Many think that swimming does not burn as many calories as other aerobic activities. The truth is, that if you have ever jumped into a pool for a cardio workout, you know just how much harder swimming can feel compared to running or cycling. It may have seemed easy when you were a kid, but now you can quickly feel winded after only a few short laps. This is because swimming is a great all-body exercise that burns calories and promotes overall fitness.

How Many Calories Does Swimming Burn?

The Benefits of Swimming

Swimming is one of the best workouts you can do. It helps burn fat, shed weight, build strength, and improve overall health. The best part is that swimming is low impact, making it a great option for active recovery and injury prevention. Anyone at any age can do it. Swimming is so good for you because each time you pull, kick, or perform a stroke, you’re pulling against the resistance of the water. This is much greater than air resistance, so you are working harder than you may realize. These movements build muscle and burn major calories and at the same time, you will be building lean muscle. This helps your body to burn calories throughout the day.

How Many Calories Will I Burn With Swimming?

The first step is to understand how scientists estimate the amount of energy your body uses during physical activity. The unit used is called a MET (or metabolic equivalent), and it measures how hard your body is working compared to when it is at rest. When you are resting, your body burns 1 MET, which is equivalent to 1 calorie per kilogram of body weight per hour. Then you need to figure out how many METs an activity will cost and you can calculate the calories you will burn. Don’t worry, there’s no math required. You can use an online calculator, which takes into account your weight and the duration of the exercise, to easily determine your calorie burn.
While swimming, your body can burn:

  • 3.5 METs (223 calories per hour) treading water at a moderate effort
  • 8.3 METs (528 calories per hour) for a medium-speed, vigorous effort crawl
  • 13.8 METs (878 calories per hour) for butterfly stroke.
  • To help you see the effectiveness of swimming, use the METS for other activities as a comparison.
  • 7 METs (446 calories per hour) with jogging
  • 7.5 METs (477 calories per hour) with cycling

What Factors Into Total Calories Burned?

These numbers should not be your main focus. The number of calories you will burn actually depends on many factors.

  • Weight: A person who weighs more will expend more calories than someone who weighs less. This is because it takes more energy to move a larger body than a smaller one. A larger body will also create more surface area in the water thus creating more drag resistance. More drag means it takes more energy to push through the resistance which will increase the heart rate and result in higher caloric expenditure.
  • Swim speed: How fast you can swim also affects your calorie burn. Slower swimmers will produce less energy output and this results in fewer calories burned. The faster you swim, the more energy you will use. Using swim devices such as pull buoys, pull paddles, parachutes, and bands, to increase resistance or increase drag will also increase your energy output and a number of burned calories.
  • Swim stroke: Butterfly is probably the hardest and most technical stroke and burns easily the most calories. When you’re doing the stroke, you’re simultaneously performing a dolphin kick and your arms are coming fully overhead, which calls for total-body muscle engagement. A crawl is the next highest calorie burner. You are kicking each time you stroke, so your whole body is engaged making it an ideal mixture for burning major calories. Breaststroke and backstroke are about equal in terms of caloric outcome. They are slower strokes, but when proper technique is used, you can still burn calories.

Some estimates for calories burned for each stroke are below for you. These are based on an average-sized 140-pound adult.

  • Treading water (moderate effort): 3.5 METs = 223 calories/hour
  • Backstroke: 4.8 METs = 305 calories/hour
  • Breaststroke: 5.3 METs = 337 calories/hour
  • Freestyle or crawl (light or moderate effort): 5.8 METs = 369 calories
  • Freestyle or crawl (medium to vigorous effort): 8.3 METs = 528 calories/hour
  • Freestyle or crawl (fast or vigorous effort): 9.8 METs =623 calories/hour
  • Butterfly: 13.8 METs = 878 calories/hour

How Can I Burn More Calories While Swimming?

The best way to burn more calories while swimming is by doing intervals of hard efforts alternating with recovery time. A sample interval set can look like this:

A 50m freestyle sprint followed by a 10-second rest, repeated five times total.  The higher intensity bursts work your system way more than a steady state workout. These bursts burn 25 to 30 percent more calories and also tap into the afterburn effect, so your body will keep burning even when your workout has ended.  If you are looking for a way to burn up extra calories and shed some pounds, without beating up your body, dive into the pool. It is refreshing and great for the whole body. A swim a day can keep the doctor away.


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