Swimming deserves much, much more recognition as a top-tier cardio workout than it currently receives. Sure, running and cycling are great, but when it comes to low-impact exercise that's as good for you as it feels, swimming is second to none.
But when it comes to taking a plunge, how many kids and adults actually know how to swim? How common are swimming pool accidents and drownings? And is Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps the fastest swimmer in the world?
Dive into these important swimming statistics to learn about this open-water and pool sport.
Global Swimming Statistics
Professional sports like running, cycling and football (soccer in the U.S.) often get the limelight on the global stage. But the percentages of swimmers in different regions of the world show that the recreational activity is more universal — for adults and children alike — than you might think.
- Roughly 6 million adults in Australia (about 23% of the population) swim, making it the country's No. 1 sport, according to a March 2018 issue of the Journal of the Australian Swimming Coaches & Teachers Association & Swim Australia.
- About 4 million adults in England (about 6% of the population) went swimming between May 2019 and 2020, which is a decrease of 644,000 participants from the previous year, according to Sport England's Active Lives Adult Survey May 2019/2020 report.
- Swim instructors in England spent about 59,631 teaching hours giving children's lessons in December 2017, according to Swim England, the country's governing body for swimming.
- More than 7 million residents and visitors went to swimming pools in Singapore in 2017, according to Singapore in Figures 2018, a report conducted by the Department of Statistics in Singapore.
U.S. Swimming Statistics
Although these swimming stats show many Americans haven't actually taken official lessons, swimming is one of the most popular sports in the U.S.
- Swimming is the fourth most popular recreational sport in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), after walking, running and cycling.
- About 91 million Americans (about 31% of the population) over the age of 16 swim in oceans, lakes and rivers each year.
- About 36% of children 7 to 17 years old swim at least six times each year.
- About 15% of adults swim at least six times each year.
- There are more than 3,100 professional swimming clubs, which include more than 400,000 members, according to USA Swimming, the national governing body for swimming in the country.
- The rates of private swimming lessons from a professional vary by region, according to the American Red Cross' May 2014 Water Safety Poll.
- Midwest: 7%
- South: 14%
- Rural areas: 44%
- Urban areas: 55%
- Suburban areas: 54%
- Midwest: 7%
- According to NBC Sports, the top U.S. swim cities — measured by the number of active swimmers, accessible pools and top-level swimmers — include:
- Ann Arbor, Michigan
- San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California
- Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina
- Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Connecticut
- San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, California
- Fort Collins-Loveland, Colorado
- Madison, Wisconsin
- Austin-Round Rock, Texas
- Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, California
- Indianapolis-Carmel, Indiana
Swimming Statistics by Sex
Swimming, like many other sports, typically puts participants into female or male categories, which is why we use the terms "women" and "men" below. Men tend to outpace women in many sports, but the gender gap in swimming is smaller than ever.
- 43% of women have taken swimming lessons from a certified instructor, according to the American Red Cross.
- 34% of men have taken lessons.
- 44% of men say they taught themselves how to swim.
- 29% of women say they taught themselves how to swim.
- U.S. diving was the only sport at the 2012 Olympic games that had 50% female and 50% male participation, according to a report created by the SHARP Center for Women & Girls, an organization dedicated to helping women and girls become more active and healthy.
- Synchronized swimming had 100% female participation.
- Swimming had 47.5% female participation.
- 53.2% of USA Swimming athletes identify as female, according to USA Swimming.
Swimming Statistics by Ethnicity and Race
African Americans report the most limited swimming ability among racial groups, according to the CDC. (The CDC report categorized people as African American and white. To ensure accuracy, the terms we use below for race and ethnicity reflect the language used in each cited source.)
- 55% of African Americans have taken group or private swimming lessons from an instructor, friend or relative, according to the American Red Cross.
- 23% of African Americans have taken swimming lessons from a friend or relative.
- 27% of African Americans are self-taught swimmers.
- 64% of African American children have little to no swimming ability, according to USA Swimming, compared to:
- 45% of Hispanic/Latino children
- 40% of white children
- Between 1999 and 2010, the rate of African American children (age 5 to 19) drowning in swimming pools was 5.5 times higher than the rate among white children, according to the CDC.
- Only 0.14% of registered year-round USA Swimming athletes identify as African American or Black, according to USA Swimming.
- 0.2% identify as American Indian and/or Alaskan Native
- 0.2% identify as Native Hawaiian and/or other Pacific Islander
- 3.5% identify as Hispanic or Latino
- 6.5% identify as mixed race
- 8.7% identify as Asian
- At the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, Simone Manuel became the first Black American woman to win an Olympic gold medal in swimming, according to Team USA.
- In 2004, Maritza Correia became the first Puerto Rican woman of African American descent to win an Olympic medal in swimming, per USA Swimming.
- Anthony Ervin was the first African American man to make the U.S. Olympic swim team. He was also the first African American man to win a gold medal at the 2000 Sydney games.
Statistics About Swimming Benefits
Aside from instantly cooling you down on a hot day, the health benefits of swimming include improving your cardiovascular endurance, promoting weight loss and protecting your joints.
- Swimming for just an hour three times per week can have a positive effect on your heart health, weight loss and flexibility, according to an October 2015 Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation study.
- After swimming for 30 minutes, a 155-pound person will burn about 223 calories, according to Harvard Health Publishing. Here's how many calories the same person would burn doing 30 minutes of the following swim strokes:
- Backstroke: 298
- Breaststroke: 372
- Butterfly: 409
- Crawl (or freestyle): 409
- Vigorous swimming: 372
- Treading water vigorously: 372
- Swimming for 45 minutes three days a week improved joint pain and stiffness in patients with osteoarthritis in a small March 2016 Journal of Rheumatology study.
- After tracking more than 80,000 adults for more than 20 years, researchers found that swimming was associated with a reduced risk of dying from heart disease in a May 2017 British Journal of Sports Medicine study.
- Adults who swam had a 28% lower risk of all-cause death.
- Adults who swam had a 41% lower risk of death from heart concerns.
- Being in water makes you more buoyant by reducing 90% of your weight, which makes swimming a low-impact exercise that's easier on your joints, bones and muscles, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE).
Statistics About Swimming Risks
Swimming is a safe, effective and relaxing workout, but it comes with some risks. These injury and drowning stats bring to light the importance of practicing water safety and being extra cautious when monitoring young children swimming under your care.
Swimming Injury Statistics
- 40 to 91% of swimming injuries occur in the shoulders, according to a May 2012 Sports Health study.
- After observing 38 competitive swimmers, authors of a September 2013 The Pain Clinic study found that 13 of the men experienced shoulder pain.
- 7 of the men had lower back pain.
- 3 of the men had knee pain.
- Globally, about 3,000 people are fully or partially paralyzed after breaking their necks swimming. Most of these deaths are a result of diving in shallow water, according to the International Life Saving Foundation.
- Between 2005 and 2014, there were an average of 3,536 fatal non-boating-related drownings each year in the U.S., according to the CDC.
- About 1 in 5 people who die of drowning are under the age of 14.
- Almost 80% of people who die from drowning are male.
- 88% of child drownings happen in the presence of at least one adult, according to Stop Drowning Now, a swimming educational platform.
- Most drownings in home swimming pools occur in children between the ages of 1 to 4, according to the CDC.
- Drowning is the third leading cause of unintentional injury death globally, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
- In 2016, there were about 320,000 deaths from drowning worldwide.
- 90% of unintentional drowning deaths occur in middle- and lower-income countries.
- Drowning death rates in Africa are 15 to 20 times higher than in Germany or the U.K.
- The highest drowning rates worldwide are among 1- to 4-year-old children.
- Coastal drowning in the U.S. accounts for about $273 million in costs each year.
- In 2012, about 20% of drowning cases around the world happened in the WHO's Africa region, according to January 2018 research in the South African Medical Journal.
- Alcohol use plays a role in up to 70% of deaths associated with water recreation among adolescents and adults each year, according to the CDC.
- Nearly 25% of drowning-related emergency room visits each year involve alcohol.
- 72% of boating deaths in 2010 were caused by drowning.
- 88% of people who drown boating weren't wearing life jackets.
- Alcohol plays a role in 1 in 5 boating deaths each year.
Swimming Speed Statistics
Take a look at some average swimming speed benchmarks and see where your skills stand. Keep in mind swimming pace varies by distance; for example, someone swimming 100 meters will swim faster than someone swimming a mile.
- The average pace for a 100-meter swim is about 2 minutes, according to U.S. Masters Swimming, which is about 1.8 miles per hour (mph).
- The same person could swim:
- 200 meters in about 4 minutes
- 500 meters in about 10 minutes
- 1,500 meters in about 30 minutes
- The fastest recorded speed for Michael Phelps, the fastest swimmer in the world, is 6 mph, according to ESPN.
- The fastest swim to cross the North Channel between Northern Ireland and Scotland was completed by Michelle Macy in 9 hours, 34 minutes, 39 seconds in July 2013, according to Guinness World Records.
- The fastest swim to across the Leme Pontal (in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil) was completed by Glauco de Oliveira Rangel in 7 hours, 14 minutes in October 2018, according to Guinness World Records.
- The fastest swim across the Persian Gulf was completed by Mohammad Kobadi in 84 days in March 2012, according to Guinness World Records.
- The fastest swim across the Catalina Channel — a 28.5-mile race in California — was completed by Penny Lee Dean in about 7 hours, 15 minutes, 55 seconds in September 1976, according to Swim Catalina.
Competitive Swimming Statistics
The U.S. is home to some of the fastest and most skilled swimmers in the world, but they aren't the only ones breaking records. Other athletes from U.K., France, Sweden, China and Hungary lead the pack.
NCAA Swimming Statistics
- 50-yard freestyle:
- 100-yard freestyle:
- Men: Dressel, 39 seconds, 90 milliseconds (2018)
- Women: Simone Manuel, 45 seconds, 56 milliseconds (2017)
- 200-yard freestyle:
- 500-yard freestyle:
- 1,000-yard freestyle:
- Men: Clark Smith, 8 minutes, 33 seconds, 93 milliseconds (2015)
- Women: Ledecky, 9 minutes, 8 seconds, 4 milliseconds (2016)
- 1,650-yard freestyle:
- Men: Smith, 14 minutes, 22 seconds, 41 milliseconds (2017)
- Women: Ledecky, 15 minutes, 3 seconds, 31 milliseconds (2017)
U.S. 2016 Olympic Swimming Statistics
These are the gold medals that the U.S. swimming team brought home in the most recent Summer Olympics, the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, according to Team USA.
Freestyle Gold Medals
- 50-meter (one lap) freestyle, men: Anthony Ervin, 21 seconds and 40 milliseconds
- 100-meter freestyle, women: Simone Manuel, 52 seconds and 70 milliseconds
- 200-meter freestyle, women: Katie Ledecky, 1 minute, 53 seconds and 73 milliseconds
- 400-meter freestyle, women: Ledecky, 3 minutes, 56 seconds and 46 milliseconds
- 800-meter freestyle, women: Ledecky, 8 minutes, 4 seconds and 79 milliseconds
- 4 x 100-meter freestyle, men: Nathan Adrian, Ryan Held, Michael Phelps and Caleb Dressel, 3 minutes, 9 seconds, 92 milliseconds
- 4 x 200-meter freestyle, men: Conor Dwyer, Townley Haas, Ryan Lochte and Phelps, 7 minutes and 66 milliseconds
- 4 x 200-meter freestyle: Ledecky, Allison Schmitt, Leah Smith and Maya DiRado, 7 minutes, 43 seconds and 3 milliseconds
Backstroke Gold Medals
- 100-meter backstroke, men: Ryan Murphy, 51 seconds and 97 milliseconds
- 200-meter backstroke, men: Murphy, 1 minute, 53 seconds and 62 milliseconds
- 200-meter backstroke, women: DiRado, 2 minutes, 5 seconds and 99 milliseconds
Breaststroke Gold Medals
- 100-meter breaststroke, women: Lilly King, 1 minute, 4 seconds and 93 milliseconds
Butterfly Gold Medals
- 200-meter butterfly, men: Phelps, 1 minute 53 seconds and 36 milliseconds
Medley Gold Medals
- 200-meter medley (a combination of all four swimming strokes), men: Phelps, 1 minute, 54 seconds and 66 milliseconds
- 4 x 100-meter medley, men: Adrian, kathleen baPhelps, Murphy and Cody Miller, 3 minutes, 27 seconds and 95 milliseconds
- 4 x 100-meter medley, women: Manuel, Kathleen Baker, Dana Vollmer and King, 3 minutes, 53 seconds and 13 milliseconds
Top Olympic Swimmers
- The most decorated Olympian of all time, Michael Phelps, has won 28 medals (23 gold) in his athletic career, according to Team USA.
- After winning 7 events at the 1972 Munich Games, swimmer Mark Spitz held the record for most gold medals won at a single Olympic games, according to the official Olympics website.
- Phelps beat this record with 8 gold medals at the 2008 Games in Beijing.
Total Medal Count for Team USA Swimming
After the 2106 Rio olympics, the U.S. swim team walked away with 121 medals (46 gold, 37 silver, 37 bronze), according to Team USA.
These are the current world swim records, according to the Federation Internationale de Natation (FINA).
- 50 meters:
- 100 meters:
- 200 meters:
- Men: Aaron Peirsol, 2 minutes, 7 seconds, 28 milliseconds (2009)
- Women: Smith, 2 minutes, 3 seconds, 35 milliseconds (2019)
- 50 meters:
- 100 meters:
- Men: Peaty, 56 seconds, 88 milliseconds (2019)
- Women: King, 1 minute, 4 seconds, 13 milliseconds (2017)
- 200 meters:
- 50 meters:
- 100 meters:
- Men: Caleb Dressel, 49 seconds, 50 milliseconds (2019)
- Women: Sjoestroem, 55 seconds, 48 milliseconds (2016)
- 200 meters:
- 50 meters:
- 100 meters:
- Men: Cielo Filho, 46 seconds, 91 milliseconds (2009)
- Women: Sjoestroem, 51 seconds, 71 milliseconds (2017)
- 200 meters:
- 400 meters:
- Men: Biedermann, 3 minutes, 40 seconds, 7 milliseconds (2009)
- Women: Katie Ledecky, 3 minutes, 56 seconds, 46 milliseconds (2016)
- 800 meters:
- Men: Lin Zhang, 7 minutes, 32 seconds, 12 milliseconds (2009)
- Women: Ledecky, 8 minutes, 4 seconds, 79 milliseconds (2016)
- 1,500 meters:
- Men: Yang Sun, 14 minutes, 31 seconds, 2 milliseconds (2012)
- Women: Ledecky, 15 minutes, 20 seconds, 48 milliseconds (2018)
The full Ironman triathlon race entails a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile run, according to Bicycling, a leading publication in cycling.
These are the men's and women's top five finish times of all time for the Ironman race, according to the triathlon data website Trirating.
Top 5 Men
Top 5 Women
The Longest Ocean Swims
Historical Facts About Swimming
Although swimming may feel like it has grown more popular in recent years, with many swimmers likely inspired by the success of the U.S. Olympic team, the sport has been in the Olympics for more than 100 years.
- Swimming became an organized sport in the 19th century, according to the official Olympic website.
- Swimming has been a part of the Olympic Games since 1896.
- The first events were the freestyle and breaststroke.
- The backstroke was added in 1904.
- In 1844, the front crawl (freestyle) stroke was first mentioned in a competitive context, according to Swim England.
- The butterfly stroke was introduced in the 1930s, according to Swim England.
- In the 2008 Beijing Olympics, 41-year-old Dara Torres won a silver medal, becoming the oldest Olympic swimming medalist, according to Guinness World Records.
Swimming Pool Statistics
When summer rolls around, everyone's clamoring to get to the nearest swimming pool. Learn how many people actually have a pool, how big the average home pool is and how sanitary public pools are.
- Only about 12% of pool inspections in 2008 found public health violations that led to the immediate closure of the facility, according to the CDC.
- More than 10% of regular pool inspections in the U.S. found violations in levels of disinfectant, which help prevent the spread of germs in pool water.
- About 56% of spas violate local health ordinance and 11% of these violations result in immediate closure.
- An Olympic pool is 50 meters long and 25 meters wide, according to Patagonia Area Resource Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving local mountains and wildlife in Patagonia, Arizona.
- Olympic pools are at least 2 meters deep (6.5 feet).
- Olympic pools hold 660,430 gallons of water.
- There are several common home swimming pool sizes, according to Pool Pricer, a swimming pool industry publication:
- 20 feet long by 10 feet wide
- 30 feet long by 15 feet wide
- 40 feet long by 20 feet wide
- 15.7% of occupied homes in the U.S. have a swimming pool, according to a 2011 Housing Profile conducted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
- Journal of the Australian Swimming Coaches & Teachers Association & Swim Australia: "Swimming in Australia"
- Sport England: "Active Lives Adult Survey May 2019/2o Report"
- Swim England: "Swim Census 2018: Workforce and Learn to Swim Statistics"
- Singapore in Figures 2018: "Singapore in Figures 2018"
- CDC: "Publications, Data, & Statistics"
- USA Swimming: "About USA Swimming"
- American Red Cross: "Water Safety Poll"
- NBC Sports: "USA Swimming Lists Top 50 Swim Cities in U.S."
- Swim Catalina: "Individual Records"
- SHARP Center for Women & Girls: "Women in the Olympic and Paralympic Games"
- USA Swimming: "2019 Membership Demographics Report"
- CDC: "Unintentional Drowning: Get the Facts"
- USA Swimming: "Learn to Swim"
- USA Swimming: "Cultural Inclusion Resource Guide"
- Journal of Exercise Rehabilitation: "Effect of regular Swimming Exercise on the Physical Composition, Strength, and Blood Lipid of Middle-Aged Women"
- Journal of Rheumatology: "Improved Function and Reduced Pain after Swimming and Cycling Training in Patients with Osteoarthritis"
- British Journal of Sports Medicine: "Associations of Specific Types of Sports and Exercise With All-Cause and Cardiovascular-Disease Mortality: a Cohort Study of 80306 British Adults"
- ACE: "Make a Splash With Water Fitness"
- Sports Health: "Epidemiology of Injuries and Prevention Strategies in Competitive Swimmers"
- The Pain Clinic: "Musculoskeletal Pain in Elite Competitive Male Swimmers"
- International Life Saving Foundation: "Drowning Facts and Figures"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for People of Three Different Weights"
- Stop Drowning Now: "Stop Drowning Now"
- World Health Organization: "Drowning"
- South African Medical Journal: "Keeping our Heads Above Water: A Systematic Review of Fatal Drowning in South Africa"
- U.S. Masters Swimming: "Fitness Pace Chart"
- ESPN: "For Comparison's Sake: Aroldis Chapman's Fastball"
- Guinness World Records: "Fastest Swim Crossing of the North Channel"
- Guinness World Records: "Fastest Leme–Pontal Swim"
- Guinness World Records: "Fastest Time to Swim the Persian Gulf"
- NCAA: "Swimming"
- Team USA: "A Look Back at Each of Team USA'S 46 Gold Medals Won at The Rio Olympics"
- Team USA: "Michael Phelps"
- Team USA: "The 29 Most Decorated Female U.S. Olympians of All Time"
- Olympics: "Mark Spitz"
- Team USA: "Team USA's 2016 by the Numbers"
- FINA: "Swimming"
- Bicycling: "Everything You Need to Know About Triathlon Distances"
- TriRating: "Ironman-Distance Rankings"
- Olympic: "History"
- Swim England: "The History of Front Crawl Swimming"
- Swim England: "History of Butterfly Swimming"
- Guinness World Records: "Oldest Olympic Swimming Medallist"
- Patagonia Area Resource Alliance: "How Much Water Does an Olympic Sized Swimming Pool Hold?"
- Pool Pricer: "Inground Pool Sizes: Three Questions to Ask Yourself"
- U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development: "2011 Housing Profile: United States"
- NCAA: "Swimming & Diving Records"