Whether you’re looking to shed a few pounds or simply tone up, swimming is one of the best workouts for weight loss and overall fitness. Not only does it burn a substantial amount of calories, but it also builds muscle and improves flexibility.
Swimming is one of the best workouts for weight loss because it burns more calories than almost any other exercise. The average person will burn 500 calories per hour while swimming laps, which is comparable to running at a moderate pace. Swimming also uses both large and small muscle groups, so your body will be working hard during your workout.
Since swimming uses both large and small muscle groups, it’s an effective way to build muscle mass as well as lose fat. It’s also an excellent form of cardio exercise because the water provides resistance against each stroke (which makes each movement harder). This forces your muscles to work harder than they would if you were simply running on land, so they’ll get stronger over time.
Swimming can help improve flexibility because your joints move through their full range of motion when you’re in the water—they don’t just bend back and forth like they do when walking or running on land (where gravity limits how far they can travel).
Right here on Buy and Slay, you are privy to a litany of relevant information on swimming exercises to lose weight, beginner swim workout for weight loss, and so much more. Take out time to visit our catalog for more information on similar topics.
Good Swim Workout For Weight Loss
It’s a well-known fact that swimmers like to eat—a lot! And in a perfect world they’re in the pool just enough to balance their eating and swimming in order to maintain their optimal body weight. What happens when suddenly your weight seems higher than normal? Are there workouts that are better than others to take the extra pounds off? Do you need to work out more? Harder? Go on a diet?
Weight loss is pretty simple when you break it down: Fewer calories consumed than your daily caloric expenditure equals weight loss. Your daily caloric expenditure is a function of your metabolism and your activity level. Your calories consumed are what you eat each day. If you’re not one who likes to restrict your eating, increasing or changing your workout plan can help to tip the scale back in your favor. You need to move more to lose more.
When planning your workouts, it’s important to know the time and frequency you have available in your daily schedule. If you’re lucky enough to be retired and can swim for three hours each day, low intensity workouts fit right into your schedule. If you have a full-time job and/or kids, your time is at a premium, and shorter, high-intensity workouts several times a week with recovery days in between would be a better fit.
Often the best balance is a mix of different types of workouts: shorter high- or moderate-intensity workouts to burn a lot of calories in less time, then longer, low-intensity recovery planned for days when time isn’t a factor. In USMS’s Workout Library, you’ll find all types of workouts to mix and match to fit your specific daily needs.
Workout 1: Moderate Intensity
Moderate intensity workouts are typically the mainstay of a weight-loss routine. Often referred to as aerobic workouts, moderate intensity workouts mean you’re working at 70 percent to 80 percent of your maximum effort. You can work at that effort for a moderate amount of time before you need to rest and recover.
- On a scale of 1-10, your effort level would be around 7 or 8. Coaches often use the word “pace” for moderate intensity. You’re not swimming slow for recovery or sprinting race pace, but rather holding the same speed throughout the entire set.
- This moderate intensity workout has higher yards and doesn’t require quite as much time as the low intensity workout. Since you’re swimming a little less distance, your energy expenditure and calories burned will be less but so will the time it takes to swim the workout.
200 freestyle on :05 rest
200 pull on :05 rest
200 kick on :05 rest
100 freestyle on :05 rest
100 pull on :05 rest
100 kick on :05 rest
3 times through:
- 2 x 200s freestyle on :10 rest (swim at steady pace)
- 3 x 100s freestyle on 1:45
(Pick a send-off you can hold all three times through, faster than pace.)
4 x 75s kick on :10 rest
(IM order, fins and/or boards are fine)
(Every third length backstroke or breaststroke)
Workout 2: High Intensity
High-intensity workouts alternate all-out swimming with rest periods or recovery swims. Although the yardage might not be as high, you’re able to fit in a decent number of yards in a really short time. The drawback to high-intensity training is that you typically are able to do less in each session and the recovery time between sessions may be longer.
High-intensity workouts are great for those people who have limited pool time or personal time. They’re a great bang for your buck to burn some calories and overload your body in a short time period.
- This workout features high-intensity swims alternating with an active recovery.
- Use the recovery to let your breathing slow down, relax your body, and reset and lengthen your stroke to prepare for the fast swims.
- On a perceived exertion scale of 1-10, you’re trying to hit 9 or 10 on those fast swims.
400 freestyle on 8:00
200 IM on 4:00
(Drill/swim IM by 25s)
2 x 250s kick on 4:30
(Use short fins)
2 x through the following:
2 x 25s freestyle easy on :50
125 freestyle fast on 2:05
25 freestyle easy on :50
100 freestyle fast on 1:40
25 freestyle easy on :50
75 freestyle fast on 1:20
25 freestyle easy on :50
50 freestyle fast on :55
25 freestyle easy on :50
25 freestyle fast on :35
100 freestyle recover on 2:15
4 x 50s freestyle on 1:00
(Breathe every 3 or 5 by 50)
Workout 3: Best of Both Worlds
If you have a little more time and don’t want to swim at high intensity throughout the whole workout, here is a workout that might be just perfect.
- Since the yardage is a little higher, your energy expenditure is higher as well.
- With the high intensity swims during the main set, you won’t need two hours to complete this workout.
2 x 500s choice on 9:00
(75 free, 25 stroke)
2 x 100s IM drill on 1:50
4 x 50s kick on 1:05
(Use short fins)
12 x 25s choice on :30
(Odds fast, evens perfect smooth)
12 x 50s choice on :55
(Odds fast, evens perfect smooth)
6 x 100s choice on 1:35
(Odds fast, evens perfect smooth)
3 x 200s choice on 3:10
(Try to build by 50s and negative split)
4 x 50s freestyle on 1:00
(Breathe every 3 or 5 by 50)
Workout 4: Mix It Up
It’s easy to get lazy and back off on your intensity when you swim the same workouts or strokes all the time. Every couple of weeks, pick one workout that challenges you to swim different strokes, intensity, or distance. By changing it up, you’ll focus more, use muscles you don’t use as often, and work at the correct effort level.
- This higher intensity workout mixes up sprints and easy swimming.
- As an IM workout, it rotates through all four strokes, forcing you to push yourself on both your best and worst strokes.
4 x 25s freestyle on :15 rest
(Build each 25 slow to fast)
2 times through:
- 150 butterfly on :15 rest (50 dolphin kick, 50 sprint, 50 drill)
- 150 backstroke on :15 rest (50 kick on back, 50 sprint, 50 drill)
- 150 breaststroke on :15 rest (50 kick, 50 sprint, 50 drill)
- 150 freestyle on :15 rest (50 kick, 50 sprint, 50 drill)
4 x 25s choice sprint on :15 rest
200 freestyle recovery on :10 rest
200 kick on :10 rest
4 x 25s choice on :10 rest
(Reverse build each 25 fast to slow)
100 backstroke on :10 rest
100 freestyle, nice and slow
Workout 5: Low Intensity
Low-intensity workouts are great for when you have a lot of time, want to work on your stroke, or even need a recovery day. Since you’re working at a low intensity, you should be able to maintain correct technique while swimming for a long time.
- Low-intensity workouts get your body moving and your heart rate up.
- On a scale of 1 to 10, you should be working at about a 4 or 5. For this workout, adjust your intervals as needed to stay in that range.
- This is a great workout for weight loss, because you’ll swim 6100 yards and expend a lot of energy. The trade-off is that it takes around two hours to complete it.
(Swim straight through with minimal breaks)
4 x 500s freestyle on 8:00
(Odds pull with buoy and snorkel, evens swim)
6 x 200s choice on :30 rest
(Odds freestyle, evens IM)
5 x 100s freestyle on 1:35 descend
5 x 100s freestyle on 1:30 descend
10 tips for swimming to lose weight
Whether you’re swimming to lose belly fat, increase muscle tone, or just change up your workout, here’s how to get the best results.
1. Swim in the morning before eating
A morning swim isn’t feasible for everyone, but it’s worth a try if you can access a pool before work.
“Waking up in the morning and going for your swim will leave your body in a fasted state ready to utilize those fat stores as energy,” explains Nick Rizzo, a trainer and fitness director at RunRepeat.com, an athletic shoe review site. “Swimming isn’t only a great form of cardio, but it’s a full-body workout as well, so you can expect some great results.”
2. Swim harder and faster
Swimming burns a lot of calories when you’re just starting out. But as your swimming skills improve and you become more efficient, your heart rate doesn’t increase as much, warns Paul Johnson, founder of CompleteTri.com, a website providing guidance, tips, and gear reviews for swimmers, triathletes, and fitness enthusiasts.
The solution, according to Johnson, is to swim harder and faster to keep your heart rate up.
Wear a waterproof fitness tracker to monitor your heart rate while swimming. Your target heart rate during a moderate-intensity workout should be about 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate.
You can calculate your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220.
3. Take a swim class
Learning proper stroke techniques can help you swim at a moderate pace. Contact a community center or YMCA for information on swim lessons, or sign up for a class through the American Red Cross.
4. Switch up your swim routine
If you swim at the same speed and use the same technique over and over again, your body may eventually hit a plateau.
Stepping outside your comfort zone and modifying your routine is an excellent way to utilize different muscle groups, helping to maximize your results.
5. Swim four to five days a week
To lose weight, the more physically active you are, the better. This applies whether you’re jogging, walking, using cardio equipment, or swimming.
The frequency of swimming for weight loss is the same as other cardiovascular exercises, so aim for four to five days a week for the best results, according to Jamie Hickey, a certified personal trainer and nutritionist with Truism Fitness.
6. Start slow
Start with 15 to 20 minute swims every other day, and then gradually increase to 30 minute swims five days a week, as your body allows. If you start a new swimming routine at too high an intensity, muscle soreness and fatigue could cause you to give up.
7. Alternate swimming with water aerobics
You don’t have to swim every day to see results. Take a water aerobics class on your off days. This is an excellent low-stress exercise to keep moving on active recovery days.
8. Swim with a float or pool noodle
If you’re not a strong swimmer, swim laps in the pool using a pool noodle, kick board, or life vest. These will keep you afloat as you use your arms and legs to move through the water.
9. Use water weights
If you’re swimming to lose weight and tone up, do a few bicep curls with water dumbbells in between laps. The water creates resistance, which can help build strength and endurance.
10. Adjust your diet
With any weight loss program, you must burn more calories than you take in, swimming is no exception.
“If your aim is to lose a few pounds, you still need to make adjustments to your diet,” mentions Keith McNiven, founder of the personal training company Right Path Fitness.
“And be careful. Swimming takes a lot of energy, so you’ll need to refuel with food. Also, the cold water can cause your appetite to increase substantially after a session.”
If you’re feeling hungrier, McNiven recommends adding more vegetables to your plate, grabbing a protein shake, and staying away from snacking.
Swimming strokes to help you lose weight
Keep in mind that different swim strokes can result in a greater calorie burn, depending on the muscles being worked. So experiment with various routines to keep your muscles and body guessing.
Swim freestyle one day, and the next day do the butterfly stroke. “The butterfly stroke is the most demanding, working the entire body and will burn the most calories,” says Hickey. “The breaststroke would come in second, and the backstroke third.”
Mixing up the intensity of your workout also has great results, notes Rizzo. He recommends sprint interval training, which consists of sprints for 30 seconds, followed by four minutes of rest.
This can be full on rest, or you can continue to swim at an intensity of 1 out of 10, repeating four to eight times, he says. “It doesn’t sound like much but remember, you were going 100 percent during those entire 30 seconds. It is demanding to say the least, but effective. You can switch between different swimming styles or strokes, or keep it pretty straightforward.”
A common myth about swimming
Many children were taught not to swim until 30 to 60 minutes after eating. It was thought that some blood would divert to the stomach after eating to aid with digestion, and in turn, divert blood away from the arms and legs.
Some believed that blood leaving the limbs would cause arms and legs to tire easily, increasing the risk of drowning.
But while a common belief, there doesn’t appear to be any scientific basis for this recommendation.
Some people may develop stomach cramps after swimming on a full belly, but this isn’t anything serious or dangerous.
The bottom line
If you’re not a fan of the gym or can’t participate in certain activities due to joint pain, swimming is an excellent way to get into shape.
It’s a great workout for losing weight, increasing muscle tone, and strengthening your heart.
Swimming Exercises To Lose Weight
Working out is more fun when you’re splashing around in your gym or community pool. Aquatic exercises can burn fat and they’re healing, too, easing symptoms for arthritis and fibromyalgia sufferers. Dive into a new workout regimen with 8 moves that’ll get or keep you fit…
Water is one of the best fitness tools there is. Here are some of the ways aquatic workouts help:
- They provide resistance, which strengthens muscles and boosts cardio intensity.
- Water supports some of your weight, making workouts easier on joints and reducing the chances for an injury, especially if you’re overweight and out-of-shape. “Working out in water is very safe because no joints or bones are forced to bear too heavy a load,” says Andrew Jones, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon in Chapel Hill, N.C.
- You may heal faster; doctors often recommend aquatic exercises for people with joint injuries or infections, or who’ve had surgery, as a way to stay fit and shorten recovery time.
- You could get relief from symptoms of chronic conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), fibromyalgia and arthritis.
- A pool workout gives you “better balance, agility and endurance, which is a great confidence boost for anyone who has shied away from exercise in the past,” says clinical exercise physiologist Mary Sanders, Ph.D., associate professor at the University of Nevada School of Medicine in Reno.
- Pool exercises are great fat-burners. “You can burn a higher level of calories in a shorter time in the pool,” says Sanders.
- Working out in the water doesn’t feel much like work. “It’s impossible not to smile as you jump into a pool — and enjoying your workout is the best way to make sure you’ll stick with it,” Sanders says.
To get the most of your water workout, follow these tips:
- Don’t go in deeper than waist-high. That way your feet will have good contact with the pool floor and your leg muscles will be able to support some of your weight.
- Wear water shoes to improve traction and webbed gloves (usually made of Neoprene with webbing between the fingers) to add resistance and intensity to arm movements, Sanders suggests. Both can be found at sporting-goods stores and online.
- Drink lots of water during and after your workout: “You can get dehydrated in the pool as easily as you can on land,” she says.
One of the easiest and most effective pool workouts is water jogging. At a high intensity, you’ll burn 17 calories per minute — more than on land. It also makes you stronger. Sanders advises her clients to jog for 1-to-3-minute intervals in waist-high water, and then alternate with less cardio-heavy water exercises. “It lets you keep the number of calories burned high, but doesn’t require the endurance to jog for more than several minutes at a time,” she says. Ready to jump in ?Many gyms, community recreation centers and Ys with pools offer water aerobics classes. But if you’re ready to go it alone, add these 8 fun water exercises to your aquatic jogging routine:
Pool Exercise 1: Spiderman
Climb the pool wall like Spiderman climbs buildings! This exercise helps you defy gravity in a way that just isn’t possible on land. It also provides a unique challenge to your core and back muscles.How to do it: Stand in water at the side of the pool. Stabilize your upper body by sweeping your hands back and forth as you run your legs up the side of the pool and back down to the pool floor. Do four Spiderman exercises, alternating the leading leg each time you reach the end of one jogging circuit.
Pool Exercise 2: Pool Plank
Planks are a proven core-strengthener on land. But if you don’t have a strong upper body it’s hard to hold it long enough to give abdominal muscles a good workout. All that changes in a pool.
Plus, planks boost your endurance and “the water pushing and pulling on you increases the challenge to your core,” Sanders explains.How to do it:Stand on the pool floor. Hold a “noodle” ( also called a “water log,” a long cylindrical piece of foam that floats) vertically in both hands. Press it straight down into the water and lean forward until your body is on an even incline. (Your head stays out of the water.) Try to keep yourself stable for 1 to 2 minutes.
Pool Exercise 3: Chaos Cardio
This exercise takes jogging to a new level. By creating several currents in the pool and then running through them, you’ll strengthen all your core stabilizing muscles.
“Run with proper alignment — ears, shoulders and hips in one vertical line — so your core is forced to do the work of keeping you upright, not your shoulders or your legs,” Sanders says.How to do it: Run in a zigzag pattern from one end of the pool to the other, then run straight through all the currents you’ve just created. Do 3-minute intervals, alternating with something less cardio-intensive, such as Pool Plank or One-Legged Balance (below).Pool Exercise 4: One-Legged Balance
This strengthens your leg and core muscles, the ones responsible for balance, without the risk of falling and hurting yourself.“Your core has to kick in to keep you upright, increasing your static balance,” Sanders says.
How to do it: Standing in waist-high water, lift your left knee up and place the middle of a noodle under your left foot. (Its sides will float up into a U-shape.) Keep your hands by your side and balance with your left foot on the noodle for one minute.Then move your left knee out to the side and balance for another minute. Switch legs and repeat with the right knee lifted and the right foot resting on the noodle.For an extra challenge, lift both arms up over your head as you balance.If you’re in the pool with your kids, have them jog in circles around you to create currents that will further challenge your balance.
Pool Exercise 5: Fly-Backs
In the water, as on land, fly-backs work the muscles in the upper chest, back and arms. They also improve posture.How to do it:Start in a lunge position with your right knee bent and your left leg extended straight behind you in the pool. Reach your arms straight out in front of you at chest height — palms touching, fingers extended and thumbs up.Open your arms straight out to the sides in the water, then return them to the starting position to complete one rep.Do four sets of 8 to 15 reps, switching the forward leg for each set. To boost your cardio workout and the number of calories burned, do your reps while walking or jogging across the pool.
Pool Exercise 6: Cardio/Resistance Combo
Strengthen your upper chest, back, arms and core with this challenging drill. It also raises your heart rate and burns more calories.How to do it: Straddle a noodle as if you were sitting on a horse. Pedal around the pool as fast as you can while doing the arm portion of Fly-Backs (see above), opening and closing your arms. Sit up tall with your spine vertical — no leaning. This will force your core muscles to keep you stable. Continue for 3 minutes.Pool Exercise 7: Core Ball Static Challenge
This deceptively simple exercise strengthens your core as you work to keep yourself upright. By changing the position of your arms and legs, it becomes four exercises in one.
How to do it:
Version A: Stand in a lunge with your right leg bent and your left leg extended behind you. Hold an inflated ball about 6 inches in diameter (like those found in a drugstore or toy store) with both hands directly in front of your navel. Keep your shoulders down and back. Hold this position for 30 seconds, engaging your core to keep you upright. Switch legs and hold for another 30 seconds.
Version B: Do the entire exercise in version A, this time holding the ball with your arms outstretched, so the ball is just under the surface of the water for an added core challenge.
Version C: Balance on the right leg with your left knee lifted. Hold the ball in front of your navel as in version A for 30 seconds. Repeat while standing on the left leg with the right knee lifted.
Version D: Balance again on your right foot, left knee lifted. Hold the ball with arms outstretched as in version B, holding for 30 seconds. Repeat while standing on the left leg with the right knee lifted.Pool Exercise 8: Cardio Core Ball Running
This exercise combines cardio with core-strengthening. The ball adds extra resistance and pulls you off-center so your core muscles have to engage to keep you moving forward. Changing the position of the ball works your core even harder.How to do it:
Version A: Hold the ball with both hands directly in front of your navel. Run across the pool as fast as you can for one minute. Rest for 30 seconds, then repeat 3 more times, increasing speed through each rep.
Version B: Tuck the ball under your right arm at waist height. With your shoulders facing forward (don’t twist toward the ball), run across the pool as fast as you can for 1 minute. Move the ball to your left side and run for another minute. Repeat 4 times, running faster each time.