and tranquillity.

Since your stress reduces, so do your cortisol levels (a stress hormone) which is responsible for fat storage. This could be the additional reason why swimming is ideal for weight loss.

What Else Does Swimming Do to Your Body?

As stated above, a single swimming session of half an hour can help you burn up to 200-300 calories. Here are some other effects swimming for weight loss can have on the body:

  • Swimming offers our body what no other aerobic exercise offers - the ability to work out the entire body without any negative impact on the skeletal system.
  • It increases muscle tone since every kick and arm stroke is facing resistance. So it is not just cardio but also resistance exercise and we all know that resistance exercises are the best for toning muscles.
  • It boosts your joint health. In the long run as it gives your joints a broad range of motion keeping them loose and flexible.
  • Swimming for losing weight also strengthens the heart and enables it to pump blood more efficiently through the body.
  • Swimming is not only great for fat loss. It can actually combat the body’s inflammatory responses and prevent diseases. Many swimmers report increased immunity to common seasonal and chronic health issues.
  • Swimming increases good cholesterol. Even a 1% rise in HDL or good cholesterol can reduce your risk of heart disease by 3.5%.
  • Swimming is ideal for diabetic patients as this aerobic exercise can increase insulin sensitivity.
  • Swimming, as already stated before, is a meditative exercise that can help you combat stress, and even give you a better, sharper brain! It can be taken up as a sport to combat anxiety. (Hint: use a quality weighted blanket for adults at night to relax). There is nothing as relaxing as doing laps in the pool.

And finally, you just might live longer! University of South Carolina researchers discovered that those who swam had 50% lower death rate than walkers, runners or people with little or no exercise!

Swimming and Weight Loss: Tips for Curbing Post-Workout Appetite

Many swimmers tend to experience a rapid weight loss once they first take up swimming. However, over the course of time, many of them actually gain weight. In some cases, the weight gain is due to increased lean muscle mass. But in many swimmers, the drastic weight gain is attributed to their extreme post workout hunger.

One reason for the sudden rise in hunger after swimming is due to the fact that the water in the swimming pool cools down the body rapidly. As compared to other forms of cardio workouts such as cycling or running which increase the body’s fat burning ability, swimming causes the body to seek extra energy in order to regulate the temperature.

In running and cycling, the body’s core temperature increases as a result of which its appetite suppressing mechanism is triggered. This is not the case in swimming. So, in order to counter the extreme post-swimming appetite, one must watch their net calorie intake and choose smart snacking.

It is especially important to avoid the mentality that ‘heck, I can have that extra slice of pizza now that I am swimming regularly to lose weight.’ All in all, more and more experts are now of the opinion that cycling and swimming are more or less the same when it comes to losing weight and no one is superior than the other provided one curbs the net calorie gain.

To lose weight through swimming, physiologists and dietitians recommend a combination of diet plan with swimming. Tests have shown that swimmers who decrease their net calorie gain and focus on a balanced diet can expect to shed about 5 to 6 times weight by swimming than swimmers who do not decrease calorie intake.

Here are some important tips to stave off extreme hunger after a swimming for fat loss workout:

  • Calculate your net calorie intake through online databases like this one.
  • Eat a small snack after swimming. Ideal snack examples are: a medium apple with 1 tablespoon of peanut butter. (Approximately 160 calories).
  • You could also have low fat yogurt with some fruit. (Approximately 200 calories)
  • Eat one or two fig bars after the swim (about 110 calories) or two sports bars (about 200 calories).
  • Fill up on high fibre foods during each meal to keep you full longer.

How to Swim to Lose Weight?

Any form of swimming is good for weight loss. Swimming, as we have seen, is a form of cardio which is deemed as the single best predictor of keeping extra kilos off. Naturally, any form of exercise can help you lose weight provided it is done using proper techniques.

Here are some expert recommended swimming tips to use when adapting swimming to lose weight. Later, I will cover two of the best swimming workouts for weight loss.

  • Watch your intensity levels – You have to push yourself harder to get your heart pumping. Do watch your intensity levels as you swim. Do not be under the misperception that ‘I am already doing what I can do in the pool’. This mentality is not beneficial if you are swimming to lose weight.
  • Watch the number of laps - A key to losing weight by swimming is to count how many laps you actually do. I watch for signs like ‘feeling a bit winded or fatigued’. That is when I know I have done enough for the day.
  • Turn up the heat - Whether you are swimming in a heated pool or not, you must work out until you sweat a bit. Turn up the ‘heat’ and ensure you swim till your face feels hot (it is best to seek medical advice before swimming especially if you have a heart condition).
  • Best Swimming workouts to lose weight in specific body parts - If, for example, you have some extra fat around the thighs, then lie on the kick board and put some mileage on it. This is a sure-fire method of losing inches off the thighs through swimming. An expert suggested tip when using the kick board is to stay in line and on the top of the water. Kick hard in this position to see the weight melt off your thighs and stomach. This is one of the best ways to lose weight and get beautiful legs at the same time.
  • Pay attention to leg position - Each time you get your legs closer to the surface (instead of letting them drift down) and into a parallel position, it forces your body to work harder.
  • Do some sprint sets - To feel the burn do some sprints 3x100m, 4x50m and so on. This will challenge you and keep things fun. I have discussed best swimming workouts for weight loss below.

Here are some more nutritional tips for how to swim for losing weight:

  • Be committed - Like any form of exercise for weight loss, swimming needs daily commitment. Aim to swim for at least 3 times a week for 30 to 45 minutes. 
  • Avoid eating anything before a swim – If you swim in the morning, do it on an empty stomach for avoiding nausea. If you plan on taking intervals between your swims, you can eat high protein energy bars or above suggested snacks to replenish your body.
  • Watch your fluid needs - Swimmers lose water irrespective of whether you are swimming in the cold or hot season. Dehydration is often mistaken for hunger, so do make sure to drink 2-3 litres of water daily when you swim. To calculate your fluid needs, use this formula: for every kilogram of water loss (measured through before and after swimming weight), drink 1.5 litres of water/fluids. Drink plenty of water before and after each swim as well as before and after all meals. Avoid fruit juices, cordial and so called high energy sports drinks. These unnecessary add to your calorie intake.
  • Find non-food ways of rewarding yourself after swimming.
  • Eat slowly and mindfully - Get up off the plate once you are full.
  • Watch your Iron levels - If you feel extreme fatigue during and after swimming for weight loss, check your Iron levels. Talk to a doctor about getting Iron supplements or the right meals for this important mineral.

Best Swimming Workouts to Lose Weight and for Fat Loss. How to Swim to Burn Fat?

I think, by now I have answered your question: ‘Can you lose weight by swimming?’ If you still feel you need specific swimming workouts for fat loss, below are some ideas.

Choose a (standard size) 50 metre lap pool. Get your gear together (swimsuit, goggles, ear plugs). You will also need a paddle, kickboard, leg buoy, and fins, if you want to do more in the pool than just swimming laps. Do a warm up of 100 metres (which means you are ‘there and back’ in a 50 metre pool.

  • Swimming exercise workout to lose weight 1:
    After warm up, you can do 100 metres arms (use leg buoy), 100 metres kick (use kickboard), 100 metres breaststroke, 200 metres alternate between strokes you like, 100 metres breaststroke again and cool down with a backstroke or freestyle.
  • Swimming exercise workout to lose weight and burn fat 2:
    After warm up, do 100 metres each of breaststroke, kick (kickboard), arms (leg buoy), 2x50 metres freestyle and cool down with 100 metres of stroke of your choice.

As always, please exercise caution and come out of the pool immediately if you feel breathless, extreme fatigue or experience chest pains. The advice given above for swimming exercises for weight loss are not to be used by people having pre existing/ life threatening medical conditions. Always swim in a protected and monitored area with a life guard present at all times.

Swimming helped me lose weight and slim my mid-section remarkably. It is now something I enjoy doing regularly to make sure I keep my weight down and maintain healthy, trim body I can be proud of.

About the Author

Barbara is the founder and owner of She is a former research scientist with a serious passion for health. She enjoys writing about nutrition, wellness and lifestyle and empowering people to take control of their health.

  • A very comprehensive discussion of the benefits of swimming. Learning the various swimming strokes is a good idea, following which one can choose which style they prefer the most. Of course, the calories burned will differ for each style.

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