5 Weight Loss Tips While Swimming (From A Trainer)

Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT
Published by Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT | Staff Writer
Last updated: January 6, 2024
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While there's no point in exercising with a bad diet, some exercises can make the fat-loss process a whole lot easier.

Enter swimming.

I've been a competitive swimmer since high school, and over the years, I've managed to trim my weight to healthy levels.

Today, I’m in my best shape, and in the guide below, I’ll share how you can also burn calories through swimming.

Read on.

Quick Summary

  • Use swimming as a HIIT workout, finish strong, stay disciplined and patient, and don't overeat after swimming to effectively lose weight. 
  • Swimming engages major muscle groups, including the torso, legs, arms, and stomach, offering a comprehensive full-body workout.
  • A study in the National Library of Medicine found that middle-aged women who swam for one hour three times a week experienced significant fat loss within just 12 weeks.
  • In my professional experience, swimming's low-impact nature makes it an ideal exercise for individuals of all ages and fitness levels, especially those with joint issues.

Is Swimming a Good Workout for Weight Loss?

Top view of a professional swimmer

Yes, swimming is a good workout for fat loss. The water amplifies the resistance during swimming, allowing more calorie burn compared to other cardio workouts.

From my experience, swimming has been a game-changer in clients weight-loss journeys.

The resistance of the water means every stroke is a mini-workout in itself, helping them burn more calories than they ever did with other cardio exercises.

It’s also a low-impact exercise [1]. In my opinion, this aspect is way underrated.

I've got knee problems, so I can't perform most joint-intense cardio exercises.

Swimming, however, hardly trashes my knees while losing weight. It evens the playing field and will work for anybody in any age group.

The best part is that it allows me to work muscles between muscles, even when my form isn't perfect, and it is good for alignment.

So, if you're considering swimming for fat loss, go for it. For beginners, look for a certified personal trainer.

It has numerous fat-loss benefits,  not to mention other health benefits.

How Does Swimming Help You Lose Body Weight?

Two women swimming in an indoor pool

Swimming helps you lose body weight by burning lots of calories.

Swimming requires an individual to utilize their stomachs, arms, legs,  and torso, using practically every significant muscle group.

Swimming, like many forms of aerobic activity, burns fat and can make you lose weight.

The thing that differentiates swimming from other cardio workouts is that it produces added resistance, pushing you to engage your muscles more.

Swimming develops your lower, core, and upper muscles all at once, providing you a full-body exercise and overall muscular definition than other aerobic activities such as jogging [2].

The butterfly, for instance, engages your chest,  shoulders, and arms, whereas the backstroke works your quadriceps, back, and abs.

And as you gain muscular mass, you burn more fat.

Swimming Techniques for Maximum Calorie Burn

Here's a guide to the most effective swimming styles for shedding pounds:

  • Freestyle for efficiency: To optimize calorie burn, focus on maintaining a consistent pace and use bilateral breathing to ensure balanced muscle development.
  • Butterfly for intensity: The butterfly stroke is demanding and burns more calories than other strokes. The key is in the undulating movement and simultaneous arm action, which works the core, chest, shoulders, and back muscles intensely.
  • Interval training with backstroke: This stroke provides a full-body workout, targeting the back, shoulders, legs, and core. Swimming backstroke at varying speeds – alternating between fast and moderate paces – can enhance calorie burn and improve endurance.
  • Breaststroke for muscle toning: While breaststroke is less intense, it's excellent for toning muscles and improving strength. It's a full-body workout that particularly targets the chest, arms, and leg muscles.

How Many Calories Does Swimming Burn?

A woman swim training

Swimming the breaststroke for 30 minutes burns roughly 370 calories, whereas swimming freestyle burns approximately 405 calories.

In contrast, you lose 105 calories for 30 minutes of fast walking or 305 calories for 30 minutes of 6-mile-per-hour jogging, according to Harvard Health [3].

Swimming's fat-burning effects are realized quickly.

According to a study in the National Library of Medicine, middle-aged females who swam for 1 hour three times a week shed a considerable amount of fat within only 12 weeks.

They also increased their endurance and agility and even decreased their cholesterol [4].

"Swimming is one of the greatest cardiovascular exercises any individual of any age can perform, despite being quite difficult and occasionally terrifying."

- Kris Gagne, ASCA-Certified Swim Coach.

5 Tips for Maximizing Fat Burn When Swimming

Top view of a professional swimmer in the pool

Here are a few swimming tips I use to maximize my swimming fat-loss potential.

1. Swimming as High-intensity Interval Training

Hard swimming will allow you to realize the full benefits of swimming.

When I incorporated high-intensity interval training (HIIT) into my swimming routine, the results were transformative.

By alternating between intense bursts of effort and periods of rest, not only did I burn significant calories, but I also saw a noticeable improvement in my muscle tone and cardiovascular health.

According to WebMD, swimming burns calories to bring you to a caloric deficit [5].

High-intensity swimming in short bursts is the best form of cardio and muscle development you'll get from the pool.

While recreational swimmers can still get a decent amount of calories from long-distance swimming, the short 20-minute sessions of high-paced swimming intervals will give better results.

2. Finish Strong

If you’re a recreational swimmer, I’d suggest you try finishing your sessions strong.

Personally, I sprint in the last few laps for maximum metabolic effect on my cardiovascular system.

It’s much like doing heavy weights and crunches. The aching muscles will delay lethargy and hunger pangs.

3. Be Aware of Hunger Reflexes

A woman in a swimming pool with her back turned around the camera

Many people find that exposure to cold water triggers hunger reflexes.

A swimmer’s hunger after a workout is legendary, and this is why you should pay attention to your calorie intake to ensure you don’t eat what you just burned [6].

I love to schedule my swim laps on an empty stomach right before lunch and dinner because I find it easier to give in to the desire to eat after a meal.

However, I always plan for it and control the calories to ensure it doesn't ruin my goals. But you could try to swim after a meal or even before eating breakfast.

If you need to eat before swimming, you can check out our guide on the best foods to eat before swimming.

4. Discipline is Key

Swimming requires more discipline than anything else.

Remember, it's a full-body workout, so if you breathe wrong or perform an incorrect stroke, you're screwing your entire body.

Therefore, having a coach or a swimming plan may help relieve the burden of structuring your swim sessions, improving your technique, and ensuring you've got a clear sight of your goals.

5. Patience is Important

I must point out to fresh starters that there will be muscle buildup. The buildup can negate the fat loss and can be quite demotivating.

Instead, I suggest adding another metric to your progress, like tracking your body fat.

FAQs

Can Swimming Help You Lose Belly Fat?

Yes, regular swimming can help burn belly fat, but understand that it doesn't specifically target stomach fat. Instead, swimming burns the excess fat throughout the body.

Which Stroke Burns The Most Calories?

The butterfly stroke burns the most calories. However, it's an advanced move and not for beginners.

Will I Lose Weight Swimming 30 Minutes A Day?

Yes, you will lose fat by swimming 30 minutes a day, especially when combined with a well-balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.


References:

  1. https://www.thenationshealth.org/content/48/7/16
  2. https://www.medicinenet.com/swimming/article.htm
  3. https://www.health.harvard.edu/diet-and-weight-loss/calories-burned-in-30-minutes-for-people-of-three-different-weights
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4625655/
  5. https://www.webmd.com/diet/calorie-deficit
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2952805/
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About The Author

Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer
Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Holistic Nutrition from Clayton College of Natural Health and is the owner of Taylor Made Fitness. Her philosophy centers on cutting through the hype and misinformation surrounding dietary supplements, focusing instead on practical, science-backed strategies for health and weight loss.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Kristy June Dayanan, BS, MD is an author with a BS degree from University of the Philippines and an MD from University of Perpetual Help System. Her ability to simplify medical science complexities and dietary supplement jargon for the average reader makes her a valued medical fact checker and reviewer.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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