Looking to burn some calories and get in a great cardio workout, but hate running or dripping sweat everywhere? We have some great news for you! Swimming is one of the best workouts out there to help you burn calories and get in shape.
With its low impact, fantastic cardiovascular, and full-body workout, it’s easy for any age to try.
We’ll admit though, it’s more than just getting into the water and splashing around. You’ll have to swim some laps and put in some effort while doing those laps to see any type of reward.
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Here are some things to know about how many calories you can burn during swimming. And how you can burn even more.
Disclaimer: We are not nutritionists, dietitians, athletic trainers, or physicians. These are only meant as a suggestion and starting point if you’re looking to start swimming for fitness. Please consult a licensed professional if you’re seeking medical, weight loss, and/or nutritional advice. Please see our disclaimer for more information.
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- Why Swim to Burn Calories?
- How Many Calories Does Swimming Burn?
- Factors to Consider
- What is the Best Swimming Stroke for Weight Loss?
- How to Burn More Calories and Lose Weight While Swimming
- In Closing
- Bonus Content
- Want to Improve at the Pool?
Why Swim to Burn Calories?
You can burn calories doing any type of activity. But swimming is one of the best ways to burn calories in a short amount of time. In addition to burning calories, swimming has at least four other benefits.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again. Swimming is ageless. In that, anyone of any age can swim! You should never let your age be a factor when it comes to swimming. Or getting into shape by swimming
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2. Low Impact
Swimming is one of the lowest impact activities out there that can still burn a ton of calories. It’s easy on the joints and the water makes you feel weightless. It’s one of the reasons people recovering from injuries use swimming to help recover faster.
3. Full Body Workout
From your legs to your arms, and your heart and your lungs, swimming works absolutely everything in your body. Your core, back and chest muscles, and everything in between get a workout.
4. Best Cardio Workout
Swimming is probably one of the best cardio workouts you can get. Not only are you making your heart, lungs, and muscles work harder, but you’re also doing it while holding your breath. That only adds to the complexity of swimming but it’s an incredible workout for your body.
How Many Calories Does Swimming Burn?
So how many calories does swimming burn? Well, (and you probably expected this) but it depends on a few factors.
Things such as the stroke you’re swimming, the intensity at which you’re swimming, and your weight. Just to name a few.
Factors to Consider
Surprisingly, each stroke in swimming doesn’t burn the same amount of calories. A competitive swimmer will tell you that butterfly is easily one of the most difficult strokes to swim. And as such, the butterfly stroke burns the most calories!
Nutristrategy has a good breakdown of the number of calories burned in an hour per stroke.
They reported that swimming butterfly for one hour can burn 649 calories for someone who weighs 130 lbs. Whereas swimming fast freestyle for an hour only burns 590 calories for the same weight. (Source)
Again, these numbers are more estimates, as everyone’s definition of fast will vary. And it’s also dependent on your weight.
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We also don’t recommend trying to swim butterfly for an hour straight. That’s a sure way to mess up your shoulders and really hurt yourself.
Instead, the best option is to mix up the strokes that you swim. This will ensure you’re working each stroke and taking advantage of burning the most calories that you can.
Doing IM work (individual medley), is a great way to hit all four strokes. The order of the IM is butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke, and freestyle. When swimming this, you’ll want to swim a stroke each lap.
Challenge yourself by doing the order in reverse for an extra layer of difficulty!
If you want to burn more calories, you have to increase the intensity of your workout.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that you’ll burn more calories if you’re swimming faster compared to leisurely.
However, your entire workout shouldn’t be full throttle.
Make sure you build time into your swimming workout to catch your breath and let your body recover some. This allows you to not only burn the most calories that you can but also allows you to work on improving your swimming technique.
We recommend doing some interval work.
Not only is interval training a great way to burn calories, but it’s also a simple way to build up your swimming endurance.
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What are intervals? Intervals are where you set a time and distance for yourself and repeat for as many times as you want.
An example would be swimming a 50 freestyle in a minute. If it takes you 45 seconds to swim that distance, then you get 15 seconds rest before you go again. Repeat a few more times. And follow up with an easy swim out.
Surprisingly, weight can play a large factor in the number of calories burned while you swim.
When you swim, you naturally have to fight through the resistance of the water. Which is much more difficult than moving through air.
If you have more weight, you’ll use more energy to push yourself through the resistance of the water. And you’ll need to swim harder to keep moving.
In turn, this burns more calories than someone who has less resistance in the water while swimming.
4. Workout Duration
How many calories you burn while swimming also depends on how long you’re swimming. Five to fifteen minutes isn’t enough to burn a large number of calories.
Obviously, the longer (and more vigorously) you swim, the more calories you’ll burn.
Harvard Medical School determined that 30 minutes of swimming laps at an easy pace can burn anywhere from 180-252 calories based on weight.
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That number doubles when you ramp up the intensity. 30 minutes of swimming vigorously will have you burning 300-420 calories based on weight.
At best, swimming for a minimum of 30 minutes is a great place to start burning a decent amount of calories. If you can, slowly work up your workout duration until you can swim for an hour.
What is the Best Swimming Stroke for Weight Loss?
Swimming butterfly is the best stroke to burn calories and lose some weight. It’s also one of the most exhausting and difficult strokes to swim.
The butterfly stroke works your shoulders and core, as you have to bring both arms up and over the water. Swinging them over the top of the water and back in again. All the while, you’re performing a dolphin kick with your hips/legs.
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Olympic swimmers make it look easy (and we’re incredibly jealous of them) but know that it does take some work to get the motion down. Loosen up your shoulders before trying to swim some butterfly to prevent injury.
Again, this depends on the factors we just mentioned above. But if you can swim at least a few laps of butterfly in your next workout, you can burn some serious calories.
How to Burn More Calories and Lose Weight While Swimming
Want to burn more calories or lose weight while swimming? Here are some suggestions to help you reach your goal.
1. Watch the Clock
The clock is a swimmer’s best (or worst) friend.
Use it to keep track of the time spent resting and ensure you’re not resting too long. Challenge yourself by keeping your rest periods the same in a set.
If you swim eight 50’s, take 20 seconds to rest on each one. Will it get harder as you go? Of course! But you’ll burn more calories and work your muscles more as you do so.
You can also use the clock to track how fast you’re going. And then use it to better your endurance. Get a baseline for each stroke and distance, and write down how long it takes to swim each.
Then see if you can improve how fast you go for a month or two. You may find that you could swim a hundred in two minutes when you first started. And a few weeks later, you can swim it in a minute and a half!
And of course, use the clock for any interval training that you decide to use.
If you don’t have a clock at your pool or you don’t like looking at it, you can also consider a waterproof fitness tracker. These can help track your laps, distance swam, and more.
Related article: Best Waterproof Fitness Trackers for Swimming
2. Utilize Equipment
Swimming equipment can be both aids to help your technique and also aids to make you work harder.
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Kickboards help you work your kick (hence the name). And while they might seem easy because you’re not swimming, you’ll find that even just working your legs can make you tired. Mix up your strokes while kicking to burn the most calories that you can.
Match your kick sets with some fins to add speed and resistance to your workout.
You can also use a pull buoy to work the arm portion of your stroke. A pull buoy goes between your legs to prevent you from kicking. You’ll find yourself using your core more so you can pull more water.
Add in some paddles with your pull buoy for additional aids.
3. Swim Frequency
The more times you can get into the water and swim, the better. If you’re looking to lose weight with swimming, you should aim to swim at least 4 times a week.
If you can only make it 3 times a week, that’s okay! See instead if you can’t make your workouts a bit longer to make up for a ‘missed day’. Or substitute swimming with another form of exercise. Such as yoga or weight lifting.
4. Find a Workout Buddy
It’s hard to work out by yourself and find the motivation to keep going. Especially if you’re stuck on a plateau. It’s why we recommend finding someone to swim with so you can encourage each other.
Having a workout buddy can also help keep you accountable for your goals. It’s easy to want to skip a workout. But knowing that you have someone waiting on you can help give you the motivation to make it to the gym.
5. Mix up Your Swim Workouts
Don’t swim the same workout every day. That’s a sure way to become bored during your workout and stop trying. You can also cause your body to taper out and you’ll no longer see results.
Instead, mix up your workouts.
Can you do a kick set every day? Of course! But change it up some. One day you can kick some 200s. The next day you can do a few 50s.
Even if you can only swim 30 minutes a day, several times a week, you’ll find that swimming can burn a good amount of calories. You’ll want to ensure that you’re keeping up the intensity and trying different strokes for the most calories burned.
As always, happy swimming!
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Chevron is a current competitive swimmer with almost 20 years of experience in the pool. And although she fell into the sport by accident in her high school years, she still trains daily and competes throughout the year. She’s committed to providing guidance to all levels of swimmers and believes that everyone should know how to swim.