Swimming for weight loss is effective when a pool is available for regular workouts. This activity offers a low-impact exercise that's challenging and suitable for building full body strength and cardiovascular endurance.
Swimming is a calorie-burning exercise, but no set amount of time guarantees weight loss. As with any exercise program, noticeable results may require several weeks or a month even when regular exercise is combined with a healthy diet.
Duration and Endurance
No exact measurement exists to calculate a correlation between distance swimming and weight loss. Monitoring relative calorie burn, however, can help guide you through a swimming-based weight loss program.
Numerous variables will influence the exact rate of weight loss because each individual is unique. Swimming is a full-body workout and it can help tone a variety of muscles.
An overweight individual with low muscle mass and cardiovascular capabilities will require more time to build the physical capabilities required for high intensity sessions in the pool.
That same overweight individual has more fat to lose, however, and can experience rapid weight loss in the early phases of a workout program. The key is following a dedicated swimming exercise routine that involves stretching and structured workouts similar to the ones described by ExRx.net.
A fit, highly trained individual wanting to shave a few pounds in the pool will require a very specific diet and high-intensity training to burn off the weight. The exact time required is a relative unknown, but losing several pounds through sweat alone is possible in a single workout. Water loss does not reflect any measure of sustainable weight loss, however, as the swimmer should replace that water to remain hydrated.
Setting big picture goals outside of weight loss is a good way to stay engaged with a swimming workout routine. Goals for distance, duration and general accomplishments inside the pool will really drive weight loss, as you are motivated to improve physically. Track your lap times, vary the swimming strokes and set daily benchmarks to push yourself while losing weight.
Read more: 10 Bucket List Goals to Start Training For
Swimming and Calorie Burn
Calculate the calories burned during swimming workouts and use that to help guide weight loss projections. You can easily use a waterproof fitness band to track the calories burned and convert them into pounds of fat burned.
A single pound of fat contains 3,500 calories, as the Mayo Clinic notes. You can simply track the calories torched in each swimming session to know how many pounds of fat are burned over a period of time.
You must account for the fact that you also consume calories outside of swimming workouts and burn calories doing any number of activities throughout the day. All of this will influence the actual amount of weight loss achieved. Tracking the calories and pounds of fat burned during swimming specifically will help to understand how much weight loss is attributed to the workouts.
While using a fitness tracker is easy, you can manually track calories burned using the metabolic equivalents that show how many calories are burned in a type of workout based on calculations of oxygen consumption relative to energy burned. Luckily, you don't need to know the oxygen and energy calculations, just the metabolic equivalent based on charts with calculations already completed.
The American Council on Exercise associates swimming freestyle laps with a light to moderate effort to 5.8 on the metabolic equivalent scale. An exercise like running at 6 mph is a 9.8 and a higher burn. Walking falls much lower at a 4.3 on the scale.
To determine calories burned per minute while swimming, use this formula: 5.8 x 3.5 x Body weight (KG)/200 = Calories burned per minute
Diet Influences Weight Loss
The journey for weight loss is different for everyone. While swimming workouts will help tremendously, exercise is only one part of the equation.
Diet is a major factor and will determine how much weight loss is actually achieved. For example, swimming daily for a week might burn enough calories for several pounds of weight loss, but eating high calorie, processed foods will slow down your progress.
Eating a diet rich in vegetables, fruits and lean protein will expedite the weight loss process by fueling your body without adding extra fat through processed, unhealthy calories. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends focusing on healthy foods while experimenting to find a diet that fits into your lifestyle.
Basic steps like cutting sugars and saturated fats from your diet are effective as a starting point. Stop eating out, avoid fast food and incorporate more raw vegetables into the diet.
Many people will follow a specific diet program, but using the Centers for Disease Control's advice on experimenting while finding healthy options that work with your lifestyle is a great long-term approach to weight loss and maintenance.
Swimming for Weight Loss
Swimming workouts vary greatly, and the intensity and duration will have a serious effect on body weight. High-intensity workouts burn more calories and increase the speed at which you will lose weight. Low-intensity workouts also remain effective for weight loss, but the calorie burn is slower.
According to Harvard Health Publishing, a 155-pound individual will burn 372 calories in a 30-minute swimming workout. This is a high-intensity workout, but the calorie burn is significant enough to drive weight loss.
It's not unreasonable to assume that swimming several times per week while maintaining a healthy diet will result in fat loss over the course of a single month.
That 372-calorie burn is the rough equivalent of a 30-minute workout jumping rope, sparring in a boxing ring or playing competitive football. That makes swimming a viable form of exercise for fat loss with the added benefit of removing physical contact from the equation. Plus, it's beginner friendly and you can learn by practicing basic strokes in a shallow pool before advancing to full workouts.
Create a Swimming Workout Plan
Structuring your swimming workouts depends on your fitness level and capabilities. Working with a trainer to learn proper technique is useful for beginners. Goggles, a proper suit and swim cap are not required, but they do help and are a good investment for regular pool workouts.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends you treat swimming like any other workout and begin with a warmup and stretching routine before accelerating into high-intensity laps. You can start your laps slowly and gradually increase the intensity throughout your workout.
Start with a single stroke like the freestyle or butterfly and perfect that stroke while gauging your abilities. Begin setting lap number goals or work against a running clock and count the laps to monitor progress.
For example, do a 30-minute workout alternating between freestyle and breaststrokes and count the laps. Record this number and set goals to increase the lap count in future sessions. Gradually, you become a better swimmer while adding more strokes and variety into the workouts.
- American College of Sports Medicine: "Starting a Swim Training Program to Improve Fitness"
- Ace Fitness: "5 Things to Know About Metabolic Equivalents"
- ExRx.net: "Swimming"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for People of 3 Different Weights"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Healthy Weight"
- Mayo Clinic: Counting Calories: "Get Back to Weight Loss Basics"
- New York Times: Swimming for Fitness and Solitude