You hop out of the pool after swimming with your friends and realize that you’re out of breath and your muscles are aching. You just got a great workout without even noticing! It’s no secret that swimming is a wonderful cardiovascular activity, but many people forget about it when it comes time to do their cardio routine. Could adding more swimming into your schedule help you shed more fat? Let’s find out!
Benefits of Swimming
Swimming is a fun cardiovascular activity and it has the potential to help you shed fat and lose some pounds. Most of us have had that experience of swimming joyfully in a pool or the ocean only to realize we had worked up a sweat. Since swimming is so fun, it’s easy to be distracted and spend more time working out. Compare that to slogging through a run and throwing in the towel after a few minutes. It’s okay, we’ve all been there.
The thought of hitting the pool can be much more inviting than hopping on the treadmill or going to a HIIT class. Plus, swimming (and other aquatic activities) can be great for those who are carrying a lot of extra weight since it puts less stress on the joints. While running and cycling can exacerbate joint pain, swimming and water aerobics allow individuals to enjoy exercise without the added pain. Doing laps in the pool can improve muscle tone, strengthen the heart, and increase joint health. Clearly, the benefits go beyond burning fat.
Swimming can be broken down into subcategories, such as long-distance swimming and quick laps. The general rule of thumb is that the longer you’re swimming in the pool, the more you’re burning. Just like with running or cycling, people approach swimming differently and go at their own pace. Exercise is individualized, which is great because it means that it’s accessible for many people. On the other hand, what works well for you might not work for your friend or family member. This is often why weight-loss formulas aren’t so effective. Fat loss depends on calories in, calories out, and the type of workout you’re doing.
Are There Downsides to Swimming?
Not exactly downsides, but there are considerations that you might want to keep in mind, especially if you have specific goals. Does swimming burn fat? Yes, but not as much as you might think. Swimming is an aerobic activity, so we’re going to end up burning some fat during the process. However, not all aerobic activities have the same effect. Intensity and frequency will play into how much you end up burning.
This activity might not be as effective for you if you’re not a strong swimmer. In addition, if you don’t do it regularly, then you probably won’t notice much reduction in your body fat percentage. Since swimming techniques are precise, if you’re not doing them correctly, then you might not be making the most of your workout. Activities such as running and cycling require less skill, so they often end up burning more fat.
Interestingly enough, those who aren’t strong swimmers may actually end up burning more calories during their time in the pool, although it depends on how long they’re in there. Those who are skilled at swimming have very deliberate, smooth strokes while unskilled swimmers are flailing their arms and legs, working up a sweat. All of that doggy-paddling and treading water can burn a significant amount of calories, provided you’re in the pool for a decent length of time.
Another factor to consider is time. Not only do you need to be swimming regularly, but you also need to dedicate a chunk of time to swimming laps. A dip in the pool isn’t necessarily going to do much for your fat-loss goals. It takes an extended period of time to work the muscles and get your heart rate up, and most people don’t swim long enough (or fast enough) to burn fat. Even so, that doesn’t mean it’s not a great exercise for your heart.
How Does Swimming Compare to Other Exercises?
Let’s say that you weigh 150 pounds and you jump in the pool for a 30-minute swim. You will end up burning around 200 calories. Now, let’s compare that to a scenario where you go for a run for 30 minutes. You’ll end up burning around 450 calories. Finally, if you take a 30-minute HIIT class, you will burn somewhere around 220 calories. These are ballpark figures, but they can give you a bit of an idea of how much you’d burn doing different forms of cardio.
Now, you may be thinking about how calorie burn relates to fat loss. This is an excellent question! After all, excess calories end up being stored in your body as fat, so does more calorie burn mean more fat loss? When you burn calories during exercise, you’re also burning fat, but you need to burn about 3,500 calories to shed one pound of fat.
This is why many fitness experts point out that nutrition plays a major role in fat loss, even more so than exercise. If you’re consuming fewer calories than you’re burning, then your body will dip into its fat stores for energy, resulting in more fat loss. Yes, things can get a bit complicated here, which is why it might be a good idea to see a nutritionist or personal trainer if you want to meet specific health goals.
The Bottom Line
Perhaps it’s less a question of does swimming burn fat, and more about how much fat it burns. The bottom line is that if you’re moving, you’re doing something right. Anything is better than nothing, and if you enjoy swimming then, by all means, do it. If you have specific fitness or health goals in mind, then it might be worth your while to find an exercise class or program that challenges your muscles and does a better job of getting your heart rate up. Some good alternatives include running, cycling, or taking a HIIT or kickboxing class.